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Posts Tagged ‘soul’

Rapeseed's Harvest

This was one of those self portraits that I just HAD to shoot RIGHT THEN or I was going to explode.  It’s actually been a pretty rough couple of months; I’m fighting my way out of another bout of depression that came on for seemingly no reason.  This does happen periodically, so I tried to just give it time and let it pass, it always will eventually… but it’s been clinging like it hasn’t in a long, long time.

As depression progresses, it gets worse, not just additionally, but exponentially.  You can very quickly move from, “Ok, I don’t like this, but I’ll get through it soon,” to “Oh my god, this is going to be the rest of my life, I will never feel joy again ever; what’s even the point of living??” in shockingly short time.

For me, one of the best tools I have against depression and slowly losing my will to live is creating art, especially art that expresses how I’m feeling at the time.  It’s incredibly cathartic.  Working on this self portrait has been a huge help in keeping me sane lately, but the pessimistic side of me wonders if I’ll just be left right where I was before I started it, once I’m totally finished creating it.  I suppose that even if it does, I’ll at least still have a new image in my roster.  It hasn’t helped my depression to know that it’s been so long since I released any new images (there are far too many reasons to get into right now, but it’s been incredibly difficult to find and make time for art lately).

I was thinking about what I would say to accompany this image, which (probably obviously, belongs to both my DreamWorld and Eternal Storms series) and pondering how to explain what long-term clinical depression feels like to those who haven’t experienced it.  It’s not the same as just being sad or upset, it’s a stain on your soul which you can’t ever blot out.  Out, out, damn spot.  A stain which not only looks ugly, but spreads like a cancer and does you actual harm, emotionally, physically and mentally.

Depression, especially when it gets really bad, feels like your brain is beating and gang-raping your soul every day while the rest of the world goes about their business, either not noticing, or at best stopping to take cell phone videos of your torment, but offering no help.  And much like the unjustified stigma and shame victims of abuse feel, people who have trouble with depression and who don’t feel excited about being alive are often subject to the same kinds of judgements.  We must enjoy wallowing in our own emotional filth, or else we’d just get up, dust ourselves off and go be happy, right?  Or, ok, maybe it’s really a chemical imbalance thing; so just take an anti-depressant and let’s all get on with our lives, all right?  And she was wearing a short skirt, so she was asking for it.

I wish it worked like that; I wish it was that easy.  I can’t recall how many medications I’ve tried, not to mention the far, far greater number of alternative healing treatments, supplements, and anything else I could think of.  Some help more than others, but so far nothing has completely cured me.

For anyone wondering, no, I do not believe this bout of depression is really related to the ME.  The ME has been about the same as it has been since my injections kicked in, so there haven’t been any recent changes on that front.  It definitely doesn’t help anything, but I don’t believe it’s the cause.

Depression lays a gray film over your life.  Everything appears bleak and hopeless.  There’s no point to trying, no point to doing anything.  And there’s also the honest, nothing-to-do-with-depression frustration of having to be your own guinea pig as you try different treatments, often with horrible, horrible side effects, which may or may not stop after you discontinue the medication.  It’s been recommended that I add a psychiatrist to my team of doctors (I have a wonderful therapist, but she’s a psychologist, so she can’t prescribe medication) which I’m not looking forward to.  My depressive mind doesn’t want to go through the bother of more appointments, more co-pays, more explaining my symptoms and feeling judged, more trying new medications will probably make everything worse before it even might get better.  My rational mind says I should try it anyway, but I’m not looking forward to it.

So, back to talking about this image.  I chose the title even knowing it might ruffle some feathers, because I honestly don’t feel like there’s a better way to explain it to those who have been fortunate enough to never be so depressed that they feel they can’t go on another day.  It is your mind raping your soul, verbally abusing you, telling you you’re worthless, a horrible person, undeserving of love or bothering another person by asking them for help.  It’s a prison only you can see and feel; a prison you both hate and are afraid to leave, because it’s all you’ve known for so long.  (My first memories of what was clearly depression are from my early teens, but I wonder if the terrible anxiety and nightmares I endured since I was a very young child were a precursor to this.  The first time I gave serious thought to killing myself, I was 17.)  A strange Stockholm-like syndrome can develop where you long to escape, but are afraid to.  However, I hope it’s clear that I am in no way trying to take anything away from the trauma victims of the “regular” kind of rape suffer from.  Though our hells overlap in some ways, they are not identical.

