A couple of months ago, I had the most incredible opportunity to go to Brooklyn and be doused in copious amounts of beautiful color (check out my session here). If you follow me on Instagram @ThatLauraAura, I’ve got all kinds of photos that lead to The Confetti Project (which we’re going to dig into today). It was one of the most incredible experiences and I said, you know what? I have to have you on the show to share your passion with the world.
So today, we welcome Jelena. She is the creator of The Confetti Project, which is this incredible photography series where she is quite literally dousing amazing humans in pounds of confetti as they explore the question, what can you celebrate?
She’s a creative entrepreneur with a background in psychology and design, which is brilliant by the way. And she’s always trying to create a powerful visual storytelling role, provoking a space that brings back the divine art of play while surrendering to the present.
Jelena, welcome to The Gutsy Podcast!
How It All Began
“The confetti project is a photography brand where, you know, it’s a little more than just photography. I see it as a therapy session.”
After walking into Jelena’s Brooklyn studio, everything in your soul begins to shift. From the lavender being diffused to the gallery of others letting go while being confetti-doused—it’s an absolute atmosphere of liberation.
“It’s this opportunity to really check in with yourself and really think about ‘where am I at in my life right now?’ And then mixed with the pounds of confetti (and it, you know, it really is pounds, it’s like a minimum three to four pounds) from the first time they throw it, this transformation happens where anything that’s happening in their life—circumstances, anxieties, stresses—are checked out the door. And they’re able to drop into the present moment. And that’s where the confetti has magical powers.”
During her mid-twenties, Jelena started this project while realizing the just how powerful energy truly is, and how special it is to tap into those things that can easily change your energy into one filled with joy and optimism.
Hearing Their Story
One of the things I loved during my interaction with Jelena is that we sat and just got to know each other first. So I asked her what it is about a person’s story that feels important to her. What’s the power behind it?
“I have to preface with the fact that I really firmly believe that we all have our innate skills and talents and superpowers that are constantly being unveiled to us over our lives. When I was a child, I was always that weird kid asking people questions. You know? And I remember after I graduated college, and you know, this is in my clubbing days when I used to go to clubs and I remember meeting someone on the dance floor and my go-to question was, in a perfect world, what would you want to be? You know, and I was getting like the most interesting answers. So I’ve always been very curious about people’s stories.”
A love for humans, mixed in with her desire to create magic from vulnerability, are two beautifully critical components to the art Jelena creates. It begins with each individual separating themselves from initial comfort zones and then coming into a mindset of gratitude and what-if’s; while finding the confidence to completely surrender to play.
The Art of Vulnerability
A lot of people are trained to believe emotions and vulnerability are bad. That they’re a sign of weakness and others will think lesser of us if we express them. As an artist of vulnerability, I was curious about Jelena’s thoughts on this concept throughout her photography sessions.
“I find that when you are vulnerable and you do expose yourself and you do put yourself out there (as terrifyingly exciting as that is because it’s the unknown, you know, I think the unknown is the number one anxiety trigger for any human ’cause you don’t know how you’re gonna be perceived), I think anyone that’s been vulnerable or taken a risk at any point in their life has seen that what comes back at you is like really special. Because anytime you’re vulnerable, people can relate to you. Because we’re all vulnerable, we’re all insecure, we all have our traumas, our baggage, our experiences, our pasts and all of that.”
Vulnerability is literally the superglue of relationships. It can be the very thing that allows you to connect to another individual on a depth far beyond others. Some may view it as an antonym for strength, but that couldn’t be far from the truth.
“I think the more vulnerable you are, it’s kind of like this muscle, you know? And so the more that you lead your life in your truth and your vulnerability, you don’t let yourself be defined by your insecurities or whatever fear you have associated with showing your fullest self.”
Cancer and Confetti
Jelena just finisher her first book, Cancer and Confetti. And I mean, wow, the title of that book alone just gives me chills.
“The title Cancer and Confetti is about the first year that I started The Confetti Project . . . And so that was unfolding at the same time my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. So for an entire year I was either dousing people in confetti or I was going back home and helping my dad fight for his life. And anytime someone would ask me, How are you, what’s up? How’s it going? I’d be like, in the most psyched way, my life has cancer and confetti.
I was living in these two dimensions that when you talk about it, they’re seemingly opposing, right? One is celebration, one is death in sickness. But I was given the gift to be smack in the middle of them, kind of alternating between the two and really realizing that they have way more in common than one would think.”
As Jelena mentions within the episode, it would be nice to put our pain in one corner and pleasure in the other, but the two almost intertwine throughout several stages of our lives.
“So with that said, you have to celebrate everything you do.”
“My father passed away when I was 26. And then, you know, the year—now the years—of being fatherless and grieving. And, um, I mean really for me, I want to de-stigmatize death because as painful as it was for my father to die, death is like the most universal truth . . . And so, for me, the aim of the book is by sharing the story. And really being honest that grief is one of my favorite emotions. And by my father dying, my life has been so enriched and I was able to be catapulted into a heightened dimension of consciousness where I have this x-ray vision into other people’s suffering.”
