Inspiration for Shoots

Surreal Portrait of a Young Writer

Me Ra Koh

I’ve never done anything like this before.  This project scared me, inspired me and stretched me beyond words.  It took me four months to complete.  It’s been a process of becoming a beginner again.  This is Cole, a surreal portrait of a young writer with a powerful gift.

Cole is one of my favorite people in the universe.  Last year, I had the opportunity to mentor him with his writing.  This year, Pascaline and I did his Senior Portraits together.  She’s since launched her own Senior Photography business!  But I also had a vision to create something more, something surreal.

If you’ve attended our 2-Day Confidence photography workshop for women, I’ve show you my process for setting up my camera in manual mode to shoot the moment as best “in camera” as possible.  This way I don’t have to do much editing afterwards.  All that to say, it’s been years since I’ve opened Photoshop.  But this creative vision was going to require not only using Photoshop but also finding someone to teach me how to do what I was visualizing.

This last October, I was invited to speak at Brooke Shaden’s Promoting Passion conference.  I ADORE Brooke.  Her surreal fine art photography always speaks to my heart.  Being with her and 300+ like minded artists got my creative juices flowing in a new direction.  Trying a surreal piece felt like a serious challenge, but even more challenging was coming up with the idea of what to do.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt like I was becoming a beginner again.  Can I just say it felt both terrifying and freeing!  As artists, it’s easy to get into creative ruts where we are creating the same things over and over again.  I’ve been hungry for a creative challenge.

When Cole’s mom told me she wanted a portrait that showed Cole’s gift and passion for writing–my creative spirit started churning.  And somewhere along the way, this piece came knocking on my heart’s door and said “Create Me”…the idea of creating a surreal portrait of a young writer.

I’ve heard that knock several times over the last twenty years of being a working artist  When I hear the knocking of a creative project asking me to answer, I have two options.  I can ignore the knocking, but I know that if I ignore it enough times…eventually the knock will no longer come.  Or I can answer and willingly step into the unknown–step into the dark–where creativity is at its rawest form and produces a living work.

It doesn’t matter if I’m not a “surreal” photographer.  It doesn’t matter that I haven’t spent years honing my Photoshop skills.  It doesn’t matter that this piece may not match anything else I’ve ever created.  All that matters is that I’m obedient to answer the knocking.

Through Brooke Shaden’s conference, I met a talented artist named Samantha Goss.  She is a phenomenal teacher; I can’t recommend her enough!  Over several one-on-one skype calls, I got back in touch with becoming a beginner again.  For four months, I was the student who felt vulnerable, unsure, second guessed my ability to complete this, made major mistakes that required starting all over, got frustrated, got excited, was super proud and then super discouraged, entertained the idea of just giving up many times, and yet still felt the pull to return and keep going.

This was my vision.  I wanted Cole to have a visual representation of God’s promise for his future.  That when he sits down to write, when he pounds out the words that come from the depths of his being, God’s wind will take the work of his hands and blow them to the ends of the earth.  Some of these papers are actual edits from our writing sessions.  If you look close, you can even see the edit marks I made on them.  This was intentional.  I want him to always remember that even though there is always something more we can do to make a piece better or tighter…the creative process is never about perfection but progress.

This final portrait of Cole is 28 different photos layered together.  I learned so much throughout this creative process.  If you’d like me to do a separate blog post that walks you through part of the process, let me know in the comments.

The greatest reward was giving it to his family yesterday.  I had it printed on a Modern Metal, and the metal made it shine that much more.  His mom started to cry which made me cry.  And Cole’s face was beaming.  They shared it on their social media, and I just cried last night as I read people’s comments.

It’s been a while since I felt like I’ve birthed something.  I went into the dark to create this.  I gave up the security of doing things the way I always do them.  And I fumbled around for months, unsure of what was even taking form.  But to see the final piece birthed and give life to others…to see it inspire so many already…I’m undone.

To Cole and his family, thank you for giving me the space and time to create in the dark.  Thank you to Samantha for being such a wonderful, encouraging teacher and to Brooke for opening my creative mind. Love you all dearly.




  1. Annette Elliott says:

    Me Ra,
    I would love to read a post on your process of creating this amazing photo!!! Thanks for sharing, I admire your work!!


  2. Janice says:

    Such a cool photo! 28 different photos!! Wow Yes Blog please!