When we first came across a self-portrait by Kaija Straumanis, we couldn’t help but scratch our heads in wonder. “Who, what, how, and ouch” were popular reactions among our team. We later learned that we weren’t alone. Nearly 3 million people had similar responses — making Kaija’s photography a viral sensation.
“The reaction I’m trying to get from my photography is pretty much amusement, laughter, and the sense of being entertained,” Kaija tells The Weekly Flickr in the accompanying video. “If I can achieve that — or even have someone ask ‘Hey, did it hurt?’ — then I’m happy and know I got what I set out to do!”
Kaija’s love for photography began in college when she embarked on a 365 project to take a self-portrait every day for a year. Throughout this time, she sought out inspiration from other photographers on Flickr.
“I learned a lot from them, and they gave me lots of advice,” Kaija says. “I also spent a lot of time outdoors, which works as a general inspiration both for settings and props … for what you can and can’t do in your photo. As far as specific ideas go, I think I just liked being a little goofy, and wanted to make people laugh.”
Kaija’s Shots-to-the-Head series happened spontaneously in 2011.
“It was just another entertaining idea to think up and execute in front of the camera,” Kaija says. “I wanted to do something bigger than I had done before, sort of step out of my own boundaries. The first picture with a kickball was my very first picture [from the series]. I’d found the ball as a prop and thought the image of getting hit in the face would get some laughs from family and friends.”
The shots are composites; taken frame by frame. Kaija spent a couple weeks sitting in front of her bathroom mirror, holding the ball against her face, trying to figure out the best placement and angles to make the perfect photo.
“Mimicking physics and self-injury apparently requires some practice and research,” Kaija admits. “Once I had my frames ready, I went out and shot with my camera. Later, I piece the photos together in Photoshop by cleaning up the parts I don’t need.”
Kaija posted the photo on Flickr, and it received positive reactions from her family and friends.
“After that point, I thought this is a nice idea that you can reuse; it’s very easily recycled,” Kaija explains. “The rest of the pictures were just a matter of the right place and the right time. It was definitely fun just sort of going out and doing that on a whim, so I kept doing it.”
Despite the fact that Kaija’s photos were posted three years ago, they were posted on Tumblr about a month ago and became an instant hit — a complete shock to Kaija.
“It was kind of amusing,” Kaija says. “Over the course of a weekend, I’m getting 800 thousand, a million, and then three million hits on my Flickr account. It was insane. I’ve never had that much attention. I’ve never had a 15-minutes-of-fame … but I got it, and that was great … and I really appreciated it.”
“It’s nice to know that you’ve done something that, initially, you just wanted to do it for yourself and for a group of friends, because you thought it would be funny,” Kaija says. “And now people are looking at it in the middle of their work day, cracking up, and it’s added some sort of minute of laughter to their lives.”
Visit Kaija’s photostream to see more of her photography.
Previous episode: Invisible girl self-portrait goes viral overnight