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DreamWorld: Lady Death

Lady Death is another DreamWorld character I’ve had in my head for a long time before I had the chance to photograph her.  Sometimes that can be frustrating to postpone your idea for so long, but in this case, I’d imagined the image for so long and in such detail that it made for an extremely easy shoot!  I knew exactly where everything should go, how to light it, the pose I wanted; it was all in my head and I just had to get it shot.

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Let me tell you a little bit about the inspiration of her character.  Lady Death is, as her name suggests, the incarnation of death within DreamWorld, but I didn’t want her to be the common, dark, grim-reaper version of death we see portrayed frequently.  The concept of how she would appear came from a mix of Deerskin, by Robin McKinley, Come Lady Death, by Peter S. Beagle and a dash of my own attitudes and ideas about death.

I’m going to quote from Robin McKinley’s Deerskin and not give you the context which this passage is happening in, for one because if you get me started talking about Deerskin, it will take up more than this entire post, and also because it’s not incredibly important for my point and I want you to be intrigued to read it for yourself.  I will simply say that this all happens in the first quarter of the book, so it is not the end it sounds like.

“Lissar went on breathing as she looked, because she did not know how to stop; but as time passed she felt the cold upon her [naked] body, feeling it like a soft inquisitive touch, like the feet of tiny animals.  She did not recognize pain as present experience, for such distinction was too subtle for her now; rather it was that was what there was left of her, as screaming had been her existence some time before.  The creeping cold was a change, or further refinement, upon her existence.  But the cold was not content to pat at her skin and then grasp her feet, her hands, her belly and thighs and face.  It wormed its way inside her; but [she could not resit it].  Nor, she found, did she now want to, for the cold brought oblivion, the cessation of pain.

And then she saw its face, and it was not an animal at all, but Death, and then she welcomed it.  Almost she made her split lips work to give it greeting; but her voice had fled away some time before.

I am dying, she thought, in the guttering of consciousness, I am dying, she thought, in the encroaching stillness.  I am dying, and I am glad, for Ash is already dead, and it will all be over soon.”

I will quickly say that while there are some very, very dark moments in Deerskin, it has been one of my two favorite books for well over a decade.  Where there is darkness, the light shines more brightly, as in the case with this book.

Inspiration part 2 came, as I stated, from a short story Peter S. Beagle wrote called Come Lady Death.  In it, the grand Lady Neville, famous for her grand, opulent balls, has grown bored with her own parties.  In looking for a way to up the excitement factor, she decides to invite Death to her next party.  An invitation is sent out… and a positive reply comes quickly.  The guests nervously await Death, wondering what he’ll look like and are surprised when “a lovely young girl in a white dress stepped gracefully into the ballroom doorway and stood there smiling.

She could not have been more than nineteen.  Her hair was yellow, and she wore it long.  It fell thickly upon her bare shoulders that gleamed warmly through it, two limestone islands rising out of a dark golden sea…  She smiled, and Lady Neville tried to smile back, but her mouth seemed stiff.  ‘Welcome,’ she said.  ‘Welcome, my lady Death.’

A sigh rustled among the lords and ladies as the girl took the old woman’s hand and curtsied to her, sinking and rising in one motion, like a wave.  ‘You are Lady Neville,’ she said.  ‘Thank you so much for inviting me.’  Her accent was as faint and almost familiar as her perfume.”

While the two stories don’t seem to have a lot in common on the surface, and especially not in the small fragments you’ve seen here, there were a couple main points I took away from them both.  Death was a being or person who was a) not frightening in appearance b) not male,  as expected, and c) more warm and welcoming than anything else.  This fits in nicely with my own views on death and the afterlife.  Everyone has their own thoughts and views on the subject, which is fine, but I don’t view either as a scary thing, nor the end.  Of course, we grieve when death separates us from those we love, but I know that I will be reunited with them some day.  I suspect that the first batch of “people” I’ll see when I pass the threshold to heaven will be a menagerie of furry, feathered, barking, purring, squeaking, singing creatures I have loved ;)

Drawing from all these sources, Lady Death emerged in my head.  She should be warm, inviting, welcoming, maternal.  She should not be frightening, but soothing.  She should be connected with nature, because death is a natural part of life.  Her clothing would be dark, but there would be no black allowed anywhere in her costume.  And most importantly, when you look into her eyes, you need to know that all is well, all was well, and all would forever be well.  I knew I needed to bring my dear friend and mostly-retired model Aly Darling into this image to embody all these qualities.

What should Lady Death’s clothing look like?  The story Come, Lady Death is set in a slightly unspecific time; several hundred years ago at least.  People throw balls, wear gorgeous gowns, ride in carriages… it brings to mind the 17th-18th century for me, though I have not confirmed this with Peter Beagle to see if that was his intention.  I didn’t want to make her clothing especially period-specific, but it definitely needed to have an old-fashioned feel to it.  How silly would it look if Lady Death was wearing the latest looks from this season’s runways?  I settled on a semi-Victorian feel, which felt both old-fashioned and classic at the same time.

Since I wanted to stay far away from the typical associations with the standard Death figure, black was not allowed anywhere in her costume.  I chose a beautiful purple dress with bell sleeves (purchased on Ebay for a few dollars) and went to work creating a cape for her out of some gorgeous teal satin I found.

I based the construction of the cape off of an actual Victorian cape I own (also purchased through Ebay, but as a wrap at my wedding, not for a costume).

