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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’ve talked to you guys about Rectify beforeRectify, Sundance Channel’s dreamy, introspective show about Daniel Holden who  was convicted of a crime when he was 18 and spent the last 19 years on death row.  New DNA evidence has emerged which frees him from prison, but he is not exonerated.  He is sent back into the lion’s den of Paulie, Georgia, a fictional small town where everyone has been steeped in this crime for the past two decades and everyone has an opinion on Daniel’s guilt or innocence.

Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

It is an absolutely brilliant show.  I’ve met a lot of other fans online and they are truly some of the most rabid, enthusiastic people you could imagine.  Much of this is due to how original Rectify is.  It moves at its own pace, intentionally slower and more deliberate than most current shows.  It gives its characters time to breathe and allow us to learn much about them in moments which would be smaller in another show; Daniel’s magical wonder at watching and feeling the feathers from his pillow after having not seen or felt a single one in 19 years.  The writing is incredible and uses silence just as loudly and profoundly as the most eloquently-written speech.  The characters are all given fair treatment; there are no black and white “good guys” and “bad guys.”  They are all just people trying to do their best.

And the casting… my god, there are no words.  It is just perfect.  Perfect in every single way.  There are no weak links anywhere.  From the leading roles, Daniel’s family, to what could be considered “small” parts – Chet, the bookstore owner, played by Brian Bremer, or Marcy, the waitress, played by Kim Wall; every single one is a real person and the talent of the actors makes them big.  You wish you could invite these people over for dinner.  Much praise has been heaped upon the lead actors, and every bit of it is well deserved, but even the people you only get glimpses of are perfect.  Bruce McKinnon, playing Daniel’s step-father Ted Sr. reminds me so much of my late grandfather, I wish I could hug him.  Kerwin, played by Johnny Ray Gill, will change your life.  I don’t have enough space here to list every actor and describe how wonderful they are; you’ll have to just watch it for yourself.

Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

Another thing I adore about Rectify is the heavy use of symbolism, metaphor and philosophy.  I talked about this more in my first post about Rectify, so I’ll just touch on the broad strokes.  The first season is six episodes long, with each episode covering one day.  This brings to mind the seven days of creation in the Bible and how God created man on the sixth day.  The mysterious Goat Man… is he representing God wrestling with Jacob or Satan tempting Jesus in the desert?  Or both?  Guilt and innocence, sin and salvation are recurring themes.  As you watch, you pick up more and more tidbits of metaphor, making the story that much richer.

It is a genuinely original and remarkable show, especially compared to everything else on TV right now.  I consider myself a Rectify pusher, as almost everyone I know personally who is a fan of the show started watching it because I insisted they give it a try.  And I will recommend the same thing to you 🙂  Season one is streaming on Netflix.  Season two, given a whole 10 episodes, just finished, but I imagine it will find its way to Netflix soon.  Rectify’s thoughtful pace is seriously ramped up at the end of episode five… I usually recommend to people that they only watch episode five when they can go straight ahead to six, because you will be dying to.

Jayson Warner Smith as Wendall in Rectify. Image copyright of Sundance Channel.

Most of the Rectify cast can be found on Twitter and they have all proven to be extremely friendly and happy to interact with fans (time permitting, of course; they still have lives).  I’ve given them all a standing invitation to come join DreamWorld any time they’d like, which may happen soon to my delight!  Over the course of chatting with some of the lovely actors from the show, I got to know Jayson Warner Smith a bit, who plays Wendall; Daniel’s creepy, sinister neighboring inmate.  At first I was almost afraid to talk to him because Wendall is so… well, Wendall.  But Jayson is just an absolutely lovely person who is nothing like Wendall.  He is an actor, after all 🙂  Here’s a great video highlighting some of Wendall’s best/worst moments from season one.  You’ll also see Daniel Holden, played by Aden Young, and Kerwin Whitman, played by Johnny Ray Gill.

I asked Jayson if he would mind doing an interview for my blog and he was kind enough to say yes and take time out of his schedule to answer my questions!  Jayson is currently living in Atlanta though he lived in Hollywood for two years.  He’s also well-versed in both stage and screen acting, though I haven’t had the chance to watch him perform live yet!  Read on for the interview, then I’ll tell you about my latest image which was Rectify-inspired.

