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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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I believe I’ve mentioned before that I have a rather, uh, active dream life.  My nights are often filled with deeply archetypal storylines, heavy with symbolism and metaphor, which, I suppose, is probably part of why I’m drawn to creating images along the same lines.

Hold The Gate © Sarah Allegra - detail

Hold The Gate © Sarah Allegra – detail

Sometimes my dreams are quite silly upon waking, like the dream I had where I was aboard Star Trek’s Enterprise (the original show) and Spock and I had to beam down to an alien planet so I could find my gold bikini (ah la Leia, in Return of the Jedi) which we needed in order to defeat the attacking alien army (different aliens than the ones who lived on the planet my bikini was on) and save the world.  I don’t think I was ever clear on how my gold bikini would do this, but it made sense in the dream.

Sometimes my dreams are very serious and are clearly working through problems and fears, current or past.  I had a whopper of a dream a week or two ago which I’m going to tell you about, as it relates to my most recent image.

This dream was set in the world of The Hero And The Crown, by Robin McKinley, one of my very favorite books; one of those comfort-food books I turn to again and again, especially in times of trouble.  If you haven’t read it, go and do so.  I’ll wait.

I was Aerin, the heroine of the story.  Geoff was Tor, whom I was betrothed to.  We lived in Tor’s parent’s castle (which doesn’t make sense with the book, but never mind) and nobody in the entire kingdom liked or understood me.  My only friends were Tor and Talat, my horse, along with the rest of the castle’s horses.  They had an entire army of war horses who would fight in formation on their own, without the aid of any human riders.  I took great comfort in visiting the stables frequently to get away from the nastiness of all the people and be with creatures who loved me.

The great dragon Maur, easily as big as the castle and made of pure evil, had come back and was laying siege to the castle along with numerous other giant, pure-evil dragon friends of his.  We were hopelessly outnumbered and everyone knew there was really no chance of winning this battle, but we had to try.  The dragons could only attack us at night, but in this world it became fully dark at about 1 in the afternoon and stayed dark until the regular sunrise of 5-6 in the morning.  This meant each night was very long.

Interestingly, Tor already possessed the Hero’s Crown, which ought to have given him the ability to fight the dragons off, but it wasn’t working.  It held them off a little, just barely, but it wouldn’t survive another night.

I visited the stables after the first night, thanking the horses, some of whom had been greatly wounded or killed, for their bravery in battle.  Quite a lot of them were also pregnant and foals kept popping out every time I turned around.  We had a good talk and I felt encouraged after I left them.

I found Tor and told him that I had to travel back to my family’s castle to retrieve two magic rings.  If we both wore them, then we would be strong enough to vanquish the dragons.  The thing was, I could only tell Tor where I was going and why.  I had to keep it a secret from absolutely everyone else.  At the end of the dream, I was riding off on Talat to my castle to get the rings, knowing that everyone hated me because they thought I’d just deserted them when they were most in need.  Dusk was falling as Talat and I galloped along and I knew I had to really hurry to get the rings and return to Tor’s castle in time to help everyone survive.

A couple things I should point out right away; Tor’s family in the dream is NOTHING like Geoff’s actual family.  His family embodies that friendly, easy-going, pull-up-a-chair sort of Midwestern charm you always hear about.  They’re truly all wonderful people, so don’t think that that part of the dream had any resemblance to reality!  Also, as far as I know, there aren’t any large groups of people who hate me.  I suppose I could be wrong about this, but again, the dream is not representing real life in this way.

After mulling it over a lot, talking to my mom (who is especially gifted at dream interpretation), Geoff and my therapist, I came to a few conclusions.

The dragons = ME.  Now, to be fair, I actually like dragons, but my brain often uses them as a symbol for big, bad, evil things.  (It also often uses Calantha to represent my inner child in dreams, which is just full of Freudian symbolism.)  Fighting ME every day often really does feel like you’re besieged by dragons.  You’re trapped in your castle (house/body) while an unrelenting assault of badness attacks (all of my ME symptoms; pain, fatigue, etc).

I was confused about the nights being so long until I remembered something I’d said to Geoff a few days before the dream.  I had realized that most days I spend 11-12 hours a day in bed sleeping, or at least trying to sleep.  If I can get a solid 11 regularly, I feel much better, but since my sleep is so poor, I’m often trying to make up for the bad sleep, so the time spent in bed creeps up higher.  I was startled when I realized just how much time I spent every day just trying to sleep.  I’d been getting frustrated, feeling like my days were so short and there were never enough hours… and while I know that pretty much everyone feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day, I suddenly knew why it seemed like my days really were getting much shorter.

