Exploring the Self with Ninjin Puntsag
Ninjin Puntsag is a Mongolian photographer who works with sports horses, and spends a lot of time reconnecting with her own being through self-portraiture.
To express myself using portraiture
It is a 365-day project
Some of the photos required a certain amount of physical effort. Running to and from the camera to verify if the shot is fine is almost a sport.
The idea of self-portraits occurred to me in 2006, while photography sparked an interest in me when I was 18. I was fascinated by a classmate’s B&W photos, but I didn’t start shooting until years later, and the interest lay dormant for a very long time. My first self-portraits were simply selfies, but soon, this wasn’t enough. The ego-pics soon turned into something that required more thought, planning and a proper camera.
Self-portraits became a great way to express myself. I used to paint and draw as a child, but eventually quit in my teens. It left within me an artistic void that needed to be filled, and photography did that. It also allows me to overcome my introversion and is much easier than finding a model. I am both in front of and behind the camera, and I know exactly what pose or expression I need. I kept seeing 365-day projects and one day, I said, why not? I already take a lot of photographs of myself, why not turn this into an everyday habit?
Most of the times, I don’t really plan the photo. Sometimes, I see patterns created by light and shadow and use them. Sometimes, it depends on the place I am at, the mood I am in, the music and the images of other people who inspire me.
I enjoy khoomii (overtone singing), morin khuur (traditional Mongolian violin) and music that is able to take one to faraway places. Sigur Rós, Sainkho Namtchylak, Altan Urag, Arga Bileg and Okna Tsahan Zam are a few of the artists that put me in a creative mood. I am also inspired by the wonderful photography of Francesca Woodman, Lauren Simonutti, Angela Bacon-Kidwell, Sally Mann and Vivian Maier.
I usually shoot in confined spaces and try to create the illusion of a larger space. Props play an important role too—a floating piece of fabric creates something ethereal, flowers add a delicate touch and so on. Melancholia, nostalgia, sadness and loneliness are the keywords for the images. But, basically, it is all improvisation. I keep shooting until I am satisfied with the result.
I set the camera on a tripod and use a remote control. I end up shooting at home because it is private and I can concentrate better. If I am outdoors, I prefer quiet places without people passing by, so that I don’t feel self-conscious. I am also always on the prowl for textures, interesting shapes and light.
A good image is one that after a single view makes you gasp in awe, and leaves a permanent indentation in your memory that serves as an inspiration… an image that makes you feel, and awakens in you the desire to create. I hope my photos evoke a similar response in the viewers, and I hope I am creating something that can be identified as mine. 100 per cent self-portraits—sometimes gloomy and a little on the dark side—a monochromatic journey interrupted by whispers of colour from time to time.
- When I got my first DSLR, I started to learn on my own how to use it. It continued on and off, with a 2 –year hiatus when I almost didn’t touch the camera.
- Now, I shoot with a Nikon D600 and a 50mm AF Nikkor f/1.4D lens. The post-processing, which is basically conversion to black and white and adjusting the contrast, is done with Photoshop CS5. I also plan to make a few photos with film cameras.
Tips for Emphatic Self-Portraits
- Be Drawn to Simplicity: Try not to be attached to one particular style and use different techniques. For me, the pose depends on how the light paints the subject, and whether the contour of the body is in accordance with the mood, but above all, I am drawn to simplicity.
- Use Natural Light: Play with shadows, and try using light from every angle.
- Try Exaggerating Poses: Tensing the muscles and stretching will help you exaggerate the pose and emphasise form.
— As told to Ambarin Afsar
To view more images by Ninjin, you can visit www.flickr.com/photos/nomadwoman