I liked the idea of using “rapeseed” in the title, not only because it catches the ear, but because I feel it works on a metaphoric level.  Rapeseed is a plant which grows beautiful yellow flowers; it belongs to the mustard family from what I’ve read (and apparently the name has to do with the Latin word for root vegetables and nothing to with an act of violence).  Kirsty Mitchel shot part of her Wonderland series in front of a breathtaking field of rapeseed flowers.  It is also, apparently, what canola oil is made from (or at least used to be?  I’m finding mixed info), around which there is some controversy if it’s truly safe for human and animal consumption.  The word at once touches on horrible, horrible acts of violence and abuse, potential danger but still has immense beauty to offer the world.

In this image, I imagined a beautiful, unicorn-like creature, someone that would look completely pure and innocent, someone who looked like that would never have had a single bad day.  And I just poured my emotions into the shoot, letting them all out.  I’ve already said it was cathartic, but I can’t stress just how much it was.  I felt lighter that day than I did in a long time.  Even editing it was therapeutic.  Some images seem to fight you the whole way, kicking and screaming, into what you want them to be; this one felt like it was actively working with me to help me achieve my goal.  It’s one of the most gratifying feelings when art flows like that.

I have been studied makeup application a lot recently (mostly for upcoming images) and this was one of my first times being able to test just a little bit of my new knowledge out.  That was fun, although tiring.  But I’m pretty pleased with my first attempt at being a makeup artist!  I had to search high and low for some cosmetic-grade silver glitter of the right size and color to make the glitter-tears; you really wouldn’t think it would have been so difficult, but it was!  I eventually found some on either eBay or Etsy; I’ve bought some from both and now I don’t remember where this particular one came from.  I already had the silver wig, so I just grayed up my eyebrows to match it better.  I used Nyx’s Jumbo Pencil in Milk for the entire eye/cheekbone area along with a nice matte white eyeshadow from BH Cosmetics pallet, along with two shades of lavender and a darker purple in my crease and as blush.  I contoured with another Nyx product, an eyeshadow in Taupe which is perfect for my pale skin (even paler here, so I used a very light hand).  I highlighted cheekbones, lids and inner corners with Deviant Cosmetics Ghost Violet, which is just about my new favorite thing ever.  It has the most gorgeous flash of purple when the light hits it, and Deviant Cosmetics has four or five colors in their Ghost line; I recommend them all!  (If you’ve been eyeing the Kat Von D Alchemist Palette but don’t have the money, go see Deviant Cosmetics.  Their colors are brighter, more vivid, they carry one more color than comes in KVD’s pallet, and it’s WAY less expensive!  And since it’s mineral makeup, there are no weird or harmful ingredients to worry about.)

After I did my makeup and looked utterly insane in person, I set my camera up and a couple lights.  I actually really hate setting up lights, so I always try and make it as minimal as possible.  Luckily, this shot didn’t call for anything fancy, so I got away with only two.  I taped some white, mesh fabric to the inside of my front door, and it gave me a lovely, neutral whiteish backdrop that wouldn’t distract from the main subject.  I was nearly done shooting when I remembered I’d intended to wear my unicorn horn circlet from Firefly Path!  I quickly shot a few more images with it on, tipping my head at different angels and planning on adding it on to the final image in post, which I did.  (This is not the exact circlet that I have, my horn is silver and the crystals are lavender, but this seems to be the only one in her shop at the moment.)

