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Archive for December, 2010

I Am Me

I am me.

I am not anyone else.

Comparing myself to other people is a pointless exercise, since it’s always going to be apples and oranges.  For example, working my normal hours, plus Christmas chores plus throwing even the smallest party is TOO MUCH for me to do.  I spent a lot of yesterday feeling weak and guilty over this, but then I decided to just stop it.  Perhaps other people would be able to do that, but I am not them, and they are not me.  And there are things I can do that they can’t.

It all balances out.  Sometimes I forget to be patient with myself, but it’s important to do.

A short one today because I am too tired for anything else.

Incurable

Incurable; the self portrait I did after my chronic fatigue diagnosis.

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I first read Deerskin, by Robin McKinley, when I was 19.  Rocky, my childhood dog, who I had lived with since I was 5, had just had to be put to sleep and I was wandering around in a grieving, weepy haze.

One day shortly after this I saw my mom reading a book with a beautiful girl on the cover, her silvery-white hair flying out in the way only a painted hair can, and an equally silvery-white long-nosed sighthound in the foreground.  I was enchanted with the cover, especially the dog, especially after I had just said goodbye to the dog I grew up with.

I asked my mom about the book and she told me she was reading it because the way Robin McKinley wrote about dogs in the book made her seem like she would understand how devastated we both were over loosing our friend.  I asked if I could read it when she was done, and she hesitated just a bit.  She said yes, but warned me that some “bad things” happen in it.

And she was right.  Bad things do happen.  But the book is about the heroine’s journey through and past the pain of these events.  It’s about wounding, but it’s also about healing.  As the story unfolded over me for the first time I was brought to tears more than once, and for more reasons than just the heartache of what was happening on the pages.  It gave me hope.  It left me uplifted, feeling that I could conquer my own demons.

So let me outline the story for you, at least a bit.  And yes, there probably will be some spoilers involved in this.  Deerskin is based on an icky, creepy fairy tale called Donkeyskin by Charles Perrault.  In Deerskin, we follow the princess Lissar through her childhood, as she watches her beautiful, popular parents from afar, being far overshadowed by the glamor of their reign.  Her mother, the queen, is known as the most beautiful woman in seven kingdoms, and for good reason, and her father, the king, is young and handsome and strong.   When Lissar is a teenager, her mother grows ill, and when she realizes she no longer is the most beautiful woman in seven kingdoms, she looses her will to live and she begins to die.  The king is driven mad watching her die.  On her deathbed, the queen makes him promise that he won’t marry anyone who isn’t as beautiful as she was, which he readily agrees to, and then the queen dies.

Lissar receives the gift of a puppy from a neighboring kingdom as a condolence, a fleethound puppy named Ash.  They spend the next two years growing up together, mostly isolated still from the rest of the court and world; each others’ only friend.  On Lissar’s 17th birthday a grand ball is thrown for her and her father dances with her all night.  He refuses to let any of the other men, who are, after all, there to see if she’ll make a suitable wife for them, dance with her and looks at her in a way which she cannot name, but which she recognizes as a treachery.  The next day the king announces to the court that he is going to remarry, and he is going to marry Lissar.

Half the court blame Lissar for somehow enticing her father into such a decision.  The rest are embarrassed by the announcement and wish to make the whole thing go away as quickly as possible.  No one will help Lissar.  She locks herself in her bedroom but her father comes at night and breaks the door in.  Ash tries to defend Lissar and is knocked unconscious and nearly killed.  And then Lissar’s father beats and rapes her, leaving her and her dog for dead.

Lissar also nearly dies, but wills herself to continue on when she realizes Ash isn’t dead.  But the trauma of what she just suffered is too much for her and her mind quickly blocks out what happened.  She just knows she needs to go away. With Ash.  Why she needs to isn’t important, that knowledge is enough.  She and Ash set out on a journey which we follow breathlessly and tearfully.

It is a fairy tale, and one of the rules of a fairy tale is that you must have magical helpers.  In Deerskin that role is filled by the Moon Woman, The Lady, who watches over the poor and hurt, the injured and abused and helps them.  During one very dramatic part of the story, when it again looks like Lissar may not make it, the Moon Woman steps in.  In a vision, she tells Lissar that she is giving her the gift of time… that she will have time to heal and be able to finally remember her past and be strong enough to face it, and that she is giving her other gifts as well.  When Lissar wakes she finds that she is wearing a spotless, white deerskin dress (which never stains or gets dirty) her hair, which was black, like her mother’s, has been turned white, and Ash has grown a long, curly coat, unlike the short, fine-haired fur she used to have.  And their injuries have healed miraculously.

