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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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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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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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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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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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I think I’ve told you guys a little bit about shooting with Travis Weinand for the first time recently.  He moved here fairly recently from Philadelphia, is an accomplished musician as well as visual artist and also trains and competes regularly in American Ninja Warrior.

Travis Fights Giants

His sheer size (measuring a full 6′ 5″) along with his strength and muscle control which come from hours and hours of training every day make him an ideal model.  There are so many things he can do for real which I would have to use Photoshop trickiery for anyone else (including me!)

Seriously, for real? For real.

Crazy

You can follow Travis’ training on his Instagram feed; I find it equally inspiring and humbling 🙂

I’m still working out exactly how to best showcase Travis’ unique skills, but I noticed that he has a really great look for a more editorial kind of shoot… which was something I’d been wanting to do recently.  Luckily, Travis came equipped with a couple suits, I gave him a dagger to add an extra element to the “fashion story.”  I explained the premise I had in mind; his character was a James Bond-type who went around doing amazing, dangerous things while looking flawless and set him loose.  Travis did not disappoint 🙂

I’m happy to present the first part of what will hopefully become an ongoing series, named after Travis’ Tumblr page: Travis Fights Giants.

Travis Fights Giants

Travis Fights Giants

Travis Fights Giants

Travis Fights Giants

Travis Fights Giants

Travis Fights Giants

Travis Fights Giants

And lastly, a little behind-the-scenes fun 🙂

bts small

I hope you enjoyed this little dip into a different genre!  I hope to have more to bring you along the same line soon 🙂

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This will be a short post.  I wanted to share with you all a short video I made for the Microbe Discovery Project, a group using crowd-sourced funding to research myalgic encephalomyelitis, otherwise known as ME.  They asked for people to share their stories of ME with them by video or text, so I did just that.   I always wish I could help them in more concrete ways by giving them millions of dollars, but I’ll help with what I can; being open and honest about my experience with ME and making more people aware that they exist and could use some help.

Hope you all enjoyed the video, and please consider donating to the Project if you have the means!

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