Everyone knows how to take a selfie, but not everyone knows how to make that selfie actually mean something. Scrolling through Instagram, there’s endless images of girls on beaches, girls with armpit hair, girls eating lunch. Then there’s Michele Bisaillon, who takes the mundanity of shower selfies and turns them into a bold feminist act. Using mirrors to redirect perspective and manipulate her body, the 29-year-old artist creates delicate snapshots of the female experience navigating insecurity and self-love. She also posts pictures of her really cute cat. And through these images, Bisaillon highlights the ways in which the internet can be both utterly real and annoyingly deceiving—just like women themselves.
BULLETT caught up with the artist to talk Napster, Narcissus and taking nudes.
How do you describe what you do?
I like to describe it as creative photography. But I also think of it as a sort of real life collage—using real life objects to create photographic mashups—or a kind of analogue editing. That’s what I use mirrors for—they’re like natural frames and they edit information in and out of a frame in an organic way. So I don’t edit my photos on the computer—they’re just completely raw digital images.
What themes do you explore in your work?
I use my work to really explore my own body, and that’s a female body. I also like to experiment with colors and nature. And I really enjoy cuteness—I love things that are cute. My cat is really cute and people really like him, so I share him because I feel like he just needs to be shared with the world. But I really focus on themes of insecurity and reflection—obviously—and perspective. Mirrors give you a perspective, but a limited one. So I like to remind myself of that a lot because that’s how we are—I’m a mirror. I only see so much—there’s only so many things I can see with my own eyes, but there’s also only so many things that I can even imagine. My art is really my attempt at breaking out of that—going beyond myself.
Why do you think that’s important?
Empathy is everything, and our world is seriously lacking it. We have zero empathy for each other, no one tries to understand where anyone else is coming from. And I think if we could force ourselves to take on different perspectives, to live outside your own eyes for just a few moments—it’s kind of confusing because you can lose sight of who you think you are. But that’s important, because you’re not really who you think you are—nothing is. And reality is something that humans just aren’t really good at—I don’t think we understand life at all.
When we have things like social media, it becomes really easy to create your own sense of reality—even if that reality is actually false.
Right. And the more technology we have, the more doctored images and false sense of what is real. Even though we see photos and understand that they’re photoshopped or whatever—it’s still a real image, even if what it’s depicting isn’t. And there’s something very real about just viewing another human being in a photo. But it’s hard to see things for what they are without context—you don’t know what the background is, you don’t go behind the scenes, all you get is the finished product. So you’re not getting the whole perspective.
How did you start getting into photography and using mirrors?
I always really liked taking pictures, ever since I was a little little kid. But I never really felt super connected to the idea of just taking a portrait or a landscape photo. It just didn’t feel like me and in my mind, that’s not how I wanted to express myself. It was really gradual for me—I was really self conscious at first. But I started incorporating mirrors because they just felt closer to what I was trying to say with an image and how I felt in my mind.
What do they represent?
I just feel like I always have conflicting ideas—I think one thing, but I also think the opposite, and I always have conflicting emotions. When I can create an image that incorporates more than one view or perspective—that reflects who I am.
What role has the internet played in shaping your work?
I think that I’m definitely ‘very internet.’ I mean, I grew up very obsessed with it and have always been so intensely in love with being online. In high school, I would go into the computer lab and sit on the computer throughout my lunch break just to go on whatever social media was available at the time—the first chatrooms I was on were Napster. I’ve just always been so connected to the idea of sharing on the internet.
Can taking a selfie be a political act?
I definitely think so—there are so many forms of it and it’s something humans have been doing for a very long time. The word is new but the concept is old. The thing is, I’ve always looked in the mirror and been disappointed by what I saw. So taking selfies, and especially with mirrors, is a way for me to take control of that, and it’s been so empowering. Of course, I still have a lot of these really deep-seated problems with myself, but I just feel like selfies allow you to take control of your image, and if you can look at a picture of yourself and be happy with it—what’s more political than that? I’m always the person who’s like, ‘Don’t take pictures of me’—I hate every photo of myself and my face. And maybe I’ll feel that way for the rest of my life. But if I can take a photo of myself that I really like, I have that—that’s mine.
Is that why you only shoot yourself?
Totally—I wouldn’t let other people take the photos of me that I take of myself. And that’s why I don’t ask people to do what I do in my photos for me—because if I’m uncomfortable, why would I be willing to do that to someone else? Even if people were comfortable with it, I don’t think I’d want to—I’m not necessarily interested in seeing other people that way and sharing their bodies in the way I share mine. For me, it’s my platform and how I share myself and my voice. I don’t know how other people want to share themselves, and I’m not going to create something that does it for them—or their bodies, at least. I’m still figuring out how to do it for myself.
A lot of people see selfies—and millennials in general—as egotistical. But you’re saying the opposite—that taking photos helped you overcome your insecurities.
Everyone is different—everybody has a different reason for taking a selfie, everybody’s got their own intentions. But I think everybody is narcissistic because really, that’s just a desire to survive and win. And everybody needs to learn to love themselves in some way—we all have our own bodies and we have to live with them—it’s much less hectic to not hate who you are. Or else, you’re miserable, which is how I’ve been and how I’ve experienced it. Of course, there’s the story of Narcissus, and it’s like, ‘Okay, sure,’ keep that in mind, because if you are that obsessed with yourself where you are all you ever see—that’s a big problem, because you have no room for anyone else. For me, it’s always been the opposite—I’ve always given my heart to people but never been able to feel that way about myself, like everyone else is so beautiful in this world, except for me. Growing up that was how I seriously felt. And I needed to reclaim that. Whatever anyone else needs to do to not feel that way—more power to them.
So your art is really for yourself, rather than other people.
What it is for me is just this strong desire to capture something beautiful or something interesting—I just really want to see what I can do. I have these feelings that I really want to share, but I’m not great at writing, I’m not super great at drawing—my forte is lining up a frame. And the whole reason I started doing this was just to capture these little moments. I’ve already missed so many opportunities where I should’ve taken a photo, and that feeling, for me, is so frustrating. So I never want to let it happen again. That’s why I take pictures of flowers and sunsets and my cat, and my body the way it is right now—because that’s not how it’s always going to be. Everything’s going to change at some point, so you might as well capture it while it’s there.