But this is not a magic fix-all, this is still early on in the story.  Lissar and Ash still have a long way to go.  I have said more than I probably need to already about the plot, but I will say that it ends well, and that Lissar is able to find peace and happiness.  She is able to heal.  It is a long, difficult, awful journey to get there, but that’s what healing is.  That’s the journey we all walk to get to our place of healing.  That is why watching Lissar’s journey gives me such hope.  Because seeing her transmute the pain and shame and terror and helplessness she was given into strength, courage, love and wholeness makes me think that I can too, with my lesser wounds.

Obviously this story has been incredibly meaningful in my life.  I’ve re-read it more times than I know, and it’s come out frequently in whatever artform I’m engaged in at the time; drawing, painting, and now, photography.  I’d been thinking for a while that I wanted to do a whole photo series on Deerskin, and I finally decided it was time.  Since there will be lots and lots of photos taken for it, after much internal debate, I decided to cast myself as Lissar and make most of the photos self portraits.  It just seemed like it would be too difficult to get the same model scheduled for tons and tons of shoots, especially since I’m eager to do this now that I’ve decided too.  And it does feel quite satisfying, since it is such a meaningful story to me, to be able to participate in the creation of the photos on many levels.  And of course I am using my dog, Calantha, as Ash, which also makes it easier to use myself as Lissar.  Calantha is not the silver-fawn color Ash is, but she certainly has the right look and I can forgive the discrepancy.

Be on the lookout for photos in this series to turn up over the next few months.  It is an ambitious project, and I am sometimes tempted to feel overwhelmed by what I’ve taken on, but I trust myself to do it.  I hope that the series will inspire some people to read the wonderful work that is Deerskin, and perhaps even do something more meaningful and pass on the understanding and hope I get from the story.  Understanding that I am not alone, that my pain and journey are not the only ones, hope that I will reach my own happy ending.  I hope I can give that gift to someone else through these pictures.

This is the first photo I took, and yes, they will be sequentially out of order, since I’ll be shooting them as the opportunities arise.  This photo is of Ash and Lissar after The Lady visits them, changes their appearances and heals their wounds.

The Lady's Doing

The Lady's Doing

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Out Of Character

Sometimes it’s good to do things which are not your usual style and stretch you creatively.

For example, at my recent shoot with Veronica Ricci, she wanted some sexy, candid photos of her with the car she was about to sell.  The car represented a time in her life which she felt was now somewhat coming to a close, and she wanted some last photos of the car to commemorate it.  Which is all well and good, but I do story-telling, concept photos.  I don’t really do sexy.  It was at night, on the street, I was going to have to use my flash, which I almost never do, and is always extremely temperamental.   I felt unsure as I followed Veronica to her car, but just decided I would do the best I could and stop freaking out about it.

And, while the photos certainly aren’t in my usual style, I’m rather pleased with the result.  There’s a certain freedom, a fun, sexy, spontaneous air to them.  I don’t think I’ll stop taking concept photos any time soon, but it was still great to stretch myself and see that I could do something I wasn’t sure I could.

Enjoy a small sampling of the results!

Veronica Ricci

Veronica Ricci

Veronica Ricci

Veronica Ricci

Veronica Ricci

Veronica Ricci

Veronica Ricci

 

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I felt the need to go into greater length about the details of a recent photo of mine, pictured below:

We Sleep Inside Of The Machine

We Sleep Inside Of The Machine

I knew I wanted to create some kind of “cyborg” costume for my model here, the lovely and talented Veronica Ricci.  I had no idea what that actually meant though.  And as I am not an especially handy-around-the-house girl, I didn’t know what my options would be at the hardware store if I went cyborg-part shopping.  Not to mention I am always on a very tight budget.  So I decided to swing by my local architectural salvage yard  and see what I could find.  I rooted through scrap metal, bits and bobs and pieces of who knows what for a while until I’d come up with a handful of items of unknown origin, but visual beauty.  The cashier even had no idea what they were, nor what to charge me for them, in the end asking if I thought $1 would be fair for everything.  I eagerly agreed that it would be.  After that I just dug up some scraps of fabric, my hot glue gun and some tinted plastic and viola!  A cyborg costume I had.

