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Posts Tagged ‘purple’

What Else Can I Say About ME?

Here we are at May 12th again.  Another Invisible Illness Day come to bring awareness to all the illnesses and diseases which are impolite enough to leave their sufferers still appearing to be well.  Of course, anyone more than casually acquainted with someone who has fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, complex regional pain disorder, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, Lyme, lupus and many, many more illnesses can attest to how debilitating they can be.  The facade of health they leave intact feels like salt in the wound; a confusion for those untouched by their cruel hand, a silent undermining force with us at every doctor’s appointment, a declaration that we are lying or greatly exaggerating our illness.

What else can I say about ME?  About all the other forgotten, ignored diseases swept under the rug of modern medicine?  Illnesses which embarrass our doctors with their constant reminder that we remain unhealed.  Sicknesses with confusing, confounding symptoms which can morph and change like the whim of a butterfly’s flight.  Maddening maladies which suck away our vitality, our joys, our passions, our lives as completely as any vampire.

I’ve written about ME extensively as it’s been an enormous part of my life for the last eight years.  How I have not had a single day since late May of 2008 that was free of pain or its constant, overwhelming exhaustion.  How it has progressively gotten worse each year.  How the government would like to pretend we invisibly ill don’t exist.  How grotesquely underfunded our research is, giving us the same amount of money for research as hayfever gets and less than 1/4 of what male pattern baldness receives.  You have heard me spout the facts and statistics.  You’ve heard me talk about my personal story and fight with ME.  What else can I say?

I can say this: I am not beaten.  I have not given up.

I am determined to get better.  I am committing myself to be well, even if I have it about through sheer mental will.  I will not give in to ME’s gloomy, hopeless future forecast of progressively worsening every year.  I am not accepting a future of the living death that is ME.

I don’t know exactly how I will get better, but I am going to.  As a sign of my determination, I changed my blog’s tagline for the first time since I started this blog years ago.  “Art, photography, life and why I always feel like shit,” felt perfectly appropriate at the time.  “Art, photography, life and how those are really all the same thing,” is much more appropriate now.  My identity is not Sarah-who-has-ME.  I am just Sarah.

As I wrote about in my last entry, my life has been pleasantly consumed recently by my spirituality.  I have strongly felt how focusing on fighting ME has been feeding it.  So now, I will ignore it as much as possible.  I do not mean that I will forget my body’s current limits, or not honor them.  Listening to my body and what it’s able to do is vital for my current and future wellbeing.  But I’ve realized that I can live within the confines of my case of ME while still not letting it reign in every area of my life, and that feel incredibly freeing.  This is the path I will pursue.

This also does not mean that I will not advocate for ME sufferers.  I still feel very strongly that the only way we will bring about change is by demanding it.  And we can only demand it if we know that it exists in the first place.  But I can also advocate without allowing ME to rule every part of my soul.

As May 12th approached, I wanted to create a new image for my Enchanted Sleep series, which is all about living with ME.  I asked Katie Johnson, frequent model and collaborator as well as dear friend, if she would help me bring some concepts to life and she gladly agreed to help.  Through a variety of factors, I wasn’t able to shoot these images until very recently, which meant I had a very short window to edit one up and release it for Invisible Illness Day, but I got it done!  Ideally, I would be releasing the whole short series we shot, but I am content with having just one to show you and help illustrate life with ME.  With that, please let me present my latest image to you, Living With The Tombstones.

Living With The Tombstones

Living With The Tombstones – © Sarah Allegra. Model: Katie Johnson. An image to help raise awareness about ME/CFS and other “invisible illnesses.”

I probably don’t have to explain the symbolism behind shooting this image in a graveyard.  ME (and many other invisible illnesses) truly can be a living, nightmarish death.  Even if you’re not one of the unfortunate souls cursed with severe ME, where any touch, light or sound cannot be tolerated, you die every day to the dreams and hopes you had when you were healthy.  You might discover new passions to pursue within ME’s confines, but do you ever truly forget what’s been taken from you?  If you do, I am not there yet.

