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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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 This is a big piece for me, not just size-wise, but for what it represents as well.
Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

I shot this self portrait a week or two ago after enduring months of worse-than-usual depression.  Some was due to outside influences, bad news, being sick and other things that any normal, healthy person would feel depressed about.  But a lot of it was that irrational, heavy, demanding, life-draining depression that is clinical depression.  This is not feeling sad about things that you should feel sad about.  This is round-the-clock, punishing joylessness, sucking the beauty out of everything, leaving all around you colorless and meaningless.  This is clinical depression.

 

I’ve battled this beast since it first started manifesting in my early teens.  It took me some time before I learned that what I was feeling was an actual condition, a potentially solvable problem, not just a bad mood that hung around for years.  I’ve also tried more remedied to it that I can recount; anti-depressants, therapy, energy work, supplements, yoga, getting more exercise (before I had ME; over-doing exercise now could do me great harm), self-help books, seminars, journaling, art therapy… on and on and on.

 

And it still clings.

 

I decided to start a series specifically addressing mental illness; clinical depression and anxiety in particular, since those are the two I fight with most.  I manage them, sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse.  Sometimes I want to just die.  I don’t know if it will ever go away completely, thus the series title Eternal Storms.

 

I identify with Eeyore from Winnie  the Pooh, with his constant dark cloud covering just him.  I’m sure that was subconsciously part of the inspiration for this piece.  When I’m going through a bout of depression, this is what it feels like to me.  A dark storm raging round my head, that only I see and feel.  It makes the idea of asking for help feel pointless; even if I break up this cloud, another will come.  And the social stigma of admitting you need help at all, let alone help with your mental health, makes it all the worse.  If I’m having a week where I have to talk myself into continuing to live each day, I can’t talk about it except for a few select, very trusted friends who have also been there, as well as my therapist.

 

I shot this self portrait as a way to work through the cloud I was under, yes, but more importantly, to directly address depression and its stigma.  Admitting you have or struggle with depression doesn’t make you weak or unworthy.  It doesn’t make you a bad person.  It doesn’t mean you’re not trying hard enough, eating right or getting enough exercise.  It just IS.  And society needs to learn to stop judging those who do manage to ask for help.

 

The alternative is that we suffer in silence with our tormentor.  And that can kill.

 

Joel Robison happened to put up an insightful blog about his own battle with depression recently, which was a happy coincidence.  I’m very glad for people like him who will stand with me and admit that yes, we have depression.  It may not make sense to you, you may not understand it, it might *gasp* make you uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it will go away.We are no less human that you.  We did not ask for this fight.  This is not an attention-seeking behavior.  This is real, this illness is out for blood.  This is just our fight.  This matters.  And it can be won.One storm at a time.

This series is dedicated to all the others who fight this battle with me every day.  You are all so strong and so brave.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – click on the image to see it full-sized on my site!

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - details

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – details

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pinning and gluing the crown pieces together.

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

Foil-wrapped cardboard.

Foil-wrapped cardboard.

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

Post paint.

Post paint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Plastic-wrapped soul egg.

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

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

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

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

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

btsCalantha Bomb

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

 

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

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photo 4

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

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

Crossing The First Threshold

Crossing The First Threshold

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