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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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Lady Death is another DreamWorld character I’ve had in my head for a long time before I had the chance to photograph her.  Sometimes that can be frustrating to postpone your idea for so long, but in this case, I’d imagined the image for so long and in such detail that it made for an extremely easy shoot!  I knew exactly where everything should go, how to light it, the pose I wanted; it was all in my head and I just had to get it shot.

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Let me tell you a little bit about the inspiration of her character.  Lady Death is, as her name suggests, the incarnation of death within DreamWorld, but I didn’t want her to be the common, dark, grim-reaper version of death we see portrayed frequently.  The concept of how she would appear came from a mix of Deerskin, by Robin McKinley, Come Lady Death, by Peter S. Beagle and a dash of my own attitudes and ideas about death.

I’m going to quote from Robin McKinley’s Deerskin and not give you the context which this passage is happening in, for one because if you get me started talking about Deerskin, it will take up more than this entire post, and also because it’s not incredibly important for my point and I want you to be intrigued to read it for yourself.  I will simply say that this all happens in the first quarter of the book, so it is not the end it sounds like.

“Lissar went on breathing as she looked, because she did not know how to stop; but as time passed she felt the cold upon her [naked] body, feeling it like a soft inquisitive touch, like the feet of tiny animals.  She did not recognize pain as present experience, for such distinction was too subtle for her now; rather it was that was what there was left of her, as screaming had been her existence some time before.  The creeping cold was a change, or further refinement, upon her existence.  But the cold was not content to pat at her skin and then grasp her feet, her hands, her belly and thighs and face.  It wormed its way inside her; but [she could not resit it].  Nor, she found, did she now want to, for the cold brought oblivion, the cessation of pain.

And then she saw its face, and it was not an animal at all, but Death, and then she welcomed it.  Almost she made her split lips work to give it greeting; but her voice had fled away some time before.

I am dying, she thought, in the guttering of consciousness, I am dying, she thought, in the encroaching stillness.  I am dying, and I am glad, for Ash is already dead, and it will all be over soon.”

I will quickly say that while there are some very, very dark moments in Deerskin, it has been one of my two favorite books for well over a decade.  Where there is darkness, the light shines more brightly, as in the case with this book.

Inspiration part 2 came, as I stated, from a short story Peter S. Beagle wrote called Come Lady Death.  In it, the grand Lady Neville, famous for her grand, opulent balls, has grown bored with her own parties.  In looking for a way to up the excitement factor, she decides to invite Death to her next party.  An invitation is sent out… and a positive reply comes quickly.  The guests nervously await Death, wondering what he’ll look like and are surprised when “a lovely young girl in a white dress stepped gracefully into the ballroom doorway and stood there smiling.

She could not have been more than nineteen.  Her hair was yellow, and she wore it long.  It fell thickly upon her bare shoulders that gleamed warmly through it, two limestone islands rising out of a dark golden sea…  She smiled, and Lady Neville tried to smile back, but her mouth seemed stiff.  ‘Welcome,’ she said.  ‘Welcome, my lady Death.’

A sigh rustled among the lords and ladies as the girl took the old woman’s hand and curtsied to her, sinking and rising in one motion, like a wave.  ‘You are Lady Neville,’ she said.  ‘Thank you so much for inviting me.’  Her accent was as faint and almost familiar as her perfume.”

While the two stories don’t seem to have a lot in common on the surface, and especially not in the small fragments you’ve seen here, there were a couple main points I took away from them both.  Death was a being or person who was a) not frightening in appearance b) not male,  as expected, and c) more warm and welcoming than anything else.  This fits in nicely with my own views on death and the afterlife.  Everyone has their own thoughts and views on the subject, which is fine, but I don’t view either as a scary thing, nor the end.  Of course, we grieve when death separates us from those we love, but I know that I will be reunited with them some day.  I suspect that the first batch of “people” I’ll see when I pass the threshold to heaven will be a menagerie of furry, feathered, barking, purring, squeaking, singing creatures I have loved 😉

Drawing from all these sources, Lady Death emerged in my head.  She should be warm, inviting, welcoming, maternal.  She should not be frightening, but soothing.  She should be connected with nature, because death is a natural part of life.  Her clothing would be dark, but there would be no black allowed anywhere in her costume.  And most importantly, when you look into her eyes, you need to know that all is well, all was well, and all would forever be well.  I knew I needed to bring my dear friend and mostly-retired model Aly Darling into this image to embody all these qualities.