Jelena offers such a beautiful angle on life, death, and the celebration of the two (as well as everything in between).
“I think it’s really important to have this conversation where you can use death, like as inspiration to live your life to the fullest and celebrate every single moment no matter what it brings.”
It can seem difficult to find the light within such a seemingly dark moment of grief, so I asked Jelena, for someone going through the process of grief right now, how does the transformation into the celebration of death even transpire?
“That’s a great question. I think maybe rewinding a little bit in the sense of grief is very individual for every person. And in the book, I even write kind of like a list of different factors that affect people’s grieving process. And so, you know, for me, I had a really deep connection with my father. We talked about death way before he got sick. I knew how he wanted to go . . . So for me, he was sick for a really long time and it was a really agonizingly slow process.
Whereas, not coincidentally, my best friend lost her father exactly six months before mine, but in the exact opposite way. She was in Vietnam, she got a phone call, he had a brain aneurysm, he was dead in a minute. And so how does that affect our grieving processes? For me, it was easy because I had closure. I was able to say everything that I wanted to say to my father. And it was normalized cause he was sick for so long. We knew it was going to happen versus for her, it was so unexpected. It was this tragic instant thing.
And so we’ve been bonded by our grief and being able to be there for one another and really seeing all the different facets of grief. And that’s really where my fascination with death started.”
The Beauty of Grief
Because I couldn’t say it any better myself (and because this portion is so truly, truly beautiful and important), I’ll leave this one for Jelena.
“For anyone that has lost someone, the triggers are very random and they’re nonlinear. And grief is something that is with you for the rest of your life. It’s not like, oh, are you done grieving? Or you know, grief happens right after the person dies. It’s like you have a void that will never be filled for the rest of your life. And that’s okay. You learn how to cope with it. It becomes a part of you.
And so for me, when my grief comes or when I trigger it—which I do, I’m a big crier. I love to cry, it’s such a catharsis for me. So sometimes I’ll even listen to my dad’s voicemail, like the last thing he ever said to me. And I’ll start crying and I’ll start getting hysterical. And it’s usually me sobbing on the floor to the point of exhaustion. And even in that moment, because I’m allowing it to happen, there’s such beauty there. I feel such gratitude because it reminds me that I’m alive. And it’s also indicative of how deep my Love was for him. That I could feel so deeply his presence and his memory . . .
And so I think that the first thing is when you have grief or when you feel depressed or whatever certain type of emotion or something that you’re going through, to welcome it and to not inflict double-suffering on yourself by deflecting it or not letting it come or whatever self-defense mechanisms you have or conditioned habits or avoiding it . . .
I’ve gotten to see with other people in my family, like my sisters, what it’s like when you don’t allow yourself to properly grieve and give yourself that space and let it come. Where randomly you’ll start crying and you have no idea why, or you’ll be really, really angry and you, you don’t know why either, you know? And so I think those are kind of the main things of how to utilize it to inspire yourself . . . And to not let grief cripple you and define you, but to let it empower you and inspire you to really lead like your fullest life in honor of that person.”
The Transformation of People
So, as you can tell, Jelena has the incredible opportunity to truly get into the depths and vulnerabilities of others in a way that brings about life and celebration, amidst several other deeply felt waves of emotions. Can you imagine being so ever-present throughout the transformation of a person’s emotions? I can remember from my own personal experience just how much I transformed from the first picture taken to the last. It was this amazing release of self.
It’s not a typical type of experience.
What do you see when people are all of a sudden faced with this enormous amount of confetti?
“When people step onto the set, we’re all at different points in our life . . . Everyone’s really different and everyone has their kind of different capabilities of how much they want to let go, what they want to let go. For some women, that’s being self-conscious and body-image, body Dysmorphia, you know, feeling like you need to be perfect or as women being conditioned to be objects of beauty. Anytime we see a camera in front of us we’re like striking a certain pose or whatever. I see that a lot, you know, dismantling that and just letting go . . .
In the space this transformation happens or maybe, you know, for some people it doesn’t. I mean, they have their version of it. They were able to have fun and maybe they didn’t go really deep with it or allow themselves to go there. But I’m a firm believer in everything being like a seed that’s planted. So sometimes things come your way or you experienced it and maybe you don’t get it at that moment, but it becomes part of you and then it opens up at another point in your life. And all of a sudden it hits you and you get it.”
What Does Gutsy Mean to You?
“Mm, I love that. Gutsy. I think gutsy means, like we said before, bringing it full circle. Being vulnerable and what vulnerable means is being strong and being resilient and taking risks and seeing what happens and not letting yourself get in the way of it too much or anyone else.
I think for me, The Confetti Project was the first thing I ever finished in my life . . . I found my gutsy because I got so empowered by finishing something for the first time. And so with that, it becomes really contagious. It’s like, oh, I finished this when I set my mind to it, let’s see how it looks like when I do that with this and this part of my life and this. And slowly but surely you start leading a life where you’re raising the bar and it’s completely limitless, you know? And so I associate being gutsy with being limitless.”
(Oh my gosh—can we get this on a poster for our wall?)
Follow Along with Jelena and The Confetti Project
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