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Wonderland – ‘The Fade Of Fallen Memories’ ………….

July 16th, 2014

The Fade Of Fallen Memories flickr
The Fade Of Fallen Memories (200cm wide)
View large here

It is now July 11th, and I’m sat by the open window of my bedroom staring at this blank page, as summer rain falls silently on the garden outside. Once again, everything has taken so long with producing this new picture, that the enormity of where to begin is making my sentences stammer and break before my eyes. I have so much to say…. It is the last big scene of the series, and for me it really is the mountaintop I have spent 5 years clawing my way towards. After this, there are just two smaller intimate pictures and the project will complete, something I still can’t imagine, no matter how hard I try.

set

(Above, the last four scenes of the series together, below FX media’s behind the scenes film of the shoot)

The Fade Of Fallen Memories crop 3 (Close up detail crops)
The Fade Of Fallen Memories crop 4

“The Fade Of Fallen Memories” is a goodbye, both in the Wonderland story but also within the real world, in my own life. Their parallels intertwined in such a way that it gives me chills, it brings me both happiness and sadness all at once, but above all this photograph is about release…….
In Katie’s world, it is the end of her time in Wonderland, the door being the final piece of the puzzle that fits the queen’s key she has carried close to her heart throughout her journey. In my world, it is the metaphor for letting go of the years of grief I have carried with me and taking that final step back towards reality.

The truth is, I have never been able to look at a photograph of my mother since I lost her, at least nothing from the time when we were both alive together. In my kitchen I keep a frame of faded black and white pictures of her playing as a child, and as a young woman (from before I was born). Every morning I make my breakfast and say hello to this familiar ghost of a girl I never knew, who I love so deeply, despite never having met her at that age.  My recent memories of us were destroyed by the hospital, they took her from me, what she became in the end was not the flesh and blood that bore me. These memories I block out, I tried my hardest to send them as far away as I could, banished from my heart, I suppose like fallen angels, ……and that is how this title came to be. For me the hardest part is to let go of those nightmares, to let them fade and move forward, and this has become ‘my door’.  So once again Katie became my mirror, both of us acknowledging it was time to move on, facing a wall that felt too big to push through, but with the promise of something better on the other side. It is an end and a beginning in one moment, exactly how I see losing someone you love…….

MUM fullmum x
MUM 1

In my mind I always knew the door scene would be one of my most difficult challenges because ever since I first imagined it over 2 years ago, it has become something almost impossible to live up to. Physically it had to be the most beautiful door I could possibly create, built in the name of kings and queens, and worthy of the lands that surrounded it. It also had to blend with the forest, be ancient, magical, the list goes on of all the things I felt it ‘had to be’, but above all it was my goodbye to a place I have loved, that has helped me through my grief. In my dreams I imagined it left in the woods, like a memorial to the story– so the pressure to honour its importance, felt immense.
When looking at the door many people may connect the concept of a portal between worlds with the story of Narnia, and that was exactly my intention and inspiration.  With it came the second challenge for myself, in that I wanted to create a scene where both spring and winter would coexist in the same moment.  Like Narnia, I wanted the seasons on either side of the door to be radically different, however unlike films, or books, I could only express this in one single frame. So we shot in the spring and had to re-create winter as best we could.  In my head I had always envisioned the forest like a Victorian theatre set, a staggered silhouette of leaves and branches, framing and guarding their secret within. I had dreamt of Katie arriving on the crest of her floral wave from under the wing of the forests protection. With each step towards the door I saw her form changing one last time, she was smaller, more fragile, her hair returning to normal as the fantasy fell away revealing the girl she used to be. Above, the last light of spring shone through the vivid leaves, casting great tears of shadows that dissolved in dappled pools on the frozen ground. In her hand, the key silently waits for her last choice…….. whether to stay or leave.