I took the name “invisible illness” and interpreted it quite literally, editing out any part of Katie’s body which showed outside her long, princess-like dress.  And the mirrored mask felt like the perfect touch.  When people look at us, they rarely see us; they see their projections of who we are.  Often what they see says far more about them than us.  Some will look at me and, because I can occasionally manage to put on clothes, have Geoff drive and go with him to the grocery store, refuse to believe there could be anything physically wrong with me.  They don’t see the toll that those short, simple trips take on me.  They don’t know that grocery shopping is my ENTIRE plan for that day, probably several days.  How the lights and noise and bustle inside the stores give me migraines, panic attacks and leave me in bed for the rest of the weekend.  They don’t see the weight of my illness on Geoff and my family.  How if I see friends, they always have to come to me.  I so often feel like a dead-weight wife, daughter and friend.  The times I’m overwhelmed by the ME and can’t decide between crying and being too tired to cry.  How many pills I take every day to try and make it to the next day and not be consumed by the constant pain I’m in.  They just see a fairly normal-looking girl.

I can’t blame other people for not knowing that I’m sick.  I don’t display the characteristic signals of someone who is unwell, so of course people assume I’m healthy.  But we need to get to a place where I could tell a stranger that I have ME and they might know what I’m talking about.  That if someone else said they have MS or Crohn’s or fibro, that stranger would have heard of those illnesses.  That the stranger would have at least a basic idea of our struggle and the dire need for change, for research, for treatments, cures and basic respect.

We can get there.  We will.  One May 12th at a time.

Want to do more?  I can help you with that!

I’d like to thank everyone in my life, online and off, who has supported me during these trying past eight years.  Especially Geoff, who I’d only been dating for a month when I became ill.  Lesser men would have run from what he had to face, but he’s stuck with me, no matter how bad things get.  And I’d also like to thank everyone for the extremely warm and receptive response you all had to my previous blog post.  Your kind words and love and support are greatly appreciated, now and always! ❤

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New DreamWorld image!!  I’m always happy to have a new installment for this series!

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado - detail

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado – detail

This image is a little bit “out of order,” so to speak.  The Apprentice is, obviously, an apprentice, but to someone you haven’t met yet, although you will.  In an ideal world, I would have shown you the Apprentice’s mistress first so it made more sense why she is out collecting herbs and plants and other ingredients, but you’ll have to just trust me on this for now  🙂  Hopefully I’ll be able to show you her mistress soon, but that’s going to be a pretty complicated shoot.

This image is extra special because it features a new model for me, Noemi Regalado.  Noemi is not someone who actively pursues modeling like most of the other people I work with.  She happened across my work and sent me an email asking if she could be a part of it.  Of course I said yes!  It took us a little while to find a time to shoot (which was all my fault; I think she first wrote me right around the time of my first sinus surgery and we know how that turned out.  And it seems nothing has calmed down since then!) but eventually we got a time set that worked for us both.

In a way, I’m a little glad that we had a few months to email back and forth and get to know each other a little more before the shoot although I’m sure the wait was maddening for Noemi!  (She will probably deny this because she’s very laid-back and easy going, but still.  Waiting sucks.)  In the course of our email exchange I learned that she has had her own health battles despite only being about the same age as I am.  She is a cancer survivor, currently completely in remission, and I suspect that she will stay that way.  She is a gentle soul but I know she fought that cancer out of her body.  She also participates in mud runs, something I probably would never have had the endurance for even before ME, and since her apartment only allows very small dogs, she volunteers regularly at a German Shepherd rescue group.  Every couple weeks she goes down, takes a dog out for a nice walk, socialization and a whole lot of love.  Then she repeats the process several times.  If that’s not one of the best examples of making lemonade from lemons that you’ve heard, I don’t know what to tell you 🙂  Shelter dogs have SO MUCH up against them, even the smallest gesture of love and attention can go a long, long way toward helping that dog find his or her forever home.  And so far she has been directly responsible for at least one Shepherd finding a home with a friend of hers!  I’m sure there will be more.

As you can see, Noemi is a very cool chick!  I wanted to come up with some concepts for her which would fit with her personality and her willingness to get uncomfortable and messy for a photo.  We ended up shooting two concepts; this first one that you’ll see today, as I said, is a DreamWorld image, and the second one, which I have not yet edited, will show off her willingness to do what it takes to get the shot.  And I have to say, she was a great model!  She took direction very well and had a better knack for it than some “actual” models I’ve come across 😉

So, let me tell you a little about making Noemi’s mask/headdress for this shot!  It all started with this lovely purple mask which I found at Rite Aid, of all places, on one of my many, many trips there to pick up prescriptions.  The color really caught my eye, I thought it would compliment Noemi well and I also noticed that it was less expensive than the completely blank, white masks at the craft store!  And no built-in swirls with the blank white masks either.  So that was a pretty easy decision to buy it.

