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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.

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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!

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 post of 2014!

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

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

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

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

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

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Checking my hair for edibility; sorry, buck.

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Sadly, my coat is also not edible.

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

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

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

Little Jewels

Little Jewels

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

A cellphone snap of our wigwam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

front

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

side

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

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

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky - detail.

Where Earth Meets The Sky – detail

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

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

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Perhaps he had traveled.  Now she would, too…  He’d been missing too long for things to be wholly right.  Nothing knew of him in the yard.  Nothing in the house.  All of it forgetting, slowly, slowly, she could feel it, and one could only last so long separated from the essence.

A quest waited in those circumstances, always.

The traveler was almost there.  If this one knew nothing, she would ask the next.  And the next one.  One of them would know…. She stood broadside in the gravel and turned her head and asked her question.

Asked if it had seen her boy.  Her essence.  Her soul.

But if the traveler understood, it showed no sign.

I recently finished reading for the first time The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which my wonderful neighbor Donna gave me.  I loved it; it’s beautifully written, evocative, expertly tackles some tough story elements and leaves a mark on your heart.  I’m going to talk a bit more about the book, what I thought and how this self portrait fits in, but there will be some small spoilers.  Consider this your warning 🙂

* * * * *

Well now.  Let’s get started!  Edgar Sawtelle is set in a rural, mid-western small town.  The Sawtelles have been breeding dogs for generations, but instead of breeding for typical canine traits they breed for cognitive thought, creating what Edgar’s father likes to call the next dog.

There is a strong, intentional undercurrent of Hamlet woven into the story, which wouldn’t seem to mesh well with a tale about dog breeders, but it comes together beautifully.

The heart of the story is the relationship between Edgar and his closest dog, Almondine.  As a reader, you come to know and love her just as deeply as Edgar does.  Edgar is born mute, and thus often struggles communicating with people.  But with dogs, you don’t need words.  Almondine and Edgar understand each other perfectly.

When, as in Hamlet, Edgar is banished from his home for a time, circumstances prevent him from taking Almondine with him; a problem which bothers him much more than just being banished.  He longs to go back and get her, but he is prevented from it, and he misses her even more than his mother.  But Almondine is a Sawtelle dog.  She sets out to find Edgar herself.

After I’d finished the book and was reading reviews and commentaries online about it, I realized just how closely Edgar’s story mirrors Hamlet’s.  Each main character in Edgar Sawtelle is a counterpart to someone in Hamlet.  Edgar, of course, is Hamlet, his mother Trudy is queen Gertrude, his uncle Claude is Claudius, etc.  And I finally realized that Almondine is Ophelia.

Edgar and Almondine love each other deeply.  They are soulmates, not of a romantic kind, but simply two halves of one whole.  Of course, Ophelia is a tragic figure, and just like her Shakespearean counterpart, when she finally takes matters into her own hands (or paws) she dies because of it.

Yet all is not lost.  Edgar and Almondine reunite, and when she sees him for the first time she says, “You didn’t have to come back.  I would have found you.”  And she would have.  She would have walked to the ends of the earth to find him, and even death couldn’t keep her from accomplishing her goal.  Her strength and tenacity amaze me.  She would never, ever have stopped looking for him.  I find her and their relationship so beautiful and moving, I cried on more than one occasion.

I felt so moved by the characters, I knew I had to do something photographically with it or I’d just burst.  I wanted to portray Almondine, but also nod toward her Ophelia roots.  I chose a dress that has a timeless feel to it, and is a bit more practical; something I’d imagine a dog might choose if they suddenly found themselves a person.  I went minimal on makeup and adornments, except for the clutch of flowers, since there is such a strong tie between them and Ophelia.  I wanted the photo to be about Almondine’s love and strength, so I chose to take a close-up shot and really concentrate on expressing emotion.

The tear was something I’ve been wanting to try for a while.   At some point during one of my crafting sessions, I noticed that the little blogs of hot glue that form while it’s hot and waiting for you to use it looked quite a lot like tears, so then I tried intentionally making a few.  It ended up being quite quick and easy, and looked very natural, even in person.

The colors and editing choices I made are a very slight nod to Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, one of my very favorite movies.  Yes, I know, it’s a terribly controversial film which people either loath or adore, but I am firmly in the adoration camp.  It also has themes of love transcending death, and as I edited, I kept seeing flashes of the film in my mind and hearing its music playing, so I finally just went that direction.  Once I did, I realized it fit perfectly and I should have trusted myself on that right away 🙂

A screen capture of Rachel Weisz in The Fountain.

There’s something really special about self portraits.  There’s a level of therapy and catharsis I have not found in any other form of art.  I highly recommend it 🙂  Click on the image to see it larger!

I Will Find You

I Will Find You

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