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Posts Tagged ‘courage’

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I have a rather, uh, active dream life.  My nights are often filled with deeply archetypal storylines, heavy with symbolism and metaphor, which, I suppose, is probably part of why I’m drawn to creating images along the same lines.

Hold The Gate © Sarah Allegra - detail

Hold The Gate © Sarah Allegra – detail

Sometimes my dreams are quite silly upon waking, like the dream I had where I was aboard Star Trek’s Enterprise (the original show) and Spock and I had to beam down to an alien planet so I could find my gold bikini (ah la Leia, in Return of the Jedi) which we needed in order to defeat the attacking alien army (different aliens than the ones who lived on the planet my bikini was on) and save the world.  I don’t think I was ever clear on how my gold bikini would do this, but it made sense in the dream.

Sometimes my dreams are very serious and are clearly working through problems and fears, current or past.  I had a whopper of a dream a week or two ago which I’m going to tell you about, as it relates to my most recent image.

This dream was set in the world of The Hero And The Crown, by Robin McKinley, one of my very favorite books; one of those comfort-food books I turn to again and again, especially in times of trouble.  If you haven’t read it, go and do so.  I’ll wait.

I was Aerin, the heroine of the story.  Geoff was Tor, whom I was betrothed to.  We lived in Tor’s parent’s castle (which doesn’t make sense with the book, but never mind) and nobody in the entire kingdom liked or understood me.  My only friends were Tor and Talat, my horse, along with the rest of the castle’s horses.  They had an entire army of war horses who would fight in formation on their own, without the aid of any human riders.  I took great comfort in visiting the stables frequently to get away from the nastiness of all the people and be with creatures who loved me.

The great dragon Maur, easily as big as the castle and made of pure evil, had come back and was laying siege to the castle along with numerous other giant, pure-evil dragon friends of his.  We were hopelessly outnumbered and everyone knew there was really no chance of winning this battle, but we had to try.  The dragons could only attack us at night, but in this world it became fully dark at about 1 in the afternoon and stayed dark until the regular sunrise of 5-6 in the morning.  This meant each night was very long.

Interestingly, Tor already possessed the Hero’s Crown, which ought to have given him the ability to fight the dragons off, but it wasn’t working.  It held them off a little, just barely, but it wouldn’t survive another night.

I visited the stables after the first night, thanking the horses, some of whom had been greatly wounded or killed, for their bravery in battle.  Quite a lot of them were also pregnant and foals kept popping out every time I turned around.  We had a good talk and I felt encouraged after I left them.

I found Tor and told him that I had to travel back to my family’s castle to retrieve two magic rings.  If we both wore them, then we would be strong enough to vanquish the dragons.  The thing was, I could only tell Tor where I was going and why.  I had to keep it a secret from absolutely everyone else.  At the end of the dream, I was riding off on Talat to my castle to get the rings, knowing that everyone hated me because they thought I’d just deserted them when they were most in need.  Dusk was falling as Talat and I galloped along and I knew I had to really hurry to get the rings and return to Tor’s castle in time to help everyone survive.

A couple things I should point out right away; Tor’s family in the dream is NOTHING like Geoff’s actual family.  His family embodies that friendly, easy-going, pull-up-a-chair sort of Midwestern charm you always hear about.  They’re truly all wonderful people, so don’t think that that part of the dream had any resemblance to reality!  Also, as far as I know, there aren’t any large groups of people who hate me.  I suppose I could be wrong about this, but again, the dream is not representing real life in this way.

After mulling it over a lot, talking to my mom (who is especially gifted at dream interpretation), Geoff and my therapist, I came to a few conclusions.

The dragons = ME.  Now, to be fair, I actually like dragons, but my brain often uses them as a symbol for big, bad, evil things.  (It also often uses Calantha to represent my inner child in dreams, which is just full of Freudian symbolism.)  Fighting ME every day often really does feel like you’re besieged by dragons.  You’re trapped in your castle (house/body) while an unrelenting assault of badness attacks (all of my ME symptoms; pain, fatigue, etc).