Victorian cape draped over a laundry basket so I could assess its shape and drape.

Victorian cape draped over a laundry basket so I could assess its shape and drape.  Note the multiple layers of ruffles around the collar.

I reverse engineered a pattern from the cape and cut the pieces out of the teal satin.  I gave my cape several ruffled layers of fabric around the collar also, which were then copiously covered in flowers, each one hand-glued in place.  I spent months slowly gathering the appropriately colored flowers in the amount I needed.  Many of these were repurposed from previous DreamWorld costumes, like Perennial Parasol, Efflorescence and In The Lilac Wood, but this will be their final spot.  I love the costume too much to take it apart!  But I have to say, Icertainly got my money’s worth from the flowers!

Lady Death cape from start to finish

Lady Death cape from start to finish, complete with flower-festooned collars

 

Next came construction of Lady Death’s bonnet.  I didn’t want her to have the standard hooded cloak, but I liked the idea of having her face framed in the way a cloak hood would.  Given the Victorian-ish look I was going for, I built a bonnet somewhere in between a Regency bonnet and a Victorian one.  When it’s your world, you get to pick and choose clothing details you like and use them however you want!

The base of the bonnet was some sheets of cardstock glued together into the general shape I wanted.  I tried it on a few times and refined the shape.  Next, I used spray adhesive to glue the teal satin to one side of the bonnet.  This ended up leaving unexpected streaks of glue when dried (see the photo in the lower left corner below) so I quickly decided that side was the inside of the bonnet.  I used a regular glue gun to edge the satin to the other side of the cardstock and the hem on the underside.  I happened to have a small amount of very sparkly purple mesh which I added to the inside of the bonnet.  This had the dual benefit of covering the glue streaks and adding some dimension and light within the darkness of the bonnet’s underside.

Bonnet construction

Bonnet construction

 

Next came the fun and slightly tedious task of decking out the bonnet!  Multiple layers of ribbons, trims and flowers were added to it.  And because someone already asked this, yes, I did glue those teeny tiny individual little flowers to the top and underside of the brim one by one.  I was not excited to do that, but it was well worth it.  You can see Maynard wanting to help in the last couple photos.  A beautiful, wide, dark blue satin ribbon finished the bonnet off and looked beautiful tied under Aly’s chin!

Bonnet decorating

Bonnet decorating – Maynard offering to help

 

I seem to have not taken any images of the staff construction, sorry about that.  I must have been rushed.  I’ll tell you about it though, it was pretty easy.  With the abundance of sticks of all sizes within my yard, I found a good staff-sized one.  I spray painted it a dark brown and kissed it gently with some metallic bronze spray paint.  I already had a string of small, battery-operated LEDs which I’d stuck through the middle of some small flowers.  The LEDs and flowers were taped rather roughly to the staff with masking tape, which I knew I could edit out later.  I knew it would add work in post, but it seemed the best solution at the time.

The bird skeleton is an actual bird skeleton and was incredibly delicate to work with.  I tried to be reverent and ask the bird’s spirit for permission to use it before I did, and so far the house doesn’t seem to be haunted by any bird ghosts, so I’m hoping that means the bird was ok with my use of it.  It was attached using a mixture of masking tape and fine wire.  I made a small wreath for it with the same tiny purple flowers I’d edged the bonnet with to take away a little of the creepy factor of a bird skeleton while also tying it in more directly with the overall costume.

Lady Death

Bird skeleton

Since Aly and I both have health problems and don’t live especially near each other, it took a while for us to find a time when we could actually shoot this image.  Eventually though, the stars aligned and everything went perfectly!  I absolutely loved the images straight out of camera and knew they wouldn’t need much editing.  However, I forgot to take detail shots of the costume while it was on Aly… so Calantha came to the rescue!  She actually enjoys it when I dress her up since she knows it means copious praise and treats.

Calantha modeling Lady Death's cape

Calantha modeling Lady Death’s cape

You can see how little she cares about the cape, she didn’t even move after I draped in on her.  She didn’t like the bonnet when it flopped over her face and couldn’t see, but as long as I kept it adjusted, she was really pretty cool about it.

Such a pretty girl!  She looks right at home in it.

Such a pretty girl! She looks right at home in it.

Calantha models the bonnet

Calantha models the bonnet, showing off the details you can’t see so well in the finished image

After all that, let’s check out the final image!  Scroll down for detail shots :)

Lady Death, by Sarah Allegra

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

That closeup of Lady Death’s face makes the whole image for me.  The gentleness, the kindness, the love shining out of her face shows exactly who the character is.  Thank you very much to Aly for portraying her so perfectly, and to Calantha for modeling the costume after the shoot :)

Thanks to you for reading!  What do you guys think about the afterlife?  Would you find it comforting to find Lady Death escorting you to the rest of eternity?

It’s worked, y’all!  I’ve been able to rest for several days in a row.  That’s pretty great for me.  Even if nothing external is pushing me to work, I have a strong internal drive to do so, which makes actually resting tedious and difficult for me.  But I’ve been doing it!