 

*****

 

1. Do you have a favorite role that you’ve played?

Bobby Gould in Speed the Plow on stage in ATL. Love the Mamet language. Oh and Jack in The Weir also on stage in ATL.

2. I was impressed to find out you’re a musician as well as an actor!  Do you have any part in writing the songs?

I wrote the two on my site. Those were recorded with an iPhone at a party. Turned out pretty well. I seem to work best with a deadline it seems. I had to have them done in a month for this party.

3. If a horrible world existed where you could only practice music or acting, assuming they paid the same, which would you pick?

Ha. They both do pay the same right now.

Acting. I’m not disciplined enough to be a musician.

4. What would your dream acting role be?  It can be anything, including parts from movies which already exist.

That depends on so many things. The best experience would be working with super talented collaborative people. To have a role in that setting that the audience completely empathizes with.

Also, Elwood P Dowd in Harvey.

5. Do you have a favorite way to get into character, or does it vary from role to role?

That’s a novel. Sorry.

6. What is one thing you’d like your fans to know about you?

I’m just a regular guy. And I love F1. Go McLaren!

7. What music do you find yourself listening to frequently, and what shows are you sure to never miss?

Pandora has become my soundtrack. It rotates from Lyle Lovett to Rufus Wainright to The Shins to Blitzen Trapper to Radiohead to Avett Brothers to Sigur Ros etc.

TV? Mad Men, Top Gear (UK), Cosmos, Halt and Catch Fire, Downton, Justified.

8. I thought it was great that you participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (and you were so smart in how you performed it!)  Are there any causes you’re passionate about?

Just the Boy Scouts. I am an Eagle Scout and it made me a better person. It’s a shame that all of this political mess has gotten involved lately. Their organization has been trying to please everyone and as a result the whole program is becoming useless. It’s a real shame.

As Bill Cosby is quoted as saying: “I don’t know the key to success but I do know the key to failure – Trying to please everyone.”

9. Does playing Wendall in Rectify leave a film on your soul or are you able to shake him off quickly once the scene is done?

It’s just acting.

10. What do you like best about living in Atlanta that you wouldn’t have living in Los Angeles?

A house.

Hah- absolutely to answer #10!  Thank you, Jayson, so much for taking the time to do this!  It was a pleasure!  Now if we can just get you out to LA just for a little while… 🙂

Now, on to the photo!

Waiting For Paulie

Waiting For Paulie

The title is a play on the name of the town the show takes place in.  I created this just after season two ended – and ended on a very bad cliffhanger too!  Thankfully, season three has been secured or I just would not have known what to do.

I’d been eagerly counting the days for the second season to start and was enthralled with every new episode.  I’ve watched season one probably a dozen times already (I have it on DVD.  I’d also like to state for the record that I watched the entire season in one day; I REALLY love the show).  Season two, with more episodes, was able to expand upon the groundwork laid in season one, but as the show tends to do, it left us with more questions than answers.  I think I held my breath for the entire last half of the finale, which was a magnificent climax to the season.  After watching it though, I felt so sad that this season was over.  I wouldn’t see anything new from these characters for another year.  And they feel like friends to me, not fictional characters; I truly care about them.

After moping around for most of the morning after the finale, I finally decided to channel my impatience into a self portrait, because that’s what I do.  I set out intending just to use the window and have a couple feathers drifting down, reminiscent of Daniel’s experience with his feathers.  But as I worked, nature kept insisting on making herself known in the image.  Before I knew it, ghostly birds were flying everywhere while vines and smoke crept up from the corners.  I didn’t over-think it as I was creating, but as I thought about it afterward, it felt very true to the show.   Life and death.  Dark and light.  Magical moments between the mundane.  Nature and hope triumphing.  Light illuminating the shadows.  It summed up a lot of my feelings for the show in a way I still can’t really put into words.

