I Woke Up Like This

A Fine Art Non-Sexual Nude Photography Project


Photograph By: Steven Kowalski 

Photograph By: Steven Kowalski 

My name is Jillian

I'm a photographer located in Chicago, Illinois who has struggled with mental health her entire life. Art, writing, and photography have gotten me through the toughest parts of my life. I started as a journalist, evolved into the owner of a wedding photography business, fell out of love with it and began this project as a means to cope with multiple physical and mental illnesses. I have complex PTSD from 30+ traumatic events I've endured, which induced a disease called fibromyalgia. It is a pain disease of the central nervous system, quite simply...it results from stress overloads. Having developed PTSD for the first time ate age three; my body was doomed to suffer from the very beginnings of my life. My mind struggled to keep up with others, to regulate my emotions and relate to others. The first time I attempted suicide I was only eight years old. It took three more attempts for me to finally get recognition, and it took five inpatient hospitalizations to be properly diagnosed. After years of being improperly medicated into literal insanity by psychiatrists more concerned with numbing me than helping me. I've been on a journey with constant ups and downs my whole life. It has given me an insight into suffering that can help others feel less alone. I do this project because I want those who aren't getting the help they need and deserve to feel worthy of the empathy it takes to reach out for help. Many, many people like myself are made to feel so worthless for the ways they struggle that they give in to the siren call of suicide. I have been to those depths more than 99% of the United States and I plan to grow this knowledge into something useful for those who feel like caving into that siren call. 

You are not alone in your suffering. 
Your brain may tell you this but it is not true. 
There will always be someone for you to relate to.
This project will give those, who feel alone in their struggles, hope.
It takes one brave person sharing their story to spark hope in millions.
This project is my everything now. 
I will illuminate the struggles of others for the rest of my life.

Q: How can I participate?!

Write me and tell me a little about yourself! If you have a story to tell, I'd love to help.

Q: Will these photographs be public?

Yes. Absolutely. The project needs a following, and in order to get that following we must post some photograph online. We are on Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter. These photographs will also be featured in a book when I've completed the task of photographing a certain number of women from each body type, age, sexual orientation, ect. 

Q: I love the cause but I just don't feel comfortable modeling nude...is there any other way I can help? 

Donate, share, and interact with us on Facebook! Everything you are seeing is donated by a kind soul who believes in this project. I invest money and time into telling these women's stories. Some dear friends of mine have donated so much time and effort to further this project, from graphic design services to plane tickets, I can't do this without the help of those who believe in it! You can donate to my travel fund by clicking donate at the top. 

Q: Where do donations go?

Donations help me pay for travel costs. I plan to be traveling overseas at one point for this and since I am paying out of pocket...I will need some help. 

Q: Are these really taken when they woke up?
Some have makeup on them!

Yes! Some people fall asleep with their makeup on. I cannot possibly wake up next to every participant to ensure they don't apply makeup. I literally instruct them to wake up, roll out of bed, get into their car, and drive to me. 

Q: Why are they in the forest?

After looking at many of the projects similar to my own, I noticed that women were primarily photographed in bed. I want to take women out of that confined space and stick in places they wouldn't normally be, in poses that I'd pose clothed models in. 

Q: What did you name it "I Woke Up Like This?"

Since October of 2014, I’ve been photographing women nude, moments after they wake up. I chose this time of day because it is the moment we begin to criticize and shame our bodies. It all started by photographing my roommate, Aliya, moments after she woke up. It was the day before her boudoir session and I wanted to test the lighting on her skin at a specific time in the morning. She stripped down, I shot a few photographs her her topless and we began to edit. Almost instantly, she found things she did not like. Aliya is a very confident person on the outside, so it hurt me to see that she couldn’t see the beauty in herself without perkier boobs, or a makeup covered face.

To me, she looked beautiful just the way she woke up – hence the title of the series, “I Woke Up Like This".