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Posts Tagged ‘drama’

A Cry From The Darkness

A self portrait that belongs to my Eternal Storm series, which explores depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

Wow, it feels like FOREVER since I finished my last piece!  This year has not been conducive to creating art.  I’ve done my best despite the circumstances which kept popping up (moving, medications, long ME flares, devoting a ton of time to the gallery show, stress from my recent battle among other things) but it’s felt like a very dry year creatively.  All I can do is my best though, and even when the ME really cramps my style, I still manage to get pieces finished… just much more slowly than I would like.

It was in this depressed feeling of “I haven’t created anything in the longest time imaginable” that today’s image was born.  When my regular creative outlets are blocked to me (by, say, solid weeks of migraines as I adjust to each new medication dosage), I become despondent and depressed.  Life slowly loses its flavor and color and if I’m not careful, I’ll sink into a pit of despair just like Artax in The Neverending Story.  Luckily, I have Geoff and my friends and family around to cheer me on and make sure I never sink too low, but much of it is outside of anyone’s control.

As I mentally pictured how I felt, this was it.  A big, ugly cloud of despair, depression, worthlessness, swirling around my head.  But this time, unlike my last self portrait which explored a similar theme, I wanted to show a bit of hope at the same time.  The cloud is surrounded, penetrated and pierced by beautiful, golden rays of light.  They stream in through the darkness, weaving through its thick blackness.  The darkness cannot survive in the light.  It will be broken up and dissipate.  And while I know this will probably not be my last battle with depression, I also know that each round will eventually be over… and once again, the light will have won.  That is the hope I cling to when the clouds cover me.

I’d like to mention my friend and very talented photographer Robert Cornelius’s Dust to Dust series as it provided some inspiration in my planning out of the darkness cloud.  Thanks, Robert!  🙂  He’s an incredible photographer and all-around cool dude, so check out his work if you’re not familiar with it!

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra - a self portrait

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait

This image belongs to my Eternal Storms series on depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.  These topics are still seen as quite taboo to discuss, something I hope to help with by portraying what living with them is like openly and honestly.  Silence and shame never helped a single illness get cured.  We need to be able to speak openly about our experiences, without judgement or fear, if we’re ever going to healed from them.

A Cry From The Darkness

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

A Cry From The Darkness

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

 

Do you have depression?  Try being a little more honest next time a trusted friend asks how you are.  You don’t have to go into excruciating detail, but try to avoid the temptation to simply answer “fine,” unless you actually are.  And if you have friends or family who you suspect or know suffer from any kind of mental ailment?  Invite them to tell you about it, ask some questions, assuring them that talking to you is safe and you will not judge them or call them crazy.  It is crucial that you answer whatever they tell you with love.  It is incredibly hard for people to open up and talk to others about these problems, so take their trust very seriously and treat it with the gentlest and greatest respect.

A Cry From The Darkness

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

A Cry From The Darkness

A Cry From The Darkness © Sarah Allegra – a self portrait – detail

As we approach Thanksgiving, let’s be thankful for the help and support we have.  For the people dedicated to helping us win our fight.  For the people who will listen to us with only love and understanding in their hearts.  The people who give us hope.  The inner strength we are able to find when we think we’ve exhausted it all.  Those extra beams of light when we need them the most.  We need more people like this in the world.  Let’s try and all be them to each other.  The simple fact that there are people in the world who try to reach this goal is something I am very thankful for!

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Before I get into this post, I wanted to again thank EVERYONE who prayed, lit candles, sent me good thoughts and energy about my battle on Wednesday.  I don’t have an answer yet, and most likely won’t for a while, but it did go quite a bit better than I was expecting.  I am guardedly hopeful for a successful outcome.  And regardless, I went in, faced a terrifying situation and did my best.  Whatever happens, I can take comfort in that.  So thank you all, from the bottom of my heart; I’m sure all that good energy truly helped.  For those inclined, I wouldn’t mind your continued blessings until I hear the outcome!  And I’ll try and let you know what the outcome is as soon as I can.

