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It feels great to finally bring the Oracle to life!  She was one of the very first DreamWorld characters I thought of; I’ve been mentally planning her for over a year.  Part of what held her up was finding the right objects to build her canopy, and then by the time I’d done that, it was winter.  Even though California winters are pretty weak by most standards, I still didn’t want my model to have to lay half-submerged in water that was more freezing than it had to be.  I make my models to odd and uncomfortable things, but I do try to make it as painless as possible for them.

Let’s see, should we cover the making-of first, or the meaning of the images?  Things will probably make more sense if I explain the Oracle first, so let’s do that.

 

Glade

Glade – a sneak peek at what’s to come

The real-life kernel of inspiration for the Oracle came from the idea of having precognitive dreams; ie, dreams about events which have not yet happened.  Though this sounds quite mystical, I know quite a lot of people personally who have them on a semi-regular basis as well as having them myself.   Modern science has no good explanation for how this happens, but I know from my own experiences that it does, and it cannot be explained by deja vu, coincidence, a self-fulfilling prophecy, etc.  There are some very interesting papers written on the subject for anyone who cares to read them, but I’ll stick with talking about my own experiences as much as possible.

For me, I rarely note the dreams as precognitive when I’m having them, although this seems to be uncommon; the majority of people recognize them as precognitive when they wake up.  Mine are almost always about very mundane things.  It’s not anything I can control; it happens on its own.  I’ll have dreams about working at a job before I have the job, before I’ve started looking or even considered that job as a career choice.  And while there is some overlap with deja vu, they are completely different things.  I experience deja vu like anyone else, but I never confuse it with the dreams.  They feel quite different.

Seeing a precognitive dream come to life does start out feeling odd and familiar, in a similar way to deja vu, but as the seconds pass and more and more details match up exactly with how you remembered them from your dream, it transcends deja vu.  It’s like you watched a home video of the event before the event occurred, and now you’re watching it play out in real time.  The best evidence I have for the validity of the experience is that occasionally, I can remember enough of my dream to get a few seconds ahead of reality and know exactly what someone is going to say or do before they say or do it.

People will believe me or not, and while I’d rather people assume I’m telling the truth (since I am) I know there will be others who will refuse to believe no matter what I say.  And that’s fine.  That’s not the point of this post, or of these photos.  I’m relating this to you to give you an understanding of how these images came to be, not to convince you of the validity of my weird dreams.  Though I would encourage you to keep an open mind about the unexplained.  At one point, every new idea was unexplained.  Obviously, it helps my belief that it happens to me, and that I know numerous people whom it also happens to.  If you feel so inclined, you might try asking people in your own group of friends and family if they’ve ever experienced something like this.  Some studies show that over 50% of people have had at least one precognitive dream, so you might be surprised at what you find!

Back to the images.  DreamWorld was a perfect place for the Oracle, who is in charge of distributing precognitive dreams.  She lays half-submerged in the water to indicate the duality of her nature.  She sees the future with one eye and the present with the other, she has a foot in each world, she is a bridge.  Spanning the two worlds is a heavy burden, but one she is uniquely equipped to bear; this is her purpose.  She lives off in the wild on her own with nature as her main companion.  Pilgrims may make a journey to ask her to peer into the future for them, and the devout has erected a beautiful canopy around her.  The canopy offers her a little shelter, helps other pilgrims to find her and is an extension the people’s love for her; a lovely tribute to honor her.

Obviously, the main prop for this shoot was going to be the canopy.  I doodled different designs for it endlessly until I finally settled on this one.  I knew I wanted dramatic fabric framing her, but the “chandelier” of glass ornaments was something I tinkered with a lot until it finally felt right.  They feel like bubbles to me, rising up from the Oracle’s body; fragile, shatterable encapsulations of dreams.

Originally, I set out on the internet, searching for clear, iridescent Christmas ornaments.  Surely, I thought, somewhere on the endless internet, I will find exactly what I want!  I did not.  Everything I saw was wrong in some way.  And I looked for MONTHS, both around the holidays and not.  Then I thought I’d buy clear, round ornaments and paint them with iridescent paint; because that has to exist, doesn’t it?  It turns out that it used to, but the one and only maker I could find for such a pain no longer made it.  After many frustrating months of almost finding what I wanted, I changed my plans.  I would buy clear Christmas ornaments, with tops that came off easily from the craft store (which I bought just after Christmas when they were all about half price!), fill them with iridescent Easter grass and give them the lightest kiss of silver and gold spray paint.

