(Interviewed by Russell A. Whitehouse)
Ona is a musician, artist, dancer, and model living in Brooklyn and on the web. She studied dance & biology as an undergraduate, then received an MFA in Fine Art from the Parsons School of Design. Her work has appeared across thousands of media, Internet & broadcast channels. As an “Extreme Selfie Model,” she practices a DIY aesthetic by self-producing all her own content: shooting her own photos, crafting her own videos, and designing her own websites. Her band, ONA, will be releasing its 1st EP, Sex Rock, in April 2016. DAZED & CONFUSED Magazine has said she is “a digital artist to keep your eye on.” Check her out on Instagram @onaartist & on OnaArtist.com.
Russell A. Whitehouse is a freelance social media consultant and political policy essayist for the Eurasia Review, IntPolicyDigest & Pressenza. Twitter: @russawhitehouse
How did you decide to make selfie photography your thing?
It happened when I started making visual art my main thing. I wanted to have full ownership of the images, in their full resolution. That’s rather difficult to negotiate with standard photographers, so I turned to selfie photography. Sometimes I am shooting the photos myself and sometimes I use an assistant.
Is Cindy Sherman a big inspiration of yours? One could say that she paved the way for you, as a pioneer of selfies and woman-centric perspectives of the female subject.
Absolutely! I've loved Cindy Sherman's work for a long time. I particularly love her B-movie stills, as I think they amazingly crystallize the time of their heyday. I think of Instagram as today's version of B-movies.
Does your bachelor’s degree in biology inform your work at all?
My biology degree informs my understanding of sex and humans. We evolved over so many years symbiotically as men and women, and I find the gendered differences and similarities in expression and experience to be endlessly interesting.
How would you describe the intersections of modeling & dancing, two arts devoted to the visual documentation of the human body?
That's a good question, and I'll speak on it personally rather than broadly. My early training was as a modern dancer, and when I model I often consider it dance. Modeling tends to be a single moment captured/archived and dance to be live movements in progress. So modeling lends itself to my visual art practice really smoothly.
What are your style inspirations?
Hmmm I'm not really into clothing. I mostly just wear cheap items or gifts and take them off! But with my hair I definitely have a 90s rocker chick look, which I like.
Do you use studio lighting at all? Your work seems dominated by sunlight.
I much prefer natural light and use that almost exclusively! When conditions don't allow though, I will use a light on a stand or flash. But I love the variety the light brings to the photo, and every space has different light.
Do you only shoot with your phone or do you have a dedicated camera, as well?
I shoot my photographs mostly with a DSLR (Nikon d610 currently). I also use a Lumix for video & an iPhone for selfies. I also use a selfiestick, an iPhone tripod, and am always on the lookout for new gadgets to diversify.
What advice would you have for other models that are interested in doing their own photo shoots? I think it’s fair to say that selfie shoots will become much more common in the near future.
Yeah! I think it's a really exciting time to be a model! Take tons of photos! Take inspiration from photos you like and do them in your own way. Ask friends, your target audience, and yourself to make selections and start developing your own style – and that style might be great diversity.
Do you plan on shooting other models in the future?
Yes, I do. I've photographed my friends and enjoy it very much. But I imagine this is something I'll start doing more and more as time goes on.
What have you learned about yourself on your modeling odyssey?
I've learned that for me to experiment and stretch myself, I need to be really comfortable in a photographic situation. Also, that I really love to artistically work with my own image – whether it's digitally or with mixed media. And I'm excited to see how this changes over time.