What should Lady Death’s clothing look like?  The story Come, Lady Death is set in a slightly unspecific time; several hundred years ago at least.  People throw balls, wear gorgeous gowns, ride in carriages… it brings to mind the 17th-18th century for me, though I have not confirmed this with Peter Beagle to see if that was his intention.  I didn’t want to make her clothing especially period-specific, but it definitely needed to have an old-fashioned feel to it.  How silly would it look if Lady Death was wearing the latest looks from this season’s runways?  I settled on a semi-Victorian feel, which felt both old-fashioned and classic at the same time.

Since I wanted to stay far away from the typical associations with the standard Death figure, black was not allowed anywhere in her costume.  I chose a beautiful purple dress with bell sleeves (purchased on Ebay for a few dollars) and went to work creating a cape for her out of some gorgeous teal satin I found.

I based the construction of the cape off of an actual Victorian cape I own (also purchased through Ebay, but as a wrap at my wedding, not for a costume).

Victorian cape draped over a laundry basket so I could assess its shape and drape.

Victorian cape draped over a laundry basket so I could assess its shape and drape.  Note the multiple layers of ruffles around the collar.

I reverse engineered a pattern from the cape and cut the pieces out of the teal satin.  I gave my cape several ruffled layers of fabric around the collar also, which were then copiously covered in flowers, each one hand-glued in place.  I spent months slowly gathering the appropriately colored flowers in the amount I needed.  Many of these were repurposed from previous DreamWorld costumes, like Perennial Parasol, Efflorescence and In The Lilac Wood, but this will be their final spot.  I love the costume too much to take it apart!  But I have to say, Icertainly got my money’s worth from the flowers!

Lady Death cape from start to finish

Lady Death cape from start to finish, complete with flower-festooned collars

 

Next came construction of Lady Death’s bonnet.  I didn’t want her to have the standard hooded cloak, but I liked the idea of having her face framed in the way a cloak hood would.  Given the Victorian-ish look I was going for, I built a bonnet somewhere in between a Regency bonnet and a Victorian one.  When it’s your world, you get to pick and choose clothing details you like and use them however you want!

The base of the bonnet was some sheets of cardstock glued together into the general shape I wanted.  I tried it on a few times and refined the shape.  Next, I used spray adhesive to glue the teal satin to one side of the bonnet.  This ended up leaving unexpected streaks of glue when dried (see the photo in the lower left corner below) so I quickly decided that side was the inside of the bonnet.  I used a regular glue gun to edge the satin to the other side of the cardstock and the hem on the underside.  I happened to have a small amount of very sparkly purple mesh which I added to the inside of the bonnet.  This had the dual benefit of covering the glue streaks and adding some dimension and light within the darkness of the bonnet’s underside.

Bonnet construction

Bonnet construction

 

Next came the fun and slightly tedious task of decking out the bonnet!  Multiple layers of ribbons, trims and flowers were added to it.  And because someone already asked this, yes, I did glue those teeny tiny individual little flowers to the top and underside of the brim one by one.  I was not excited to do that, but it was well worth it.  You can see Maynard wanting to help in the last couple photos.  A beautiful, wide, dark blue satin ribbon finished the bonnet off and looked beautiful tied under Aly’s chin!

Bonnet decorating

Bonnet decorating – Maynard offering to help

 

I seem to have not taken any images of the staff construction, sorry about that.  I must have been rushed.  I’ll tell you about it though, it was pretty easy.  With the abundance of sticks of all sizes within my yard, I found a good staff-sized one.  I spray painted it a dark brown and kissed it gently with some metallic bronze spray paint.  I already had a string of small, battery-operated LEDs which I’d stuck through the middle of some small flowers.  The LEDs and flowers were taped rather roughly to the staff with masking tape, which I knew I could edit out later.  I knew it would add work in post, but it seemed the best solution at the time.