Supplies laid out upon the bed.

Supplies laid out upon the bed.

Stuff that sucker

Stuff that sucker

Make a clothesline out of any old rope you can find.  Since the balls are meant to hang, they make this part pretty easy!

Make a clothesline out of any old rope you can find. Since the balls are meant to hang, they make this part pretty easy!

I added multiple very light layers of gold and silver spray paint after first spritzing all the balls with plain water.  The water acts as a barrier, so even if you go totally crazy with the spray paint, the ball itself won’t pick up much paint.  Pat it dry and repeat as desired.

balls2

The paint gives them just a tiny bit of opacity and adds to their magical feeling

Ok, bubbles are ready to hang, better get the canopy ready!  I started with a fabric canopy meant to go over a bed, which I purchased for about $5 on Ebay.

canopy

Very typical work layout for me: something hung in front of the closet, supplies strewn about the bed, TV on so I don’t lose my mind from boredom.

The nice thing about buying the canopy like this was that it was already designed to be hung and had a nice big ring at the top.  In this case, I just put a clotheshanger through it and hung it in front of the closet, which was the only place remotely tall/deep enough to make it workable for me.

I started by draping layers of lavender organza on the inside of the plain, boring, white canopy.  This organza was especially lovely, with pink undertones and a shimmery surface.  It was also inexpensive which made like like it even more!

canopy2

Sides are tacked up to make a pleasing, framing opening for the Oracle

Maynard LOVED that I was working with lots of fabric and sparkly things.  He parked himself right in the middle where he could be of most help.

Maynard LOVED that I was working with lots of fabric and sparkly things. He parked himself right in the middle where he could be of most help.

Next I started hanging the finished balls, along with some long strings of little iridescent balls, which also came from the Christmas decoration section of the craft store (and I think were also on sale).  The canopy came with its own very sturdy circular frame for the fabric to hang from, and I added a second, smaller inner ring made from plastic corset boning.  It was pretty filmsy but I tied it securely enough to the outer ring that it held up.  It added another dimension for all the hanging things to fall from and drape over.

canopy4

 

Done!  After months and months of research and work and about $40 worth of supplies, it was done.  It was a weird, fragile mess, but it was done.  It was at this point that I texted Geoff a cell phone photo of the finished canopy and he said that it looked like “a serial killer Christmas tree.”  I had no idea what that meant.  He clarified that he didn’t mean, as I first thought, that it looked like a Christmas tree which belonged to a serial killer, but a Christmas tree which was itself a serial killer.  Ah.  Yes, of course.  I’m going to keep teasing him about that for a long time 🙂

A few days later and I was shooting with Dedeker Winston on a bright, early morning.  We made out way to a location where I knew there was usually a stream; I’d scouted it recently and decided it would work for this shoot.  I needed a very specific location for this shot; the water couldn’t be too deep or too shallow, it had to be green and pretty, ideally, shaded from the sun, and most importantly, it needed to have something in it which I could hang the canopy from, and in the correct position for the composition for the image.  I’m really quite surprised that we found it as easily as we did!  That Reiki comes in handy.

hung up

These branches hung over the creek and were in the perfect to hang the canopy from!

I gave Dedeker two vintage nightgowns to slip on, a nude one with a sheer purple one over top, a few more balls which were attached to elastic straps around her hands and she bravely sunk half her body into the water.  I gave her a minute to adjust to the cold, she got her model face on and we went to work.

I tried to work very quickly since I knew this was not at all comfortable for Dedeker, but I also wanted to be thorough and make sure that we had gotten everything, especially since it was uncomfortable.  Our location happened to be quite near a well-traveled path in the woods and even though it was early and a weekday, people kept coming along and exclaiming over what we were doing.  I gave my card to the first couple of people, before Dedeker was in the water, but after that I just smiled at them, kept working and told them we were doing a photo shoot.  People will accept that as the explanation for almost anything they come across.