It’s helped that I’ve been very slowly and meticulously been working on and off on a HUGE, HUGE image.  I mean, it’s seriously 6-7 times as large as a regular photo I’d edit.  It’s SO big, in fact, that although I shot the (many) images which make up this composite, I had to wait until I upgraded my laptop earlier this year before I could really work on it.  It would crash not just Photoshop, but my entire computer after about 15 minutes worth of work before… usually as I was trying to save it.  So it’s a big ol’ project that’s going to take a long time, but it’s been strangely soothing to just dib and dab at it as the mood struck over the last few days.  Doesn’t matter how much I get done or not because I’m on vacation!  :)

The farm was so BEAUTIFUL.  It felt absolutely idyllic.  I can't remember the breed of these dogs, so they might have been Maremmas.  Regardless, these are livestock guarding dogs.  They spend pretty much their whole lives with the flock they protect so that even the flightiest of animals are so used to them being there they can actually be useful.  These dogs were quite polite but I've seen other LGDs who will give you the stink eye as soon as they notice you and "suggest" that you move along.

This is one of the photos I took.  The farm was so BEAUTIFUL. It felt absolutely idyllic. I can’t remember the breed of these dogs, so they might have been Maremmas. Regardless, these are livestock guarding dogs. They spend pretty much their whole lives with the flock they protect so that even the flightiest of animals are so used to them being there they can actually be useful. These dogs were quite polite but I’ve seen other LGDs who will give you the stink eye as soon as they notice you and “suggest” that you move along.

Well.  The main part of this post is SERIOUSLY overdue.  Last June, I finally found (after months of searching) a farm with sheep on it, and a farmer who would allow me to come photograph his lambs.  Enter Terry of Task Farms, near Palmdale!  He was an exceptionally kind man and agreed to let me come hang out with his animals and take pictures of them. He had one lamb left from the lambing season, a black and white little girl named Too Cute (and she was).  We hurried to schedule the shoot before she grew any more!

Photo by Meredith Lynn.  I am trying to make soothing kissy noises, but Too Cute wasn't buying it.

Photo by Meredith Lynn. I am trying to make soothing kissy noises, but Too Cute wasn’t buying it.

Since it was going to be a bit of a drive and it had been so hard for me to find, I figured it might have been difficult for other people, so I emailed my friend Brooke Shaden and asked if she needed photos of sheep.  She happily joined the party, along with Katie Johnson to model for us both and Meredith Lynn, who bravely volunteered to meet us in Palmdale, take behind-the-scenes photos for us before driving back to Los Angeles and work a full day’s work at her job.  Have I mentioned that we were planning to be at the farm by dawn?  Everyone who came was a real trooper for getting up so early and not complaining, but my goodness, I didn’t envy poor Meredith that day!

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn.  Laying in the dirt for a photo!  That’s not really too uncommon though.

It was decided that Katie would drive Brooke and myself since Brooke and I both have fibro and/or ME and Katie has… whatever the opposite of that is.  She’s pretty much always full of energy.

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn.  This is my favorite hoodie ever because not only does it have a cool pattern and pretty colors, but I wore it on my first date with Geoff.

The BTS shots she got were so wonderful though and I’ve been eagerly waiting for me to finally get through editing all the images I shot at the farm so I could post her photos here!  I ended up shooting a bit more than I’d planned on shooting, which made the turn-around of all the images being done take much longer, especially as other things kept popping up which required more immediate attention.  But my images are finally all done!  Most of them you’ve seen already, but the most recent one will be new to you.

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Terry emailed me a few days before we were going to be at the farm with a photo of a 30-minute-old baby goat and suggested we might want to include him in our shots.  YES.  YES WE DO, TERRY!  It was such an adorable, sweet, floppy little thing, we all had to take turns holding him.  He was still a little sleepy and he made the most precious little mewling noises that just melted your heart.  I had to remind myself very hard that I did NOT need to take him home and raise him like my own.  (But how CUTE would it be if he slept in the bed with Geoff and me??  Geoff would probably not think it was cute, but I would!!)

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn

The initial spark of inspiration that led to the whole search for a lamb was a DreamWorld image I wanted to take with my grandmother in it.  At the farm, Katie posed with Too Cute in a similar costume and pose that I would later photograph my grandmother in (I was not going to make her drive to Palmdale before dawn) and it was a pretty easy job to merge the two images together in Photoshop later.

 

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn

That was the main image I’d needed to get out of the day, so after that, we played around on the farm with the animals for a while.  Especially the baby goat.  I may need to drive back out to Terry’s farm again soon just to hold another baby goat.  It is impossible to put into words how wonderful it felt to hold the baby goat and hear the little grunty noises he made.

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn.  Making Brooke and Katie look destitute.

Photo by Meredith Lynn

Photo by Meredith Lynn

I owe a great big THANK YOU to Meredith for coming along and getting such great BTS photos for us!  Despite how long it’s taken me to post them, I am so glad I have them!  What a beautiful way to remember a fun, adventurous morning  :)  I’ll share a few of the BTS shots I grabbed between photos and then you can see the entire set of edited Task Farm Photos!

A friendly pony.

A friendly pony.

Geese who were somewhat alarmed by our presence.  I understood how they would have been able to be responsible for alerting the guards of early Rome that enemies were afoot and gave them just enough time to defend themselves.

Geese who were somewhat alarmed by our presence. I understood how they would have been able to be responsible for alerting the guards of early Rome that enemies were afoot and gave them just enough time to defend themselves.

There were cool things like this ALL OVER the place!  It was really a photographer's dream.

There were cool things like this ALL OVER the place! It was really a photographer’s dream.

Terry even provided an authentic shepherd's crook for the photo Katie is getting ready for!

Terry even provided an authentic shepherd’s crook for the photo Katie is getting ready for!

Lastly, one more photo by Meredith Lynn!  She very thoughtfully got a group shot of all of us together, including farmer Terry, the baby goat and his border collie!