I was confused about the nights being so long until I remembered something I’d said to Geoff a few days before the dream.  I had realized that most days I spend 11-12 hours a day in bed sleeping, or at least trying to sleep.  If I can get a solid 11 regularly, I feel much better, but since my sleep is so poor, I’m often trying to make up for the bad sleep, so the time spent in bed creeps up higher.  I was startled when I realized just how much time I spent every day just trying to sleep.  I’d been getting frustrated, feeling like my days were so short and there were never enough hours… and while I know that pretty much everyone feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day, I suddenly knew why it seemed like my days really were getting much shorter.

ME also really messes up your sleep.  And if you do find yourself up at 4 am, watching TV, taking a cocktail of pills to try and get back to sleep, as I often do, nights can feel especially long and lonely.

I think that the Hero’s Crown was all the stuff I’ve tried already to feel better, all of which promise to work and cure you, but none ever has.  The rings were a hope of future treatments or cures.  Going off to get them while things were most dire represented the typical path of trying a treatment, which usually involves over-exerting yourself in some way first (going to the doctor’s office, my several-times-a-year nerve-blocking injections).

I suspect that the crowd of people who disliked and misunderstood me is my fear of people not understanding that I actually am sick, even if I don’t look like it outwardly.  This is an extremely common worry from anyone with an “invisible illness;” any sort of sickness which does not manifest in outward signs.  I often feel the need to make sure new people in my life know that I have ME and have a basic understanding of what it is so that they don’t think I’m lazy, or that I just didn’t want to go to their party, or have dinner with them.  It’s a pretty big fear, to be honest.  Almost without exception, everyone who is in my life knows what my deal is and while they invite me to things, they’re all very understanding if I can’t make it, especially if I have to cancel last minute.  I really, really hate to cancel at the last minute, but sometimes your body leaves you no other choices.  The secrecy of my mission to get the rings was mirroring the invisibility of my case of ME.

As for the more pleasant things about the dream, Geoff as Tor believed me, and he also supported me even though the entire rest of the kingdom wished he wouldn’t.  That’s 100% Geoff.  He will love and support me, in a fantasy battle with dragons, or in the real world battling insurance companies.  He is a fearless protector and someone I can always count on.  I also liked that for the magic rings to work, we both needed to wear them.  I think that speaks to the importance of having someone caring for and supporting you through this stupid disease.  I can fight it on my own, but it’s a million times better to have an ally.

And lastly, the animals will always be with me.  I have had a special kinship with animals of all kinds, since before I can remember.  My dad likes to tell the story of how there used to be a couple of huge Great Danes in a house behind ours and how they would bark and bay and snarl ferociously through the small gap in the fence if they saw you.  One day I came inside and said, “You know those big dogs out there?  They’re really friendly!”  Alarmed, my dad checked to make sure I still had all my fingers, then came outside with me where he realized that the Danes were causing a fuss because they wanted attention, not because they were aggressive.  Then for a while I collected snails in a bucket and kept them as “pets,” which I believe led my parents to get my first dog because it was just so pathetic that I was gathering snails to be my friends.  Animals have always been a big part of my life, creatures I can trust and rely on, who are as unchanging and solid as a mountain.

As I was meditating on the dream, I kept being reminded of a few big scenes from the biggest battle in last season’s Game Of Thrones.  You don’t really need a lot of context for it, just that the good guys are trying to keep the very bad guys out, and they’re horribly outnumbered and outmatched.

(Sorry, YouTube won’t let you play the videos here, but if you click the little “YouTube” button near the bottom of the video screen, it will take you directly to the videos.)

It may seem silly to those who have never experienced ME, but this is what it feels like to me.  Like you’re outnumbered 1000 to 1, the other side has mammoths and giants and all you’ve got is a fairly useless sword to try and fight them all off.  There is no end in sight, and barely any hope that you’ll succeed.  This is also the way a lot of The Hero and the Crown goes, which is part of why it’s one of my favorite books.

It may sound silly to those who have never know chronic illness’s cruel touch, but I’m willing to bet that everyone who has dealt with it will understand at once.  It’s exhausting to fight an enemy every day, who you can’t see or touch.  And even more so when some people don’t believe the enemy exists.