Not too long after I’d made her dunk in the cold water, I released Dedeker from her watery prison with a successful shoot under our belts!  I knew the images would be wonderful; I’d gotten everything I wanted.  I gave Dedeker a pile of towels, she dried off and we untied the canopy.  I’d carried it to our location in a large black garbage bag and I carried it out the same way; much heavier now with the weight of water, leaves and muck in it.  I knew that the canopy was not something that  I would save as a whole piece; there was no way to suitably clean it from the mud and water.  I let it dry in the yard, cut the fabric off it, cut all the ornaments free and I’ll reuse them in other ways.

A blurry selfie right after we finished

A blurry selfie right after we finished

Now that you’ve heard all about how these images came to be, let’s have the finished photos!  Detail shots, as always, are under the main images.  Thank you, Dedeker, for being such a trooper!

The Oracle

The Oracle

The Oracle - detail

The Oracle – detail

The Oracle - detail

The Oracle – detail

The Oracle - detail

The Oracle – detail

The Oracle - detail

The Oracle – detail

 

Divination's Riddle

Divination’s Riddle

Divination's Riddle - detail

Divination’s Riddle – detail

 

The Two Worlds

The Two Worlds

The Two Worlds - detail

The Two Worlds – detail

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First things first: the light.  Let’s get to the winner of The Blue Ribbon!  Drum roll please…

Congratulations, Brittany D. Perkins!!!  You have won a beautiful, 10″ x 15″ print of  The Blue Ribbon!.  Your print will come on beautiful, shimmering, pearlized, archival paper and will be hand-signed.  Please send an email to me at sarah@sarahallegra.com with your mailing address and I’ll get it to you!

What do you guys think?  Was that fun?  Something we should do again?  Did the tweeting format work for you?  Let me know your thoughts and I can fine-tune my contest process to make it better for everyone!  Don’t forget that my fundraising will continue for the entire month of May, so stock up on your art purchases now while they’ll do the most good!

Now, onto the shadows of this post….

The Exiled King Preview

The Exiled King Preview

You remember how I hinted that DreamWorld‘s first dark character was coming to life?  He has arrived.

I think I was telling you guys about the evolution of this character.  I’ve always had a thing for horns and antlers on people (see my very first self portrait as proof) and wanted to work them into DreamWorld from the beginning.  As with most mythologies, I felt there was room for a Puckish, trickster character, which is what I had in mind when I started constructing this creature.  The beginning of my work on him coincided with the beginning of True Detective, a pure coincidence, but True Detective’s ominous Yellow King bled into my concept, and before I knew it my trickster had transformed beyond a mere Puck or even Loki into the DreamWorld version of The King In Yellow.

DreamWorld is an ever-evolving place, and while this King is the first sinister character to be portrayed, there are other forces at work.  We will meet them eventually.  For now, I think it is enough to know that the King in Yellow has been sent into exile by DreamWorld’s true King for trying to usurp the throne and plunge DreamWorld into darkness.  He has been foiled for now, and is thus known as they Exiled King, though some still whisper of the King in Yellow and restoring him to his rightful, dark glory along with those who seek the same goals… but I don’t worry.  The King is strong and benevolent.  And we haven’t even met the Queen yet, though we will soon.  She also rules for good, and is not to be taken lightly.

Let the whispers and secrets travel where they will.  The King in Yellow has been sent into exile as a merciful punishment, but I doubt a second grab for the throne would be met with such leniency.

Now that you know about the Exiled King, want to see how he came to life?

My initial inspiration for the antlers was the Makhor goat’s horns, such as seen in this stock image:

© Erinpackardphotography | Dreamstime.com

 

Horns are always tricky to build for human heads.  Making them stable but light, keeping them balanced on the head while trying to appear that there’s no supporting structure at all… they’re always a nightmare to make.  And I knew these ones were going to be the largest pair I’d made yet.  As usual, I dove in without a real plan and figured it out as I went.

