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

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

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

 

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

 

And it still clings.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra

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

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

 

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - details

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – details

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra - detail

Like A Storm © Sarah Allegra – detail

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I may have mentioned before that I often have the TV on while I’m editing.  It has to be the right kind of show; something I can mostly listen to and just glance at periodically, it has to be interesting without being too engaging.  I end up watching a lot of documentaries, nature, science and history shows.  I also catch a lot of shows about the paranormal; I love stretching my imagination entertaining the ideas they present whether or not I think they might actually be true.  Often these shows have a benefit beyond simply enhancing my editing time; I learn new things, I expose myself to new ideas.  And sometimes I learn about problems in the world and I want to do something to try and help fix whatever is wrong.

Details from today's images

Details from today’s images

I’ve known for some time about the terrible future the wild lions in Africa are facing.  Poaching and habitat loss have killed off about 80% of their population in the last 20 years.  Sadly, the traits humans find most beautiful about lions are also the things that make them genetically stronger, which means not only are people driving lions to the edge of extinction, but the lions which are left are weaker and less able to survive.

There are approximately 20,000 wild lions left in the world now.  This is a drop in the bucket from 450,000 about 30 years ago.  If nothing changes, lions could become extinct within the next decade.

Can you imagine a world without lions?  The fragile ecosystem which would be thrown into chaos by their loss?  A world where children would grow up never seeing the majestic animals?  Where lions would seem as unreal to them as dinosaurs?  Telling your child that yes, these animals all once roamed the land, but now they are gone forever.

And it is because of humans that lions are teetering on the edge of this chasm.

If people are the cause of their destruction, we have a moral obligation to try and save them.  As my close, personal friend Rustin Cohle would say, we have a debt to pay.

As is my usual first course of action, I decided to address the problem with photography.  As I began building the concept in my head, I realized it would fit in well with DreamWorld.  While most of the land is beautiful and verdant, there are less lush areas and also touches of actual evil.

It was at this time that I came across Travis Weinand.  Travis is a multi-talented transplant from Philadelphia; he models, of course, acts, sings and plays bass in his really great heavy metal band Burden (seriously, I genuinely like their music!  Give it a listen!) illustrates and paints beautiful images, he’s been a tattoo artist and has been competing in the last several seasons of American Ninja Warrior.  Travis has promised to show me how to make my voice sound evil like I’m singing in a metal band and I’m going to show him how to levitate… in a photo at least 🙂  ANW isn’t something I’d seen much of; I quickly discovered it’s really physically demanding; here’s a short video from Travis to impress your socks off:

Travis’s physical strength, size (he’s 6′ 5″, so anybody seeing us walking together must have gotten a chuckle since I am all of 4′ 11″) and blond hair made him feel like a perfect lion-man.  I decided to make a mane headdress, something more symbolic of a mane rather than something that was trying to perfectly replicate what a lion’s mane looked like.  I had some really lovely blue and brown metallic yarn that I’d gotten on sale and wasn’t sure what I was going to do with, which seemed like a good place to start.  Since Travis has brilliantly blue eyes, I decided to work some blue into the mane; this was a metaphoric mane, I decided I could bend the color rules a little.

Various amounts of blue yarn and other colors braided together

Various amounts of blue yarn and other colors braided together

It happened that, of course, I got sick again while I was getting ready for the shoot – I think I’ve told you guys this but apparently my body has decided that it’s going to have a cold every 2-3 weeks until I have sinus surgery to stop its evil plan.  My surgery is November 4th (wish me luck!) and I am so eager to have it done with.  I’m really looking forward to a time when I can go more than a few weeks without getting sick on top of already being chronically sick.

That has, of course, been very draining, but knitting is one of those activities that you can do (if you’re making up your own pattern anyway) without engaging very much of your brain.  It’s also quite soothing, the repetitive motions over and over again, and once I got through the really feverish first couple days of the cold it was a relief to have something I could work on and feel a little bit productive about.  So a lot of braiding and arm-knitting happened while I was well enough to be bored but not well enough to do much of anything else.  Above, you see the braided loops I made with varying amounts of a brighter blue yarn worked into the rest.

The under-mane

The under-mane, loops attached

Lion’s manes are typically darker close to the skin with the hair lightening as it gets longer.  I made the “under-mane” from the original blue and brown yard that had started the whole idea, arm-knitting a general idea of the shape I wanted.  I hand-tacked some of the braided pieces around the bottom to hang down decoratively.

The... main... mane

The… main… mane

The, uh, main mane was also arm-knitted, into a similar shape, but fuller and more expanded toward the bottom.  I love this brand of yarn.  I want to arm-knit everything right now.  It has such a beautifully organic look when it’s finished, even if you’re making it up as you go!