Trying on the mask for research, NOT just because it was fun :)

Trying on the mask for research, NOT just because it was fun 🙂

But of course it can’t just be a basic mask, even if it looked very pretty in its basic form.  The first thing I did was cover it with a layer of lace, which happened to be a remnant cut from my wedding dress (because, surprise!, it was too long ;)).

Mask laceAfter brushing on a layer of fabric glue, I started with a layer of EXTREMELY glittery purple paint.

It doesn't look interesting wet...

It doesn’t look interesting wet…

But it dries into a really stunning color!

But it dries into a really stunning color!

Then I did some trimming on the lace to get the edges to match those of the mask itself.

At this point, I knew I wanted to put some leaves and flowers on it, but I didn’t know much more than that.  So I dragged out my fabric stash (what you’re seeing here is what I’d been able to buy during a HUGE sale!), my glue gun and just started messing around.

mask and loose flowersI knew I wanted to extend the sides of the mask with leaves, so I started there.  Maynard helpfully modeled this part for me.

Maynard is an awesome model, even when he's not facing the camera

Maynard is an awesome model, even when he’s not facing the camera

You can also see that I’d added a bit of black ink around the eye holes, rather like eyeliner.  Just a subtle touch to help draw the viewer’s eye since there was going to be a fair bit going on.

I just played around with different colored flowers and shapes, holding them in place, tweaking things here and there and then suddenly I had a finished mask!  I hadn’t planned on giving it so much vertical volume, that just sort of evolved naturally, but I liked how it looked so I went with it.  Some costumes I have planned out in precise detail before I ever start them, but others are more free-form, like this was.  Always listen to your gut 🙂

mask four small

A mask! Photos from here out are taken in the bathroom to protect it from over-eager cats.

As I looked at it the next day, I felt like it was 95% there but it needed… something.  I didn’t know what.  I mulled it over and when I woke up the next morning I knew it: mercury silver spray paint.

Krylon’s Looking Glass spray paint is no ordinary silver paint.  It has a truly magical quality to it and I end up using it in almost every costume or prop I paint.  Just the slightest mist gives it a mysterious, magical, ethereal touch.  I try to always keep a couple cans on hand because I never know when I’ll suddenly need them.

So that morning I took the mask outside and let the paint gently kiss the mask; just enough to give it that magical feeling without taking away the beautiful colors of the paint and flowers.  In the photos below (which are a little blurry, sorry, they were taken on my phone) the top photos show details of the flowers unpainted and the bottom have had their silver wash.

Flowers with and without Looking Glass paint

Flowers with and without Looking Glass paint

I filled a basket with appropriately magical-looking items and herbs but it didn’t make it into the final image.  Oh well.  You can see just a little of the vial necklace I made full of purple stones and beads and the gorgeous amulet/brooch.  Jewel tones just loved Noemi’s beautiful skin tone!

And now I’ll let you see the completely finished image along with some detail shots!  The show trees had just started blooming in the woods and the wild queen anne’s lace was bountiful.  Both made a beautiful, more neutral backdrop against Noemi’s vividly colored mask and costume.

sarahallegra.com

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado - detail

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado – detail

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado - detail

Apprenticeship © Sarah Allegra, model Noemi Regalado – detail

Thanks to Noemi for being so patient through all this!  I’m very glad to have made a new friend though all this 🙂  And I’m very happy with how this turned out!  You’ll all just have to wait a little while longer to see the image where Noemi really proved her devotion to the finished image 😉

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I promised you photos from my opening reception at the Creative Arts Group opening reception and here they are!

Of course I got all caught up experiencing the show to remember to take photos once it really got going, so mostly I have photos of the exhibit itself and a few from Geoff.

IMG_1473IMG_1474We had a pretty good turn-out!  And luckily for my anxiety, I knew most of the people who came fairly well which made it much easier on me.

IMG_1475IMG_1476People seemed to really enjoy getting to see the props and costumes up close and realize they really weren’t Photoshopped.  Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with using Photoshop, I certainly do, frequently and heavily to make the impossible possible, but when I’ve put month and months of work into something, it’s an important distinction.

