Discovering Desdemona Dallas’ photography is – as they so perfectly put it – a window into calm. Desdemona (they/them) has spent the better part of their career creating iconic photography for individuals, brands, and publications alike, ranging from BUST Magazine to The Village Voice and Vice.
Their work gives a sense of the innate curiosity with which they explore the world. It’s that same sense that keeps them in purposeful change, whether it’s from shoot to shoot or exploring new creative ambitions altogether, without the pressure of discovering a calling or achieving the perfect thing.
In Desdemona’s words: “My calling is something that continues to unfold in front of me everyday. It’s a constant dialogue I keep alive with my inner self and continue to try to answer that call, in whatever form it takes.”
So many of us think of our purpose as a job title. But as Desdemona so perfectly shows us, our purpose is the essence we express through all things.
We had Desdemona, and all of our other featured Pride instructors listen to this special audio guided practice to get clearer on the vision and purpose for their lives, so we wanted to share it with you too. Listen to this audio, then read my interview with Desdemona to inspire you to dream bigger.
What role has creativity played in the expression of your identity?
I often feel that I don’t quite understand something until I can look at it through an expressive ideation. If I don’t fully understand how I am feeling about something, I’ll pick up my camera and try to find a way to explore those ideas through the lens. Seeing concepts through images gives me a chance to really explore a moment or a sentiment. In taking photos I can step back from something and look at it in its purest form, separate from the rest of the world and my own internal judgments. It is through this inquisitive nature that I am often exploring my own identity. If I have an internal pondering about identity, in its many forms, I’ll work to develop a photographic project around that question so I might begin to explore it more deeply.
What fear have you had to overcome to share your creativity fully? What stories and limiting beliefs did you have to overcome?
Georgia O’Keeffe said: “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” I don’t know if there will ever be one moment where I, as an artist, stop having to overcome fears. I believe fear is a sensation that arises when we are pushing ourselves to the next step in our creativity. Fear arises when you’re doing something new. I hope, in terms of my creative practice, I am always a little bit afraid, because that means I’m pushing into something new. Although those fears change over time, fear is an important part of the creative process. I think of fear as a close creative companion.
How has the queer community shaped your perspective?
The queer community pushes me to act out of authenticity instead of the acceptance of the status quo. I think when you come out, a switch kind of flips in your brain, when you suddenly realize that if you just choose what is best for your own authenticity you can be 10000x happier than if you resist yourself in order to gain acceptance from others. And there are hardships to that for sure. I have definitely lost people, along my own queer journey, who don’t agree with my decisions. But at the end of the day, living in your truth and knowing that you are showing up for yourself each day is worth the loss of those who couldn’t accept the truth of who you are.
The queer community continuously reminds me that this world we live in is fluid, and what some might consider black and white is often a beautiful shade of grey. As a queer person I understand that so much of what I have been told is false, so it’s easier to push back on what I’ve been told by society. The queer community pushes me to ask questions, and know that even the most basic of life’s “truths”, might turn out to be a lie.
When do you feel most connected to yourself?
Anytime I am around water. A lot of my photographic work focuses on water, and many of my best ideas come to me in the bath or shower. Water is the element I use to connect to myself. This can be by the ocean, a lake or river, or literally just taking a moment to drink some tea. Water helps me slow down and connect to my body and thus connect to my internal truths. Things seem more nebulous, more dream-like. Ideas can come and go as they please when I’m working with that element.
How or when did you feel like you had unlocked your calling?
I believe, as a society, we put too much pressure on ourselves to find our one calling, or our one passion in life. To me, my calling is something that continues to unfold in front of me everyday. It’s a constant dialogue I keep alive with my inner self and continue to try to answer that call, in whatever form it takes. The writer Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the idea that instead of following our passion, we must follow our curiosities. I really hold true to that. I try to allow my calling to change, my passions to change, myself to change, and instead follow my interests. When starting a new project I ask myself “what is intriguing me in this moment?” That is the calling I’m often hoping to unlock. Your purpose evolves because you do.
