Victoria Siemer, known on Tumblr as Witchoria, is blowing up. She sits down next to me in the upstairs of a bar near Union Square and shows me her lock screen, which lights up literally every second with a new Instagram notification. By the time we leave the bar she has gained more than 10,000 new Instagram follower, thanks to a couple tweets from Troian Bellisario of Pretty Little Liars who sports a casual 1.48M Twitter followers.
“Before, it was going so fast that you couldn’t even pause to read any of them,” Siemer says. “It was insane. That was twenty minutes ago.”
Siemer, a blonde woman in her mid-20s—that’s her in the photographs—speaks in long monologues, sometimes needing me to repeat the question, with a rapid but controlled delivery. We’re here to discuss her “Human Error” series, in which she overlays heartbreak-related error messages onto pictures Photoshopped to resemble Polaroids. They’re little windows into confrontations with the past—as intimated by the grainy pictures—juxtaposed with moments from the present, highlighted by the error messages that hit our computers on a daily basis. Frequently they’re funny, but they always speak to a certain pain or anxiety familiar to anyone that’s gone through a breakup.
“Tumblr,” she says. "It's all about self-deprecating heartbreak.”
The young artist spoke with The Creators Project about the ramifications of a TV star sharing her Instagram, balancing her day job with her photography work, and why a computer crash inspired her popular "Human Error" photo series.
The Creators Project: So what happened?
Victoria Siemer: Spencer [played by actress Troian Bellisario] from Pretty Little Liars found the Huffington Post Article and she tweeted it like, “I really like this,” and that was to 1.4 million followers. And she also pulled two of the images and posted them like, “Check out Witchoria’s work.” I didn’t know it was happening until my co-worker who’s obsessed with Pretty Little Liars was like, “Oh my god, Spencer posted your photos! It took me a second to realize what was happening because it’s a picture of you with 6,000 likes.”
What’s it like to be blowing up online?
I’ve got a little bit of anxiety about it. It feels good. I’ve been getting more and more excited with each one and then it’s just nervousness now where I feel like… success brings happiness for a certain amount of time and then you hit some sort of plateau and then you need to exceed it. Sometimes I wonder now if I can go past the “Human Error” series. How am I going to outdo myself?
Like, as of 20 minutes ago?
Especially now, but even with the first ones as it starting to blow up it was like… I never expected that. I kind of made the first one as a joke. My Photoshop crashed and I make really sarcastic jokes so I started Photoshopping it to be like, “Photoshop broke your heart.” It completely shifted when I was like, “I’ve got a better idea."
To me, it’s the most Tumblr thing on Tumblr. On art Tumblr. When did you start doing it?
A month ago. The first one was a month ago. I did an interview last week and I was like, “Oh my god,” and I looked back. And that was the first one. A month ago I made one during work when I was working on a really complicated piece with a whole bunch of clipping masks and it crashed and didn’t recover. I had to go out and smoke six cigarettes. I was in tears because I was so upset.
What do you do for a job?
I’m a web designer at a place in Flatiron called “Velocidi.” It’s pretty cool. I kind of have a neat parallel where I have my normal job where I do corporate web design and some exciting digital marketing work and then I have this wild side where I post my own strange pieces. I’ve got a couple series going at the same time. I pretty regularly post to that. I’ve got a pretty nice balance, which I think a lot of people would be happier in creative fields if they do take the constant paycheck while still doing what they want. The only thing is it takes a lot of work. Sometimes you go to work for eight hours and you go home and you’re grinding for another four hours and it’s like you’re working two jobs. But I love to drive myself crazy so it’s worked out so far.
How many hours a day do you do make art?
It depends on the day. Sometimes I’ll be grinding away for hours and I won’t realize I’ve been Photoshopping another five hours after work. Other times it’s like… Now that I have a pattern with some of the series, it’s pretty quick visually deciding how I want to compose things. Now that I have a template, the process is a little quicker with some of the series, especially the “Human Error” series and the “Squared” series, which the internet has now renamed “Geographic Reflections.” That one was also getting pretty popular at the same time. And then the first one, which was the “Levitation” series where I was making people float in weird spaces around Brooklyn. That put my foot in the door on Tumblr and then all these other things that are a bit sillier and can make fun of themselves are what really transcended everything else and now what I’m known for.
How do you make the Levitation series?
It’s actually pretty simple, I don’t mind giving the secret away. You shoot the background, you shoot a blank, and then you put a stool or something in it, and then you put the people in it. A lot of photographers know how to do it, but it’s essentially getting people to look comfortable is the tricky part. I’ve learned copious amounts of wine helps quite a bit to make people a little more relaxed when they’re in strange positions.
That one’s super fun, I’ve still got some projects coming up that I’m excited about. Now that a lot of people are shooting Levitation, it’s one of the trends for this year, these are people that are actual photographers—I’m a graphic designer who’s really good at photoshop—so I’m pretty good with my camera but I didn’t go to school for it, so I’m not an expert with lighting and making the photo exquisite on its own. I’m really good at making the photo exquisite if I screwed it up in Photoshop.
See more of Siemer's work over at her website: http://witchoria.com/