IMG_1480

Me with the dress and flower footprints from Spring’s Awakening – and my awesome, retro-deer-print dress

IMG_1373IMG_1477

Antlers from Where Black Stars Rise

Antlers from Where Black Stars Rise

Chest piece from Where Black Stars Rise

Chest piece from Where Black Stars Rise

Our old neighbors, Donna and John, showed up, which was really lovely.  It’s been hard on everyone to have suddenly gone from seeing each other every day to every few weeks, so it was great to be able to have them hang out for a little while and gossip about really important topics like Game of Thrones.

John, me and Donna

John, me and Donna

I was completely exhausted afterward and crashed very hard the next day… and a couple after that too.  But it was good to have had the reception and I’m glad it happened, even if I paid for it later.

IMG_1488Maynard crawled up on me after I got home and laid on my chest, giving me sweet little kitty kisses.  I took a photo because he was being so adorable and also to document the fact that I DO still know how to apply makeup, I just don’t bother expending energy on it regularly 😉  I have better things to do with the precious little I have.

It’s been a little while since I posted a new image, and part of that is because I’ve been hard at work getting ready for the show, then recovering, then I was helping Geoff with a really fantastic short film he made.  Are you a sci fi fan?  Like stories about dystopian futures?  Give it a view!  It’s a really cool, original concept which I’m proud to have my name attached to.

Frontiers posterNow… on to my new image!

My good friend Danica is a horse trainer and I discovered she had a cream-colored gypsy vanner stallion named Booger staying with her for a few weeks.  Booger was only going to be with her for a short time, so I quickly rallied Katie and got a shoot scheduled.  Booger perfectly fit a series of images I’ve been wanting to shoot for years, but they required not only a horse, but an extremely specific-looking horse.  Luckily, Booger fit the bill!

Those images will be coming later.  For the mean time, I wanted to make as much use of him as possible, so we shot quite a few concepts.  This one was Katie’s idea, sort of a companion piece to this self portrait I shot, also on a horse (Freddie, who is extremely laid-back) belonging to Danica:

Where Dreams And Shadows Lie © Sarah Allegra

Where Dreams And Shadows Lie © Sarah Allegra

Booger did such a good job!  He’s only about two, a baby in horse years, and he had never modeled before.  It required a lot of fast thinking, re-adjusting and everyone being on their toes, but we got some really wonderful shots!  This is just the first of several which you’ll see; the others will be released as I get to them.

Thanks to Katie and Danica (who really did an incredible job of wrangling an untrained young stallion into doing the weird things we were asking of him), Booger’s owner for letting us photograph him, and especially to Booger for being such a great first-time model!  Many smooches and apples to you, my friend 🙂

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model - Katie Johnson

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model – Katie Johnson

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model - Katie Johnson - detail

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model – Katie Johnson – detail

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model - Katie Johnson - detail

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model – Katie Johnson – detail

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model - Katie Johnson - detail.  Look at those feathery legs!!  :D

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model – Katie Johnson – detail

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model - Katie Johnson - detail

Safely Through The Shadows © Sarah Allegra, model – Katie Johnson – detail

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I have had this image in my head for about four or five years and the timing was just never quite right for it.  Thankfully, since I’ve been working with the multi-talented Travis Weinand, I had the chance to do it the way I’d been picturing it for so long!

Are you all familiar with the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989?  I’ll give you a rough summary of events.  Some of the details still remain repressed though, such as the number of people actually killed, but I’ll do my best.

In April of 1989, the death of Hu Yaobang, the former Communist Party General Secretary triggered massive protests calling for political reform.  The protests began peacefully and were led mostly by university students, who gathered in Tiananmen Square to mourn and protest.  This went on for several weeks and some of the students took to hunger strikes to express their desire for reform.  Since the entire incident has been so thoroughly repressed, it’s hard to get an inside take on what was happening in the minds of the Chinese government – you can’t very well ask about an event which never officially happened.

However, after the protests went on for weeks and showed no signs of slowing, Chinese leaders decided force was called for to disperse the protesters.  Marshall law was declared, approximately 250,000 troops were sent in; given permission to use lethal force if necessary.

And, as is so often the case, once lethal force has been approved, means for using it will be found.