What does creative fulfillment look like to you? Describe the feelings evoked.
In the life of an artist there is a lot of hustle and grind. A lot of working hard for very little. With the pressure of social media and the internet to constantly be in production, creative fulfillment to me, is having the time to process my ideas to their fullest extent. When I’m feeling in my most creative state it is because I have the time, energy, and resources to dive into my inner thoughts and imaginations. In these periods I am able to bring concepts and ideas to life from a centered and grounded place. Creative fulfillment is meditative and grounded, yet also elevating and euphoric.
What would you tell someone who is afraid to make or share creative work?
I’m a firm believer in learning through experimentation. The more you share your work, the more feedback you’ll get, the more you’ll learn what you like and don’t like. You can ruminate on an idea for months or years, but until you put it out into the world, you’ll never have any idea how others respond to it, and thus will be unable to grow. Sharing work is an essential part of any creative practice. If you’re not ready to share on social media or on the internet, share instead with a close friend who will be supportive, or find a group online or in person that exchanges ideas. Let those people know where you are at. Are you looking for constructive criticism, or are you wanting positive support? You have to move past the fear that it might not be good enough, and step into the potential of resonance with others.
What edges are you currently pressing into creatively? Through which domains do you feel nervous but excited to explore your creative limits?
Currently I’m moving away from some aspects of my photographic practice and beginning to explore filmmaking and directing. It’s a choice I feel completely aligned with, simultaneously I know in many ways I’m back at square one. Learning a new industry, new technical skills, and new creative skills is a lot to take on. But I’m very excited for the challenge.
How do you describe your artist statement or approach to photographic work?
I take life and work slowly. I believe in the power of personal narrative. I believe in transforming personal narrative over time. I believe the documentation of that change is one of the most beautiful things we can witness as humans. My photos are not shocking, or jarring, they are instead windows into calm. I hope my images create spaces that people can come home to. There is a lot of chaos in this world, and I think a lot of photographers lean into that chaos and heighten it. My hope through my photographic work is to show the human element that connects us, and bring people back to a centered perspective of themselves and the world around them.
Describe your process for documenting/creating visual essays that capture the queer community. What excites, energizes, and motivates this work?
I’m motivated to do this work, by my own pure love for the queer community. There are so many amazing artists, and thinkers and inventors that make up this community and they so often get overlooked by society. I want people to know that there are other ways to create a life, there are other ways to see the world. Even if they don’t often get displayed, I want my photography to show that people have options for alternative ways of living, ways that might make them feel more whole in themselves.
I don’t know that I have a specific process for this. Many of the queer people I document or photograph are my friends. They are people who deeply inspire me and I want to capture that and share it with others.
Follow along with Desdemona in their Skillshare Staff Pick classes, “Dynamic Portrait Photography: Working with Blocks” and “Dynamic Portrait Photography: Working with Natural Light.”
Justin Michael Williams, 33, is an author, transformational speaker, and top-20 recording artist who has become a pioneering voice for diversity and inclusion in wellness. From growing up with gunshot holes outside of his bedroom window, to sharing the stage with Marianne Williamson and Deepak Chopra, Justin knows well the pain of adversity and the power of healing to overcome. He has since been featured by The Wall Street Journal, Grammy.com, Billboard.com, The Root, The Advocate, Yoga Journal, and SXSW®. With his groundbreaking book Stay Woke, and over a decade of teaching experience, Justin’s message of hope and empowerment has spread to more than 40 countries around the globe, particularly through his national “Stay Woke, Give Back” tour bringing mindfulness to youth in underserved communities. Justin is dedicated to using his voice to serve; to being a beacon of hope for those who are lost, and to making sure all people, of all backgrounds, have access to the information they need to change their lives. Learn more at www.justinmichaelwilliams.com
For more from our Pride Series with Justin Michael Williams, head here.