Unicorns represent a lot of things to me, but innocence and purity are two big ones.  If a human is sad, well, that’s… sad, but normal.  If a unicorn is sad, it’s tragic.  That there could be anything their magic couldn’t overcome underscores the power of whatever is causing them pain.  To me at least, that emphasized the magnitude of the power depression can hold over you.  The working title for this image as I tinkered on it was Sad Unicorn, because that was all I could think of when I needed to save the file for the first time.  It still feels appropriate in a way.

I added the trees and birds on the background, as if perhaps the unicorn girl is longing for her forest home.  I specifically chose to add crows, both because they’re one of my favorite birds (did you know they actually make and use tools and are incredibly smart?) and because Native American legends say they escort one’s soul into the afterlife.  That felt very fitting giving the subject of the image.  She seems like she’s in an alien land, somewhere she doesn’t truly belong, which is how I’ve felt about my time on earth just about every single day since I was born.  I knew this was not my true home.  My true home is where my soul resided before it decided, for whatever insane reason, to incarnate into this life.  In a meditation, months ago now, I actually visited what I consider to be my true home and I sobbed and sobbed, because I was so glad to be back, even for a moment, and also because I knew I couldn’t stay.  That place, that timeless, unchanging Home, is where this ethereal creature belongs too.

Now that I’ve gone on for probably far too long, I’ll finally show you the image.  I felt it was very important to explain my reason for the title I gave it to give people a way in to understand it.  And for anyone concerned about me, thank you, but I’ll be ok.  I’ve been through worse.  And I didn’t even have photography back then.  I have an excellent support system, which I didn’t have nearly as much of before, including my really incredible therapist.  All that said, let’s get on to the first image I’m releasing this year!

Rapeseed's Harvest

Lastly, I don’t enjoy talking about my mental health (or lack thereof) to strangers on the internet, no matter what impression this post gave you.  I speak candidly and openly about it because we NEED to end the stigma around it.  And the only way for that to happen is for those of us who struggle with it to speak about our experiences.  A lot.  In detail.  Repeatedly.  I do think things will change eventually, but it will take a lot of voices speaking honestly, blatantly, about it.  My voice is only one drop in the ocean of voices, but to quote Cloud Atlas, what is the ocean but a multitude of drops?

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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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Originally, I’d intended on posting this around Black Friday/Cyber Monday but I was prevented by forces outside my control.  The week of Thanksgiving, Los Angeles was oppressed relentlessly by Santa Ana winds which are always a challenge to my body, but especially so this time.

With my recent sinus surgery (which I still need to tell you about!) I was already at less than my usual lower-than-average health and my sinuses just about lost the will to live once the winds started.  This meant almost a week of migraines every day, but even after the worst of it had passed, I was terribly behind on everything I hadn’t been doing while I was laying in the dark with an ice pack on my head.  Things fell behind.

This really has no connection to either Black Friday or Cyber Monday now but a large percentage of my sales happen around the holidays, so I hope you’ll indulge this post anyway 🙂

sarahallegra.com

I have a perfect gift idea for anyone in your life (or perhaps you!) who is a bit artsy or introverted or just wants to develop their self-awareness.  INTROSPECTIVE: A Photographic Quest is a truly unique experience unlike anything else I’ve found.  I created this online workshop after searching for something like it, and not finding anything that resonated with me.  In the eight-week course, you will use your camera to explore your inner self, receiving a new assignment each week challenging you to delve into your secrets, fears and joys.

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

No photography experience is needed (although links to more technical information are provided for anyone who wants to learn more about it).  This is not a class about photography, it’s about you taking you exploring your inner self, making new discoveries and using art to document what you find.  It’s also an extremely therapeutic experience; I based the structure of the class on the healing I found in photography and self portraiture.

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

In a sense, you could say it’s a course about self portraiture since everything you create will be imbued with who you are, but there are no requirements to put yourself within the image, or even have any people in your images.  If you find that, say, tea leaves on a saucer express what you’re feeling, that’s just as valid as any other way of expressing yourself!

You will learn about yourself over these eight weeks and make wonderful discoveries.  The best, and most long-lasting, of these may just be discovering the profound healing power in art.  This is an eight-week adventure full of fun and joy in a safe, love-filled environment.  If you want to share your images with the world, you’re more than welcome to, but there’s no requirement to do so.  INTROSPECTIVE is about you, through and through.