By June 5th, the heavily outnumbered and out-armed protesters had been largely slaughtered.  Exact numbers remain unknown; official records report 200-300 died; earlier reports fro the Chinese Red Cross on the morning of the 4th recorded 2,600 deaths, which was later retracted.  Regardless, the students stood no chance against an armed and deadly militia with orders to make them go away, whatever it took.

And then we come to June 5th.

After weeks of unrest leading to a brutally bloody and deadly fever pitch, by the 5th, one man, at least, had had enough.  As the tanks came rolling into the square to continue to get rid of the protestors, one man made his stand in a way which still shocks and awes people today.

With nothing more than a few shopping bags in his hands, he stood in the tanks’ path and forced them to stop.  The tanks tried to maneuver around him, he stepped back in front of them.  After the massacre he had surely witnessed over the past several days, this goes beyond mere heroism.  This was fearlessness.  He was angry, and no matter that the tanks could have kept rolling and ran him over, or they could have chosen to shoot him as soon as he came into view, he stood.  And for minutes, a single man stopped an entire line of tanks.

At one point he even climbs on top of the tank, bangs on it and demands to speak to the person in charge.  After a few minutes, a group of people, who seem to be protesters also, join him and hustle him out of the way, probably fearing, with good reason, for his life.

No one knows who this man is.  The world has called him Tank Man, a fitting name.  We don’t know what happened to him.  Was he arrested, was he killed, or did he simply never know the incredible impact his act of sheer bravery had on the world?  With the extend to which the massacre has been suppressed in China, it’s quite possible he never knew his act was recorded or that it became famous.  I would love to know what happened to him, but so far no one has come forward claiming to be Tank Man or knowing who he is.

One man against a line of tanks.  He knew the events of the days before and how deadly the protests had become.  He knew that he would likely be shot or run over.

But his one act of peaceful, quiet defiance stopped an army.

That is what I wanted to celebrate in my image with Travis.  I wrapped a mantle of white flowers around his shoulders, both to symbolize purity and peace, which we typically associate them with in America, and also for its association with death in the Chinese culture.  I instructed Travis to be quietly, peacefully strong, but unshakeable, and rolled up a piece of craft foam into a tube to shoot the image through, as if you were looking down the barrel of the tank at him.  I climbed a ladder to get a view where I’d be higher up than Travis (not as easy as you’d think since he’s so tall and I’m so short!) and shot away.  Travis perfectly embodied the exact emotion and look that I’d asked for.  It doesn’t get better than that.

I hope that Tank Man is alive and well.  I hope that he knows the impact his defiance had on the world.  I hope we discover some day who he is.  Until then, he will be Tank Man, the many who stopped an army.

Tank Man © Sarah Allegra

Tank Man © Sarah Allegra

Tank Man © Sarah Allegra - detail

Tank Man © Sarah Allegra – detail

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As so often happens with DreamWorld, the inspiration for this set of images came close to a year ago.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother series © Sarah Allegra, model: Dedeker Winston

Last summer, I had recently watched some of the BBC’s episodes of Life, their truly excellent series on all kinds of wildlife.  I was watching it while I edited other images (I rarely watch TV without doing a second activity, unless we’re talking about shows like True Detective, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Rectify, etc, which all demand my full attention) but my editing suddenly halted when this segment came on.

I remember backing it up and watching the whole piece again, mesmerized, deeply touched and saddened by such complete, beautiful devotion from any creature to another.  As I watched it a third time, I knew a photo was going to come out of it somehow… it was resonating too deeply with me for anything else to happen.

Now, as to how the medieval elements worked themselves in… I can only give you guesses since I’m not really sure how my brain made the jump myself.  I know that part of it had to do with wanting to give her eight “tentacles” of some kind (which made its way into her hair) and wanting to give her a pouch to carry her eggs in.  For some reason, I thought of a kirtle, a medieval garment which lasted for several centuries.  The kind I was picturing were from, I believe, earlier on in the medieval period and looked more like what we might think of as over-dresses or fancy aprons.

A kirtle from a modern pattern by Burda.

A red kirtle from a modern pattern by Burda.

Researching medieval garments inevitably led to medieval hair… images like these set my brain whirling.

You can see how the braided and wrapped hair, along with beautiful headdresses leaked into my character.

As usual, I wasn’t sure how I was going to do this when I started into it.