The bird skeleton is an actual bird skeleton and was incredibly delicate to work with.  I tried to be reverent and ask the bird’s spirit for permission to use it before I did, and so far the house doesn’t seem to be haunted by any bird ghosts, so I’m hoping that means the bird was ok with my use of it.  It was attached using a mixture of masking tape and fine wire.  I made a small wreath for it with the same tiny purple flowers I’d edged the bonnet with to take away a little of the creepy factor of a bird skeleton while also tying it in more directly with the overall costume.

Lady Death

Bird skeleton

Since Aly and I both have health problems and don’t live especially near each other, it took a while for us to find a time when we could actually shoot this image.  Eventually though, the stars aligned and everything went perfectly!  I absolutely loved the images straight out of camera and knew they wouldn’t need much editing.  However, I forgot to take detail shots of the costume while it was on Aly… so Calantha came to the rescue!  She actually enjoys it when I dress her up since she knows it means copious praise and treats.

Calantha modeling Lady Death's cape

Calantha modeling Lady Death’s cape

You can see how little she cares about the cape, she didn’t even move after I draped in on her.  She didn’t like the bonnet when it flopped over her face and couldn’t see, but as long as I kept it adjusted, she was really pretty cool about it.

Such a pretty girl!  She looks right at home in it.

Such a pretty girl! She looks right at home in it.

Calantha models the bonnet

Calantha models the bonnet, showing off the details you can’t see so well in the finished image

After all that, let’s check out the final image!  Scroll down for detail shots 🙂

Lady Death, by Sarah Allegra

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

That closeup of Lady Death’s face makes the whole image for me.  The gentleness, the kindness, the love shining out of her face shows exactly who the character is.  Thank you very much to Aly for portraying her so perfectly, and to Calantha for modeling the costume after the shoot 🙂

Thanks to you for reading!  What do you guys think about the afterlife?  Would you find it comforting to find Lady Death escorting you to the rest of eternity?

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Poor, patient Katie shot this same concept with me three times, spanning almost a solid year from the first take to the last one.  I assured her each time we reshot it that the problem was not her, because it honestly wasn’t.  This was a case of me having a very clear vision in my head of how the image should look, but not taking the time to inspect it closely enough.  Each of the other two tries at this shoot came close, but there was always something just enough wrong with it that I knew I needed to reshoot it to be truly happy with the final images.

Flora Awakens

Flora Awakens

Here they finally are!  Flora is a DreamWorld character I’ve had in my head for a long time; an obvious statement given how many times I’ve tried to capture her visually, but much longer considering all the time I spent conceptualizing her and building her elaborate costume.

Flora was a nature spirit to me, the bringer of spring, renewal and life.  I strongly pictured that wherever she walked, flowers would grow in her footsteps.  I thought this was quite original until I remembered…

When I was young, I watched (over and over and over) an animated version of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, which remains my favorite film version of the novel to this day (it’s the only version which, in my opinion, gives Aslan a truly “golden” voice as CS Lewis describes it, for one thing).  In this take on the story, when Aslan is resurrected and romps with Lucy and Susan, flowers spring up wherever he steps, leaving a trail of paw-shaped floral clusters.

Ok, so the idea wasn’t exactly mine.  But at least I realized where I’d gotten the idea before I started calling it completely my own!

I started with a beautifully embroidered corset top at a local second-hand store.  I spent a while deciding if I would keep it as part of my personal wardrobe or use it for this costume, and the costume obviously won.  I decided I had enough pretty things that I don’t wear often enough as is, and it really added a lovely depth to the costume with its subtle ornateness.  The other base piece of clothing was a lovely, fluffy aqua-colored skirt made from layers of the lightest, softest netting.  This was another thing I had to seriously debate weather to sacrifice to the costume gods, but in the end, I decided I could always buy another one for myself.

bts10

 

Over the aqua skirt, I added an airy overskirt of ivory tulle, lifting it in two spots at the front with a small spray of flowers to hold it in place.  I added a layer of tulle around the top of the bodice as well to give flowers more to hold on to and also give it a dropped shoulder.

Creating is usually a messy process.