Lastly, one more photo by Meredith Lynn! She very thoughtfully got a group shot of all of us together, including farmer Terry, the baby goat and his border collie!

Before we left, Terry let us watch a demonstration of how his border collie can herd the sheep, which is always an amazing sight to behold.  Single-word commands, whistles and other simple noises convey a whole range of communications to a well-trained dog (which Terry’s is).  Even though it took me a while to recover physically from the adventure, I hope I can go back some day and see more of this!  And hold more babies, of course :)

Promise

Promise

Of Milk and Honey

Of Milk and Honey

The Only Daughter

The Only Daughter

The Sheperdess

The Shepherdess

 

And finally, the very last image which I took forever to get to and which held up this post the most… a new addition to my Dustbowl series, featuring Katie Johnson, Brooke Shaden and the baby goat!

Last Possesions

Last Possessions

Thanks for reading!  If you are in the LA area and have any need for sheep, livestock which won’t end up on anyone’s plate, a farm, a very kind farmer, or a place to train your dog in the art of sheep herding, I can’t recommend Task Farms enough!  Thanks again to Terry, Katie, Brooke and Meredith for all helping to make the day possible and very fun!!

Well.  You may remember from my last post that I was talking about taking a bit of a vacation because I’ve been almost constantly sick for over two months – sick on top of any fibro or ME stuff,  I mean.  Ironically, the day I woke up and posted that, I quickly realized I was coming down with yet another cold which turned into strep throat this time.  It’s only been about 9 months since the last time I had strep throat.  Since my health has been so incredibly sub-par recently, I realized pretty quickly it was turning into strep and got myself to urgent care (again) for antibiotics (again).  Last time I had strep, I let it go for a while before I realized what it was, so I was pretty much dying every time I breathed or swallowed.  While I was certainly uncomfortable this time, it wasn’t nearly as horrific as the last episode, so I’m thankful for that.

I am just finishing up my last antibiotics today, so while I’ve been resting to get over the strep throat, I did not take the “vacation” I was planning on taking.  At this point I think I’ll try and start it now… it’s not 100% ideal since I have two appointments this week (which for me is about as many “things” as I can put into a week) but I feel like I really need to just focus on this resting up and recuperating as soon as  I can to prevent more illnesses.  I’ll probably extend it a little longer than I’d originally planned on also, but again, I think it’s very, very called for.

I saw my new ear/nose/throat doctor last Friday since I’d about exhausted my regular doctor’s knowledge of what could be going on with my crazy, absurd body this time.  The new doctor had bloodwork done to test for allergies and (assuming I can stay relatively healthy) he’s going to do a CT scan of my head in the next couple weeks to see what’s up with my sinuses, among other things.  The idea is to have the scan done while I’m at my “baseline” and not sick with anything new, so that adds another level of needing to stay quiet, rest and be healthy.

And did I mention pain spikes in the last post?  OH MY GOD, pain spikes.  And migraines.  Serious, grabbing-your-brain-in-a-vice, I-am-not-fucking-around migraines.  It was all enough that my pain specialist added a new, stronger pain medication to my collection of pills.  Do I win a prize if I collect enough pills?  Is it like Pokemon?

Today I feel well enough to write this, so I’m trying to knock it out before my energy wears off.  I’m still planning on being a little less active online than has been typical for me in the past (and of course I was VERY inactive while I was in the grip of strep) so please continue to bear with me as I work on improving my health.  I will not be intentionally ignoring or neglecting anyone.  I would much, much rather be happy and chipper and be able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, but that’s not the way things are right now.  Please don’t take any unresponsiveness on my part personally; I just may not be on the computer that day, or a migraine might not allow me to open my eyes, etc.  Regardless, it won’t be you, it’ll be me.

I did have one photo that was all ready to go, and one which doesn’t require a ton of promotion as others sometimes do.  So I’ll slip this one quietly online then go about my resting and vacationing and watching endless cat videos on YouTube through the TV.  (How amazing is it that you can watch YouTube on your TV now??  I love that!)

This image is a new DreamWorld photo, featuring the ever-wonderful Katie Johnson. It gives us a glimpse of a human girl who has been given a sleeping draught of some kind which sent her into a deep, silent slumber… who gave it to her and for what purpose are a mystery.  The billowing blue smoke tells me that something important is about to happen; perhaps a new creature will make itself manifest!  We may find out more in a later image.

We shot this… gosh, at least several months ago, though it may have been longer than that.  A while is safe to say.  I’m wearing a sweater and scarf in the behind-the-scenes photo so it was definitely NOT recently as California has been doing its best impression of the scorching depths of hell the last few months.  This is actually in my front yard (I love it when I can shoot without driving anywhere!).  There are some marvelously old trees here, and this one had a delightfully curly branch which Katie gracefully draped herself over.  It took a little maneuvering on her part to get into position without sliding right off due to the slippery fabric of the dress she’s wearing, but Katie is a pro and didn’t let that stop her.  I lit a few blue smoke bombs in my “smoke bomb bucket” and tried to scurry around, spreading the smoke generously through the frame to composite together later.  It took a number of smoke bombs and careful placement, but I was able to get pretty much all the background covered up and filled any holes in Photoshop.