I started with a regular headband and some strong but light wire, wrapped around itself and twisted generously onto the headband.  I began introducing the twisted shape by wrapping it around my arm a few times.

horns1

I wrapped a thin layer of newspaper over each wire frame, adding a layer of masking tape on top to help it hold its shape and smooth it.

horns 2

Looking very lop-sided at the moment

I initially tried spraying the antlers with spray adhesive to try to help smooth the antlers further, but all it really did was make it tacky, even after it had dried.  I sighed and decided I’d try and use it to my advantage by covering the antlers with a layer of metallic gold tissue paper (which smells really weird, by the way).  I filled in some of the larger dips and gaps with hot glue and added a little more tissue paper, but I knew I’d end up having to do a little smoothing to them in post production.  I don’t remember why now, but I ended up getting these finished just the evening before my morning shoot, so I didn’t have more time to tinker with them and make them absolutely perfect.

horns 4

mantle 1

You can see here the careful support structure I created literally with toothpicks and popsicle sticks broken into smaller strips.  Sometimes the most straight-forward way is the best way 🙂  They’re also reinforced with a little bit of monofilament line to help them not bow away from each other.

mantle 2

With the antlers done, I moved onto the leaf mantle.  I used approximately a billion fake leaves for this which I’d collected over several years and a number of projects.  I still found myself nearly running out by the end and had to ration them carefully.  I concentrated on the leaves around the face first, which also conveniently covered the antler’s headband and support structures.

mantle 4

A full mantle of leaves

vest

I’ve had this one vest in my “costume” supplies for a very long time and I just love it.  It looks very rugged and home-spun and fits a very wide variety of looks and styles.  I’m pretty sure it was made for someone closer to my size than Dan’s, so I quickly added extra length to it by cutting straight through the shoulder seem and building a new shoulder strap with leaves hot glued to each other.  The yard provided a wealth of beautiful acorns to choose from and use as buttons.  And don’t worry, the squirrels still had more to eat than they ever could.

leaf1

Next was the big leaf amulet.  I’d gotten this pack of huge, very realistic leaves probably two years ago and had been holding on to them, waiting for them to become useful.  Now was their time!  This heavy chain was also in my stash for similar reasons, and became a lovely chain for what would be a leaf amulet.

amulet 3

Some smaller, gold-dusted leaves, a large gold key and an amber-colored, leaf-shaped crystal finished it off.

amulet 2

Almost done!

foot 1

Leaf slipper tops

The very last thing I made were “leaf slippers,” for lack of a better word.  They were just several leaves glued together with elastic straps to help keep them on Dan’s feet; super easy!

Leaf slipper bottoms

Leaf slipper bottoms

I also cut up some strips of a golden-brown, rustic-looking cotton to tie around Dan’s sleeves and pant legs, but that would be assembled the day of.  As far as my prep work went, I was done!  I honestly can’t remember exactly how long the whole costume took to make… several days of solid work, no sleep?  Eight weeks?  I have no idea, but it was long.  When I’m deeply involved in a project like this, time melts away for any practical use.

Before I get more into this, let me back up and tell you about Dan Donohue, who so beautifully brought my character to life.   Dan is celebrated actor, best known for his extensive theater work.  He played Scar in Disney’s Broadway version of The Lion King and left for Oregon almost immediately after our shoot to go play Henry the III at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s version of Henry the III, as well as the father in their production of A Wrinkle In Time.  You would never believe from meeting him that he does evil and sinister so well; he is truly one of the kindest, most enthusiastic and genuinely lovely people I’ve had the pleasure of working with.  But the moment I told him to be a villain, it all fell away and for a second I had to catch my breath because he so completely embodied The King In Yellow.  Dan is a muse if I’ve ever met one and a pure delight to work with!  He’s also very creative and funny, as I’ll get into more later.

The morning of the shoot came quickly, Dan and I found our location and the entire shoot was easy and felt effortless.  There may have been a bit more effort on Dan’s part trying to keep his antlers and mantle from toppling over if he moved his head too far in any direction, but it seemed that his theater experience really paid off and helped him manage this probably cumbersome bit of costume beautifully.