ME also really messes up your sleep.  And if you do find yourself up at 4 am, watching TV, taking a cocktail of pills to try and get back to sleep, as I often do, nights can feel especially long and lonely.

I think that the Hero’s Crown was all the stuff I’ve tried already to feel better, all of which promise to work and cure you, but none ever has.  The rings were a hope of future treatments or cures.  Going off to get them while things were most dire represented the typical path of trying a treatment, which usually involves over-exerting yourself in some way first (going to the doctor’s office, my several-times-a-year nerve-blocking injections).

I suspect that the crowd of people who disliked and misunderstood me is my fear of people not understanding that I actually am sick, even if I don’t look like it outwardly.  This is an extremely common worry from anyone with an “invisible illness;” any sort of sickness which does not manifest in outward signs.  I often feel the need to make sure new people in my life know that I have ME and have a basic understanding of what it is so that they don’t think I’m lazy, or that I just didn’t want to go to their party, or have dinner with them.  It’s a pretty big fear, to be honest.  Almost without exception, everyone who is in my life knows what my deal is and while they invite me to things, they’re all very understanding if I can’t make it, especially if I have to cancel last minute.  I really, really hate to cancel at the last minute, but sometimes your body leaves you no other choices.  The secrecy of my mission to get the rings was mirroring the invisibility of my case of ME.

As for the more pleasant things about the dream, Geoff as Tor believed me, and he also supported me even though the entire rest of the kingdom wished he wouldn’t.  That’s 100% Geoff.  He will love and support me, in a fantasy battle with dragons, or in the real world battling insurance companies.  He is a fearless protector and someone I can always count on.  I also liked that for the magic rings to work, we both needed to wear them.  I think that speaks to the importance of having someone caring for and supporting you through this stupid disease.  I can fight it on my own, but it’s a million times better to have an ally.

And lastly, the animals will always be with me.  I have had a special kinship with animals of all kinds, since before I can remember.  My dad likes to tell the story of how there used to be a couple of huge Great Danes in a house behind ours and how they would bark and bay and snarl ferociously through the small gap in the fence if they saw you.  One day I came inside and said, “You know those big dogs out there?  They’re really friendly!”  Alarmed, my dad checked to make sure I still had all my fingers, then came outside with me where he realized that the Danes were causing a fuss because they wanted attention, not because they were aggressive.  Then for a while I collected snails in a bucket and kept them as “pets,” which I believe led my parents to get my first dog because it was just so pathetic that I was gathering snails to be my friends.  Animals have always been a big part of my life, creatures I can trust and rely on, who are as unchanging and solid as a mountain.

As I was meditating on the dream, I kept being reminded of a few big scenes from the biggest battle in last season’s Game Of Thrones.  You don’t really need a lot of context for it, just that the good guys are trying to keep the very bad guys out, and they’re horribly outnumbered and outmatched.

(Sorry, YouTube won’t let you play the videos here, but if you click the little “YouTube” button near the bottom of the video screen, it will take you directly to the videos.)

It may seem silly to those who have never experienced ME, but this is what it feels like to me.  Like you’re outnumbered 1000 to 1, the other side has mammoths and giants and all you’ve got is a fairly useless sword to try and fight them all off.  There is no end in sight, and barely any hope that you’ll succeed.  This is also the way a lot of The Hero and the Crown goes, which is part of why it’s one of my favorite books.

It may sound silly to those who have never know chronic illness’s cruel touch, but I’m willing to bet that everyone who has dealt with it will understand at once.  It’s exhausting to fight an enemy every day, who you can’t see or touch.  And even more so when some people don’t believe the enemy exists.

So, as I do, I had to take a self portrait to work through my feelings on this dream.  What could be more DreamWorldy than an image inspired by an actual dream?  I can imagine this being a snippet of DreamWorld’s rich history, perhaps during the Yellow King’s grab for the throne.  I edited it with both The Hero and the Crown and Game of Thrones in mind, lending visual inspiration.

We sick will keep fighting.  We will hold the gate.

I’ll hold the gate.

Hold The Gate © Sarah Allegra

Hold The Gate © Sarah Allegra

My lighting setup for Hold The Gate:

Hold The Gate lighting setup

Hold The Gate lighting setup

My tripod it balanced on the mattress and the camera would shift slightly whenever Calantha, also on the mattress, moved.  There was just enough room between my bed, the closet and all the other things in that part of the bedroom to make this work.  Who needs a studio??  😉

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

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

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

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

Pearl

Pearl

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

Jimmy_pearl

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Pearl scar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell Me A Happy Story

Tell Me A Happy Story

 

Tell Me A Happy Story - detail

Tell Me A Happy Story – detail

 

Watch the creation of this image from start to finish!