Sleeping Draught - spreading blue smoke

Sleeping Draught – spreading blue smoke.  Also, ignore the way Katie’s dress is pooching strangely; I can promise you it has to do with the unusual cut of the dress and does not reflect Katie’s body :)

So please enjoy this latest DreamWorld photo and the detail shots below!  Thanks to Katie for always being up for all my crazy ideas and for being able to look so serene and beautiful while pretend-sleeping on an uncomfortable tree branch!  Now if I could get my hands on this sleeping draught, I think my resting would be a lot more healing and easier to handle!  Lastly, please don’t feel like you can’t talk to me or interact with me while I’m “vacationing;” I’m sure to get lonely, I just might not get back to you as quickly as I’d like depending on how the day is going.  Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragement!

Sleeping Draught

Sleeping Draught

Sleeping Draught - detail

Sleeping Draught – detail

Sleeping Draught - detail

Sleeping Draught – detail

Sleeping Draught - detail

Sleeping Draught – detail

Time Off

Before I forget, I want to thank everyone who so lovingly came together for my friend Erick!  I am extremely happy to say that he is doing much, much better and has been released from the hospital.  He isn’t through this rough patch yet, but it seems the worst is behind him and his spirit has been lifted for the fights ahead.  Thank you all dearly for your thoughts, wishes and prayers.  I know it all made a difference.

I wanted to let you all know that I’ll be taking a “vacation” for the next week or so.  I’m not going anywhere; in fact, the whole point is for me to stay at home and really, really rest.  August was one of the worst health months I’ve had in a long time, including two urgent care visits (very early in the morning) two appointments with my GP,  a 5am call to the 24 hour nurse hotline (which led to one of the GP visits but I was worried I needed to to the emergency room) two colds, one ear infection, one thing which I thought was another ear infection and turned out to be allergy-related, countless migraines and almost as many nights of insomnia as nights where I slept.  It was just a really hard month.

I had a few photography things I needed to take care of, but as of now, I’m taking a little time off.  I’m thinking a week or so, but obviously I can tinker it to fit how I’m feeling.  I may not be on social media as much for the next few days and I may or may not post a photo next week.  I actually have one ready to go but the posting requires more energy than you’d think, especially if it needs to be promoted in any way.  So that’s all to say, I’m going to hunker down and try and stay in bed in my PJs as much as possible for the next week.  I may be a little quieter online, but it won’t be forever.  :)

And that leads me neatly into two other things I’ve been trying to find time to say between all the craziness.  One is a guest article I wrote for MESupport.Co.UK.  Louise, who runs the site, was very generous with letting me pick the topic I wanted to write about and also being extremely forgiving about how long it took me to actually get the article to her!  It was fun to write it once I actually could, and I got to use a story my dad likes to tell about me when I was very little, so give her a read :)

I was discussing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge with @RidgeBackRogue, who also has ME, a few weeks ago and wondered out loud what we could do for ME that would be similar.  One of the problems with the Ice Bucket Challenge is that people with severe ME would never be able to do it; they can barely tolerate light, let alone ice-cold water.  It would be uncomfortable and a little harmful even for me, and I’m just moderate. We wanted it to be something that anyone of nearly any health level could do.

She immediately came up with a great idea: The ME Movie and Chocolate Challenge!  Guess how it works.  Within 1 week of being challenged, you must watch any movie of your liking while eating something with chocolate!  We’re pretty forgiving here, so if you don’t care for chocolate, you could substitute whatever you like best.  Then you donate the average price of a movie ticket to an ME charity – I like the Microbe Discovery Project for the US and RidgeBackRogue suggests Invest In ME for UK residents!

And while those with the most, most severe form of ME still wouldn’t be able to participate, the poor souls, this is accessible to people of a wider range of the health spectrum.

So that’s it!  I’ll be doing my ME Movie and Chocolate Challenge over the next week… what should I watch?  If I had to pick right now, I’d probably go with Cloud Atlas, The Green Mile or In Bruges… or just a bunch of episodes of Breaking Bad, True Detective or Rectify; enough to make up a movie’s-length of time.  I don’t see how I can go wrong with any of those choices!

Would anyone like to volunteer to be next?  Extra karma points to you if you do :)

In Between Awake And Asleep - this is what I plan on doing for the next week; magically hovering over the bed.  Or maybe I'll deign to actually lay in bed.  With PJs that are actually comfortable.  And sleep.  That all sounds better.

In Between Awake And Asleep – this is what I plan on doing for the next week; magically hovering over the bed. Or maybe I’ll deign to actually lay in bed. With PJs that are actually comfortable. And sleep. That all sounds better.

 

 

Dedeker’s Utopia

I first met Dedeker Winston over four years ago, when I was just starting out as a photographer.

Yggdrasil - © Sarah Allegra

Yggdrasil – © Sarah Allegra

She was one of the first models I worked with and we clicked so well that we’ve been working together ever since.  She is one of my go-to models, one of the best and most reliable I have.

All Of Winter In A Day - © Sarah Allegra

All Of Winter In A Day – © Sarah Allegra

She instinctively understands what I’m wanting from a shoot and she delivers every time.  Of course, I adore my other models too, I have the best group of ladies and gents willing to pose for me, but this post is specifically about Dedeker.

Mark of Cain - © Sarah Allegra

Mark of Cain – © Sarah Allegra

Because, you see, Dedeker was chosen to be on Fox’s new reality show Utopia, which airs tonight.  Their sites describes the show’s premise well, so I’ll let them explain it:

La Belle Dame Sans Merci - © Sarah Allegra

La Belle Dame Sans Merci – © Sarah Allegra

“Behold UTOPIA, a bold new series based on the hit Dutch program. Watch what happens as 14 pioneering Americans wave goodbye to the lives they’ve known, move to a remote location, and set out to create a society from scratch. They’ve got limited supplies, wildly diverse backgrounds, and zero bathrooms.