Antler wrangling

Antler wrangling

Generally when I shoot new DreamWorld characters, I edit one or two images; maybe three if I feel they’re all really compelling, but in this instance I edited five.  This is almost unprecedented.  The only other time I’ve edited more photos from a single concept, with no costume or location changes was for the Katie’s World set.  That says quite a lot about how perfectly Dan was able to become the Exiled King.  But enough talking about them.  You want to see the images, right?

You’ve seen this first one already since I used it to tease the series, but I’m posting it again so the whole set can be seen together as intended.  To set the mood, here are the two quotes which most directly influenced how I took the set, one from Robert W. Chamber’s book The King In Yellow and one from True Detective.

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen

In Carcosa.
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is

Lost Carcosa.
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in

Dim Carcosa.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in

Lost Carcosa.
–Cassilda’s Song, The King In Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
“Him who eats time.  Him robes; it’s a wind of invisible voices.  Rejoice, death is not the end!  Rejoice, death is not the end!  Rejoice, Carcosa!”
– Miss Delores, True Detective episode 7, After You’ve Gone
The Shadows Lengthen

The Shadows Lengthen

 

The Shadows Lengthen

The Shadows Lengthen – detail

The Shadows Lengthen

The Shadows Lengthen – detail.  Dan’s hand here kills me every time, it’s SO PERFECT.  I never knew a single hand could be so expressive, yet it is.

 

Pliable Reality

Pliable Reality – shot using a home-made “Lensbaby” which was the top of a water bottle

Pliable Reality - detail

Pliable Reality – detail

Pliable Reality - detail

Pliable Reality – detail

Pliable Reality - detail

Pliable Reality – detail

 

Where Black Stars Rise

Where Black Stars Rise

Where Black Stars Rise - detail

Where Black Stars Rise – detail

Where Black Stars Rise - detail

Where Black Stars Rise – detail

Where Black Stars Rise - detail

Where Black Stars Rise – detail

The Tatters Of The King

The Tatters Of The King

The Tatters Of The King - detail

The Tatters Of The King – detail

The Tatters Of The King - detail

The Tatters Of The King – detail

And perhaps my favorite of them all….

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices - detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices – detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices - detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices – detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices - detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices – detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices - detail

His Robe Is A Wind of Invisible Voices – detail

 

Whew, still with me?  I know that was a long post, but I had a lot of photos to cover!

He's not REALLY evil, he just pretends really well!

He’s not REALLY evil, he just pretends really well!

The only sad thing is that we never got to see how well Dan managed his leaf slippers, but trust me, he killed it like everything else.

The only sad thing is that we never got to see how well Dan managed his leaf slippers, but trust me, he killed it like everything else.

To wrap up, I’ll leave you with a couple fun things.  Dan does these really fun recreations of scenes from movies, hunting down the original locations and taking photos!  Dan’s spoof of Anthony Hopkin’s letter to Bryan Cranston about Breaking Bad (read the original letter here).  Doesn’t Dan sound exactly like Anthony Hopkins?  And lastly, if you have a chance to go see him perform at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, do it!  You won’t be disappointed!

Dan as Richard the III - Copyright Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Dan as Richard the III – Copyright Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Thank you so much to Dan for being the perfect King in Yellow and furthermore being extremely patient as I slowly edited all of these!!  Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to see the Exiled King’s companions and cohorts!  Dan has been invited back again whenever he returns to California, so he may pop up in more photos; I hope so  🙂

 

Us

 

*****

 

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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***WARNING: this post will contain spoilers for this season of True Detective.  Turn back now, ye who have not seen it.***

There.  With the formalities out of the way, we can settle in and chat 🙂

I don’t believe I have ever witnessed such a frenzied, overwhelming reaction to a television show in such a short amount of time.  True Detective was only eight episodes long.  I knew, for myself, that I was going to be completely obsessed with it by the second episode; I warned Geoff about it and that I was going to have to buy it on DVD the very moment it came out.  You all probably know by now how I tend to obsess over things.

For anyone unfamiliar with True Detective, it is an eight-episode series which recently ran on HBO.  It tells the story of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, two detectives who are partnered together to solve a serial killer murder mystery.  The show jumps around from 1995, when they believe they solved the crime, and 2012, when it rapidly becomes obvious that something is amiss; the killer was not apprehended after all.