Now, on to this post!

Conlan Banner

I’ve had some exciting news that I’ve been quiet about for a while, but I can finally spill the beans today!  You guys all remember how I’ve been working with Connor Cochran from Conlan Press, publisher of Peter S. Beagle, one of my two literary heroes?  It’s all coming together 🙂

LILA THE WEREWOLF AND OTHER TALES by Peter S. Beagle. Conlan Press 2015 ebook edition (Kindle exclusive). Definitive author-approved text combines 6 classic Peter S. Beagle stories with 10 new ones collected here for the first time. Cover photo by Sarah Allegra, processing and design by Connor Cochran. Click here to be taken to Amazon!

LILA THE WEREWOLF AND OTHER TALES by Peter S. Beagle. Conlan Press 2015 ebook edition (Kindle exclusive). Definitive author-approved text combines 6 classic Peter S. Beagle stories with 10 new ones collected here for the first time. Cover photo by Sarah Allegra, processing and design by Connor Cochran. Click here to be taken to Amazon!

Amazon is releasing an exclusive bundle of 13 of Peter’s books, in e-book editions for the first time ever!  As of the time of this writing, you can go to Amazon and pre-order as many titles as you’d like!  They officially go on sale on November 1st, but you can make sure you’re first in line to get your digital hands on them.

THE LINE BETWEEN by Peter S. Beagle. Conlan Press 2015 ebook edition (Kindle exclusive). Definitive author-approved text of Peter's 2006 story collection. Cover photo by Sarah Allegra Ashley, processing and design by Connor Cochran. Model: Katie Johnson. Click here to be taken to Amazon!

THE LINE BETWEEN by Peter S. Beagle. Conlan Press 2015 ebook edition (Kindle exclusive). Definitive author-approved text of Peter’s 2006 story collection. Cover photo by Sarah Allegra Ashley, processing and design by Connor Cochran. Model: Katie Johnson. Click here to be taken to Amazon!

And, the most exciting part for me is that six of these shiny new e-books have my images on their covers!!

 MIRROR KINGDOMS: THE BEST OF PETER S. BEAGLE by Peter S. Beagle, stories selected by Jonathan Strahan. Conlan Press 2015 ebook edition (Kindle exclusive). Definitive author-approved text reprinting 2010 Subterranean Press limited-edition hardcover collection. Cover photo by Sarah Allegra, processing and design by Connor Cochran. Click here to be taken to Amazon!


MIRROR KINGDOMS: THE BEST OF PETER S. BEAGLE by Peter S. Beagle, stories selected by Jonathan Strahan. Conlan Press 2015 ebook edition (Kindle exclusive). Definitive author-approved text reprinting 2010 Subterranean Press limited-edition hardcover collection. Cover photo by Sarah Allegra, processing and design by Connor Cochran. Click here to be taken to Amazon!

This is so incredibly fulfilling and amazing to me!  I began creating images inspired by Peter’s work long before I’d ever met him or had any personal interaction with him.  I just genuinely LOVE his work and it made me want to create images based on how his writing made me feel.  It’s a little surreal to now have my work on his covers, but absolutely wonderful 🙂

 SMÉAGOL, DÉAGOL, AND BEAGLE: ESSAYS FROM THE HEADWATERS OF MY VOICE by Peter S. Beagle. 2015 Conlan Press ebook edition (Kindle exclusive). Brand-new nonfiction by Peter -- a collection of original essays exploring the roots of his own voice as a writer, and the people and works that have been his greatest influences. Cover photo by Sarah Allegra, processing and design by Connor Cochran. Model: Bryce Rankins. Click here to be taken to Amazon!