There are some detail shots below, but if you only take away one message from this post, take this: go watch Rectify right now.  You will not be sorry 🙂

Waiting For Paulie - detail

Waiting For Paulie – detail

 

Waiting For Paulie - detail

Waiting For Paulie – detail

 

Waiting For Paulie - detail

Waiting For Paulie – detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lifeless Life

Lifeless Life

A Drop Of Blood

A Drop Of Blood

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

Concrete Cell

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

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

2014 Calendar

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One of the unexpected perks of being a photographer who often shoots in natural settings is that I have been able to witness some examples of incredible beauty and wonder that I never would have seen if I wasn’t out in it so frequently.  One example of this is the sudden winter that fell over a nearby forest in the middle of summer.  The forest is rich with a certain kind of tree which apparently reproduces in much the same way a dandelions does; growing a downy, fluffy seed which the wind carries far and wide.  I have searched and searched, but I still have no idea what the name of the tree is; if you know, please tell me!  Regardless, the result of the trees was that huge sections of the forest was covered in a magical “snow.”  I couldn’t have asked for a setting more perfect for DreamWorld.

Naturally, I leaped into photographic action.

The first photo of the series featured Dedeker amidst the snow trees.  She carried such a feeling of wonder and awe, much the same as I had felt the first time I saw the snowy landscape.

All Of Winter In A Day

All Of Winter In A Day

All Of Winter In A Day - detail

All Of Winter In A Day – detail

All Of Winter In A Day - detail

All Of Winter In A Day – detail

All Of Winter In A Day - detail

All Of Winter In A Day – detail

The second photo I created was with Katie.  I decided there should be someone who ruled this forever-winter corner of DreamWorld, a benevolent being who would keep things always winter, but it would be a spring-like winter full of life and growth.  I’m sure a lot of my fascination with this idea has to do with the brutal Los Angeles summer we all go through every year, and the fact that heat makes all of my symptoms much worse.  I dread summer every year, and I long for a place where summer could never reach, so the Snow Saint was created.  I wanted her to have a semi-religious quality, something that hinted at a spirituality as well as power over nature.  Katie easily embodied all of these elements at once.  The Snow Saint looks like a queen, like someone to be revered, but also someone you could approach and who would hear your supplications.

Where Summer Dares Not Tread

Where Summer Dares Not Tread - detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread – detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread - detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread – detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread - detail

Where Summer Dares Not Tread – detail

And yes, on both occasions my models and I were shaking “snow” off our clothes and out of our hair for hours, but it was well worth it 🙂

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These photos owe their existence to my dear friend Alex, who has been my “online” friend for about seven years, but crossed over into “real life” friend when he traveled to Wichita to be my Man of Honor at my wedding!  Hi, Alex!!

Alex’s email signature for a while was the following quote, which I found intriguing:

Lo, there do I see my father/ Lo, there do I see my mother and my brothers and my sisters/ Lo, there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning/ Lo, they do call to me they bid me take my place among them in the halls of Valhalla/ Where the brave shall live forever/ Nor shall we mourn but rejoice for those that have died the glorious death.

I learned that it was a Norse prayer, most famously used in the movie 13th Warrior, but very closely based on a real, historic prayer.  Every time I got an email from Alex, I would see a vision of a beautiful, strong Norse girl standing with her dog and staff, their backs to the camera, radiating fearlessness.  It was quite a while before I was able to bring the concept to life with Katie Johnson, and my neighbors’ dog Gus, an extremely handsome Australian Kelpie.

As much as I love using Calantha in my photos, Gus felt like a better portrayal of a Norse dog; something more muscular, with a thicker coat, more suited for guarding and herding.

That staff… I found that huge branch in my yard one day, back when I lived at my previous place.  I stored it in the garage there for well over a year without using it (but knowing it would be perfect for this photo).  And when Geoff and I moved to this house, we actually went to the trouble of bringing the stick with us.

The braids were something I just quickly threw together, but apparently they were greatly enjoyed all day 🙂  Enjoy some detailed shots below!

*I will announce the print giveaway winner as soon as I hear who won it from the people running the giveaway!*

Where The Brave Shall Live Forever

Where The Brave Shall Live Forever

Where The Brave Shall Live Forever - detail

Where The Brave Shall Live Forever – detail

Where The Brave Shall Live Forever - detail

Where The Brave Shall Live Forever – detail

Dreams Of Valhalla

Dreams Of Valhalla

Dreams Of Valhalla - detail

Dreams Of Valhalla – detail

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