What impressed me so much was how strongly the entire internet reacted to the show.  Within those same short, first few weeks the internet exploded with True Detective interest, and by the finale, the fervor was so high that fans streaming the episode through HBO GO crashed the network’s servers.  This is the kind of rabid loyalty that usually takes years to build up, like with Breaking Bad, for example.  Both shows completely deserved the devotion given to them, but it intrigues me that True Detective was able to accomplish this in a mere eight weeks.  What is so different about this show?

Like the very best art, it’s extremely difficult to parse out exactly what makes it so special.  True Detective was pure magic, and I don’t believe it’s something that can be distilled down to a formula and repeated endlessly.  But I’m still going to take a stab at defining what I think people, including myself, are responding to so strongly.

1.  Relateable, real, unique characters.  Marty Hart and Rust Cohle, played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey respectively, are fascinating.  They are fully realized, flawed, broken men but they still try to do good and make a difference in the world.  Whether you’re more of a Hart or a Cohle (guess which one I am – HAH), you’ll find someone to identify with.

These men both deserve Emmys and any and all awards given out to television performances for their acting.  To be honest, I’d never really gotten Matthew McConnaughey before.  True Detective completely changed my opinion of him; I was absolutely blown away.  Woody Harrelson is, of course, spectacular as well, but I went in expecting to enjoy his work.  McConnaughey’s jaw-dropping performance in scene after scene was a revelation to me.

2.  A script which treats its audience with respect.  You will not be talked down to here.  There is no spoon-feeding of the audience.  You are expected to pay attention and remember clues dropped in one episode and discovered in another.  Nothing has been dumbed-down and it’s incredibly refreshing.  I want my shows to challenge me, to engage me, to literally take me on a journey.  True Detective does all that and more.

3.  Myth and metaphor.  If you’ve seen any of the series, you’ve probably already read about how much of it was inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ 1895 classic work The King In YellowThe King In Yellow is a collection of short stories about a fictional play within the stories by the same name.  The first act of the made-up play is safe but it lures you into reading the second act.  Anyone who reads even a few words of the second act is shown such horrific truths about the universe that they’re driven insane.  Carcosa, The Yellow King, masks (both literal and metaphoric, masking who you truly are), black stars, the sign of the Yellow King, truth about the world bringing on madness, it all stems from The King In Yellow.  This is the kind of thing that really excites me.  And yes, I did read the entire King In Yellow between episodes just enhance my viewing pleasure.  This is the kind of loyalty the show inspires.  While it is certainly possible to watch the show and enjoy it without having delved into hundred-year-old, obscure literature, you want to for True Detective.

I have always been a proponent of the power of myth and metaphor.  Its something that I try to use as often as possible in my own work.  They are an incredibly strong force, which is rarely drawn on in television; certainly not to this degree.

Take the detectives’ names.  Marty (Martin) Hart and Rust (Rustin) Cohle.  Marty; the warm, personable, passionate, fiery, family-man-with-something-on-the-side.  Martin is derived from Mars, Roman god of war and means “warring.”  “Warring,” whether against the killer he hunts or the banalities of daily life, and “heart” are two perfect words to sum Marty up.   “Rust” and “coal” are perfect expressions of Rustin Cohle; bleak, nihilistic and emotionless.  Rust only occurs on metal, an element which is the perfect metaphor for Rust, cold and strong, but wounded, and we watch him disintegrate a little bit at a time.  Coal… I can think of nothing better to describe Rust’s heart after his young daughter’s death, which sent him down this path of meaninglessness and hopelessness.  But like real coal, there is the potential to change into something utterly different and glitteringly beautiful.

The more you pay attention to the show, the more subtleties you pick up on.  Pay attention to how the color yellow is used, for example.  Scenes that have the most to do with the killer are the most yellow.  When Rust makes Marty view the VHS tape of Marie Fontenot’s murder, not only is the whole screen is saturated in yellow, it’s a clear metaphor for Marty having read the “second act.”  And after you’ve read the second act, there is no going back.  Things can never be the same.

