As Natalie McComas’ eye-opening documentary nears completion, the Australian artist speaks to Jody Phan about her project.
Jody Phan

16 Mar 2016 - 11:06 AM  UPDATED 17 Mar 2016 - 11:04 AM

In 2015, Queensland based photographer Natalie McComas became the first person to receive funding by photography app VSCO’s Artist Initiative. Her documentary, In This Skin, has taken the artist around Australia as well as the world, photographing people living with various congenital neurological and skin disorders including port wine stain birthmarks, Sturge-Weber Syndrome, Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome, Nevus of Ota and Hairy Nevus.

Natalie’s photography series began with a photo of Patience Hodgson, the lead singer of Aussie indie rock band The Grates. Natalie recalls being at a party with the singer, where she was dressed up as Superwoman with her large birthmark on full display. “I thought she was so beautiful and I really admired her perspective of her birthmark and herself,” Natalie explains.

“It was fresh, honest, and simple. I thought others, especially children with a similar birthmark, would be really inspired by her. I felt compelled to take her portrait and share her story.”

With funding from VSCO, Natalie embarked on her worldwide journey from May to September 2015, capturing images and gathering stories of people with the birthmarks.

How did you find your subjects for the project?
I posted a portrait of Patience Hodgson on my blog some time ago expressing my interest in hearing from others who also had prominent birthmarks. I had no real expectations or plan in mind. Quite unexpectedly, I received email after email from all corners of the world, from people sharing their story and putting their hand up to be photographed. Over two years I continued to get emails from all around the world and I kept my eyes peeled for a grant I could apply for, like VSCO's Artist Initiative, to help it get underway.

“I thought she was so beautiful and I really admired her perspective of her birthmark and herself."

Do you have any plans to turn this photography series into a film?
The idea has crossed my mind, however this is something I would need considerable help and extra funding for. One of the people who reached out to me initially is a film producer in the UK, Dean Woodford. He has a birthmark very similar to Patience. If anyone is going to make a film about it Dean would be the man!

Can you tell us about your journey to becoming the first recipient of VSCO's Artist Initiative funding?
I use VSCO's presets in post production after all of my shoots. I receive their newsletters and a call to artists came through one day with details about the Artist Initiative. I had looked at other government grants here in Australia but the process was so lengthy and I didn't have all the answers I needed or even the know-how to put the application together. Quite soon after I had applied, Jen from VSCO got in contact expressing their interest in funding and supporting me with the project from there on in.

I thought others, especially children with a similar birthmark, would be really inspired by her. I felt compelled to take her portrait and share her story.

VSCO have been behind me 100 per cent. They completely understand what it's like to be an artist and how the creation process unfolds. There was never any pressure or deadlines. They helped me break everything down into smaller tasks and if I had any questions or concerns they were there for me.

What advice can you give to young artists who are from small towns like yourself?
Believe in yourself and listen to your intuition.
If a career in the arts is something you want to pursue - then go for it. Maybe you will have to leave your home town for a while when you do so, but your inner artist will be all the more better for it. My whole world opened up when I started studying photographing in Brisbane.

Look for inspiration that's 'offline' and don't compare yourself to others.
The more time I spend offline the more creative I am and the more clarity I have. No questions about it. Sure it's great to be connected with the online world but as an artist you will benefit from disconnecting too.

Enjoy and explore your unique take on the world and everything in it.
One of the best things about growing up in a small town is the laid back lifestyle, this means more space for your imagination and more time to create.

Head to Natalie's VSCO journal to see more from her project.

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