I tend to be against organized forms of control.  I am a registered Libertarian, I dislike organized religion and I have been known to throw major fits over issues where I feel my rights are being infringed upon.   That’s the idea behind this photo; the organized, malevolent force trying to control us.  That force takes many forms, and I want the photo to be a bit open to interpretation by the viewer, but I think many people and groups could be read into it.

Who or whatever you see behind it, the symbolism is still the same.  Her eyes are partially covered, clouding her vision and judgment.  Her throat is covered, hampering her ability to speak up.  Her heart, ego and fear chakra points are all covered and being controlled.  She does nothing.  She is under the spell.  She sleeps in her nakedness and vulnerability, totally unaware of her danger.

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The One That Started It

I have always considered myself an artist, but it wasn’t until this year that I started to consider myself a photographer.  My childhood was spent drawing, coloring with crayons, sewing, painting and crafting in every facet I could try my hand at.  My teens and early 20’s focused on painting and watercolors became my favorite, although fickle and difficult, medium.

Then I started modeling.  I modeled for many photographers from enthusiastic amateurs to serious, full-time professionals; what spoke to me what the photographer’s skill and passion, not whether he made his living that way or not.  I had a lot of fun, a few scary experiences, and met some very cool people… including my fiance, Geoff.

I started getting ideas of shoots I would like to do, which was quite natural since my brain is so visually-wired.  I knew my ideas were cool and had merit, but I could rarely convince another photographer of this.  Some of my ideas translated themselves into paintings, but most of them built up inside me until the pressure to create was too great to bear.  Well, if no one else liked my ideas,I would o them myself as self portraits.

This photo is from the very first self portrait shoot I set up, in January of 2010:

Deer Girl

Deer Girl

Geoff had to show me how to set up his lights, help me with camera settings and the backdrop I made out of an old white sheet… help he still gives me frequently.  But I had done it.  I’d brought my vision to life, even creating the antlers I wore out of wire and paper mache.  It was so satisfying.  I had full, total control over everything. I didn’t have to explain my ideas, I didn’t have to get anyone else on board with them.  I could just go out and create the things I saw in my head.  It was exhilarating.

It took a little while for me to develop my photographic style.  I’d had my drawing and painting style down for years, but this was something new.  I tried different things, some of which were more successful than others.   But in May of 2010, I took the photo which has since defined my style.  I almost didn’t.  I remember feeling that taking a photo would be a hassle that day, but my inner creation goddess would not be silenced, so I eventually listened to her.

Cultus Procul Meus Sanctus Templum

Cultus Procul Meus Sanctus Templum

It was shot in the hallway of my apartment using mostly natural light and props I already had.  I had been looking at a book of John William Waterhouse, my favorite painter, and was also inspired by the work of Brooke Shaden and the painterly quality she often brings to her works.  Between the inspiration I gathered from them and the painting background already laid down in my head, it was a natural direction to go in.  I didn’t have my self-timer remote then, so between each shot I had to reset the self timer function on my camera then scramble back into position, grab the fabric to cover myself with and pose.  It took a few times, but I got it right eventually.

The title is Latin for “Come worship at my holy temple,” and the props are all symbolic in supporting that idea.  The crown I’m wearing, designating me the priestess.  The fabric, reminiscent of holy robes.  The burning incense and candles, both at once religious icons and romantic ones.  The fabric on the floor guiding the eye up past the roses, through the other offerings up to the central figure.  It was all very carefully thought out and planned, which is an important factor in my work.  I know many photographer whose work thrives on spontaneity.  Geoff is the perfect example.  And that works for them.  But mine is very methodical, thoughtful and planned.  It is shot with intention, as my Reiki master likes to say.  That’s what works for me.

And in addition to being nostalgic and remembering where it all started, I am also pleased to announce that a print of the photo above is currently being shown at The Hive gallery in downtown Los Angeles.  They have a great show running all through December and I’m excited to be  a part of it.  If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by; it’s a cool place 🙂

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