Myth and metaphor are so cleverly and generously used, I could go on for pages about it, but you get the idea.  I think you’ll have more fun if you watch the show and try to pick out the references yourself 🙂

4.  A beautifully shot piece of art.  Not to mention interestingly shot.  Incredibly complicated, gun-fighting, fist-fighting, dozens-of-extras, police-cars-and-helicopters, lifting-the-camera-man-over-a-fence-with-a-crane, six-minute-without-a-cut scene, anyone?

I also love how the show uses classic noir and literature traits, like showing peoples’ reactions to horror instead of the horror itself.  It’s an underused and extremely effective method of story-telling, not to mention underscores the mysterious tone of the entire show.

5. Healing and redemption – and the twist-within-a-twist ending.  You expect, this being a show about two detectives solving a crime, even though by now you know you’ll see something more than that, that the show will end on a climax of Marty and Rust catching the killer.  And they do catch their killer…  who ends up being at once creepier and more ordinary than you had expected the grand Yellow King to be, which feels like a very authentic picture of actual murderers.  Twist one.  Marty and Rust catch their Yellow King about halfway through the last episode, giving them almost another 30 minutes to fill.  Why would they need the extra time, you wonder.  To finish the story.  To really finish the real story.

What’s the real story?  As Rust says, it’s the oldest story, of light verses darkness.  Not just in the grander sense of of Marty and Rust catching their man, but of them facing the darknesses within their own lives.  For Marty, this means seeing the family he destroyed years ago with his multiple affairs.  And while things are far from all forgiven and forgotten, the show makes it clear that the fact that his ex-wife and daughters are even in the same room with him is a huge hurdle to have crossed.  Marty is not ok.  His family is not ok.  But now, finally, things can begin to heal and just maybe, they will be ok some day.

And then there’s Rust.  Rust, who began to withdraw from the world years and years ago when his young daughter was suddenly killed.  Rust, who wants to hurry up and catch their man because his entire life has been “a circle of violence and degradation as long as I can remember” and he wants to end it as soon as his work is done.  You can’t blame him for feeling that way.  I think he expected he would die in the final confrontation with the killer, which very nearly did happen, but he finds himself alive still at the other end, after awakening from the coma his wounds put him in.  What’s left for our nihilistic, philosophical, misanthropic hero?

A lot, it turns out.  Our emotionless, cerebral, steely man, who I can remember smiling only once during the whole series, breaks down sobbing.  In his coma, he had a vision of the afterlife where he encountered his father’s and daughter’s spirits, and moreover, he encountered their love.  Love which continued beyond death.  Which wiped away any disappointments his father may have had for him in life, any guilt he may have felt over his daughter’s death.  He was wrapped in pure love, something he had never experienced before.

It profoundly effected him.  When Marty, looking up at the night sky observes that the dark seems to have a lot more territory, Rust responds with “Yeah, you’re right about that… But you’re looking at it wrong… Once, there was only dark.  If you ask me, the light’s winning.”

Twist two.  The entire show wasn’t about them catching the Yellow King.  The entire thing led up to this moment, when Marty and Rust are reconciled, the healing has begun, and Rust has his first moment of optimism.  Healing and redemption.  Light verses dark.  That’s what we’d been watching this whole time.

 

So how does my self portrait tie in?  In a lot of ways actually.  Most obviously, it’s a reference to the starry night Marty and Rust philosophize under, the hope and beauty they were able to find.  The yellow is obvious as well, and since purple is yellow’s complimentary color, that seemed like a good direction to go in.  What’s hard to see in the shrunken, internet-appropriate version of the image is how the yellow fabric is sliding off my face; the mask is coming off.  And most importantly,  I wanted to portray the optimism Rust found there at the very end.  Maybe life isn’t all shit and misery.  Maybe it’s full of beauty and wonder too.  I’ll do my part to try and make that second part more and more true.

The Light Is Winning

The Light Is Winning

 

The Light Is Winning

The Light Is Winning – detail

The Light Is Winning

The Light Is Winning – detail

The Light Is Winning

The Light Is Winning – detail

The Light Is Winning - detail

The Light Is Winning – detail

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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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Blackfish.  The documentary about captive whales that will break your heart and move you to action.