So, as I do, I had to take a self portrait to work through my feelings on this dream.  What could be more DreamWorldy than an image inspired by an actual dream?  I can imagine this being a snippet of DreamWorld’s rich history, perhaps during the Yellow King’s grab for the throne.  I edited it with both The Hero and the Crown and Game of Thrones in mind, lending visual inspiration.

We sick will keep fighting.  We will hold the gate.

I’ll hold the gate.

Hold The Gate © Sarah Allegra

Hold The Gate © Sarah Allegra

My lighting setup for Hold The Gate:

Hold The Gate lighting setup

Hold The Gate lighting setup

My tripod it balanced on the mattress and the camera would shift slightly whenever Calantha, also on the mattress, moved.  There was just enough room between my bed, the closet and all the other things in that part of the bedroom to make this work.  Who needs a studio??  😉

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“A wall of flames 40 feet high was sweeping its way up the canyon, 400 yards away. At that point, they would have had about a minute. Since they couldn’t get to the safety zone, they had to make one of their own. Andrew Ashcraft and Travis Turbyfill, the two sawyers, started attacking the brush with their chain saws, while the rest of the guys swung their Pulaskis, frantically doing what they were trained to do: move dirt, and move dirt faster.  They dumped fuel from their drip cans around the zone they’d created, then set the chain saws at the outer perimeter, so that when they exploded no one would get hurt.

[The team’s leader,] Eric, got on the radio. The Hotshots’ escape route had been cut off, he said, and they were deploying their emergency shelters.

Eric’s voice was calm – some said the calmest they’d ever heard him. At 4:47, he radioed his last transmission: ‘Deploying.’ And then, just like they’d practiced, the Granite Mountain Hotshots climbed into their shelters.

Finally, at 6:30 – an agonizing 103 minutes later – the helicopter was able to get on the ground. The onboard medic hurried to the site where they’d seen the shelters. As he approached, he spotted the metal blade from a chain saw and a pickax with the handle burned away. The ranch house was unscathed. Everything else was a smoldering moonscape.

Experts estimate that the fire burned between 3,000 and 5,000 degrees. In the end, there wasn’t much left. But what there was told a story.

The 19 Hotshots were all together. No one panicked, no one ran. Travis Turbyfill and Andrew Ashcraft, the sawyers, were at the edge of the group, closest to the flames. They were cutting lines up until the end.

When Juliann [ed – Andrew’s wife] got Andrew’s effects back, his boots and clothes were gone. His metal belt buckle didn’t make it. His pocketknife. The journals that he kept. There was a piece of Velcro from his watchband but not the watch itself. Even the metal plate and eight screws in his leg, from when he shattered it in a rappelling accident a few years back, had disappeared.

Two things, she discovered, had somehow survived the fire. One was Andrew’s wedding ring, titanium. The other, shrunken and black, was the rubber wristband that said: be better.”

–Excerpt from an excellent and comprehensive article The Last Battle of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, by Josh Eells, for Men’s Journal.

 

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

I initially created today’s image to be a companion piece for this photo of Katie and I, honoring the fallen firemen in Yarnell, Arizona almost a year ago.

To The Lost

To The Lost

A childhood friend of mine, Andrew Ashcraft, had been one of the lost.  As I do with most painful things, I channeled my grief into my art.

Though it always makes me cry to think about it, there is such beauty in the men’s calm acceptance of their sacrifice, their solidarity, that they were a complete, solid unit until the very end. Josh Eell’s article says it so wonderfully.  They stuck together.  In the face of immediate, certain death, they did what they could and then turned to each other for comfort.  Shoulder to shoulder, they stuck together until the horrific last.

That unity, that love, that solidarity and bravery touched me more deeply than I could, or can, express.  The only chance I had at touching on it was through art.  I set up a shoot with Katie and Bryce to portray the doomed but brave men.  It happened that some tree branches and very tall bushes in my yard had just been cut down, forming what appeared to be a huge, natural nest.  Thinking of the Hotshots as birds with broken, burned wings helped me find the metaphor I wanted to use, a way into the truth I was trying to get at.

