Perhaps he had traveled. Now she would, too… He’d been missing too long for things to be wholly right. Nothing knew of him in the yard. Nothing in the house. All of it forgetting, slowly, slowly, she could feel it, and one could only last so long separated from the essence.
The traveler was almost there. If this one knew nothing, she would ask the next. And the next one. One of them would know…. She stood broadside in the gravel and turned her head and asked her question.
Asked if it had seen her boy. Her essence. Her soul.
But if the traveler understood, it showed no sign.
I recently finished reading for the first time The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which my wonderful neighbor Donna gave me. I loved it; it’s beautifully written, evocative, expertly tackles some tough story elements and leaves a mark on your heart. I’m going to talk a bit more about the book, what I thought and how this self portrait fits in, but there will be some small spoilers. Consider this your warning 🙂
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Well now. Let’s get started! Edgar Sawtelle is set in a rural, mid-western small town. The Sawtelles have been breeding dogs for generations, but instead of breeding for typical canine traits they breed for cognitive thought, creating what Edgar’s father likes to call the next dog.
There is a strong, intentional undercurrent of Hamlet woven into the story, which wouldn’t seem to mesh well with a tale about dog breeders, but it comes together beautifully.
The heart of the story is the relationship between Edgar and his closest dog, Almondine. As a reader, you come to know and love her just as deeply as Edgar does. Edgar is born mute, and thus often struggles communicating with people. But with dogs, you don’t need words. Almondine and Edgar understand each other perfectly.
When, as in Hamlet, Edgar is banished from his home for a time, circumstances prevent him from taking Almondine with him; a problem which bothers him much more than just being banished. He longs to go back and get her, but he is prevented from it, and he misses her even more than his mother. But Almondine is a Sawtelle dog. She sets out to find Edgar herself.
After I’d finished the book and was reading reviews and commentaries online about it, I realized just how closely Edgar’s story mirrors Hamlet’s. Each main character in Edgar Sawtelle is a counterpart to someone in Hamlet. Edgar, of course, is Hamlet, his mother Trudy is queen Gertrude, his uncle Claude is Claudius, etc. And I finally realized that Almondine is Ophelia.
Edgar and Almondine love each other deeply. They are soulmates, not of a romantic kind, but simply two halves of one whole. Of course, Ophelia is a tragic figure, and just like her Shakespearean counterpart, when she finally takes matters into her own hands (or paws) she dies because of it.
Yet all is not lost. Edgar and Almondine reunite, and when she sees him for the first time she says, “You didn’t have to come back. I would have found you.” And she would have. She would have walked to the ends of the earth to find him, and even death couldn’t keep her from accomplishing her goal. Her strength and tenacity amaze me. She would never, ever have stopped looking for him. I find her and their relationship so beautiful and moving, I cried on more than one occasion.
I felt so moved by the characters, I knew I had to do something photographically with it or I’d just burst. I wanted to portray Almondine, but also nod toward her Ophelia roots. I chose a dress that has a timeless feel to it, and is a bit more practical; something I’d imagine a dog might choose if they suddenly found themselves a person. I went minimal on makeup and adornments, except for the clutch of flowers, since there is such a strong tie between them and Ophelia. I wanted the photo to be about Almondine’s love and strength, so I chose to take a close-up shot and really concentrate on expressing emotion.
The tear was something I’ve been wanting to try for a while. At some point during one of my crafting sessions, I noticed that the little blogs of hot glue that form while it’s hot and waiting for you to use it looked quite a lot like tears, so then I tried intentionally making a few. It ended up being quite quick and easy, and looked very natural, even in person.
The colors and editing choices I made are a very slight nod to Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, one of my very favorite movies. Yes, I know, it’s a terribly controversial film which people either loath or adore, but I am firmly in the adoration camp. It also has themes of love transcending death, and as I edited, I kept seeing flashes of the film in my mind and hearing its music playing, so I finally just went that direction. Once I did, I realized it fit perfectly and I should have trusted myself on that right away 🙂
There’s something really special about self portraits. There’s a level of therapy and catharsis I have not found in any other form of art. I highly recommend it 🙂 Click on the image to see it larger!