By now, you all have probably read my open letter to Jack Hanna.  You probably saw Concrete Cell, the first of a short series of underwater photos inspired by the film.  As I do, I turned to art to help me express my thoughts.  I’ve just completed the last two photos for the series, and I’d like to share them with you here.

I set up an underwater shoot with Katie, with the intention to create something inspired by Blackfish.  Something sad and cold, that touched on the tragedy of the film.  Something that would help me work through the troubling emotions the movie had brought up, and lessen my feeling of helplessness about the plight of the whales.

It was a great shoot.  We captured everything we wanted, my camera behaved itself, and even the sudden appearance of gardeners tending to the yard around the pool was just another story to laugh about.  As she often does, Katie seemed to instantly understand what it was I wanted to express and needed very little direction.  My new wetsuit worked wonders and even though I still hated being wet at all, at least this time I wasn’t a purple, shaking mess by the time the shoot was done.

Editing the photos was another matter.  Having to visit such an emotionally dark place whenever I worked on them was not easy.  I had to take breaks and work on lighter photos.  But I’m proud of myself for sticking it out; doing what I felt I needed to do despite the difficulty of it.

In the first photo, we wanted to recreate Tilikum’s misery in this iconic photo of him, taken by Colleen Gorman, languishing alone in his solitary confinement.

Photo by Colleen Gorman; click on the photo to be taken to her excellent article on her blog The Orca Project detailing his miserable existence.

The second photo is an impression of the anguish of all the captive dolphins and whales and a memorial to all their deaths.

As this year draws to an end, I can’t help but think of what a huge impact Blackfish has already had on society.  It was only shown on CNN in October of this year.  The backlash against SeaWorld and its supporters has been immense.  Sponsors have fled, popular bands have refused to perform there.  Petitions of every kind are circulating, making demands.  Change is coming.  But it cannot come fast enough.

It’s easy to feel helpless to bring big change about.  We are all only one person after all; one drop amidst a great ocean of people.  But, as they say in Cloud Atlas, what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?

I want my drop to fall on the side of animal rights.  And I hope that 2014 brings about the ocean of change that has already begun.  I believe it can happen 🙂

Lifeless Life

Lifeless Life

A Drop Of Blood

A Drop Of Blood

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I want to give you all a few quick updates here on the blog.  First though, I’d like to introduce my first Blackfish-inspired photo today, titled “Concrete Cell.”  It is the first in a series, but I was too excited to share this photo to wait until they’re all finished.
The often-cited comparison of SeaWorld’s whale enclosures being the equivalent size of a bathtub to you or me not only deeply saddened me, but also sparked the idea for this photo.  Imagine it.  When you’re not forced to perform, you live in this sad, colorless, sterile world of concrete and shadows.  The intelligence of these whales makes their living conditions even crueler and more heartless; sentient beings shoved into tiny compartments where they die a little more every day.
If you also agree that SeaWorld’s practices are abusive and need to be changed, please see my open letter to Jack Hanna regarding his defense of SeaWorld.  You can read more about the issues there and take action with petitions to sign!Thank you to Katie Johnson for her beautiful underwater modeling in this!  Underwater modeling is a skill unto itself and quite tricky, but she makes it look effortless.
Concrete Cell

Concrete Cell

Secondly, there has been a lot of response to my post about suicide and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis.  This is one of those topics that is very, very real, but rarely discussed in public.  Or even in private, for that matter.  There is always a correlation between any kind of chronic illness and suicide, because there is only so much a person can endure.  This post has been shared quite a bit already, but I would love for it to reach even more people, and hopefully find its way to the original person who found my blog by searching “I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and I want to give up.”  I understand that feeling.  My blog will rage in its way against cruelties, abuses and atrocities, but its arms are always open to the ill, the hopeless, the voiceless and those in need.  This is not a place of judgement.  This is a place of love and acceptance.

Lastly, my 2014 calendars are now available!  Printed on thick, gorgeous paper, each month features a popular new image from my most recent works, including photographs from my DreamWorld, actor portraits series and my CFS/fibro/ME series Enchanted Sleep.  So add a dose of magic to your day…or the day of someone you love…with a collectable calendar!

2014 Calendar

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