It was an easy shoot, what with all the branches having been set up for me by the workmen.  I lit a few smoke bombs, snapped the frames and it was done.  I loved what I had gotten from this shoot as I looked at the images later.  All the same, I found I couldn’t face editing the image.  It took many, many months before I felt like I could emotionally handle editing working it up.

I didn’t consciously realize we were coming up on the anniversary of their deaths, but I must have felt it subconsciously.  I’ve been haunted by memories of Andrew recently and finally felt that it was time, urgently time, to finish this piece.  As I finally brought the files into Photoshop and started working on them, more memories flooded my brain.  Like how Andrew, as a young child, had always said “Jee Jie Joes” instead of “GI Joes” and frequently got tripped up between “brought” and “brung.”  The trip our families took to Mount Shasta together.  Their shelties, who seem huge in my mind, but who I know were actually smallish dogs.  Drawing together, playing in the sprinklers, going to the beach, sharing snacks, going to the park, getting into fights, crying and making up again… all the things children do.

I’ve said before that one of the things I mourn in this is that I missed out on getting to know Andrew as an adult.  I’ve tried to remember that lesson and have made a point to stay in touch, or get back in touch, with people in my life.  I won’t get another chance at Andrew, but I can try and apply the lesson to other friendships.

None of these men deserved their fate.  They were true heroes, actively running into the worst, most dangerous situations.  That is what the Hotshots were there for; an elite team of firefighters comparable to Navy Seals or Spartans.  The only thing I can try and do about it is make an attempt to honor them and their sacrifice.  I know that I will always fall short in this goal, but it’s important to try nonetheless.  I am also keenly aware that this is not about me or my pain.  The pain of Andrew’s family and loved ones is something I can only imagine.

The Hotshots were trapped; birds unable to fly away.  There was no escape from the flames.  But what remained was love. Love triumphing over the flames by preserving Andrew’s wedding ring and bracelet with his personal motto.  Love for the people they were protecting, though they would never meet them.  Love for their families, though they left them behind in the line of their duty.  Love for each other.  Love for humanity.  Just love.

That love is what I wanted most to capture in this image and I hope it shines through.

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

Singed Wings - detail One of the three smokey roses scattered through the photo.  I used an image I had taken of beautifully carved roses on a tombstone, which felt so fitting.  The delicacy and beauty they add are still tinged with sorrow.

Singed Wings – detail
One of the three smokey roses scattered through the photo. I used a photo I had taken of beautifully carved roses on a tombstone, which felt so fitting. The delicacy and beauty they add are still tinged with sorrow.

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

My heart goes out to the family and friends of all 19 fallen heroes especially as we approach the anniversary of this tragedy.  I’m sure it’s an extremely difficult time for all of them.

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I actually shot the images for this self portrait back in 2012 sometime, as I recall, and it just kept getting pushed down on my list of photos to edit.  I generally prioritize images which have other people modeling in them, since they took the time and energy to come model for me, so sometimes my self portraits get a little forgotten.  This was one which I definitely did not want to let get completely forgotten though, so as soon as I had the time, I eagerly jumped into editing it!

I don’t think many of you will be surprised when I say I’ve had my share of troubles with clinical depression.  Even as a teenager, the seeds were being sewn.  It’s something I’ve struggled with on and off for most of my life.  I’ve been to many therapists, tried countless treatments, medications, alternative therapies, read books, talked it out, journaled, and, of course, done art therapy.  Art therapy and submerging myself in nature, with animals and my friends and loved ones are the things that seem to work best for me, but everyone is different.  I have mostly accepted that it will probably be with me to some degree for most of my life, which is an easier future for me to face than one where I’m constantly disappointed by finding myself under its shadow again.