Making The Door

Although it was a very big prop, creating the door was one of the most enjoyable things I have ever made. It was a complete indulgence, and journey into the unknown of how on earth I was going to do it. As always I start with the finished look in my head and then work backwards for what to do next, pretty much making it up as I go along.  The base was a huge plastic cast of an original 19th century French door from a special effects company I have manged to track down. This became my base, as well a big selection of ornate casts taken from the same period and some extra wooden pieces and trims I collected from DIY stores. From this point on everything else was made and hand pained by myself, until my husband Matt built the frame we would need to support the structure on location. It was slow going, the plastic was incredibly thick and hard to cut, even with a hot knife tool.
Anyway, here are the progress photos and I also shot some rough footage of me working on my phone for you to see.

door 1

Painting the door panels and adding extra wooden pieces for further decoration

door 2
door 3

Creating the top section of the door from a mix of period mouldings
door 4

Making the iced effect glazed roses, which I dipped in various tinted layers of liquid plastic, and the stone effect roses with paint.
flowers
door frame
My husband Matt had to build a frame that would support the door panels on the location. It had to be light enough to carry and break down into sections

finishing door
Dressing the door and trying it out in the studio.

I also collected bags and bags of wild ivy and sprayed it white to help blend the door with the location on site.

me and door

Me looking rather worn out (but secretly so thrilled with my magic door :) !!! )

door motif

You will notice on the door in the finished picture there is an extra piece of moulding that did not exist on the original prop. This was something I had no choice but to create in Photoshop as I simply couldn’t make anything convincing enough in real life. I wanted the door to have an emblem that instantly signified it belonged to the key. Its not something I normally do, but I felt it was a beautiful detail to add for the purpose of the story. It took forever, but when the print is seen at two meters it will have been worth the time.

coat front small
The floral coat was made entirely by me from scratch. You can see more about the making of the coat here
coat back small
The key was also hand made by me in 2011, from pieces of antique carvings and old rabbit bones. It belonged to The White Queen, and has been carried by Katie around her neck ever since that part of the story ( with out anyone knowing its purpose)
KEY small

SHOOT DAY

The day of the shoot!  Well ….. this was a day that I feel only those of us who were there will ever really be able to explain the level of exhaustion we went through for this picture. It was wonderful, ridiculous, glorious chaos, involving every level of the scale in emotion, with the most utterly bizarre weather to accompany it all.

To begin I first need to explain a few factors that made a difficult day even tougher to get through. It began a week before the shoot, when the BBC News requested to film me at work on location. This was something I felt I simply couldn’t turn down, despite the fact I am very camera shy and it would add significant stress on the day. Second to this, I had just begun my new relationship with Nikon and would be shooting the picture using a D800E, a camera and brand I had never used before in my life. Thirdly this was the first day I would meet Richard Wakefield, our FX Media film maker who would be recording the progress of the new Wonderland pictures over the summer of 2013 – so that would mean two lots of cameras pointing at me at my most exhausted and fragile. Finally there was the biggest problem of all …. getting the door to the location and set up. Typical of me, the place I found was through a wood and down a dangerous steep slope of wet leaves .with nothing to hold on to ! I always keep my team very small in order to maintain a sense of privacy between myself and the model on a shoot, which meant we had hours of carrying to deal with, including the small matter of 100 bags of flour I had bought to create our ‘frost’ !

The night before the shoot I had no sleep, in fact I hadn’t slept for about 3 days. I was truly out of my skull with worry about everything, and the weather report was also for rain. The thought of the beautiful floral coat and the precious hand painted door getting wet was terrifying. On the morning I opened my eyes to rain clouds, and a blind fear swept through me, I couldn’t eat, my stomach was in knots, but there was nothing to do but face the music and push on. It took us 3 hours to get all the equipment and the door (in pieces) to the location. There were only 6 of us to carry everything (including Katie the model and Elbe our makeup artist!) It had to be the most demanding set build we have ever encountered. I cant even begin to explain the comedy of the flour, it started with Matt and Mark attempting to pull all 100 bags loaded on to a car trailer through the wood like a pair of horses. They battled for about an hour until the trailer became stuck in the undergrowth and they collapsed in an exhausted heap. After that we had to resort to dragging huge gravel bags of the flour by hand, swearing, laughing and groaning the whole way. We were already wiped out before the BBC arrived at 11am, and then the cameras were switched on and my anxiety went through the roof. Richard set up a time lapse of the area and work began on building the door………