Creating is usually a messy process.

Next step, as it so often is, was to cover it with flowers!  My handy hot glue gun proved its worth again.  I tried to pick flowers which enhanced the shape I was creating in the clothing.  The wisteria dripping down from the shoulders seemed so perfect to me!

bts7

Once I had the front looking pretty much like how I’d pictured it, I started working on the most exciting part; the train!

bts6

This dress’ train started at the top of the back and went all the way down to the bottom of the skirt; a very old-fashioned and somewhat unusual style of train.  Since I knew I was going to have use my flowers carefully and wisely to make them cover everything I wanted them to, I hemmed and hawed over this part a lot; pinning flowers in place, moving them around, flipping this one and that one… Eventually I just had to start gluing flowers in place and trust that I would figure it out as I went.

The finished train!

The almost-finished train!

 

After I was satisfied with the dress, I started working on the flower footprints.

Fabric feet

Fabric feet

I traced the shape of my feet onto paper and then cut four pairs of feet out of some nice dark green material I had leftover from another project.  Again, the next step was to cover with flowers!

bts3

This gave me a total of eight feet.  I would have liked to have done a few more, but I was running out of flowers, so I had to make due.

bts2

Beware of hot glue drippings.  I still have a faint scar from where this guy landed a year ago.

Beware of hot glue drippings. I still have a faint scar from where this guy landed a year ago.

Apparently I didn’t take any making-of photos of the flower pieces for Katie’s face, hair and hands, which is too bad.  For the pieces in her hair, on her eyebrows and ears, I cut rough shapes from a thin sheet of plastic; I knew the glue would melt the plastic where it came in direct contact, but it would provide just enough of a frame to make my life easier.  They were very free-form creations, which I put together on my foam head to make sure the proportions were at least somewhat reasonable.  I had planned on cutting them slightly to fit Katie’s face when the shooting day came, but they ended up fitting her beautifully!  The pieces in her hair were held on with bobby pins and the ones of her face stayed on with a little help from garment tape.

bts cute

Katie being adorable and showing off her new prosthetics.

Her “hand flowers,” as I was calling them, were meant to show life just springing off her, literally dripping from her fingers.  These were only constructed the day before the third shoot, and I loved what they added to the images, so perhaps it’s lucky that the first two takes didn’t turn out 🙂  These were very, very easy to make.  I tied a loop of clear, stretchy cord to slide over Katie’s palms.  From each of these loops I tied three lengths of monofilament thread and randomly glued little petals and blossoms to them so it looked like they were falling.

bts hand flowers

At this point Katie and I shot the concept… then we reshot it… and then we finally shot it for a third time, which was the one that stuck.  It goes to show, if something doesn’t go right the first time, just try and use it as a learning experience!  With Katie, we always have a fun time, no matter what we shoot, so when concepts aren’t perfect right away, I haven’t wasted anything.  I had a good time with my friend, and I hopefully learned something about how I don’t want my final image to look!

With that said, allow me to show you the finished trio of images, with detail shots beneath each of them!

Spring's Awakening - detail

Spring’s Awakening – detail

Spring's Awakening - detail

Spring’s Awakening – detail

Spring's Awakening - detail

Spring’s Awakening – detail

Spring's Awakening - detail

Spring’s Awakening – detail

 

Spring's Awakening - detail

Spring’s Awakening – detail

Spring's Awakening - detail

Spring’s Awakening – detail

 

Joy Of Renewal

Joy Of Renewal

Joy Of Renewal - detail

Joy Of Renewal – detail

Joy Of Renewal - detail

Joy Of Renewal – detail

 

Life Eternal

Life Eternal

Life Eternal - detail

Life Eternal – detail

Life Eternal - detail

Life Eternal – detail

 

And here’s a few more detail shots to cover all my bases!

Flora shoot details

Flora shoot details

Flora shoot details

Flora shoot details

Flora shoot details

Flora shoot details

Flora shoot details

Flora shoot details

Flora Shoot detail

Flora Shoot detail

 

If you have a favorite of the three, I’d love to hear your opinion!