What could go wrong — besides everything?

The Utopians will make every decision about how they live and work. Will they choose democracy or dictatorship? Capitalism or socialism? Fidelity or free love? Which religion, if any, will prevail? Will they punish or forgive? Keep or share?

Are those chickens friends….or food? If not now, when?

It is all up to them.

This is not a game. There is no prize. This is UTOPIA: reality TV in its truest form.”

Shades We Weave - © Sarah Allegra

Shades We Weave – © Sarah Allegra

It will certainly be interesting to watch how the show evolves.  And of course I’ll be watching to support my girl Dedeker :)

Wings For Marie - © Sarah Allegra

Wings For Marie – © Sarah Allegra

One of the unique qualities about the show is how long-running it’s intended to be; the contestants have to be willing to stay there for up to a year; perhaps even longer.  While no one is guaranteed to stay that long, it’s a possibility.  And I’ll admit, I was very sad to think about not having one of my favorite girls around to shoot spontaneously as the desire came up.

Alone In The Wilderness - © Sarah Allegra

Alone In The Wilderness – © Sarah Allegra

But I’m more interested in supporting Dedeker.  This sounds like a really unique opportunity for her and she’ll definitely come out with the story of a lifetime to tell!

Are You The Beast Again? - © Sarah Allegra

Are You The Beast Again? – © Sarah Allegra

So in the spirit of supporting her and promoting her being on the show, I decided to put together a post with some of my favorite Dedeker images from the last four years of partnership!

Potion - © Sarah Allegra

Potion – © Sarah Allegra

All of the Utopia contestants have their own catch phrase/tagline for lack of a better term.  Dedeker has been billed as the professionally-belly-dancing, polyamorous, nude model who has no fears of being naked – a trait I can personally attest to.  I have many images of her, both clothed and unclothed, but for the purpose of this post, I’m going to celebrate more of her nude work.

Water Birth

Water Birth – © Sarah Allegra

She is equally skilled at both kinds of modeling, even when it involves wearing hand-made, noxious-smelling, tea-dyed dresses, heavy crowns of branches which have to be strapped to her body to support them, with decorative ribbons biting into her flesh because her photographer was too busy focusing on other details and she was too much of a pro to complain.

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

The Court Of The Dryad Queen

Dedeker has been instrumental in the building of my most-beloved photography series, DreamWorld (my own Utopia, if you will).  She has portrayed countless characters, including dryads, oracles and deer-people to name a few.

Water For The Free - © Sarah Allegra

Water For The Free – © Sarah Allegra

The Oracle  - © Sarah Allegra

The Oracle – © Sarah Allegra

So good luck to all the Utopians!  But most of all to Dedeker :)

Coming Over Like A Storm - © Sarah Allegra

Coming Over Like A Storm – © Sarah Allegra

And De, let me know when you’re back so we can shoot again!!

Fledgling - © Sarah Allegra

Fledgling – © Sarah Allegra

Helping A Hero

You guys have met Erick Riedell through some of my photos already.

In The Eyes Of The Hungry 600

In The Eyes Of The Hungry

And I’ve recounted some of his health battles with you guys too.  He’s been fighting cancer on and off (though it seems more on than off) for over six years; a little longer than the entire time I’ve been with Geoff.  Geoff and Erick have been good friends since highschool, a friendship I’m impressed they maintained even though they live in different parts of the country.  They kept it up through different romantic relationships, different places they lived, health problems, marriages, children… they’re still there for each other.  Their friendship is inspiring.

This year has been especially difficult for Erick, his wife and their two young sons.  It’s been almost non-stop health problem after problem; surgeries, hospital stays, being sent to specialists in other states… it just hardly seemed to stop.  And it’s bad again.

Erick has only one functioning kidney and it’s failing.  So he’s back in the hospital, tests are being run and solutions are being searched for.  Why the kidney is failing isn’t entirely known yet, but it could be caused by another tumor.  That’s the last thing you want to hear about anybody, but especially as someone with Erick’s history of fighting these deadly growths.

The Yellow Knight

The Yellow Knight

I’d like to share something with you that Geoff wrote about Erick.  He has such a way with words, he really captures Erick’s personality in a way that will translate even to those who have never met him.  So please, let me introduce you to Erick, by way of Geoff’s words:

I’ve never put much stock in karma.

If there was such a thing, the roads would have a lot less traffic and there would be no reality television.

But, as I see what my friend Erick and his family are going through, it’s clear karma is a myth…if not an outright joke.

I have known nobody more straight-edge than Erick. No drinking. No smoking. There has been an occasional overindulgence in fried food and cheese…especially in the days before he got married. But, how cancer finds its way into a clean-living scenario like that is beyond me.

He is, quite simply, the friendliest, most good-hearted, good-natured person I’ve ever known. We don’t go anywhere where somebody doesn’t know him. And if by some odd chance we do, by the time we leave, he’s made new friends. He is effortless in that way.  Always has been.  It’s a trait my grandfather had, too…a genuine ability to connect with others. It’s a trait I’d be happy to have inherited from either one of them.

But my curmudgeon gene is too strong.