Watch the creation of this image from start to finish!

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“A wall of flames 40 feet high was sweeping its way up the canyon, 400 yards away. At that point, they would have had about a minute. Since they couldn’t get to the safety zone, they had to make one of their own. Andrew Ashcraft and Travis Turbyfill, the two sawyers, started attacking the brush with their chain saws, while the rest of the guys swung their Pulaskis, frantically doing what they were trained to do: move dirt, and move dirt faster.  They dumped fuel from their drip cans around the zone they’d created, then set the chain saws at the outer perimeter, so that when they exploded no one would get hurt.

[The team’s leader,] Eric, got on the radio. The Hotshots’ escape route had been cut off, he said, and they were deploying their emergency shelters.

Eric’s voice was calm – some said the calmest they’d ever heard him. At 4:47, he radioed his last transmission: ‘Deploying.’ And then, just like they’d practiced, the Granite Mountain Hotshots climbed into their shelters.

Finally, at 6:30 – an agonizing 103 minutes later – the helicopter was able to get on the ground. The onboard medic hurried to the site where they’d seen the shelters. As he approached, he spotted the metal blade from a chain saw and a pickax with the handle burned away. The ranch house was unscathed. Everything else was a smoldering moonscape.

Experts estimate that the fire burned between 3,000 and 5,000 degrees. In the end, there wasn’t much left. But what there was told a story.

The 19 Hotshots were all together. No one panicked, no one ran. Travis Turbyfill and Andrew Ashcraft, the sawyers, were at the edge of the group, closest to the flames. They were cutting lines up until the end.

When Juliann [ed – Andrew’s wife] got Andrew’s effects back, his boots and clothes were gone. His metal belt buckle didn’t make it. His pocketknife. The journals that he kept. There was a piece of Velcro from his watchband but not the watch itself. Even the metal plate and eight screws in his leg, from when he shattered it in a rappelling accident a few years back, had disappeared.

Two things, she discovered, had somehow survived the fire. One was Andrew’s wedding ring, titanium. The other, shrunken and black, was the rubber wristband that said: be better.”

–Excerpt from an excellent and comprehensive article The Last Battle of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, by Josh Eells, for Men’s Journal.

 

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

I initially created today’s image to be a companion piece for this photo of Katie and I, honoring the fallen firemen in Yarnell, Arizona almost a year ago.

To The Lost

To The Lost

A childhood friend of mine, Andrew Ashcraft, had been one of the lost.  As I do with most painful things, I channeled my grief into my art.

Though it always makes me cry to think about it, there is such beauty in the men’s calm acceptance of their sacrifice, their solidarity, that they were a complete, solid unit until the very end. Josh Eell’s article says it so wonderfully.  They stuck together.  In the face of immediate, certain death, they did what they could and then turned to each other for comfort.  Shoulder to shoulder, they stuck together until the horrific last.

That unity, that love, that solidarity and bravery touched me more deeply than I could, or can, express.  The only chance I had at touching on it was through art.  I set up a shoot with Katie and Bryce to portray the doomed but brave men.  It happened that some tree branches and very tall bushes in my yard had just been cut down, forming what appeared to be a huge, natural nest.  Thinking of the Hotshots as birds with broken, burned wings helped me find the metaphor I wanted to use, a way into the truth I was trying to get at.

It was an easy shoot, what with all the branches having been set up for me by the workmen.  I lit a few smoke bombs, snapped the frames and it was done.  I loved what I had gotten from this shoot as I looked at the images later.  All the same, I found I couldn’t face editing the image.  It took many, many months before I felt like I could emotionally handle editing working it up.

I didn’t consciously realize we were coming up on the anniversary of their deaths, but I must have felt it subconsciously.  I’ve been haunted by memories of Andrew recently and finally felt that it was time, urgently time, to finish this piece.  As I finally brought the files into Photoshop and started working on them, more memories flooded my brain.  Like how Andrew, as a young child, had always said “Jee Jie Joes” instead of “GI Joes” and frequently got tripped up between “brought” and “brung.”  The trip our families took to Mount Shasta together.  Their shelties, who seem huge in my mind, but who I know were actually smallish dogs.  Drawing together, playing in the sprinklers, going to the beach, sharing snacks, going to the park, getting into fights, crying and making up again… all the things children do.

I’ve said before that one of the things I mourn in this is that I missed out on getting to know Andrew as an adult.  I’ve tried to remember that lesson and have made a point to stay in touch, or get back in touch, with people in my life.  I won’t get another chance at Andrew, but I can try and apply the lesson to other friendships.