 

Lastly, before I go, I’d like to mention the lovely interview I did with the well-respected photography site PhotoFocus!  I was very honored to be their Photographer Of The Week 🙂

Read the interview HERE!

PhotoFocus

Thank you, PhotoFocus!!  And thank you to all my readers and supporters!  And an extra big, special thank you to Katie Johnson for being so patient and willing to keep redoing this one concept with me and knocking it out of the park every time!

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First of all, happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrated it!  I had planned on a Thanksgiving post, listing what I’m grateful for and whatnot, but I woke up yesterday with a swollen, very unhappy wrist on my dominant hand.  I’m being ginger with it today, and trying to really limit my computer use, but I did want to get this timely post out.

So, the holiday shopping season has officially begun!  I, for one, despise the idea of shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday.  Crowds are not my thing in the best situation.  Even a gentle trip to the grocery store on an average day can be too much for me.  This is my hiding out period where I really try to leave the house as little as possible.

A less stressful approach to holiday shopping, in my opinion, is in Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.  Now, I may or may not technically qualify as a “small business,” but I think I fit the spirit of it if not the letter 🙂  You don’t get much smaller than buying from a single person!  And Cyber Monday?  Heck yeah, I’ve got that covered!  Everything of mine is available online.

And what, pray tell, are these wondrous wares?  Well, let me give you a little run-down!
I have blank greeting cards available at my Red Bubble shop!

One of the many blank greeting cards I offer.

Personally, I love having a stash of blank greeting cards in a drawer, ready to go at a moment’s notice!  You never know when you might need them.  And I’ll confess, I sometimes buy cards for their sheer beauty, with no intention of giving them away.  Those ones usually end up on my wall somewhere.  Either way, they’re very well-made, handy and inexpensive!  And if there’s an image you’d like but don’t see in my shop, let me know; in almost every case I can add it for you!  Stocking stuffers, anyone?
I also sell 2014 collectable calendars!

Sarah Allegra 2014 Calendar

Sarah Allegra 2014 Calendar

Each year I put out a new calendar with 12 of my most popular recent works.  This year’s batch includes images from my DreamWorld and actor portraits series as well as my CFS/fibro/ME series Enchanted Sleep.  I genuinely love the quality Red Bubble puts into their calendars; they’re printed on gorgeous, thick, heavy paper which is perfect for jotting down as many notes and reminders as you’d like!  Plus, I love the extra magic the calendars sprinkle into every day.  And need I tell you they make excellent gifts?  🙂

On a side note, I keep my Red Bubble prices low so that they’re available to as many people as possible.  I don’t make much from these sales, but it’s important to me that as many people as possible have access to my images.

For those looking for a unique gift, either for themselves or someone they love, my on-line, self-discovery-through-photography course Introspective is an excellent choice!

Introspective

Introspective

Introspective is a fun and truly unique, eight-week experience.  Each week I will guide you through a new concept to explore with photography, such as love, fear, secrets and joy.  What do those subjects mean to you?  And how would you portray them in a photograph?  Let’s find out!  Self portraiture is encouraged (as I think it’s an invaluable way to know yourself better), but by no means is it required.  At the end of the eight weeks, you’ll have gotten to experience yourself in a new way and learned things you never knew before.

This would be perfect for your artsy sibling, the person who has everything or anyone with a desire to have an adventure and come out knowing themselves better!
And of course there are always prints available!

Sarah Allegra Etsy Shop

I sell prints through my Etsy shop, which are printed by an amazing local printer.  They are printed on museum-quality, archival, thick, luscious paper which is not unlike watercolor paper.  All the images are printed in very small, limited edition runs and come individually signed and numbered.  They come in three different sizes and are truly stunning.  These really have to be seen to appreciate how beautiful they are.  The level of detail captured in these prints is spectacular.  And as with the cards, if you would like a print of something and you don’t see it in my shop, just let me know!  In almost every occasion, I can accommodate your request.

Thank you to everyone for supporting my art through your kind comments, well wishes and purchases.  I so appreciate all of them and I hope everyone has an excellent holiday season!  Here’s a lovely DreamWorld image, featuring the gorgeous Katie Johnson!

Faerie Dust

Faerie Dust

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