***Side note: ME/CFS/fibro are often tried to dismiss as simply depression or other mental health problems.  They are absolutely NOT the same thing.  I have experienced both and they are completely different.  Where it gets tricky is that people with ME/CFS and fibro often develop depression secondarily to their physical illness, but it’s usually because they feel terrible every day, many people refuse to believe they’re actually sick and they suddenly lose huge, important parts of their life to their illness.  I challenge anyone to not become depressed in those conditions.  What drives me crazy is that no one suggests that patients with cancer, for example, who develop secondary depression are “simply” mentally ill, but it’s an extremely common conclusion for doctors to jump to regarding ME/CFS and fibro patients.  I’ve had doctors tell me the problems were all in my head.

None of this is to say that mental health problems are somehow less important or real than physical health problems, they are simply two distinct things and require completely different treatments.  The simplest explanation I’ve come across to illustrate the differences between the two is this: ask a person with depression what she would want to do the next day if she woke up feeling completely well.  She’d probably have trouble answering you.  Depression robs you of all joy and motivation.  Ask someone with ME/CFS or fibro the same question and they’d give you an entire list of things they’d like to do.  ME robs your body of the ability to do things, but doesn’t take away the desire to do them.***

Since the severity of my depression waxes and wanes, I tend to think of it as an entity which I am periodically under the attack of.  Sometimes I imagine it as a malevolent cloud, sometimes a huge dragon; something which is dark and dangerous and can completely envelop me.  When I find myself thus enveloped, I repeat a mantra over and over to myself; “The clouds will lift.  The clouds will lift.”  It might be hours, days, weeks or months, but I know that at some point this battle will be over and I’ll have made it through to the other side.

I’ve written about him before, but Andrew Soloman’s incredible Ted Talk on depression bears repeating.  It’s beautifully insightful, hopeful, even when I’m under the darkest cloud and most importantly, lets me know I’m not alone in how I feel.  It’s also supremely excellent at explaining clinical depression to those who have never experienced it firsthand; an invaluable gift.  As Mr. Soloman states, “half the purpose of art is to describe [depression.]”  I could not agree more.

I don’t know whether we’re friends because we all share the same demons, or if I just happen to have a large percentage of good friends who have their own mental health struggles, but I wanted to create this image to show not just my battle, but theirs… and indeed, the battle everyone with depression finds themselves flung into.

When you’re in the throws of it, you don’t feel strong or brave, but I know that we are.  We bear terrible burdens which can break the human soul and every time we don’t succumb to it, we should celebrate.  But mental health is still greatly stigmatized in our culture, so there is rarely any celebration; there is rarely any acknowledgement of the battle that rages at all.  I feel it’s important and part of my job as an artist to discuss these issues which we would like to pretend don’t exist.  If we deny depression, then we will lose the battle.  The only way you can fight it is by first saying that yes, it exists; yes, I am under its cloud; no, that does not me a less worthy person; yes, I am brave and strong even though I don’t feel like it right now.

So this image is dedicated to all my dear friends who have been under that same cloud.  To my friends who have not experienced the cloud themselves, but support us when we’re in the throws of it.  Who love us, accept us and keep us going.  Shame and secrecy feeds the depression monster.  Truth and soul baring disarm it, love and strength defeats it.   Many, many thanks to my dear friends and loved ones who help me through these battles.  I just hope I can do the same for them.

Let’s take a step toward making the world a better place.  Let’s finally let the stigma around mental illness die.  No one would ever, ever choose to be like this.  We fight unimaginable battles to overcome it.  Instead of shaming those covered in battle scars, let’s celebrate their success.  They made it through.  There may be more fights, but they will make it through them too.  They will if we start supporting them instead of shaming them.

To everyone who knows this malevolent cloud firsthand, you are beautiful and strong.  And the clouds will lift.

The Clouds Will Lift

The Clouds Will Lift

The Clouds Will Lift - detail

The Clouds Will Lift – detail

The Clouds Will Lift - detail

The Clouds Will Lift – detail – I made custom bat wing brushes to construct the clouds

The Clouds Will Lift - detail

The Clouds Will Lift – detail

If anyone would like to share stories of their own mental health struggles, please share it in a comment!  Talking openly about these problems is the first step to erasing the stigma.

*****

Just a few more days!!