door position

Positioning the door panels, to determine the site for the frame
building frame on set
Matt and Mark building the frame, and bolting on the door fronts
dressing door
Me, Elbie and Saskia dressing the door with painted ivy and the roses. Below, Katie (our model) starts sieving the flour onto the floor of the set. On our shoots everyone helps out with the set build, even the poor models !
flour 2
Adding the flour was one of my brief moments of relief during the pressure of the day. We all laughed as we covered the floor, the leaves, door and branches. On top of the flour I also added a huge sack of artificial snow pulp (used in film productions) to bulk up the amount we needed by Katie’s feet. It was such a simple moment of pure happiness, these are the memories I live for. It’s why I gave up my fashion career, it’s why I work 7 days a week, it’s because I get to step into the dreams for real, and honestly nothing else can compare to that.
me and flour
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Being interviewed by the BBC on location
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Dressing Katie

katie in coat

That day the weather was wildly unpredictable, the sky was threatening, and every now and then we had to run to the door with plastic covers as rain began to fall, followed by sudden flashes of light that made my gut lurch with hope. It was a lot to deal with in front of the television crew and the whole time I had to explain the story and my motives to the reporter whilst trying to decorate the set. It was around that time, (whilst up a ladder) frantically attaching ivy to the frame, that I caught myself stopping and noticing the winds breath on my neck. The leaves all around were fluttering, almost chattering with excitement, like an energy was coming,…..like the electricity in the air before a storm. Maybe it was just adrenaline, lack of sleep, who knows? But I swear I felt her, just quietly…..she was with me, right when I was so nervous and tired and dying inside.
Amongst our little Wonderland crew we have a saying that my mother ‘does the weather’, you can often find us teasing the sky saying her name out loud if the sun wont shine or the snow wont fall, but on this day I had said nothing. It was just then that the clouds began to break and by some miracle the sun suddenly broke through and spot lit the entire door. It could not have been more perfect if I had planned the exact spot to build, and the time of day to shoot, …….it was utterly breathtaking. The rays fell through the leaves casting huge sweeping shadows, as sunlight washed over our feet and the ivy shivered in the breeze refracting a myriad of pattens. Everything shook to life and in a single unsaid moment, everyone knew it was now or never ………..

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I shouted for Katie to be walked on set, the film crew fell back and I set the tripod in position. I remember shaking, fumbling around with this completely alien camera, as heat built in the pit of my stomach, but then, when I looked through the lens….. none of it mattered anymore. It was more beautiful than I ever could have hoped for… the light had raised the entire scene to a level that would have been impossible to create myself.  It is for this reason, despite how hard it makes my life, that I will always shoot in the landscape for real. Sometimes nature rips through your ideas and turns them into something you couldn’t have predicted and I have learnt over the years that when that happens, you simply have to surrender to it and embrace the unexpected. My heart was pounding, I could feel the BBC camera burning through my skull, but ahead and all around me were the things I loved, my friends, our Wonderland…. a shimmering dream come to life. So I let go, forgot my nerves and pressed the shutter.

We shot for as long as the light stayed with us, we also brought an artificial snow machine and huge smoke grenades for added magic, and laughed, whooped and shouted with delight as these various effects were hurled at the set.  I loved the artificial snow on the day, it was thrilling to see it billowing in the air around our heads, but in the end, on camera the bubbles were too large and not as convincing as I’d hoped.  The smoke however was wonderful, and seemed to cling to the treetops like an Amazonian mist, dramatically changing the mood and making the sky more mysterious. It was just then as the last of the smoke faded, that the heavens darkened and our precious sunlight fled like a spell had been broken. The wind rushed through the leaves, the door began to rattle, and as we all looked up at the May sky with our mouths open, a hailstorm broke from nowhere. We ran squealing with cameras, throwing plastic sheets over Katie and the door, until we managed to squash the entire team under one small shelter we had set up earlier in case of an emergency.
It was the strangest thing, hailstones thundered down bouncing off the grass in the middle of spring. I remember staring glassy-eyed at our set as I watched it dissolve……the irony of real ice destroying our make believe efforts.. Absentmindedly I slowly pushed chocolate into my mouth, having realised I hadn’t eaten since the day before. I couldn’t stop running it all through my mind, I had no idea the sun would hit the door the way it did, we could have built the set in complete shade for all I knew. How odd we had literally been given one precious window of light, and then it was gone, swallowed the very second we let off the last smoke grenade,  and now it was all destroyed. I was dazed, drained, exhilarated, relieved…….. and thought of mum.

