For Sophia Emmerich (she/her), art is a way to challenge social norms and their impact on the perception of beauty.
It’s clear the moment you look at her photographs, each a reflection of her deep reverence for expression in all its ways, shapes, and forms.
Sophia is a photo artist based in Berlin, and her path to creativity is its own hero’s journey. After years studying and then practicing law, Sophia opted to shed the skin of conformity and opt for creativity instead with all of its boundary breaking and lack of order.
To quote Sophia: “Being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, I have always felt connected to the fight for visibility for all. My work shows beauty regardless of gender, identity, or sexuality, and brings visibility and representation where it’s been long overdue.”
Like Sophia, many of us have dreams of creativity that we’ve pushed aside for conformity — but no more. This Dream Bigger guided audio practice will help you awaken your creative power. Listen to it, then read my interview with Sophia to inspire you to dream bigger.
What role has creativity played in the expression of your identity?
For me, creativity and identity have always been deeply connected to one another. I do not see myself as a person that simply does creative things, I am a creative person. How I express my identity has so much to do with art and creativity that it is hard to tell where one starts and the other ends. In my case, photography gives me the opportunity to not just express myself and my visions, but also showcase other identities. Through that I have learned so much about others, myself and how I want to be – that creativity has led me to the person I am today.
What fear have you had to overcome to share your creativity fully? What stories and limiting beliefs did you have to overcome?
When I started taking photos and shooting videos as a teenager, my understanding of creativity was rudimentary – I viewed it as an activity usually reserved for hobbies or something on the side. I had no idea that it was possible to actually work as an artist. For many years,I told myself that I had to study something that would “get me a good job with a secure future.” I listened to that voice and dedicated years towards reaching a profession I always knew I would never love. By the time I realised that all I wanted to do was pick up a camera and capture the people around me, to tell their stories, to show the world their beauty , I had just graduated from law school. It took a lot of overcoming expectations, both from the outside world, but also from myself. Because leaving the “good job and secure future” behind wasn’t easy. It never is. Self doubt always creeps in. What if I’m not actually good at taking photos? What if I should just do it on the side and work in an office 9-5? I don’t think many people like to admit to it, but I cared so much about what the “right thing to do” was, that I didn’t listen to myself and what I really wanted. That, combined with a fear of rejection and failure, was almost paralyzing. In the end all the rational thoughts and ideas I had in my head didn’t matter anymore, because the more I picked up my camera and took photos, the happier I felt. It was a long and sometimes excruciating process, but realising what makes you happy is one of the most rewarding experiences in life. Without the knowledge I gained of myself through the process, I might have never been able to do the work I do now. So I am grateful for my path, with all its twists and turns, and I can’t wait to see where life will take me next.
How has the queer community shaped your perspective?
Talking about the queer community fills my heart with so much joy and love that I have to check myself to not to be incredibly cheesy. When I think about the queer community, I see authentic, honest and beautiful (inside and outside) people living their true self. Being part of this wonderful community inspires me to live my most truthful, authentic self. It has changed my perspective so profoundly – I find myself much more open towards every human that comes into my life and eager to learn about their stories. Through this community I learn something new every day.
When do you feel most connected to yourself?
I feel most connected to myself when I’m surrounded by people that I care about. Whenever I have the opportunity to work with people from the queer community, I do so because I find it leads to better artistic results and a better atmosphere on set. Recently, for the first time, I worked on an exclusively queer set, with people from the community both behind and in front the camera, and I have never felt more connected to myself and my identity. Just being around so much love and acceptance is incredibly validating, especially as an artist.
How or when did you feel like you had unlocked your calling?
Looking back now, I think there have been many moments where I could have realised that I wanted to be a photographer. It’s hard to pin it down to just one. But one moment I remember very clearly that shifted the focus of my work was in 2018. I worked on my first exhibition “RedLipstickMen”, which showed huge projections of close-ups I had taken of men wearing red lipstick (I know… the name actually says it all, not my most creative move). The inspiration for that shoot stemmed from a time I had witnessed a friend of mine, who is perceived as masculine, wearing red lipstick and they were harassed on the streets. I was so shocked and couldn’t understand how something as simple as red lipstick caused such a strong reaction in people. I decided I wanted to show how beautiful any lips are with red lipstick, regardless of gender. Because I believed back then (and still do now) that humans are more open to things they have seen before. We are drawn to what we think is beautiful. Through these images and the exhibition, it became clear to me that I can make people change their minds and use my work as a tool to bring awareness and representation which has been long overdue.
What does creative fulfillment look like to you? Describe the feelings evoked.
Creative fulfillment for me as a photographer is making other people feel seen as their true and authentic self. I find it incredibly fulfilling to capture their individual beauty and connect with them through photography. Whenever I’m done with a project and the person in front of my camera recognizes themselves in the images, all the stress (and there can be a lot sometimes) is worthwhile. The images show the models that I have truly seen them, who they are, and that can be validating for both of us. It makes me incredibly happy to see other people be happy.
What would you tell someone who is afraid to make or share creative work?
It is so scary to put yourself out there, I can 100% relate to the fear of putting creative work out into the world. Because you feel connected to whatever you have been creating, any critique feels like criticism against you and not just your art. But the fear before you take that leap is nothing in comparison to the joy of actually having done it. I often anticipate the worst and overlook the positive things, but letting go of that and just doing your own thing is incredibly rewarding. It’s so much easier said than done, but not thinking too much about what other people think is key in my opinion. Be yourself, put yourself out there and amazing things will happen. Trust me.
What edges are you currently pressing into creatively? Through which domains do you feel nervous but excited to explore your creative limits?
On the one hand, I go back and forth between Imposter-Syndrome and something that can only be described as a “Yolo”-attitude. Some days I feel like I know nothing and everything I do is not worth seeing the light of day; but other days I want to work on big projects and can’t wait to get started. Finding the balance and actually managing my energy is one thing I still have to figure out and work through each day.
On the other hand, by working with and capturing the queer community in a way that brings awarness, there is an additional pressure. I have to work through the fear of not doing it right, not doing justice to my own community.
Describe your process for documenting/creating visual essays that capture the queer community. What excites, energizes, and motivates this work?
Working with the queer community and creating visuals that showcase the beauty thereof has two very important aspects for me. The first is educating myself – about queer history, about inclusivity and intersectionality (and the list goes on). The second is listening to what the people I work with have to share. I feel incredibly honored to have the opportunity to capture the queer community, so I want to do it justice.
I remember when I was growing up, the representation in the media of queer people was either nonexistent or full of stereotypes that I couldn’t relate to. So one thing that really motivates me is the thought of just one little kid looking at my work and seeing themselves. As a strong, beautiful queer person. I want to create the representation I needed when I was younger, so that other queer kids can feel seen and empowered.
Follow along with Sophia on Instagram, in her brand new Skillshare Staff Pick class, “Photography for Creative Blocks: Create a Photo Collage of Meaningful Images,” or join her Live on June 23 for “Collage Journaling to Explore Your Creativity.”
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.