SMÉAGOL, DÉAGOL, AND BEAGLE: ESSAYS FROM THE HEADWATERS OF MY VOICE by Peter S. Beagle. 2015 Conlan Press ebook edition (Kindle exclusive). Brand-new nonfiction by Peter — a collection of original essays exploring the roots of his own voice as a writer, and the people and works that have been his greatest influences. Cover photo by Sarah Allegra, processing and design by Connor Cochran. Model: Bryce Rankins. Click here to be taken to Amazon!

So please click on any of the above images to be taken to Amazon where you can see what titles are being offered and pick up your favorite ones!  And if you’re new to Peter S. Beagle… well, you’re in for a BIG treat.

 SLEIGHT OF HAND by Peter S. Beagle. Conlan Press 2015 ebook edition (Kindle exclusive). Definitive author-approved text of Peter's 2011 story collection. Cover photo by Sarah Allegra, processing and design by Connor Cochran. Click here to be taken to Amazon!


SLEIGHT OF HAND by Peter S. Beagle. Conlan Press 2015 ebook edition (Kindle exclusive). Definitive author-approved text of Peter’s 2011 story collection. Cover photo by Sarah Allegra, processing and design by Connor Cochran. Click here to be taken to Amazon!

If you’re liking the idea of this but don’t own an e-reader, don’t worry.  New hardcover editions of these titles will be available in the near future and the plan so far is for at least most of the covers to remain the same.

WE NEVER TALK ABOUT MY BROTHER by Peter S. Beagle. Conlan Press 2015 ebook edition (Kindle exclusive). Definitive author-approved text of Peter's 2009 story collection. Cover photo by Sarah Allegra, processing and design by Connor Cochran. Model: Patrick Reid. Click here to be taken to Amazon!

WE NEVER TALK ABOUT MY BROTHER by Peter S. Beagle. Conlan Press 2015 ebook edition (Kindle exclusive). Definitive author-approved text of Peter’s 2009 story collection. Cover photo by Sarah Allegra, processing and design by Connor Cochran. Model: Patrick Reid. Click here to be taken to Amazon!

Many, many thanks to Connor Cochran, Charlie Petit and Peter S. Beagle for choosing to use my images and working so hard to make the covers look so beautiful.  I am truly honored.  Thank all you, my dear readers and friends, for your support, any purchases you may make and extra special shout-out to Katie Johnson, Bryce Rankins and Patrick Reid for their modeling in their images!  We’re all on book covers!!

Did I mention I was excited about this?  🙂

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***Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t seen the first season of Boardwalk Empire!***

Keep reading to see an animated gif showing the whole editing process I used to create this image!  Many thanks to Handy Andy Pandy for imparting his knowledge of gifs upon me!

You guys all know I LOOOOVE me some Boardwalk Empire.  Or, at least, I did, up until last season’s finale.  I’m trying to work up to forgiving the show for its horrible end before the final season starts this fall, but I’ve got a ways to go.

I had to completely put the show out of my mind for a long time but I’ve started dipping my toe back into that intoxicating water.  As I was starting the whole series over again (for the manyth time) a new character caught my eye in a way she hadn’t before: Pearl.

Pearl

Pearl

Played expertly by Emily Meade (currently on The Leftovers, also on HBO), Pearl is a prostitute at The Four Deuces in Chicago, which is where Jimmy retreats into hiding until heat from a botched robbery he and Al Capone attempted dies down.  She and Jimmy hit it off right away and form a quick, if somewhat odd, couple, shyly getting to know each other.

Jimmy_pearl

Jimmy’s ear is hurt after Al fires a gun right next to his head as a joke (seriously, who doesn’t fire dangerous weapons at their friends heads now and then?)  Pearl tries to fix him up and suggests he take opium for the pain; “It’s divine, it really is, for whatever ails you.”  Jimmy turns the offer down and the begin talking about their pasts.

Pearl, it turns out, is from Star Prairie, Wisconsin, a very small town where “Grampa was the first white man born in town, Pa was the first man got sent to state prison and Ma was the first woman run over flat by a car.  So you could say I have a lot to live up to.”

