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Bethesda Row is turning into a confetti playground. From November 7th to the 10th, Jelena Aleksich will be bringing The Confetti Project to the suburbs of D.C., where she’ll douse people in pounds of confetti while talking to them about hopes, their dreams and possibly even their fears (all while taking lots of photos). She’s teaming up with Framebridge and Children’s National Hospital for her DMV visit, but Aleksich has traveled as far as LA and Dubai to cover people in confetti. The Confetti Project was born out of conversations she started having with friends in her Brooklyn apartment and has quickly blossomed into a 4,000 photo (and counting) series. She describes the mixture of fun photography and deep questions (the project centers on her asking the participants, “What do you celebrate?”) as ‘celebration therapy’. It’s light and heavy and restorative all at the same time.

We called her up to chat about the realities of working with confetti (including how to get pounds of it out of your hair), her dreams to start her own line of confetti and the ambitious future of The Confetti Project. The first rule of The Confetti Project is never get mad at the confetti.

How do you bring depth to something as simple as a confetti drop?

I think for anyone that is thinking of following their passion, asking yourself the questions like, “What are the innate traits that I have? What are my strengths?” All of that. I have to say, I was that weird kid that always asked people these questions. As an early 20-something who would go clubbing, I would meet someone and be like, “So in a perfect world, what would you want to be?” For me, everything I do is with intention and meaning. I don’t do small talk. It’s never been apart of me.

Confetti means celebration. There’s such a deep ingrained meaning to it for humans. You see it at weddings, political rallies, sporting events, New Years. It’s synonymous with that. For me, I knew from the beginning there was something deeper there. I would start asking people these questions, I had just moved to Brooklyn so it was a lot of artists and people outside of the 9-to-5, between showing them confetti photos I had found online and asking them these questions… It makes everyone stop in their tracks when you ask them, “What are you celebrating in your life right now? What’s important to you? What are your passions and your pleasures?”

We have to mindfully choose to check in with ourselves and have those moments of self honesty. I think really early on I realized it was hitting a nerve. Even now, when people know what I’m going to ask, and they’re paying me to do it, they still get stopped in their tracks. Celebration isn’t just reserved for the happy moments. We can’t choose what we’re grateful for. Everytime someone comes on set and I take a photo of them, they’re at a different point in their life. All of that is deserving of celebration. It’s all been a journey of going a little deeper.

I want to go back to something you said, even though people know what this project is about when they book a session with you, you said it still tends to stop them in their tracks. Do you find that people underestimate the value of what you’ve built?

It’s interesting because this is something I’m really grappling with right now. When you’re on this path, at least for me, I’m so focused on the future. I really overlook a lot of things and people really do [underestimate it]. Anyone who has experienced it knows that it’s really meaningful and deep. A lot of the time, there’s a mystique around it and I purposefully do that because we over analyze everything. 98% of the people have never had their photo professionally taken. So they’re getting out of their comfort zone just by coming in. With that comes anxiety. For me, every detail in the space, from the eucalyptus being diffused, to the being a big gallery wall of people who have done it before, allows people to feel comfortable and feel vulnerable. No one has really experienced what it’s like to throw that much confetti. People always get it in their mouth because their mouth is open and they’re in awe.

I definitely still have a hard time, depending on what spaces I’m in, saying what I do. It sounds crazy and people say all the time, “Your job is the best! It’s so fun!” And of course it is, but part of being a professional is making it look easy. I hold a lot of space for people. I just did a breast cancer awareness open studio and it’s people who have just found out they were cancer free or people come in who had just gotten diagnosed. I’m very aware that I’m paving the way for something. There’s nothing that’s been done like this, in this way. I’ve come to terms with this notion of ‘celebration therapy’ because that’s what it is.

The really magical thing, and I don’t do this on purpose, is the confetti trails them. They get it in their hair. They get a little goodie bag. There’s a residue of this experience. People will find confetti in the most random places months later, exactly when they need to find it. That happens to me too. I trail confetti permanently now.

What is your best tip for getting confetti out of your hair?

First and foremost, you should just leave it. I think confetti hair is the best. If you have curly hair, game over. It goes in the nooks of curly hair, it’s the hair that absorbs it the most. If you have long hair, if you have a lot of hair, it’s getting in there. I would say, just shake it out, but it comes off in the shower. It’s not like glitter where there’s a residue. It will come off in one shower.

Everyone is different, but some people just walk out of the studio. If it’s warmer and you’re sweating, it adheres more to your skin, but people walk out with a mosaic of confetti on their skin.

I’m glad you brought up glitter, because confetti and glitter have a bad rap. They’re both considered annoying to clean. Has working on this project changed your perception of the clean up process?

People use glitter and confetti interchangeably. It’s become part of the sparkle family, even though they’re very different. I’ve use glitter a few times, I’ve hybridized it with confetti for specific things, not for public spaces. I have a love / hate relationship with glitter. They call it the herpes of the craft world. I used half a pound of gold glitter once and it took me six showers to get it off. My rule with confetti very early on is that you can’t get mad at confetti. For me, [cleaning] is a part of the cool down process. I also just got a Dyson last year, which was probably the best thing I have ever gotten for my brand.

I’m very award of the carbon footprint of it, just the littering aspect of it. I do it in a very controlled space, it’s in my studio. I really take certain precautions to make sure I do not liter as much as I can. The mix I’m doing in D.C. is 97% biodegradable. Tissue paper confetti is biodegradable, the only thing is metallic confetti is not. It’s basically a microplastic that’s coated in dye. What I do is I mostly work with tissue paper and I put a little accent of the metallic, just to have a little pop. I hope to later invent my own line of it, just to say this is 100% environmentally friendly.

I’ll be coming out with my first product at the end of this year, or early next year, which will be a celebration box with customized confetti.

Obviously you’re coming to D.C., but where would be your dream place to take The Confetti Project?

Everywhere. England is a place that’s really dear to me, so I think that would be really cool. I’m from Serbia, my parents are from Serbia, so that would be really cool. The reason why I’m in New York with it is because I don’t think I’m done with it here. I’ve created the foundation for it and my goal is to create these celebration therapy institutes, where people can come in and have big scale experiences with it, not just intimate ones with me. My goal is to have them all over the world. I’m just going to dream big with this, I might as well.

How has your photographic eye changed since you started this project? Have you noticed any differences in art as a photographer?

I have to say, I learned photography with this project. It’s not my background and if I had any imposter syndrome, it would be with the photography. I can go up to strangers and ask deep questions, I can create a space, I’m super confident in all of these things. I’ve had to grow and evolve with the project along with my photography. The beginning of it was in my bedroom in Brooklyn. People came in for two hours, one on one, and I was really blessed with beautiful light. I didn’t realize how great the light was until I moved out. I went to a studio that had no light, then I was really navigating controlled light and what that looks like with strobes. Now I’m in my sixth studio and it’s the first studio I’ve had that can fit more than two people. It’s really opened up my options and the things that I can do.

I think I learned photography in a very difficult way. There’s a human person who is normally feeling nervous, they’ve never had their photo taken, so it’s me connecting with them and guiding them through it. They’re moving and making facial expressions and then the confetti is moving. I overshoot just to make sure that all of those things come together as much as possible. I think people really underestimate that. There’s so much movement happening. The gear that I have is the most top grade powerful lights to be able to capture all of that movement. There have been so many times where it’s the best lighting, the confetti is amazing and the person is making a weird face.