Biography

If you are unfamiliar with my work and my background here is a little introduction:

I am 27 years old. I was born and raised in a small rural town in Western Michigan. I was born 3rd generation Jehovah’s Witness. 

When I was 15/16 years old, I began to rebel from the cult (in harmless, normal teenage ways: I wanted to go to prom, have a boyfriend- you know, that scary stuff) so my family decided the best decision for my spirituality would be to remove me from high school all-together. 
“Bad association spoils useful habits” was a common phrase I heard being tossed around by elders and my mother and grandmother. 

While I was out of school, I came into the possesion of my father’s old Canon a-1, which he would use for astro photography (he would take photos of me with comets and the northern lights throughout my entire childhood.) 

I began taking photos of mundane life; my first roll of film was images of ice-cycles and my cats. Then, I turned the camera on myself. 

Self portraiture became my escape, my way of communication to the world. Back then I hadn’t yet found my voice, or rather it was taken from me, but it was the beginning of everything for my life as I know it. 

I began posting my images to flickr, and with that I found the first non-JW community I ever tried to belong to. Against my mother’s orders and the councle given to me by the Elders in the congregation, I quickly began to cultivate friendships with creatives all over the world. These friendships have proved to be stronger than anything I had within the organization of JW’s I had been born into. If I didn’t have these “flickr friends”, I would have had no one outside the religion. 

I ended up getting my GED and started taking basic math, art history, biology, english and darkroom printing courses at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, MI. 

When I turned 18 in 2010, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. I ended up living in my car in the Sausalito ferry building parking lot for a while, as my (JW) best-friend’s family would only let me stay with them if I went into the Field Ministry work full time (door-to-door preaching), which meant 50 hours a month. 

While I was looking for a place to live I met my now ex, a non-JW, and he offered to let me stay with him on his sailboat. How exciting.

I wanted to live this new-found freedom. I wanted to make my art & surround myself with people from all walks of life. 

I was ex-communicated from my family, friends and the only community I ever knew. I was completely shunned, and completely on my own. 

The next 7 years (and counting- still working through all of this) would be the most difficult years of my entire life. I have suffered from severe depression, anxiety, PTSD and would later be diagnosed with epilepsy and borderline personality disorder.

While I was living in the bay I continued to take photographs of myself, friends, models and everyday life. 

I had my first solo exhibition in Sausaltio in 2011, was a part of various group shows in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Italy, Copenhagen and Paris. I continued to study various areas of interest at the local community college- Laney College, where I studied theatre, journalism and photography.

In 2013 I met photographer Todd Hido, through a mutual friend that insisted he must photograph me, and I began to work for him as an assistant in his studio for 2.5 years. 

At the end of 2014 I was asked to show my work at Brandts Museum of Photographic Art in Odense, Denmark. My prints hung alongside Cindy Sherman and Sally Mann in the “Selfie” exhibition.
I was fortunate enough to visit the exhibition, and when I saw my work hanging there, across the room from Sally Mann, I broke down in tears of utter happiness and disbelief. How had I made it here?

2015 was the hardest year of the 25 years I have been on this planet.
I was scared for my life- still believing that I would be destroyed in Armageddon at any moment (December 24th, 2014 I was a wreck haha,) homesick for my lake and my family, and completely encompassed by guilt. I felt guilty for following my heart- I felt guilty for just wanting to live my life outside of the cult. I felt guilty for my family shunning me. I felt like it was my choice, it was my fault.

I felt guilty for no reason in particular. 

My aunt and cousin literally said that it was my choice to be shunned, and that I better be “bleeding out” if I were to ever call him again. 

I began to watch the Cosmos series with Neil Degrasse Tyson. The indoctrination began to melt away. I felt this huge sense of relief come over me: I finally began to understand that life, the Universe: it’s all so much bigger than anything I was ever taught. 
Not too long after this, “Going Clear”, the documentary about Scientology came out. 
I watched it alone one night- tears streaming down my face. It was my childhood- give or take a few things- but with different terms for the practices. The realization washed over me: I was raised in a Cult. My family- all of them- are stuck in a Cult. 

I was sick to my very core. I became so depressed for 3 weeks that I could only leave my bed to relieve myself. I finally confronted my father and mother. I explained to them that I was tired of hiding myself, I was tired of feeling guilty, I was tired of feeling scared. I told them it hurt me so much- being ex communicated by my family whom I love so much. I told them that not being able to visit home was killing me. I told them that I felt it wasn’t fair- how could they tell me that they loved me unconditionally? 

Isn’t that what family is for? Unconditional love? 
I am grateful that they offered to help me with therapy. Therapy however, does not make up for such a monumental loss.

During this time period, I began to open up to the online art community (who I consider to be my true family!) Before I realized I came from a cult, I never criticised the practices, let alone on a public forum, for fear of being labeled an Apostate. An apostate is the lowest of the low- apostates are considered “mentally diseased” and my parents could get in even more trouble for the already limited contact they have with me. But I felt so very, very alone. And confused. And scared. So I opened up the only way I knew how, to the only people I thought would care. 