I’ve never ridden with him in Los Angeles freeway traffic, but I’ll bet he wouldn’t scream obscenities the way I do.  He’s even-keeled, easy-going and relentlessly upbeat that way.  I’d invent new swear words in a traffic jam.  He’d lead a conga line between the cars.

That’s just who he is.

He’s Murray the K.

Look it up…that’s what Wikipedia is for.

He just has “it,” you know?  “It.”  That “it” that certain people have.  Charisma.  Like a gravitational force.  It makes him the center of the room.  And the calm eye in the hurricane.  You can’t learn it.  You’re just born with it.  Like the Force.  And it runs strong in this Jedi called Erick.

So yes, I downplay the existence of karma, but I totally buy into the Force. Because I’m a child of the 70s.

If this sounds like a eulogy, blame the context of the day.  Because it’s not.  This isn’t over.  Because the other thing about Erick is he has more fight and determination in him than I’ve ever seen in anybody.  A hell of a lot more than I do.  But far too often, we don’t say the things we should when we should.  And knowing how we all feel about him at a time like this can’t hurt anything.  Because, though he has always seemed bulletproof to me…everybody can use a little encouragement.

So, I urge everyone reading this to do exactly what he asked this morning.  Share a story.  Share your feelings.  Pile it on.  Let him know the world is a better place because he is in it.

Because it is.

Ribbon Armor

Ribbon Armor

 

It most certainly is.

You guys may not have ever met Erick, but take my word that he is one of the most wonderful people you could ever meet.  A true hero who has had to fight for his life too many times to count.  And right now, he needs help.  Help from those he knows, but even from those he has never met.  I would ask you to please do two things.

One: Reply to this post leaving messages of love and encouragement for Erick which I will pass on to him.  He needs all the love and encouragement we can give him.  Let’s show him the overwhelming love the world has for him, even from people he hasn’t met!

Two: If you can, please donate to his health care fun through GoFundMe.  I know, money is tight for everyone right now.  But even a $5 donation would help!  It doesn’t have to be much.  As you can imagine, being in the hospital and fighting cancer are extremely expensive.  Every little bit we can give will help him and his family so much.

Help Erick Riedell Fight Cancer

 

If you can only do one or the other, that’s ok!  If you can do both, great!

There is so little we can do that feels constructive.  I can’t enter his body and rid it of any cancer cells I find.  But we can send him messages of love and show our support with a few dollars.

Lastly, please keep Erick in your prayers, if you are the praying type, your thoughts, send him good energy, light a candle in his name, however it works for you.  I deeply thank you for anything that you can do for him, and I know he and his family do too!  The world has so few truly spectacular people in it; we cannot afford to lose one more.  Thank you all so much for your help!!

I’ve talked to you guys about Rectify beforeRectify, Sundance Channel’s dreamy, introspective show about Daniel Holden who  was convicted of a crime when he was 18 and spent the last 19 years on death row.  New DNA evidence has emerged which frees him from prison, but he is not exonerated.  He is sent back into the lion’s den of Paulie, Georgia, a fictional small town where everyone has been steeped in this crime for the past two decades and everyone has an opinion on Daniel’s guilt or innocence.

Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

It is an absolutely brilliant show.  I’ve met a lot of other fans online and they are truly some of the most rabid, enthusiastic people you could imagine.  Much of this is due to how original Rectify is.  It moves at its own pace, intentionally slower and more deliberate than most current shows.  It gives its characters time to breathe and allow us to learn much about them in moments which would be smaller in another show; Daniel’s magical wonder at watching and feeling the feathers from his pillow after having not seen or felt a single one in 19 years.  The writing is incredible and uses silence just as loudly and profoundly as the most eloquently-written speech.  The characters are all given fair treatment; there are no black and white “good guys” and “bad guys.”  They are all just people trying to do their best.

And the casting… my god, there are no words.  It is just perfect.  Perfect in every single way.  There are no weak links anywhere.  From the leading roles, Daniel’s family, to what could be considered “small” parts – Chet, the bookstore owner, played by Brian Bremer, or Marcy, the waitress, played by Kim Wall; every single one is a real person and the talent of the actors makes them big.  You wish you could invite these people over for dinner.  Much praise has been heaped upon the lead actors, and every bit of it is well deserved, but even the people you only get glimpses of are perfect.  Bruce McKinnon, playing Daniel’s step-father Ted Sr. reminds me so much of my late grandfather, I wish I could hug him.  Kerwin, played by Johnny Ray Gill, will change your life.  I don’t have enough space here to list every actor and describe how wonderful they are; you’ll have to just watch it for yourself.

Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

Another thing I adore about Rectify is the heavy use of symbolism, metaphor and philosophy.  I talked about this more in my first post about Rectify, so I’ll just touch on the broad strokes.  The first season is six episodes long, with each episode covering one day.  This brings to mind the seven days of creation in the Bible and how God created man on the sixth day.  The mysterious Goat Man… is he representing God wrestling with Jacob or Satan tempting Jesus in the desert?  Or both?  Guilt and innocence, sin and salvation are recurring themes.  As you watch, you pick up more and more tidbits of metaphor, making the story that much richer.

It is a genuinely original and remarkable show, especially compared to everything else on TV right now.  I consider myself a Rectify pusher, as almost everyone I know personally who is a fan of the show started watching it because I insisted they give it a try.  And I will recommend the same thing to you :)  Season one is streaming on Netflix.  Season two, given a whole 10 episodes, just finished, but I imagine it will find its way to Netflix soon.  Rectify’s thoughtful pace is seriously ramped up at the end of episode five… I usually recommend to people that they only watch episode five when they can go straight ahead to six, because you will be dying to.

