I See You: Avatar Photoshoot Turns Into a Meaningful Experience for Everyone

I’m always searching for interesting personal projects—ideas that are worth the effort and time it takes to make it visible.

Nowadays, I often get suggestions for themes or models for photoshoots. For my personal projects I prefer to come up with my own concepts, but every once in a while along comes a project that is really hard to say no to…

This time it was an idea suggested by Maija, an amateur model trying to find a photographer for the ambitious aim of bringing Neytiri from the movie Avatar to life.

She appeared to be unsure about herself as a model, and genuinely surprised that I was interested in taking part in the project, but for me this was a no brainer: First of all, I love the movie and all the hypervisual elements in it, and secondly, she had already done a good job finding a talented makeup artist/bodypainter and hairstylist to do what was needed to transform her to Neytiri, making it easy to just jump along in the planning.

My first move was to ask my good friend Marko Paakkanen if he could contribute something to the project and he answered by creating a real size Avatar ceremonial bow, how cool is that!

For this project, a lot of different kinds of talent and various elements came together and created something none of us could have done on our own. It took hours and hours of planning, collecting moodboards, and making the props and costumes—including tens of hours to make the unique bow, six hours to braid the hair and nine hours to paint the body.

Finally, three more hours in the photoshoot, I-didn’t-even-count-how-many hours retouching the images, and we were done. I’m proud to present what we accomplished, and I can only hope I will stumble on similar projects in the future, too!

While planning the project I realized that there were more layers to it. I took for granted that Maija was more than suited for playing the part of Neytiri, having even the exact right physique for it: long limbs, noble neck and overall slender appearance. However, talking with her I was stunned to find out that she had recently transformed her lifestyle and lost a LOT of weight… and yet she was still struggling to see herself as beautiful.

“I see you” is one of the important lines in the movie Avatar. Now I was hoping that the results of this photoshoot would make the world -and more importantly- her see herself for what she is.

Avatar is a story of trust, being different and standing up for yourself. I find many of the same elements in this story, and hope that people will get the same feeling from seeing Maija as Neytiri in these images.

About the author: Antti Karppinen is a photographer, digital artist, and retoucher based in Finland. He is an internationally award-winning commercial and portrait photographer. You can find more of his work over on his website and blog.

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