She tells Jimmy of her plan to head west to Hollywood and become an actress as soon as she saves up enough money.  Half-jokingly, she tells Jimmy he can come with her if he wants to, which he agrees to, and you can see that there’s a real affection growing between them.

But we all know, no one on Boardwalk gets to be happy for long.

Shortly after, Pearl finds herself being used as a means of sending Jimmy a message.  She had nothing to do with any of the reasons these men want to hurt Jimmy, she’s just caught in the ugly crossfire… and it costs her her face.  Warning for the squeamish, this is a bit brutal.

 

You have to think that with what little we know of her past and the fact that she’s a prostitute, life hasn’t been especially kind to this poor girl.  Not only are her acting dreams shattered, but even prostitution is taken away from her.  Jimmy feels responsible for her condition and tries to take care of her.  The Four Deuces wants to kick her out as soon as she stops making money, but Jimmy delays them.  Her face is stitched and bandaged and Jimmy spends a lot of time squeezing oranges into juice for her to take her opium in.

Pearl scar

Despite her opium haze, Pearl realizes that her future has been erased.  At one point, she forlornly asks Jimmy who will love her now?  We wonder what this poor girl will do, but she’s quite calm and collected; she seems to have it figured out.  While Jimmy is caring for her, she asks him to tell her a story.

I can’t blame Pearl for feeling that was her only option.  Life had been quite unkind to her.  She deserved much more, but I’m glad that she at least had a few beautiful moments with Jimmy before she left.

But, much as no one on Boardwalk stays happy for long, no one stays unavenged for long either.

Unknown to Liam, the face slasher, Jimmy has just met Richard Harrow, the World War One sharp shooter.  At their first meeting, Richard tells Jimmy the story of how he once stayed three days in a blind, waiting for the single moment when he could kill a German shooter, finally taking him out with one shot below his right eye.  Jimmy has a soft spot for the lonely and lost and accepts Richard readily into his life.  And they concoct a plan.

While Pearl’s death is tragic, it is the catalyst for Jimmy and Richard’s friendship, which continues for the rest of the series.  If Jimmy hadn’t needed someone to help him extract revenge upon Liam, who knows what would have become of their relationship, and who knows how it would have changed Richard’s involvement in the show?  We might have never met the man who would become one of my favorite characters on all of television.

With a new appreciation for Pearl’s character, I felt like creating an image in her memory.  And I have to say, I was very proud of myself for how little time it took me to transform myself into a Pearl-like girl; maybe 15 minutes.  If I had more energy on a daily basis, I would certainly try and bring more of the 20’s style to my daily look!  As things stand, I will have to be content with just dressing myself and either putting my hair in a ponytail or hiding it under a hat.  But maybe some day…  🙂

Geoff was very kind and helped be my human shutter release for these self portraits.  Byron helped by photobombing as often as he could.  All said, this was a quick and easy shoot and editing it was quite a delight.  My friend Robert Cornelius helped me figure out how to add the tears to the photo later, which I’d forgotten to do at the time of the shoot.  Thanks, Robert!

Please enjoy the finished image and the detail shot where you can really see the tears!  Also, HUGE thanks to Andy for showing me how to create the animated gif below!  It’s a great way to show you guys the whole creation of the image in a fun way.  I’m hoping to do more of these now that I’ve got one under my belt!

Tell Me A Happy Story

Tell Me A Happy Story

 

Tell Me A Happy Story - detail

Tell Me A Happy Story – detail

 

Watch the creation of this image from start to finish!

Watch the creation of this image from start to finish!

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I have known Erick Reidell for several years, but he and Geoff go way back to high school.  Erick has always been an adventurous, creative, gregarious person, and we found a lot of artistic common ground to talk about when I first met him as Geoff’s new girlfriend a little over five years ago.  Which was a relief to me, since I just wanted Geoff’s friends to like me!