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

With the new year and its resolutions quickly approaching us, I can’t think of a better gift to start the year off with!  Whether you take the class yourself or give it as a gift to someone, I can guarantee that not only will it be completely different than every other gift you or they will receive, but that it will do wonders for the soul of every participant.

To jump-start this for the holiday season, I’ve created a special promotion to receive $25 off INTROSPECTIVE That’s 30% off!  Just enter code INTROXMAS2014 when you check out, whether you’re buying for yourself or someone else 🙂

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

I’d like to point out that INTROSPECTIVE has not been hosted on Udemy for its whole existence; in the beginning, I hosted it on my site.  While Udemy shows that very few people have taken the course, the number is actually higher.  And somehow some of the reviews have gotten erased as well.  Sigh.  Luckily, I have another one I can share with you from student Aly, two of whose photos are right above and below!

I have taken part in Sarah’s Introspective course twice, not because I missed anything the first time, but because her course offers the unique quality of fresh opportunity for introspection and growth, with each round. Much like a “Choose your own Adventure” book (but with far more substance, of course), the beginning, journey and end of the Photographic Quest are what you make it, with Sarah’s guiding topics, suggestions, questions and technical encouragement, to keep the journey on track. Through her course, I created several self portraits which spoke from my heart, of which I am very proud and thankful to have been guided toward. I absolutely recommend Introspective: A Photographic Quest, for anyone interested in exploring themselves through self portraiture. I’ve come from this course with much more confidence in my ability to realize self portraits, from concept to fruition, and of course, a closer understanding of myself, through this Introspective journey.

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

Thank you, Aly!  Her review sums up what I want the class to be for everyone; something you can return to again and again, adjusting it for yourself each time.  And you can retake it at any time; the lesson outlines are downloadable, so you can go through the journey as many times as you want for the one price of admission!

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

With all that said, think about INTROSPECTIVE as a gift for yourself or a loved one.  It will certainly be a completely unique gift, unlike anything else they might receive!  And with the benefit of being able to repeat it at any point, it just keeps giving 🙂  On top of that, use code INTROXMAS2014 when you check out to get an entire 30% off!  I hope you’ll take the journey and go on an adventure!

A Student's Image

A Student’s Image

I’d love to hear your thoughts about it, both as you’re on your quest and after.  And if you upload your images to the Flickr group for INTROSPECTIVE, they just might get featured here!

Be bold!  Go on a quest and return a deeper person 🙂

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Here’s something I’ve never done before: create an image intending for it to be black and white!  I have one other image that was converted for a magazine which required it to be black and white to print it.  I LOVE me some color.  I like using color strategically and thoughtfully.  But something made me think about doing this most recent image in black and white and I loved the idea.  It would be a bit of a challenge and a stretch for me and that’s a good thing.

This image came to be through two sources.  One was a way to help me deal with the grief I was still feeling.  The other was this astonishingly beautiful solo by Ricky Ubeda for the show So You Think You Can Dance, and the gorgeous music and poetic lyrics by David J. Roch.

Don’t lose your soul as your eyes roll shut
Don’t worry, it will be over

You know what’s to come to not accept this
Don’t lose your soul, you must fight for each breath
Don’t go quietly

My soul has flown and I am what is left
I am skin and bones

Who else can look exactly like a leaf being blown across the stage??

When I first watched this dance, it was on a day when I was heavily grieving and I started weeping uncontrollably as I watched it… and was still compelled to rewind the DVR and watch it over and over.  I’ve probably seen it 20 times now in about a week.  I immediately tracked the song down, downloaded it on Itunes and have been listening to it on repeat in the car since then.

I can’t quite verbalize what it is about this performance that moves me so much, which is part of why art exists; to give voice to that which we can’t say.  Though it brought so many tears out of me, there was a hopeful, soothing quality to it within the darkness.  And since I can’t tell you exactly how it makes me feel, the next best thing I could do was create a self portrait.