For the month of May, I am donating 50 percent of profits from all my sales to The Microbe Discovery Project, a group working to solve the mystery of ME and find a cure for those afflicted.  And what do I sell?  Well, what do you want?  Because my images come from the frameable to the wearable and in every price range.
museum-quality, fine art prints
iPad/iPhone/iPod covers
stickers
blank greeting cards
post cards
shirts and hoodies
wearable art
throw pillows
INTROSPECTIVE: my eight-week, on-line, course of self-discovery through photography.

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As a continuation of my last post, this one will also be talking about Andrew Ashcraft, the boy I played with when I was young who grew up to be one of the fallen Hotshot heroes from Arizona’s recent fires.

I created a photo to work through my grief, as I often do, but it didn’t feel like enough.  I kept thinking about Andrew’s poor widow, left with their four very young children to raise, all on her own.  And then I’d think about the families of the 18 other firefighters and how would they get by, and I had to do something.

So, 75% of all profits made from any sales of To The Lost will go to directly to the families through the donation program set up This applied to anything and everything To The Lost appears on.  I have, of course, my extremely beautiful and archival fine art prints, and also blank cards, stickers, clothing, Ipod, Iphone and Ipad cases.

There are 19 families left without fathers, husbands, providers.  The last thing they need while they’re still reeling from the profound loss is to worry about how the bills are going to get paid.  Let’s give them some of the aid they need.

Image

To The Lost

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It was last Tuesday, July 2nd, that I found out about the tragic deaths of the nineteen firefighters in Arizona a few days earlier.  At the same time, I discovered my childhood friend, Andrew Ashcraft, was one of those lost.  It took a while to sink in.  Andrew, who I had played with for years, was gone.

Not only Andrew, but eighteen others of Arizona’s finest firefighters were lost.   They were called the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew; essentially the Navy Seals of the fire world.  They were trained to go into the deadliest, most dire situations and kick the fire’s ass.  They went in to make a fuel break for the devastating forest fire when the wind changed and trapped them.  There was no escape.

My heart breaks for Andrew’s widow, left to raise their four very young children, the oldest of whom is merely six, by herself.  It breaks for Andrew’s mother Deborah, who has to bury one of her children.  It breaks for the eighteen others families in the same situation.

Andrew with his family

Andrew was only 29.  He had been named the 2011 Rookie of the Year in the Hotshot crew.  He’d had to really work to get into the crew.   That was what he wanted to do.  He chose to be the best, bravest, most worthy of men.  I am in awe.

It’s important for me to state that it had been a long time since I’d seen Andrew… I was probably 13 or so.  But he and his brother TJ were a big part of my childhood.   Our moms were friends and would frequently trade babysitting, so for years my brother and I saw and played with the Ashcraft boys several times a week.  My brother was the oldest of us, TJ was next, then me and Andrew was the youngest, even though only four years separated us all.  It was just enough of an age difference that the older two boys would want to go off and do Secret Older Boy Things together (mostly involving GI Joes, as I recall) so Andrew and I were often our own group… which sometimes consisted merely of sulking about being left out of Secret Boy Things.  But we made our own fun.

I can't find a photo of th four of us together, but here's a photo of myself (in front), TJ and my brother in some strange church play.

I can’t find a photo of the four of us together, but here’s a photo of myself (in front), TJ and my brother in some strange church play.

One of the clearest memories I have of the four of us is arguing heatedly over who played which character when we would play Batman.  My brother, the oldest, was naturally Batman.  When he and I played it at home, I was Robin, and I felt that was my part.  But TJ’s slight age difference made a good argument in the logic of children for him assuming the role of Robin.  The debate was settled when we found out about Batgirl, who I would obviously play, leaving Robin to TJ.  But poor Andrew was always forced to play Alfred or some random henchmen; he never got to play a really good character.  I had laughingly told this story to Geoff quite a while ago, not realizing the irony that was to come.

Andrew grew up to be a real, living, actual hero.  He lived his heroism more than any person I know of.  He went out doing what he loved, with the men he loved, and if he ever felt fear, he never let it stop him.  I am so sad his family has lost him.  I am sad that the world has lost such an amazing person.  And I am sad that I never got to know Andrew at this age, that we lost touch, and I only discovered what an incredible person he was second hand.  The world is nineteen wonderful souls poorer.