I had a longish, dark brown wig which I’d bought very cheaply quite a while ago.  When it arrived, I realized why it had been so cheap; it was already snarled and tangled before I’d even taken it out of the package.  I halfheartedly attempted to work the same wide-tooth comb I use for my own often snarled and tangly hair and quickly realized it was a futile endeavor.  I tossed the wig into the back of the closet and mostly forgot about it.

When this project came up, I remembered it though.  Even though it poofed up like a drying poodle as I combed it, that would work in this case, since I’d be wrapping it up and looping it around.  I spent most of one afternoon just combing it out – not detangling it, mind you; there was never any hope of this wig being tangle-free.  My best hope was to get it to the point where I could separate it into eight segments.  It took all the strength in my arms and they were very unhappy with me for the next few days, but I managed to do it.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

In the meantime, I had discovered arm knitting, which I found I could do without a) using much brain power, b) quickly c) without using much muscle power and d) it had very pretty and interesting results.  The resulting squares and shapes I made from the looping yarn had such a beautiful, organic look, almost like a coral reef or some other under-sea plant/creature, that it felt completely at home with an aquatic-inspired creature.

After the combing session, I put the wig away for a day or two.  I brought it out again after my arms had regained a little strength.  Of course this also meant that it had had a couple days left completely on its own without any outside help to start tangling again, so I spent a little time re-combing it to get it back to a manageable state.  I quickly arm-knit a band of yarn which would form the circlet of my headdress and made sure it would fit.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

Then I divided it into eight more-or-less equal segments and put a hair band around each one to help keep them from getting into too much trouble.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

I put the circlet of yarn back on top of the hair and began crisscrossing the yarn (which was a beautiful, slightly metallic variegated blend of soft pinks, blues,  lavenders and silvers) over the different segments, using liberal help from my glue gun to keep everything in check.  Each segment was attached back up to the main part of the circlet after its crisscrossing was done.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

The two front, face-framing sections of hair were left for last.  I added some looping pieces of yarn between the other segments to make it more headdress-like.  The front segments got crisscrossed with their own lengths of yarn and were then attached to the very back of the circlet, forming two large loops on either side of the face, with hair tentacles hanging underneath them.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

Then was the fun part: beads!  I raided my bead stash, with an eye toward pieces from a very elaborate headdress I’d made which had recently died, spilling beads all over the floor.  I knew there were some really cool pieces which I’d used for it, so I repurposed them again in this piece.  I didn’t want it to be overwhelmingly be-jeweled and sparkly, just enough bling to make the character look a bit important; perhaps some kind of royalty.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

Moving on to her dress, I had a high-necked, sleeveless, pink chiffon dress from Ebay which I’d gotten for little more than a song.  Pink isn’t a color I’m usually drawn to that much, but since the original octopus was pink, my character was going to be pink too.  I kind of eyeballed the general shape of a kirtle from ivory tulle; a lot was going to happen to it and since it was so light and transparent, it didn’t need to be perfectly symmetrical.

I free-styled a yoke for the kirtle with more arm knitting and added some cap sleeves (which are only visible in some of the images unfortunately).  One thing I was finding with the arm knitting was that is is EXTREMELY forgiving.  Arm you within an atom bomb’s range of what you were going for?  Then it will probably work!

To unify the costume and also enhance the organic, oceanic feel, I arm knitted a piece for the bottom of the kirtle, basically a large triangle, and two smaller, upside-down triangles for either side of the egg pouch.  I left several yarn strings loose from the pouch triangles which would be used to tie the kirtle behind the back of the dress, just like a regular apron.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

The eggs were leftover from a shoot I did with Paul Telfer as the Sleeper’s Sentinel.  I’d had to buy a dozen of the super-large plastic eggs so I had PLENTY to use for other shoots!  I kept these fairly simple since there would be a lot going on visually in the images; I started with spray-painting a base coat of a semi-metallic light gold color and added flecks of bronze-black to make them look more like real eggs.  Repeat until they look right.  I knew I’d only need five or six eggs, since that was as many as would fit in the pouch I’d made so I didn’t waste any time painting extra eggs.

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra - behind the scenes

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra – behind the scenes

I did do one thing to just one egg though…  I found a nail and a hammer and while the egg was still in two pieces, I hammered a hole through from the inside out.  Some sharp knives, pliers and more hammering later, I’d created what looked like a fracture in the egg from a chick inside starting to hatch.  Eggs = done!