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Once the hail stopped I looked behind us at the looming hill back to the van, the soaked door, and the enormous sodden piles of flour on the ground and knew we had another 3 hours of carrying and cleaning up to go. It is times like this that I am so lucky to work with the team I have, in truth we are all just friends first, I recognise everyone’s talents greatly, but at this point only friends could shrug, roll their eyes and get on with the job. We had to leave the scene exactly as we found it, and that meant being on our hands and knees clawing piles of dirty wet flour into rubbish sacks, for which I wanted to add a special mention to Saskia and Elbie for attacking this job with such good humour and gusto. The rest of us hauled door panels, cleaned down branches, equipment, and faced the hill of doom.
It was dark by the time everything was loaded back on to the van, at least 9pm and we had started at 7am, all for one picture. Everyone was shaking with exhaustion, starving hungry and by the looks of the faces on Mark and Matt who had taken the lions share of the carrying, it had been a push too far. We clung to the sides of the cars in the night air, half hysterical but still laughing at the state of us all, we were truly broken. I was dirty, tired, cold, but felt so alive, nothing makes me feel this way, I just can’t explain it. It is the rawest sensation to go out into the landscape and push yourself through something so challenging and be repaid with an experience you would simply never see again. I had talked briefly with Richard at the end of the day, but felt bad I hadn’t spent more time with him; I had no idea what he had filmed and whether he thought it was all a load of chaos or something wonderful. The next day as I packed for my show in Amsterdam I started receiving messages from the gang. I remember sitting on my bed and laughing a little teary eyed as Mark, Richard and Saskia texted me saying it had been one of the most extraordinary days they had ever had, how much they had loved it, how badly they ached, how crazy the weather had been, how the day had been unlike anything else they could think of. It meant so much, we had all felt the same, it wasn’t just me……

giving key

Finally a few short weeks later Richard sent me the first rough cut of the film and I had no idea what to expect., and winced as I pressed play. I think it took around 60 seconds before I began to cry, I had never expected the wave of emotion that poured through me when I saw our little team at work. He had captured everything, the light, the shadows, the exhaustion. It was fragile; honest, it was my friends, the same as we had been back in 2009 when this whole crazy journey first began. Since then we have all grown together, but there we were on screen, with the same laughs, strains and chaos. The film was more like a quiet observation through the leaves, and in the air around us… the music filled me, and in my heart it felt like watching us through the eyes of my mother as I had felt her on the day. I just fell apart, I loved every moment, I had never seen us like that before and I am so grateful I now have it to share with you all too. Watching it back over a year later, one scene has gained new meaning for me that I suppose I never registered at the time, and that was the moment I gave Katie the key.  I replayed it again and again, and watched myself step into her world, from mine – the walls of our parallel lives gone. For that brief moment we were connected through our grasp of the key, it was like I was finally meeting her, and letting her go in real life all at once. The key would unlock her next step in life, set her free, just as creating this series has saved me from grief…. and now all that was left, was for us to both face our doors and move forward one, last, time………….

Wonderland – ‘The Last Dance Of The Flowers’

April 16th, 2014

Untitled‘The Last Dance Of The Flowers ‘
200 x 130cm view large here

Sitting down to write this today is a completely different feeling compared to my last few entries, and to be honest it feels like a happy relief. My head is full of laughter as I look back at this absolutely chaotic shoot; it was carnage from start to finish and we all worked so damn hard.  For once there are no heavy emotions for me, no underlying sadness, I have loved every part of this pictures creation from concept, to shooting and even the editing. It has felt like a page from my childhood slowly filling with colour, growing under my fingertips as the days have passed…..and I let go of it today with nothing but joy inside of me. It has become a huge favourite of mine, and one I have every intention of having the full 2-meter print on the wall of my own home. Each time I look at it I long to be there again, standing beside Katie in the warm shadows, remembering Elbie’s laughter echoing around us. The wonder of creating these scenes for real is that I will always be able to connect back to that day, and that place with all my senses because we were truly there, and we created that moment together. I know how the earth smelt, I can remember my hands, dirty and sticky with the sap from the flowers, and the rush of adrenaline as we raced against the low sun to get the shot before it was too dark. All of it is precious and has come to be the thing that makes me feel alive…….

trail cropClose up sections
(below is a closer crop to show Katie’s almost black eyes. her irises were wide open due to the dark set, resulting in this slightly unnerving appearance which I love !)