It was a shock to everyone when he was diagnosed with cancer that same year.  Cancer cruelly seems to always pick on the best, most wonderful people.  Erick would not be anyone’s “typical” cancer patient.  He doesn’t smoke, lives healthfully and is always full of optimism and cheer.  That first year Geoff and I were dating, Erick had a seven-pound tumor removed from his abdomen.  There were many breathless months while Erick endured chemo and treatments and recovered from surgery.  I vividly remember the night Erick’s wife called Geoff to tell him that the most recent scan had come back clear, and for the time being at least, Erick was in remission.  Everyone was, of course, extremely relieved.

Since then I’ve gotten the chance to get to know Erick better myself, and I can say he is one hell of a guy.  Hard-working, artistic, funny, a great husband and dad and always ready to face the next challenge his body throws at him.  He is such a lovely man that I suggested he become ordained online so Geoff and I could have him marry us at our wedding, which he did.  The wedding was, of course, a wonderful, beautiful blur of a day, but it will always mean so much more looking back and remembering it was our dear friend, and not some stranger, who performed the ceremony.

Alex/my man of honor, me, Erick, Geoff and Geoff's dad/best man, Larry.

Alex/my man of honor, me, Erick, Geoff and Geoff’s dad/best man, Larry.

Late winter, after several years of being clear, Erick’s cancer once again returned, and once again, he beat it.  Not without great effort from him and his doctors, but he did it.  When we knew we’d be seeing each other over Christmas, Erick asked to be a part of DreamWorld, which I gladly said yes to.  I also felt that a very serious charge had been given to me.  I wanted to make sure I did something special for Erick, something true to DreamWorld, something that spoke of his struggles and also something that would ring true to other cancer sufferers.

Out of these swirling thoughts came the Yellow Knight.  Yellow, since that color is associated with cancer-awareness ribbons, LiveStrong bracelets and the like.  His armor is made out of little bits and swirls of ribbon (or paper, as it ended up, but it looks like ribbon) much like the awareness ribbons.  Though ribbon would seem like a frail and flimsy defense, he defeats the horrible cancer-monster.

I’ll talk briefly about how I made Erick’s costume on, again, a next-to-nothing budget.  His cloak was the same one I’d used in Paul Telfer’s Sleeper’s Sentinel photos, so that was already made.  I wanted to make a chestplate and bracers for Erick’s armor.  Ihough I’d originally planned to use actual ribbon, I was dissatisfied with the ribbon selection both in my ribbon drawer and the craft store, so I decided to use paper instead.  That was also quite a bit less expensive, so double win!

For the chestplate, I stared by gluing two layers of cardstock together to give it a firm, stiff base, and covered one side in muslin for a more “polished” finish.

Matching up cardstock and fabric shapes.

Matching up cardstock and fabric shapes.

Cardstock back of the chestpiece.

Cardstock back of the chestpiece.

And fabric front, with a slight seam down the center to help shape it.

And fabric front, with a slight seam down the center to help shape it.

You can see my black and red suitcase on the floor, which just shows how hurriedly I was trying to put this together before we left for our trip.  I got the bracers made too; fabric shapes with cardstock bones to give them sturdiness.  I was planning on just tying the bracers on with ribbon, and I figured I’d do the same for the chestpiece since you wouldn’t be able to see the back or sides anyway, so the problem of keeping them on was easily solved.

bts4

Bracer with cardstock bones.

At this point, we really had to leave, so I just cut lengths of paper and used my rotary cutter to slice nice, straight even strips into them.  I packed my glue gun and other supplies I might need and we hit the road.

Our time visiting family was short, so we decided to shoot right after Christmas.  I spent one long afternoon of our trip bent over the chestpiece and bracers, hot gluing the ribbon strips to them as quickly as I could.  I alternated the colors, types and thicknesses  the papers frequently to give it more depth, using cardstocks, vellum and tissue paper.  Unfortunately, I was so busy feeling stressed about getting it done before the shoot the next morning, I completely forgot to take photos of the gluing-on process.  But you can probably imagine what a slightly-crazed woman wielding a glue gun in one hand, paper ribbon strips in the other, muttering dark curses under her breath, hunched over fabric/paper constructs and commanding the glue gun to heat up faster and just GLUE looks like.

