As so often happens with DreamWorld, the inspiration for this set of images came close to a year ago.
Last summer, I had recently watched some of the BBC’s episodes of Life, their truly excellent series on all kinds of wildlife. I was watching it while I edited other images (I rarely watch TV without doing a second activity, unless we’re talking about shows like True Detective, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Rectify, etc, which all demand my full attention) but my editing suddenly halted when this segment came on.
I remember backing it up and watching the whole piece again, mesmerized, deeply touched and saddened by such complete, beautiful devotion from any creature to another. As I watched it a third time, I knew a photo was going to come out of it somehow… it was resonating too deeply with me for anything else to happen.
Now, as to how the medieval elements worked themselves in… I can only give you guesses since I’m not really sure how my brain made the jump myself. I know that part of it had to do with wanting to give her eight “tentacles” of some kind (which made its way into her hair) and wanting to give her a pouch to carry her eggs in. For some reason, I thought of a kirtle, a medieval garment which lasted for several centuries. The kind I was picturing were from, I believe, earlier on in the medieval period and looked more like what we might think of as over-dresses or fancy aprons.
Researching medieval garments inevitably led to medieval hair… images like these set my brain whirling.
You can see how the braided and wrapped hair, along with beautiful headdresses leaked into my character.
As usual, I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this when I started into it.
I had a longish, dark brown wig which I’d bought very cheaply quite a while ago. When it arrived, I realized why it had been so cheap; it was already snarled and tangled before I’d even taken it out of the package. I halfheartedly attempted to work the same wide-tooth comb I use for my own often snarled and tangly hair and quickly realized it was a futile endeavor. I tossed the wig into the back of the closet and mostly forgot about it.
When this project came up, I remembered it though. Even though it poofed up like a drying poodle as I combed it, that would work in this case, since I’d be wrapping it up and looping it around. I spent most of one afternoon just combing it out – not detangling it, mind you; there was never any hope of this wig being tangle-free. My best hope was to get it to the point where I could separate it into eight segments. It took all the strength in my arms and they were very unhappy with me for the next few days, but I managed to do it.
In the meantime, I had discovered arm knitting, which I found I could do without a) using much brain power, b) quickly c) without using much muscle power and d) it had very pretty and interesting results. The resulting squares and shapes I made from the looping yarn had such a beautiful, organic look, almost like a coral reef or some other under-sea plant/creature, that it felt completely at home with an aquatic-inspired creature.
After the combing session, I put the wig away for a day or two. I brought it out again after my arms had regained a little strength. Of course this also meant that it had had a couple days left completely on its own without any outside help to start tangling again, so I spent a little time re-combing it to get it back to a manageable state. I quickly arm-knit a band of yarn which would form the circlet of my headdress and made sure it would fit.
Then I divided it into eight more-or-less equal segments and put a hair band around each one to help keep them from getting into too much trouble.
I put the circlet of yarn back on top of the hair and began crisscrossing the yarn (which was a beautiful, slightly metallic variegated blend of soft pinks, blues, lavenders and silvers) over the different segments, using liberal help from my glue gun to keep everything in check. Each segment was attached back up to the main part of the circlet after its crisscrossing was done.
The two front, face-framing sections of hair were left for last. I added some looping pieces of yarn between the other segments to make it more headdress-like. The front segments got crisscrossed with their own lengths of yarn and were then attached to the very back of the circlet, forming two large loops on either side of the face, with hair tentacles hanging underneath them.
Then was the fun part: beads! I raided my bead stash, with an eye toward pieces from a very elaborate headdress I’d made which had recently died, spilling beads all over the floor. I knew there were some really cool pieces which I’d used for it, so I repurposed them again in this piece. I didn’t want it to be overwhelmingly be-jeweled and sparkly, just enough bling to make the character look a bit important; perhaps some kind of royalty.