Ruffs

Ruffs

Lion manes are often majestically full right over the center of their chests, so I quickly knit up a couple filler-pieces to give extra fullness to Travis’ mane.  You’ll notice that one is a little bigger than the other.  The official reason is because it’s natural for there to be a slight asymmetry to any kind of animal markings or fur.  The real reason is because I’d run out of yarn and didn’t have money to go buy another skein.  Plus, I didn’t think it would really show in the final images, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

The beginning of a mock-up

The beginning of a mock-up

I’m including this photo because for one, Aly gave me the unicorn-on-a-stick toy so I wanted her to see it is being used and loved, and also because it just really looks ridiculous 🙂  I needed to build up a shape that was going to let me see how the mane would actually be hanging and my regular foam head wouldn’t nearly do the job.  Not only because it’s far too short and becomes unstable if I pile it high on a lot of other objects (I know this from experience) but I needed the mane to spread out so I could really see it.  So this is the unicorn-on-a-stick sandwiched between the end of my bed and the blue dresser at the end of my bed, wrapped up with a very fluffy pink bathrobe which is so long that I use it as a blanket.  In the next photo you’ll see another bathrobe draped over the unicorn’s head to give it more a human-head shape.  There’s a method to all the madness.

And if anyone is wondering, the cardboard box is there for the cats (mostly Maynard) to lay in and the big pile in the background is my Costume/Fabric/Backdrop Pile.  I’m working on a better way to store it all.  There are only so many hours in a day.

First draping

First draping

I’d been planning to braid the mane into Travis’ actual hair, which is cut in a very cool undercut style which makes me think of Jimmy from Boardwalk Empire.  I seem to be leaving a hole in the middle of the mane; that’s on purpose to allow for Travis’ hair.  You can see the under-mane some and I’d started adding extra braided bits which just hung down.

Finsihed!

Finished!

And here it is all done!  Braided loops, hanging braids, front ruffs; it’s all there.  It’s probably hard to picture how it will eventually look, but don’t worry, you’ll see very soon 🙂

I had come across some boulders in one of my walks (my doctor’s suggestion of a safe exercise for me right now, which makes me sad when I think about all the yoga, Pilates and ballet I used to do.  I like to do the walks in nature since that makes it much more interesting and enjoyable).

The plants around it, which had been brilliantly green in spring were now brown and dying, so it felt like the perfect setting for my Last Lion, as I am calling this new DreamWorld character.

I imagine that the Last Lion had a vast kingdom once where his people thrived.  During the Yellow King’s grab for power, his people and land suffered greatly when they stood up against the Yellow King.  They are fighters.  And though the Yellow King is now banished, he did real harm to the land and its people before he left.

They are fighters.  They have been greatly wounded and they could vanish forever and be a mere memory in DreamWorld as the lions could be in our world… but I think they’ll prevail.  They have not been beaten yet.

And if you would like to help our world’s lions, look into the Big Cat Initiative.  They have a really solid plan of how to get the lions back on their feet while still keeping the farmers and cattle in the region safe, promoting harmony between them.  Another very quick, simple yet effective way is to add your name to any or all of the petitions below, all working toward protecting lions from extinction:

http://www.change.org/p/save-african-lions-from-extinction-by-listing-them-as-an-endangered-species

http://www.ifaw.org/united-states/node/92726/

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/save-lions-from-extinction/

Harmony between man and nature.  It’s such a common theme in DreamWorld, and one we need more of in this world.

Please enjoy the Last Lion images below and consider signing a couple petitions and joining the Big Cat Initiative!

Lost Pride

Lost Pride © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride detail © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride detail © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride detail © Sarah Allegra

Lost Pride detail © Sarah Allegra

 

Dying Trophies © Sarah Allegra

Dying Trophies © Sarah Allegra

 

Dying Trophies detail © Sarah Allegra

Dying Trophies detail © Sarah Allegra

 

You can look forward to seeing more of Travis soon!  I’m very excited about using his incredible physicality strategically in images; he can do things for real which I’d normally have to rely on Photoshop for.  Should be fun!  Thanks, Travis!  And thanks to all my readers 🙂

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Don’t forget!  The Modern Fantasy Summit featuring Peter S. Beagle, George R. R. Martin and my art (as well as the art of others’) will be exhibited tomorrow, the 25th, at the Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe, New Mexico!  See my last post for more info about it.  I would kill to be able to see those two interview each other live!  And if anyone can get some snapshots of my pieces up on the wall, I will love you forever 🙂

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A few days ago when I posted my recent photo, Where The Earth Meets The Sky, reader Addie Talley requested a behind-the-scenes look at how I’d edited the image.  Since I’d been meaning to do more videos like that anyway, it seemed like the perfect occasion!

Please check out the video I made below!

I’d like to mention that this is another example of not needing expensive props or costumes to create something special.  Planning and hard work, yes, but money, no.

And also… happy photography birthday to me!  I’ve been shooting for four years as of today 🙂  I think I will celebrate by trying to kick the cold I’ve come down with.  Champagne has to be good for you when you’re sick; it kills germs, right?  🙂

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky – click to follow the link and see me much larger!

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First post of 2014!

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

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

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

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

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

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Checking my hair for edibility; sorry, buck.

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Sadly, my coat is also not edible.

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

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

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

Little Jewels

Little Jewels

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

A cellphone snap of our wigwam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

front

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

side

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

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

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky

Where Earth Meets The Sky - detail.

Where Earth Meets The Sky – detail

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

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

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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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