As I cried into Geoff’s chest the day I heard the news, one of the first things he asked was how I was going to work through my feelings photographically.  This is just one of the many reasons I love him, because I was already mentally hard at work trying out different concepts and trying to figure it out.  As I was working through my grief and trying to put my feelings into a visual form, I was also talking a lot with Katie, who had recently experienced a similar kind of loss.  It was a great comfort to have her and other people in my life familiar with grief to talk to.  Katie and I already had a shoot planned in a few days, so I told her to just expect that we would shoot something to honor Andrew and the other firefighters.

This was another shoot done on a non-budget.  It took just a few big, yellow smoke bombs and the fresh flowers.  Also, HUGE thanks to Geoff for being my human shutter release!

Usually I edit things in order of them being shot, as that seems fairest, but this got bumped way up in line.  I really wanted it to be released today, the day of the big memorial service in Prescott.  You’ll see that Katie is playing the role of the rescuer, pulling me to safety, but not far from the danger herself.  The smoke wrapping around my body and throat actually happened exactly like that, straight out of camera, and seems to want to pull me back and not let go.  Katie is carrying nineteen large orange, yellow and red flowers, symbolizing the fallen heroes, and I like that there are smaller yellow flowers connected to the stalks; they seem to symbolize the fireman’s family.

When I searched for a title for this photo, I immediately remembered what Jimmy in Boardwalk Empire says before each drink instead of the standard “cheers” or “bottom’s up;” he says “to the lost.”  For Jimmy it was about his lost comrades during the war, but it seemed to fit here perfectly.  This is also only the second time I’ve ever done a square crop on a photo.  For the most part I stick very strictly to my 2×3 ratio.  This photo just called for something else, so I went with it.  There are some detail shots of the photo below.

I hope Andrew’s family heals as quickly as it can, along with the rest of the families.  There is nothing I can say or do that can make it better for them.  How I wish there was.  All I can do is try to honor the fallen heroes, with my words, my photos, and my many, many tears.

Andrew was a badass… but the very best kind, who hasn’t lost his softer side.  He was a true hero, like Prince Lir.  We didn’t know that Andrew was the biggest hero of us all.

He should have been Batman.

You can donate directly to Andrew’s family here.

To The Lost

To The Lost

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

To The Lost - detail

To The Lost – detail

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I had the great pleasure recently of shooting with Lauren Cohan, the very talented actress many of you will know as Maggie from AMC’s The Walking Dead, which has its season finale this Sunday!  She was also a special guest lead in this week’s episode of Law and Order: SVU.

I’d had a couple of concepts in mind to use with her, so let me back up a little and take you through the whole creation process.

I’ve been reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces, by my idol Joseph Campbell, in which he really delves into his concept of the Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey, aka the Monomyth, is the story outline that all classic stories, folktales, myths, fairy tales and most popular movies of our day follow.   I will let him describe the basic Hero’s Journey in his own words: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix… it’s easier to find examples of stories which are not variations of the Hero’s Journey than those that are.  And of course, the actual Journey he proposes is much more complex than that brief blurb could touch on; there is the Departure, Initiation, and Return, each of which have six or seven individual steps.

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I’ve found the Hero’s Journey to be a fascinating concept ever since I first heard about it.  And as Joseph Campbell wrote so heavily, and influentially, about dreams, myths and the importance of both in our modern lives, I knew his work would color much of what DreamWorld is becoming.  Recently I decided I would like to do a sub-series in DreamWorld portraying each of the steps along the Hero’s Journey.  It will be a challenge, and a long journey of its own, but I felt it would make an important contribution to DreamWorld.

As I’ve been reading The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell has been taking us through the Journey one step at a time, using examples from mythologies and religions all over the world.  Crossing The First Threshold  is the moment where the hero is given his first real challenge and he realizes there’s no going back (eg, taking the red pill).  In illustrating this step, Campbell talks about a story where a thunderbolt in one’s belly is used as a metaphor for a person’s essence.  It is their soul, their spiritual center, and it is what gives them the strength and intrinsic ability to overcome the challenges the Journey will throw at them.  I loved that image, so I set about figuring out how to incorporate it into my photo.