The morning of the shoot came, and I’d managed to finish the costume (though my lower back was still complaining from having hunched for so many hours).  I knew I’d be doing a lot of work to the cancer-monster in post, so I simply had one black trash bag bunched up into a ball which Erick could punch, and I’d made a very, very rough wire frame for another black trash bag into something that was somewhat wing-shaped.

I scotch-taped the bags as needed to hold their shapes and let Erick pummel the central mass of the creature.  Geoff helped tremendously with flipping the cloak and holding the wings up for me to photograph separately and composite into the final image.  All said, it took perhaps half an hour.  The park we were in was just beautiful and quite deserted given the very cold weather and early hour, and I couldn’t resist taking some snapshots of plants covered in jewel-like snow.  I’ve said it before, but as a California-native, snow is UTTERLY MAGICAL to me whenever I encounter it.

Little Jewels

Little Jewels

Erick looked incredibly noble and at home in his costume, and I’m so glad Geoff reminded me to take a portrait of him not in action.  They’re quite different shots, but I think a lot of Erick’s quiet, inner strength and grace shows through, especially in the second portrait.

After that, we all had a lovely breakfast at a local cafe and warmed up with hot food and coffee.  A successful shoot!

I hope these image can be an inspiration to others fighting their own battles; perhaps simply reminders to not give up quite yet.  If you have had experiences with cancer or other long illnesses yourself, I would love to hear from you!  I hope I can make the cancer community proud.

And with that, let’s see the finished photos!

The Yellow Knight

The Yellow Knight

The Yellow Knight

The Yellow Knight -detail

The Yellow Knight -detail

Ribbon Armor

Ribbon Armor

Ribbon Armor - detail

Ribbon Armor – detail

Thank you, Erick, for coming to play in DreamWorld!  🙂

This is not the time or place to get into it all, but it seems I will be heading into another of my own health battles, of the bureaucratic nature this time, and any well wishes and prayers would be appreciated!

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My dear friend and frequent collaborator Katie Johnson has recently started a new video series which profiles the artists she works with frequently.  I was honored to be featured in the first of her videos!  She put a great piece together which includes an interview with me and lots of behind-the-scenes peeks into how we work.

Take a look!

I often think of lines from the song the princess sings in Peter S. Beagle’s legendary work The Last Unicorn:

Oh, I am a king’s daughter
And I grow old within
The prison of my person
The shackles of my skin

And I would run away
And beg from door to door
Just to see your shadow
Just once and nevermore

The prison of my person, the shackles of my skin” perfectly describes how I feel about my physical body most days.  Though I doubt Mr. Beagle had ME in mind when he wrote it, it resonates so strongly with me.  And I’m sure people with other chronic illnesses will be able to identify with it; it’s a pretty universal problem across the chronically ill spectrum.

Feeling so trapped has always made me instantly know something of what Amalthea felt at finding herself in human form.  I imagine it was even harder for her though.  The disharmony we chronically ill feel with our body was something I’d wanted to express in my Enchanted Sleep series for quite a while and I was glad to finally bring the image to life!

There’s something more visceral about images than you often can’t replicate with words.  Words are powerful, they can build and tear down mountains, but the visual world offers the same information in a different form.  One that, if used well, can strike like a snake and bring instantaneous understanding.  That’s my hope with this series; to illustrate the life of a person with myalgic encephalomyelitis in a way that reaches where words cannot.

I will admit… I’d beg from door to door just to catch a glimpse of a unicorn’s shadow too 🙂

Here’s a look at the final image from our shoot:

Inside Looking Out

Inside Looking Out

And a detail shot:

Inside Looking Out - detail

Inside Looking Out – detail

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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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