The support I received was astounding. The emails, tumblr messages and IG comments were pouring in, offering love and solidarity. I even found a community of over 7k ex-JW’s with stories similar to mine. 

When the summer of 2015 ended, I made the second hardest desicion of my life. I would leave my life in the Bay and move to Los Angeles to start over again. 

The last two years in LA has been quite an adjustment- settling in took quite a bit longer than I had anticipated. 

But not only was it the second hardest decision to leave, it was also the second best decision I have ever made (leaving the JW cult was obviously the first, ha!)

I had my first European solo exhibition in early 2017 (Paris.) I have collaborated with highly talented artists including Frank Ockenfels, Lou O'bedlam, Todd Hido, Brittany Markert, Davis Ayer and Gershon Kreimer. I had my first exhibition in Los Angeles, photographed a major campaign for Yamaha Guitar Development, participated in a burlesque performance and gone to countless comedy and music shows. 

I am also happy to report that as of this year (2017) my Father and I have a wonderful relationship now, and things are gradually getting better with my Mother, as well. 

Sometimes I find myself walking down the street, thinking “how did little ole Shelbie, from Delton Michigan, end up here?”

If you made it this far, I applaud and thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading this. 


FAQ

Do you have an Instagram?

Yes and no.

I technically have one, @thatshelbiedimond, but I am unable to really share most of my work on the platform.

I had a “following” which carried over from this awesome community on flickr long before I began to speak out against the cult in which I was raised (Jehovah’s Witnesses- you will see me refer to them as jw’s or jdubs.)

I began doing nude photography & modeling a solid two years before I even realized it was a cult & subsequently began to voice my criticisms. I had NO issues sharing my work then. Everything was peachy-keen up until 2016, a year after I “came out” about my past life.

At this point, I was receiving hate mail on a weekly basis & this was also when the harassment began. I started to have images reported & removed almost daily. My first account, @shelbiedimond was deleted due to a photo of my butt at 17k. My backup account @notshelbiedimond was deleted in July 2019 at 19.7k, over a photo of censored darkroom test strips. My backups, backup account, @thatshelbiedimond was deleted in August 2019 for no apparent reason- I had no images removed or warnings given. Then, my private p@treon-only account was removed, again- without explanation or warning.

I am POSITIVE some sad, angry JW is making it their life’s mission to sabotage my livelihood, and Instagram wouldn’t help me even though I sent emails every day explaining my situation. I never got so much as a response.

The past week IG has been deleting images which are fully clothed which was the final nail in the coffin for me.

It is pointless, so I left the platform for the foreseeable future and moved to Twitter.

You can find my private Twitter feed by signing up on Patreon.


What is Patreon?

Patreon is an online subscription service for creative content. I have different levels or "tiers" you can sign up for, as little as $1 a month, for exclusive, uncensored content. There are no contracts, so you are able to sign up and cancel your subscription at any time. Support my work by becoming my patron here.

What was your first camera? What do you currently shoot with?

My first camera was a canon a1.

I currently shoot with a Hasselblad 500cm, Polaroid SX70 & Yashica t4.

I use a self timer for all of my self portraits.

Where are you based?

I am currently based in Salerno, Italy

Favorite Film Stock?

I use TMAX 400 because it gives the desired contrast for my silver gelatin prints. I also love SX70.

Where can I purchase your work?

Here

What happens when you leave the Jehovah's Witnesses?

The organization likes to tell the public that one has free will and can leave whenever they chose. However, it's important to realize the difference between a religion and a cult is what happens when you try to leave. Jehovah's Witnesses are forced to ex-communicate or shun their loved ones when they leave. Even "resigning" or "dissociating" from the cult is a disfellowshipping offense, and one will be shunned regardless of their exit strategy. The only way one cannot *technically* be shunned is if they were never baptized.

You can read more about my experience as an EXJW here, and watch the Leah Remini special here.

What advice do you have for people who have lost their family members to a religion or cult?

Go to therapy. Go to college. Make a life outside of the cult, that is only there to serve you. Cults have a way of mind control that makes one question reality. Be gentle and patient with yourself. 

Did you go to therapy or treatment for you BPD / Depression, and does it help your everyday life?

YES! I admitted myself to a residential treatment center for a a month in 2017. I did all kinds of therapy from 9-6, 5 days a week. My favorites were MBT (mentalization based therapy) DBT (dialectal based therapy), Somatic therapy, and Neurofeedback. After my discharge from the program I spent 14 months doing comprehensive DBT 3 times a week. I cannot recommend DBT enough - it saved my life.  

Do you process your own film? Do you make your own prints? Do you scan your own film?

Yes, yes and yes! 

I make all my silver gelatin prints in the darkroom by hand. 

I use an epson perfection v600 scanner.

Are your prints limited editions?

Yes. 

I make limited edition runs of 10 and my prints increase in price by 25% every 3rd edition sold.

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