Jayson Warner Smith as Wendall in Rectify. Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

Most of the Rectify cast can be found on Twitter and they have all proven to be extremely friendly and happy to interact with fans (time permitting, of course; they still have lives).  I’ve given them all a standing invitation to come join DreamWorld any time they’d like, which may happen soon to my delight!  Over the course of chatting with some of the lovely actors from the show, I got to know Jayson Warner Smith a bit, who plays Wendall; Daniel’s creepy, sinister neighboring inmate.  At first I was almost afraid to talk to him because Wendall is so… well, Wendall.  But Jayson is just an absolutely lovely person who is nothing like Wendall.  He is an actor, after all :)  Here’s a great video highlighting some of Wendall’s best/worst moments from season one.  You’ll also see Daniel Holden, played by Aden Young, and Kerwin Whitman, played by Johnny Ray Gill.

I asked Jayson if he would mind doing an interview for my blog and he was kind enough to say yes and take time out of his schedule to answer my questions!  Jayson is currently living in Atlanta though he lived in Hollywood for two years.  He’s also well-versed in both stage and screen acting, though I haven’t had the chance to watch him perform live yet!  Read on for the interview, then I’ll tell you about my latest image which was Rectify-inspired.

 

*****

 

1. Do you have a favorite role that you’ve played?

Bobby Gould in Speed the Plow on stage in ATL. Love the Mamet language. Oh and Jack in The Weir also on stage in ATL.

2. I was impressed to find out you’re a musician as well as an actor!  Do you have any part in writing the songs?

I wrote the two on my site. Those were recorded with an iPhone at a party. Turned out pretty well. I seem to work best with a deadline it seems. I had to have them done in a month for this party.

3. If a horrible world existed where you could only practice music or acting, assuming they paid the same, which would you pick?

Ha. They both do pay the same right now.

Acting. I’m not disciplined enough to be a musician.

4. What would your dream acting role be?  It can be anything, including parts from movies which already exist.

That depends on so many things. The best experience would be working with super talented collaborative people. To have a role in that setting that the audience completely empathizes with.

Also, Elwood P Dowd in Harvey.

5. Do you have a favorite way to get into character, or does it vary from role to role?

That’s a novel. Sorry.

6. What is one thing you’d like your fans to know about you?

I’m just a regular guy. And I love F1. Go McLaren!

7. What music do you find yourself listening to frequently, and what shows are you sure to never miss?

Pandora has become my soundtrack. It rotates from Lyle Lovett to Rufus Wainright to The Shins to Blitzen Trapper to Radiohead to Avett Brothers to Sigur Ros etc.

TV? Mad Men, Top Gear (UK), Cosmos, Halt and Catch Fire, Downton, Justified.

8. I thought it was great that you participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (and you were so smart in how you performed it!)  Are there any causes you’re passionate about?

Just the Boy Scouts. I am an Eagle Scout and it made me a better person. It’s a shame that all of this political mess has gotten involved lately. Their organization has been trying to please everyone and as a result the whole program is becoming useless. It’s a real shame.

As Bill Cosby is quoted as saying: “I don’t know the key to success but I do know the key to failure – Trying to please everyone.”

9. Does playing Wendall in Rectify leave a film on your soul or are you able to shake him off quickly once the scene is done?

It’s just acting.

10. What do you like best about living in Atlanta that you wouldn’t have living in Los Angeles?

A house.

Hah- absolutely to answer #10!  Thank you, Jayson, so much for taking the time to do this!  It was a pleasure!  Now if we can just get you out to LA just for a little while… :)

Now, on to the photo!

Waiting For Paulie

Waiting For Paulie

The title is a play on the name of the town the show takes place in.  I created this just after season two ended – and ended on a very bad cliffhanger too!  Thankfully, season three has been secured or I just would not have known what to do.

I’d been eagerly counting the days for the second season to start and was enthralled with every new episode.  I’ve watched season one probably a dozen times already (I have it on DVD.  I’d also like to state for the record that I watched the entire season in one day; I REALLY love the show).  Season two, with more episodes, was able to expand upon the groundwork laid in season one, but as the show tends to do, it left us with more questions than answers.  I think I held my breath for the entire last half of the finale, which was a magnificent climax to the season.  After watching it though, I felt so sad that this season was over.  I wouldn’t see anything new from these characters for another year.  And they feel like friends to me, not fictional characters; I truly care about them.

After moping around for most of the morning after the finale, I finally decided to channel my impatience into a self portrait, because that’s what I do.  I set out intending just to use the window and have a couple feathers drifting down, reminiscent of Daniel’s experience with his feathers.  But as I worked, nature kept insisting on making herself known in the image.  Before I knew it, ghostly birds were flying everywhere while vines and smoke crept up from the corners.  I didn’t over-think it as I was creating, but as I thought about it afterward, it felt very true to the show.   Life and death.  Dark and light.  Magical moments between the mundane.  Nature and hope triumphing.  Light illuminating the shadows.  It summed up a lot of my feelings for the show in a way I still can’t really put into words.

There are some detail shots below, but if you only take away one message from this post, take this: go watch Rectify right now.  You will not be sorry :)

Waiting For Paulie - detail

Waiting For Paulie – detail

 

Waiting For Paulie - detail

Waiting For Paulie – detail

 

Waiting For Paulie - detail

Waiting For Paulie – detail

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