With Ricky’s evocative dance, David J. Roch’s sober lyrics and Andrew’s death rolling around inside my head, I shot a self portrait which was, as it usually is, very healing to do.  I felt lighter after it.

The “I am skin and bones” refrain immediately made me think of black and white; the visual equivalent of being reduced to simple skin and bones.  The door and handle are holding my body up, and my face is mostly in shadows to reflect both the dark lyrics and my dark emotional state.

I purposely left on my metal bracelet, which I wear every day.  It was made by a lovely person on Etsy who will hammer whatever phrase you’d like onto your bracelet.  Mine reads “That’s what heroes are for.”  A daily reminder to be brave, to continue striving, to be ready to sacrifice for that which is important.  And to me, it was vitally important to include it within this self portrait.  Though its meaning will only be known to me and those reading this, it is a flash of hope and strength at a time when it was most needed.

And that is all I can verbalize about the meaning of this image.  Editing in black and white definitely used different artistic muscles.  I enjoyed the change of pace, but I don’t see myself becoming solely a black and white photographer; I love color too much.

I hope you enjoy this experiment down the black and white lane!  And I also hope that you will vote for Ricky Ubeda in the upcoming weeks of So You Think You Can Dance; I already believe (and hope) he could win the whole contest!  Thank you to Ricky and David J. Roch for providing the art that I needed just when I needed it.  Full song lyrics are below the photo!

Skin and Bones

Skin and Bones

 

Skin and Bones - detail

Skin and Bones – detail

Skin and bones, by David J Roch:

Don’t lose your soul as your eyes roll shut
Don’t worry, it will be over
Hold on though, you’re alone, I am there with you
That much at least I can promise

You know what’s to come to not accept this
Don’t lose your soul, you must fight for each breath
Don’t go quietly

Don’t cry out for God
Just breathe in and out
Don’t cry out for God
Just breathe in and out

We are but lambs to the slaughter now
I have no fear of death itself
So don’t try and save me and please, God, forsake me
I’ll suffer alone, I just want to be left

My soul has flown and I am what is left
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones
I am skin and bones

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My dear friend and frequent collaborator Katie Johnson has recently started a new video series which profiles the artists she works with frequently.  I was honored to be featured in the first of her videos!  She put a great piece together which includes an interview with me and lots of behind-the-scenes peeks into how we work.

Take a look!

I often think of lines from the song the princess sings in Peter S. Beagle’s legendary work The Last Unicorn:

Oh, I am a king’s daughter
And I grow old within
The prison of my person
The shackles of my skin

And I would run away
And beg from door to door
Just to see your shadow
Just once and nevermore

The prison of my person, the shackles of my skin” perfectly describes how I feel about my physical body most days.  Though I doubt Mr. Beagle had ME in mind when he wrote it, it resonates so strongly with me.  And I’m sure people with other chronic illnesses will be able to identify with it; it’s a pretty universal problem across the chronically ill spectrum.

Feeling so trapped has always made me instantly know something of what Amalthea felt at finding herself in human form.  I imagine it was even harder for her though.  The disharmony we chronically ill feel with our body was something I’d wanted to express in my Enchanted Sleep series for quite a while and I was glad to finally bring the image to life!

There’s something more visceral about images than you often can’t replicate with words.  Words are powerful, they can build and tear down mountains, but the visual world offers the same information in a different form.  One that, if used well, can strike like a snake and bring instantaneous understanding.  That’s my hope with this series; to illustrate the life of a person with myalgic encephalomyelitis in a way that reaches where words cannot.

I will admit… I’d beg from door to door just to catch a glimpse of a unicorn’s shadow too 🙂

Here’s a look at the final image from our shoot:

Inside Looking Out

Inside Looking Out

And a detail shot:

Inside Looking Out - detail

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

A quest waited in those circumstances, always.

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

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

But if the traveler understood, it showed no sign.

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A screen capture of Rachel Weisz in The Fountain.

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

I Will Find You

I Will Find You

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