Miss Aniela: Whimsical Portraits Find Fame on Flickr

When self-taught, English photographer Natalie Dybisz started posting her dreamlike self-portraits on Flickr under the moniker Miss Aniela, she never anticipated that she would become a virtual superstar amid the online photo-sharing community within a matter of months.

“I remember writing about it in my diary, which is how I remember, and saying how I was excited that people liked my clone images,” Dybisz says. “I never expected to get a big response from putting pictures online.”

Her photos haven’t only awed fellow Flickrers; she was gaining such a response that her work was being featured on Wired.com before she had even finished a degree from the University of Sussex in England.

When Dybisz created her Flickr account in April 2006, she came up with Miss Aniela as a playful twist on her middle name, and as she started gaining recognition, “it just felt natural to carry the name on to everything else, a little like an artist name,” she says. When she started uploading her digital creations, she was especially drawn to focusing the self as subject in order to hone her burgeoning photography skills and to develop her personal style.

“At first it was [a] kind of convenience, and as I went on, I developed a passion for it,” she says. “I think also it is the ultimate way of expressing yourself, and you literally have control over everything, and that’s definitely an appeal for me. You can just go straight into doing it, and the final product is completely yours, which is empowering as well.”

Her haunting, sophisticated images, which often feature multiple self-portraits combined into one photo, are reminiscent of movie stills. “I am definitely inspired by the way in which everything is thought out and much more embellished in film,” Dybisz says. “Although I never thought that I could create something that looks like what has been made in film, because that takes a lot of equipment.”

“To win a competition would be amazing, but to be the actual judge is, for me, even better because I am really young and have been doing this for like, what, two minutes?”

Even though her photos look incredibly complex, she keeps her initial setup for each photo surprisingly simple. She uses props found around her home, and her lighting sources often consist of natural light or household lamps. Only recently has she started utilizing studio-lighting equipment — courtesy of a birthday present.

“I feel like I’m still very much an embryo, but it’s still very important for me to have a simple approach,” she says. “Start very simple, think about the idea more than anything, and bring the equipment in as you need it rather than having all the gear.”

But the real spectacle, so to speak, takes place when Dybisz seamlessly combines multiple self-montages into one cohesive image in Photoshop and then posts the final product online. “The process of sharing my work online was part of the process all along,” she says. “People associate me with Flickr and photo sharing, and I think it is kind of interesting that the Internet has gotten me into photography so much.”

Her recognition on Flickr has opened some unbelievable opportunities, such as being a featured guest at Microsoft events. Last year, the company handpicked Dybisz to fly to Seattle to host a few digital-photography presentations for it. “That was really amazing because literally someone from Flickr recommended me to Microsoft,” she says. “That was probably the biggest thing that’s happened so far.”

This past October, Dybisz also was a judge for the Photographer of the Year competition that was hosted by the UK’s Digital Camera magazine. “To win a competition would be amazing,” she says, “but to be the actual judge is, for me, even better because I am really young and have been doing this for like, what, two minutes?”

In addition to her appearances, her work has been included in exhibits throughout England and has also been featured in magazines throughout the world including American Photo, Vanity Fair (Italy), Playboy (Spain), and TECHMAG (China).

Dybisz is starting to branch out into other art mediums as well. She recently teamed up with a sculptor to create a 3-D sculpture, and she is interested in embarking on film projects. If her undeniable photographic talent and previous achievements are any indication of her future potential, there’s pretty much no limit to what Dybisz can accomplish creatively.

“I think it’s very important to keep your mind open as an artist,” Dybisz says. “I’m very modest about what I have done so far, and I feel that I have just touched the surface of what I would like to do.”