I’d had my faithful model Dedeker Winston in mind for this character the whole time.  I usually cast characters in the same way I create them, just by what “feels right.”  I had not consciously remembered it, but it turned out there was a really wonderful real-world reason to have Dedeker play the octopus-mother caring for her eggs.  Dedeker has been an egg donor many times to couples who are unable to have children on their own.  In fact, one family has two children, both from Dedeker’s eggs, and they just requested a third!  It’s very unusual for a family to have so many children from the same donor, but I think it’s really lovely that all of their children will be linked in this extra way.  And clearly Dedeker produces really fantastic babies!  🙂  Once I remembered that, it felt truly serendipitous that we were shooting this character together.

I knew that my wig was several shades darker than Dedeker’s hair and I had a couple thoughts on how to deal with it.  I knew she had a dark brown wig of her own which we could layer under mine, or we could totally cover all of her hair with a wig cap.  In the end though, she simply twirled her hair into a low bun, I set the wig on top of her head and since there was so much going on with the hair, it looked completely natural and blended right in.  If you looked closely, you could see that some of the hairs on her forehead were a bit lighter than the rest of her head, but I matched them up in about 30 seconds in Photoshop.  Sometimes the simplest method is the best!

We set out on a morning last summer to capture these shots of the character I’ve dubbed the Pink Mother.  We got started early and the sun was already blazing; it promised to be a miserably hot day but at the moment it was still pleasant.  I started shooting Dedeker in a dryer, dustier, yellower scene and led her along a path which gradually got greener and lusher, mirroring the octopus’ journey to find the perfect environment for her eggs to be born into.  The color pallet moved from warm and vivid to cool and less saturated, especially in regards to the Pink Mother herself.  As she nears death, the paler she becomes until the last shot, where she is very white.

She sacrificed everything she had for her eggs.  She loved them, cared for them, caressed them.  She journeyed over countless miles to find a safe, green place for them to be born.  Though it cost her everything, she never hesitated.  And, it seems, her journey was worth it.  The cracks in the eggs prove her right.  They were brought forth from the deepest love there is, and that can only be the best start to these new beings.

So thank you to Dedeker for being my medieval octopus mother and letting me share your story about your own eggs!  And thank you for trusting my vision even if it seemed questionable at the time 😉  You were the perfect, purest-loving mother to those babies!

And now enjoy the full images, some detail shots and behind-the-scenes captures!

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra - detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra – detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra - detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra – detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra - detail

A Journey Into Strange Lands © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra - detail

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra – detail

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra - detail

The Air Of A Quest About Her © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Migration's Imminent End © Sarah Allegra

Migration’s Imminent End © Sarah Allegra

Migration's Imminent End © Sarah Allegra - detail

Migration’s Imminent End © Sarah Allegra – detail

Migration's Imminent End © Sarah Allegra - detail

Migration’s Imminent End © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra - detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra – detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra - detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra – detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra - detail

Her Last Act Of Devotion © Sarah Allegra – detail

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

The Pink Mother © Sarah Allegra

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

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lady Death cape from start to finish

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

 

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

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

Bonnet construction

Bonnet construction

 

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

Bonnet decorating

Bonnet decorating – Maynard offering to help

 

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

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

Lady Death

Bird skeleton

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

Calantha modeling Lady Death's cape

Calantha modeling Lady Death’s cape

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

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

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

Calantha models the bonnet

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

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

Lady Death, by Sarah Allegra

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra - detail

Lady Death © Sarah Allegra – detail

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

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

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Well.  You may remember from my last post that I was talking about taking a bit of a vacation because I’ve been almost constantly sick for over two months – sick on top of any fibro or ME stuff,  I mean.  Ironically, the day I woke up and posted that, I quickly realized I was coming down with yet another cold which turned into strep throat this time.  It’s only been about 9 months since the last time I had strep throat.  Since my health has been so incredibly sub-par recently, I realized pretty quickly it was turning into strep and got myself to urgent care (again) for antibiotics (again).  Last time I had strep, I let it go for a while before I realized what it was, so I was pretty much dying every time I breathed or swallowed.  While I was certainly uncomfortable this time, it wasn’t nearly as horrific as the last episode, so I’m thankful for that.