None of these men deserved their fate.  They were true heroes, actively running into the worst, most dangerous situations.  That is what the Hotshots were there for; an elite team of firefighters comparable to Navy Seals or Spartans.  The only thing I can try and do about it is make an attempt to honor them and their sacrifice.  I know that I will always fall short in this goal, but it’s important to try nonetheless.  I am also keenly aware that this is not about me or my pain.  The pain of Andrew’s family and loved ones is something I can only imagine.

The Hotshots were trapped; birds unable to fly away.  There was no escape from the flames.  But what remained was love. Love triumphing over the flames by preserving Andrew’s wedding ring and bracelet with his personal motto.  Love for the people they were protecting, though they would never meet them.  Love for their families, though they left them behind in the line of their duty.  Love for each other.  Love for humanity.  Just love.

That love is what I wanted most to capture in this image and I hope it shines through.

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

Singed Wings - detail One of the three smokey roses scattered through the photo.  I used an image I had taken of beautifully carved roses on a tombstone, which felt so fitting.  The delicacy and beauty they add are still tinged with sorrow.

Singed Wings – detail
One of the three smokey roses scattered through the photo. I used a photo I had taken of beautifully carved roses on a tombstone, which felt so fitting. The delicacy and beauty they add are still tinged with sorrow.

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

Singed Wings - detail

Singed Wings – detail

My heart goes out to the family and friends of all 19 fallen heroes especially as we approach the anniversary of this tragedy.  I’m sure it’s an extremely difficult time for all of them.

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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

 

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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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“I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Vanity's Murder

Vanity’s Murder, a self portrait

 

May 12th is called “Invisible Illness Day.”

You probably don’t know that…and that’s part of the problem.

Years ago, May 12th was chosen to be the international awareness day for chronic immunological and neurological diseases, which include everything from Gulf War Syndrome and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities to fibromyalgia (fibro), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).  Yet more money is spent each year trying to cure male pattern baldness than these diseases.

I’m all for a luxurious head of hair.  But, diseases like ME are taking lives.

A Fading Girl - model: Brooke Shaden.

A Fading Girl – model: Brooke Shaden

To be sure, “Invisible Illness Day” rolls off the tongue much more easily than “Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Day.”  But the name highlights one of the sources of great frustration for most of us — we often do not APPEAR outwardly sick, thus many people refuse to believe our illness is real.

Unfortunately, some of those “many people” include doctors, policy makers and insurance companies.

How do we fight an illness with no end, no cure, no treatment, no recognition?  How many people must die before the world pays attention?  How many sufferers must commit suicide from the hopelessness and misery they’re dragged through every day before change comes?  We fight it by bringing awareness of the problem, one person at a time.  Every tweet, Facebook post, blog entry, text and conversation you and I have about ME helps fight it.  Every petition we sign, documentary we watch and donation we give is a punch in ME’s face.  And here’s the latest way I’m balling up my tiny little fists.

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

Also, in honor of this day of raising awareness, I’m holding a contest to win a beautiful, 10″ x 15″, museum-quality print of my latest image, The Blue Ribbon; an underwater representation of the struggle that living with ME can be.  Your print will come on beautiful, shimmering, pearlized, archival paper.  And all you have to do is tweet!

The Blue Ribbon

The Blue Ribbon, model: Katie Johnson – enter the giveaway to win a print of this image!

Ready to tweet?  Use any of the following!

Curing baldness gets 4x more funding than ME/CFS, but no one ever died of baldness    

*****

ME/CFS knows no social or economic boundaries; it affects all equally w/out mercy.    
*****
ME/CFS in not in our heads & cannot be cured with exercise & a better attitude.    
*****
ME/CFS is not a “female” disease; 20% of sufferers are male.    
*****
ME/CFS isn’t just about being “tired,” it ravages every single part of the body.    
*****

ME/CFS can be just as deadly as MS, HIV and AIDS, yet it is largely ignored.    

*****

More exercise and a better attitude will not cure ME/CFS.    

*****

We’re not chronically fatigued, @CDCgov. We have myalgic encephalomyelitis.    

The Blue Ribbon - detail

The Blue Ribbon – detail

Tweeting multiple statements will count as extra entries, so enter as many times as you like.  However, tweeting the same statement multiple times will not count.  And that will probably just annoy the people reading your feed, so don’t do it. 😉  I will choose a random winner from all entries on May 20th and announce the winner here!

Thank you to everyone for reading and participating!

Curious how ME became an invisible disease?  Stay tuned to find out more for Invisible Illness Week!

If you have had your own experiences with ME, CFS, fibro or any other chronic illness and you’d like to share your story, please leave it in a comment!

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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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