While I puzzled out the thunderbolt, I decided to start working on two pieces of my Hero’s costume; a crown and an amulet.  I made them both in a very similar easy, quick way, starting with some cardboard from a cereal box I had finished recently.

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I had a large deer-head necklace that I’d been wanting to use for a while, and I thought it would make a beautiful center to the amulet.  I doodled a complimentary shape on the cardboard, traced the shape onto a piece of paper, flipped it, and gave myself a very symmetrical base.

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Next I started working on the crown, using the same doodle-trace-flip method to give myself as much symmetry as possible.

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Pinning and gluing the crown pieces together.

Once I had the basic shapes down, it came time to wrap them all in aluminum foil.  I just smooshed it on, not worrying about making it smooth, since having a bit of texture was going to actually be good for my purposes.

Foil-wrapped cardboard.

Foil-wrapped cardboard.

The next step is one I remembered learning as a kid from a library book which taught you how to make your own toys and crafts; pirate coins in this case.  Smear black paint on the whole surface, then rub most of it off with a paper towel.  The paint will stick just in the cracks and crevasses, giving a much more authentic, aged, weathered look to the pieces.

Post paint.

Post paint.

I added a couple of hair combs to the crown to help it stay it Lauren’s hair.  Then came the fun part; decorating them both!

I knew I wanted to use the deer necklace on he amulet so I twisted it on with a few wires, so I have the option of taking it off and using it somewhere else later (as I almost certainly will).

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At the bottom is a decorative piece from a hair pin I’d gotten as a teenager and never got rid of after it broke because it was pretty. I am SUCH a magpie, but it can be a handy curse.

I dug into my bead stash and found a bag of purple and orange beads of various sizes and shapes which I thought would work really well.  I began hot-gluing them on, which is not the way to do it if you wan something really solid and lasting.  I did not.  I wanted it to hold together long enough to shoot, then be easy to take apart and use the beads again somewhere else.

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Done and done!  Now on to my thunderbolt/soul piece.  I do not recall the exact chain of thoughts that led me down this path, but something about the word ego and its similarity to egg made me want to give the soul an eggy, oval shape.

This one I started with a cardboard oval, cut from more of the same giving cereal box.  I covered it with foil, then glued lot and lots of little scraps of lace (left over from my lace leaves) to give it a little dimensionality and wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap.

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Plastic-wrapped soul egg.

I painted the outline with some soft purple paints, darkening the color gradually around the perimeter.  And lastly, as a nod to the “thunderbolt” part of the story, I topped it off with a sparkly, snowflake-shaped ornament.

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All that was left was the glue the egg onto a length of wide ribbon to make a belt of it, and there I was done!

The day of the shoot arrived, and Lauren was fantastic for everything; a trooper and such pleasure to shoot!  I suspected that Lauren’s acting ability would lend itself well to my concepts for her, and she did not disappoint; she was wonderful 🙂

Me trying to explain the whole concept of the Hero's Journey, its history, meaning and subtext to Lauren... my models all have to listen to me pontificate a lot.  She bore this with good humor.

Me trying to explain the whole concept of the Hero’s Journey, its history, meaning and subtext to Lauren… my models all have to listen to me pontificate a lot. She bore this with good humor… or rather, humour, in her case, since she’s British.

btsCalantha Bomb

The ubiquitous Calantha bomb of the talent; she manages to work herself into the background of most photos at least once.

 

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This time Calantha not only photobombed us, but she decided that my laying on the ground to get the angle I wanted was irresistible and she HAD to lay down with me.

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She decided I was boring, so she took a nap.

I have another photo to work up still, but I’ll be posting those later.  Editing just this one was tough enough; I put well over 50 hours into it.  I’ll need a little break before I get to the rest!  But for now, here is Lauren Cohen Crossing The First Threshold of the Hero’s Journey!

Crossing The First Threshold

Crossing The First Threshold

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