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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

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First post of 2014!

How was everyone holiday and new year’s celebration?  Geoff and I had the chance to take a little road trip to see some family, which was really fun!  We got to hit some stops coming and going we’d been wanting to see for a while, so I’ll just get right into it.

First stop was the Arizona Deer Farm!  I visited the deer farm with my family when I was about 4 or 5, and I remember it quite vividly.  I was very excited to realize that not only was the place still around, it was pretty much right on our way!  It’s more of a large petting zoo than a farm per say, and they encourage photographs to be taken.  I have a series coming up which is taking a lot of inspiration from deer, so it was very much a win-win situation for me!  Thanks to Geoff for taking all the photos that have me in them!

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There’s a path for people to walk on, and most of the deer mill about freely inside a large enclosure.   They have plenty of places they can go and hang out or take a nap that are well off the path, so they only are interacting with you if they want to.  And since you get a big cup of feed when you go in, many of them want to 🙂

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Most of the deer are fallow deer; as you can see, they don’t get terribly large, they come in a variety of beautiful colors, and they retain their fawn-like spots into adulthood.

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The price of food: one smooch on the head. This one thought it was a fair trade.

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Checking my hair for edibility; sorry, buck.

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Sadly, my coat is also not edible.

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The males have the most stunning antlers of any deer I’ve seen!  I took lots of photos of this handsome gentleman.

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Once we arrived safely in Kansas, we settled in to the cold weather.  They had an unusual amount of snow for this time of year, which was sighed at by all the locals but I rejoiced in.  We met up with Erick Riedell, a friend of Geoff’s since Junior High, who also got ordained and married us, and who is also a photographer.  In addition to being an all-around great guy, he’s a cancer survivor twice over now.  He had volunteered to be a part of DreamWorld while we were back, and I wanted to find a way to honor his battle and triumphs… hopefully I’ll be able to share the result of that shoot soon!

While we were wandering around a snow-covered wood for the shoot, I was enchanted by the fairy-world sparkle the snow gave all the plants.  I snapped this shot, which reminded me of the fairy tale of The 12 Dancing Princesses and the underground world where all the trees and fruit are made of jewels.

Little Jewels

Little Jewels

On our way back home we stopped at the Wigwam Motel, the epitome of Route 66 kitsch.  We’d stayed there once before, and while the rooms are humble, they are so fun to stay in!  It looks like very little has changed since it opened in 1950.

A cellphone snap of our wigwam.

A cellphone snap of our wigwam.  Those are my gloves on the car trunk, not a wad of used tissues as it appears.

As we made our way home from Arizona, we stopped at The Roadkill Cafe, another historic Route 66 stop.  They had great food (which was not at all made out of roadkill) along with a lovely hand-drawn sign honoring the fallen Hotshot firemen.  I had an unsettling moment when I saw the sign; my heart sank at the reminder of all the brave souls who were lost that day, but I loved that the cafe was honoring their lives and memories.  Regular readers will remember why the loss was hard for me.

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Thank you, Roadkill Cafe, for your very sincere and personal gesture showing your gratitude to the firemen heroes.

So now… on to the first photo of the year!  As much as possible, I feel it’s important to start a year off right with my photos.  Get going on a direction that will determine a positive trajectory.  I wanted my first photo of 2014 to be one I’d look back on proudly.  This photo ended up being quite a bit more work to edit than I’d expected, but I felt waiting a little longer would be worth it.

This concept was actually one I’d shot with Katie at our very first shoot many months ago, but it just didn’t turn out quite like I’d wanted.  The concept was a DreamWorld character; a wind spirit, or perhaps wind goddess would be more appropriate.

I started by making her an art nouveau-inspired headdress.  I remember I’d been looking at one of my books on Alphonse Mucha and had wanted to make a headdress similar to what many of his women are adorned with.

I used my foam head to pin and hot glue sensual, looping ribbons into a headband shape.  The forehead and sides were decorated with masses of little white flowers and small glitter-covered styrofoam balls in a variety of sizes.

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It was meant to be worn rather low over the forehead, which almost instantly gave it that art nouveau feel.

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After that, I hot glued long strands of ribbon to the headband and dotted them with a few more of the styrofoam balls which would help show the blowing wind, along with making it feel more magical.

The second shoot went much better than the first one did!

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky - detail.

Where Earth Meets The Sky – detail

Katie always plays ethereal goddess-types so easily!  Her acting chops are so important to the kind of photography I do.  We both would like to see this kind of headdress become fashionable so we could just go around wearing them all day, at, say, the grocery store… so how about it?  Would you like a wind goddess headdress of your own to help start a trend?  🙂

Thanks to Katie for her patient modeling and to all my readers!  I hope your year has been off to a great start!

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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.

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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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