Moving on to her dress, I had a high-necked, sleeveless, pink chiffon dress from Ebay which I’d gotten for little more than a song. Pink isn’t a color I’m usually drawn to that much, but since the original octopus was pink, my character was going to be pink too. I kind of eyeballed the general shape of a kirtle from ivory tulle; a lot was going to happen to it and since it was so light and transparent, it didn’t need to be perfectly symmetrical.
I free-styled a yoke for the kirtle with more arm knitting and added some cap sleeves (which are only visible in some of the images unfortunately). One thing I was finding with the arm knitting was that is is EXTREMELY forgiving. Arm you within an atom bomb’s range of what you were going for? Then it will probably work!
To unify the costume and also enhance the organic, oceanic feel, I arm knitted a piece for the bottom of the kirtle, basically a large triangle, and two smaller, upside-down triangles for either side of the egg pouch. I left several yarn strings loose from the pouch triangles which would be used to tie the kirtle behind the back of the dress, just like a regular apron.
The eggs were leftover from a shoot I did with Paul Telfer as the Sleeper’s Sentinel. I’d had to buy a dozen of the super-large plastic eggs so I had PLENTY to use for other shoots! I kept these fairly simple since there would be a lot going on visually in the images; I started with spray-painting a base coat of a semi-metallic light gold color and added flecks of bronze-black to make them look more like real eggs. Repeat until they look right. I knew I’d only need five or six eggs, since that was as many as would fit in the pouch I’d made so I didn’t waste any time painting extra eggs.
I did do one thing to just one egg though… I found a nail and a hammer and while the egg was still in two pieces, I hammered a hole through from the inside out. Some sharp knives, pliers and more hammering later, I’d created what looked like a fracture in the egg from a chick inside starting to hatch. Eggs = done!
I’d had my faithful model Dedeker Winston in mind for this character the whole time. I usually cast characters in the same way I create them, just by what “feels right.” I had not consciously remembered it, but it turned out there was a really wonderful real-world reason to have Dedeker play the octopus-mother caring for her eggs. Dedeker has been an egg donor many times to couples who are unable to have children on their own. In fact, one family has two children, both from Dedeker’s eggs, and they just requested a third! It’s very unusual for a family to have so many children from the same donor, but I think it’s really lovely that all of their children will be linked in this extra way. And clearly Dedeker produces really fantastic babies! 🙂 Once I remembered that, it felt truly serendipitous that we were shooting this character together.
I knew that my wig was several shades darker than Dedeker’s hair and I had a couple thoughts on how to deal with it. I knew she had a dark brown wig of her own which we could layer under mine, or we could totally cover all of her hair with a wig cap. In the end though, she simply twirled her hair into a low bun, I set the wig on top of her head and since there was so much going on with the hair, it looked completely natural and blended right in. If you looked closely, you could see that some of the hairs on her forehead were a bit lighter than the rest of her head, but I matched them up in about 30 seconds in Photoshop. Sometimes the simplest method is the best!
We set out on a morning last summer to capture these shots of the character I’ve dubbed the Pink Mother. We got started early and the sun was already blazing; it promised to be a miserably hot day but at the moment it was still pleasant. I started shooting Dedeker in a dryer, dustier, yellower scene and led her along a path which gradually got greener and lusher, mirroring the octopus’ journey to find the perfect environment for her eggs to be born into. The color pallet moved from warm and vivid to cool and less saturated, especially in regards to the Pink Mother herself. As she nears death, the paler she becomes until the last shot, where she is very white.
She sacrificed everything she had for her eggs. She loved them, cared for them, caressed them. She journeyed over countless miles to find a safe, green place for them to be born. Though it cost her everything, she never hesitated. And, it seems, her journey was worth it. The cracks in the eggs prove her right. They were brought forth from the deepest love there is, and that can only be the best start to these new beings.
So thank you to Dedeker for being my medieval octopus mother and letting me share your story about your own eggs! And thank you for trusting my vision even if it seemed questionable at the time 😉 You were the perfect, purest-loving mother to those babies!
And now enjoy the full images, some detail shots and behind-the-scenes captures!