I am just finishing up my last antibiotics today, so while I’ve been resting to get over the strep throat, I did not take the “vacation” I was planning on taking.  At this point I think I’ll try and start it now… it’s not 100% ideal since I have two appointments this week (which for me is about as many “things” as I can put into a week) but I feel like I really need to just focus on this resting up and recuperating as soon as  I can to prevent more illnesses.  I’ll probably extend it a little longer than I’d originally planned on also, but again, I think it’s very, very called for.

I saw my new ear/nose/throat doctor last Friday since I’d about exhausted my regular doctor’s knowledge of what could be going on with my crazy, absurd body this time.  The new doctor had bloodwork done to test for allergies and (assuming I can stay relatively healthy) he’s going to do a CT scan of my head in the next couple weeks to see what’s up with my sinuses, among other things.  The idea is to have the scan done while I’m at my “baseline” and not sick with anything new, so that adds another level of needing to stay quiet, rest and be healthy.

And did I mention pain spikes in the last post?  OH MY GOD, pain spikes.  And migraines.  Serious, grabbing-your-brain-in-a-vice, I-am-not-fucking-around migraines.  It was all enough that my pain specialist added a new, stronger pain medication to my collection of pills.  Do I win a prize if I collect enough pills?  Is it like Pokemon?

Today I feel well enough to write this, so I’m trying to knock it out before my energy wears off.  I’m still planning on being a little less active online than has been typical for me in the past (and of course I was VERY inactive while I was in the grip of strep) so please continue to bear with me as I work on improving my health.  I will not be intentionally ignoring or neglecting anyone.  I would much, much rather be happy and chipper and be able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, but that’s not the way things are right now.  Please don’t take any unresponsiveness on my part personally; I just may not be on the computer that day, or a migraine might not allow me to open my eyes, etc.  Regardless, it won’t be you, it’ll be me.

I did have one photo that was all ready to go, and one which doesn’t require a ton of promotion as others sometimes do.  So I’ll slip this one quietly online then go about my resting and vacationing and watching endless cat videos on YouTube through the TV.  (How amazing is it that you can watch YouTube on your TV now??  I love that!)

This image is a new DreamWorld photo, featuring the ever-wonderful Katie Johnson. It gives us a glimpse of a human girl who has been given a sleeping draught of some kind which sent her into a deep, silent slumber… who gave it to her and for what purpose are a mystery.  The billowing blue smoke tells me that something important is about to happen; perhaps a new creature will make itself manifest!  We may find out more in a later image.

We shot this… gosh, at least several months ago, though it may have been longer than that.  A while is safe to say.  I’m wearing a sweater and scarf in the behind-the-scenes photo so it was definitely NOT recently as California has been doing its best impression of the scorching depths of hell the last few months.  This is actually in my front yard (I love it when I can shoot without driving anywhere!).  There are some marvelously old trees here, and this one had a delightfully curly branch which Katie gracefully draped herself over.  It took a little maneuvering on her part to get into position without sliding right off due to the slippery fabric of the dress she’s wearing, but Katie is a pro and didn’t let that stop her.  I lit a few blue smoke bombs in my “smoke bomb bucket” and tried to scurry around, spreading the smoke generously through the frame to composite together later.  It took a number of smoke bombs and careful placement, but I was able to get pretty much all the background covered up and filled any holes in Photoshop.

Sleeping Draught - spreading blue smoke

Sleeping Draught – spreading blue smoke.  Also, ignore the way Katie’s dress is pooching strangely; I can promise you it has to do with the unusual cut of the dress and does not reflect Katie’s body 🙂

So please enjoy this latest DreamWorld photo and the detail shots below!  Thanks to Katie for always being up for all my crazy ideas and for being able to look so serene and beautiful while pretend-sleeping on an uncomfortable tree branch!  Now if I could get my hands on this sleeping draught, I think my resting would be a lot more healing and easier to handle!  Lastly, please don’t feel like you can’t talk to me or interact with me while I’m “vacationing;” I’m sure to get lonely, I just might not get back to you as quickly as I’d like depending on how the day is going.  Thanks to everyone for your support and encouragement!

Sleeping Draught

Sleeping Draught

Sleeping Draught - detail

Sleeping Draught – detail

Sleeping Draught - detail

Sleeping Draught – detail

Sleeping Draught - detail

Sleeping Draught – detail

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