Victoria Siemer, known to her 225,000+ Instagram followers as @Witchoria (a portmanteau of “Witch” and “Victoria”), is a bit of an enigma. Her journey to photography began through frustration. After going to school for graphic design and entering the agency world, Siemer discovered that a lot of the actual work in such a creative field, wasn’t really all that creative. It wasn’t long before she began to need an outlet. Usually at this point in the narrative, there would be a segue about someone getting their first camera and being hooked right away, but there’s nothing usual about Siemer at all. She did things differently.
Note: Follow #AICdoesNewZealand as Victoria and other members of the Alpha Collective explore New Zealand’s South Island.
As a creative outlet, Siemer began not to take photos with a camera, instead she started to experiment with Photoshop, and at first, with stock images. “I think there's this part of my brain that really likes understanding things. It's also why I'm a web designer. There's a programmatic side of me that very much so likes taking things apart and putting them back together and understanding how software programs work.”
That drive to understand and continuous exploration made her a Photoshop power user in short order and as her software skills grew apace with her imagination, soon the limiting factor was the images themselves. “That's how I got good at Photoshop, through that experimentation, and after a while, stock photos weren't cutting it for me anymore. I would have ideas where I would scour and scour and scour, looking for public domain or stock imagery that I could utilize and it didn't exist.”
For some photographers, the camera and the lens are the main tools through which once achieves a creative vision. For others, like Siemer, the imagination is the canvas, while the camera, lens and Photoshop are the paints and brushes. “I picked up photography in a pretty non-traditional way. I didn't go to school for it, I didn't take any photography classes while I was in school, but I was so desperate for the photos I was imagining and the only way to make them happen was to teach myself how to do photography.”
Siemer’s pursued photography with the same energy and zeal as Photoshop. Not one to sit back and just think about it, Siemer dove in. She took advantage of a growing collaborative community that included, among others, Alpha Collective member Dave Krugman (@dave.krugman). “So I bought my first camera and I started learning how to shoot,” she says. “I did a lot of online tutorials and I knew Dave Krugman and asked him for help. He actually let me borrow his Sony α7R for a shoot to test it before I committed to buying one. A lot of what I learned was really through the community.”
Witchoria images are intricately layered in more ways than one. She uses typography, Photoshop tools, photos and pieces of photos to create a final image. With her camera, Siemer shoots the elements and textures that will become part of a final image. “The image is the canvas. I like to tell people who don't understand masking, that it's similar to painting but I'm painting with pixels. Instead of taking a paintbrush and smearing paint around, I'm essentially taking pixels from one image and blending them or doing something with them onto another, either a composite or the same image but in a different position. I also use the eraser a lot and then I’m revealing the pixels of another image below. That’s kind of an interesting way of thinking about it because you’re blending and doing all sorts of other things that you would do with paint but you're actually doing it with the pixels of your photograph. I think that’s kind of cool.”
When Siemer is shooting, she is always thinking about elements. Sometimes she has something particular in mind, but often, she’s just looking for things that she thinks might work down the road in an undefined project or body of work. “I shoot with a really open mind. I have an eye for knowing that things will work, even if I don’t have a specific image or series fully developed yet. Sometimes I have to put things away in a drawer, or a digital drawer, for a few months and then revisit them later because my perception of the photograph changes when I see it later on, or I might have a new idea in mind for it. Also, sometimes I'll shoot things and not know exactly why I shot them but then down the road, I'll think, ‘Oh my God, this is the missing piece to this puzzle that I'm trying to make right now.’ So I shoot and I organize all my files so that I have all these resources when I’m compositing an image later.”
Siemer’s aesthetic leans toward dark images with individual elements frequently being made with long or heavily gelled exposures. That’s another reason why she settled on Sony for her camera system. “I'm not a daytime photographer at all. I'm a night photographer and I don't think there's any camera better than Sony for doing that. When I had a job and I was learning Photoshop and photography, I was doing all of my shooting after work, at night. Then I tried to be a freelancer for a year, and I didn't realize how much of my workflow was built around those low-light photos. I had become so accustomed to shooting at night and if you look through my images you’ll see everything utilizes long exposures and gelled landscapes where I'm using gelled lights at night to illuminate landscapes into weird colors. I was immediately attracted to Sony because of how well the cameras shoot in the dark and just how high quality the photos are. I'm kind of spoiled by it now. Anytime I use another camera and I see how disgusting it looks when I shoot a dark image, it kind of blows my mind. So without even realizing it, that's why I picked Sony.”
Never one to sit still, Siemer is getting into timelapse and motion images. “It's a new challenge. When I said before that I think part of why I was doing the creative experiments in Photoshop wasn't always about the end product. Sometimes it was just the joy of learning Photoshop. Now I know it really well, but there's still a lot of challenges and things I'm learning with After Effects, so I think that's part of the journey for me. It's challenging and I think that the end product is amazing. It gives me the opportunity to express more than I maybe could have with just a still.”
As she progresses in After Effects and in any other tool that Siemer masters, she’s eager to share what she’s learned with others. It’s been said that good artists borrow and great artists steal. In Siemer’s case, it seems the best artists break down that tired aphorism in favor of sharing and collaborating, principles upon which the Alpha Imaging Collective was created. “I try to be transparent about how I'm making the things I'm making because I think it's really important for the next generation of weirdos like me to be able to figure out how to make things that they want to make and everything I learned was through googling tutorials, so I'm trying to contribute back to that learning pool.”