trail eyes

So to return the previous scene ‘The Stars Of Spring Will Carry You Home’ we watched as Katie said her silent goodbye, a last look back at us, and all that Wonderland has been over the years. It was about her acknowledgement that nature has always been her guardian and a metaphor for my mother throughout. Her fusion with the flowers was to depict this acceptance, and the trust she placed in the path she would be led along during her final hours.
Throughout the series I have always used trails in my work to demonstrate journey and movement through a static image, like the yellow leaves in The Journey Home or the powdered colour on snow in Spirited Away. Here I hoped to take that one step further by making the flowers physically lift Katie’s form, raising her up in a surge of colour that would carry her through the forest to the hidden place that has waited so patiently for her arrival. At night I dreamt of the flowers coming to life in this last maternal gesture of protection. Inside my own body I could feel my spirits rise with her, a sense of completion on the horizon for both of us, as Katie’s journey parallels mine in the real world. I am so close now, just 4 pictures away from the end of the series. In the mornings I can feel a change in me, I walk to the studio in a different way, I look up again, I feel lighter, I breathe slower,….. I whisper to myself with each step  ‘almost there……. almost there…….  almost there’ ……….

phone shot(original phone snap of me on location)

I thought with this diary entry I would begin with the background and write about my process a little, as in how the image came to be, the choices I made, and even show you a shot that despite the fact I really liked it,  I rejected it in my final selection. I’m so sad to say that this time there wont be a beautiful accompanying film by FX media for this picture as Richard wasn’t able to join us on the day. However (for your great amusement) we did shoot some very rough, (and terribly under exposed) footage to show you what it was like to be there with us  (scroll down).
The whole scene started back in June 2013 from one little camera phone picture of me (above), taken by my husband Matt.  I had spent a week location scouting, the rhododendrons were budding and about to bloom in the woods, and I needed a private place where we could be left alone and out of sight to build the floral ‘wave’. I spent the day walking and taking pictures; finding some beautiful areas, but nothing that felt dramatically different to the others already used in the series.  At one point in the late afternoon I was standing in a path of bright light, framing a shot of the sun in the trees when Matt happened to take this snap of me.  It was only when we got home that night and I felt disheartened and uninspired with my research that Matt showed me the picture, and suddenly everything changed. The irony of seeing myself standing with my back to the most amazing natural vignette of twisted storybook trees, completely unaware was almost laughable! My mind was suddenly on fire and I knew that was it, the location was chosen, as well as the framing of the scene in one fair swoop. There was no doubt in my head and I stayed faithful to it throughout the shoot, not moving my position once.

wigMaking the wig

The next day I began work on the wig. To explain, I shot the entire final sequence of the series in reverse, in order to meet with the correct weather and bloom of certain flowers. So the wig you have seen over the last few pictures was modified and added to in-between shoots (there is also a reason for these modifications, which I will explain in my next blog) So this shoot was the first time it had been used. As I said previously I have never made anything like this before, and still cant believe it actually worked. It was so incredibly difficult to work out how to attach it to Katie and keep it balanced on a location shoot. Unlike the last few scenes there were no trees above her head to wire it to for support, so this really was a baptism of fire for Elbie trying to attach it to poor Katie’s head, and for Katie to balance it throughout the shoot. Below are the pictures of us trialling the wig in my studio and then attaching it on location.

double hair trail^ So funny !!!! The first attempt at attaching the wig in the studio

double hair on locationSecond attempt on location which turned out much better !
dressing KatieDressing Katie ! The coat was made by me, to see finished photographs of it please view here

The day of the shoot was absolutely crazy, all Wonderland shoots are exhausting, there’s never been a ‘quick’ one and there is always the worry of the terrible English weather, the unreliable light … endless factors that mean I never sleep the night before and always worry for days in advance. However this shoot was a whole new level of panic because it relied on cutting fresh flowers on the day and building a huge construction – something which I had never attempted before. I had no idea how long it would take, no idea if it would work, no idea what I was doing, or whether we would actually be able to collect enough flowers … but it was all so clear in my mind that we just pressed on regardless!  We began early in the morning, just me Elbie and Saskia; we went to the woods armed with bags scissors, gardening gloves and old clothes, and cut flowers for 4 hours. It was exhausting and ridiculous, we quickly became filthy with mud and sap, our hands cut to ribbons, arms scratched and worst of all we were attacked by mosquitos at every turn. We scrambled up trees, and muddy banks, groaning, swearing, laughing …. It was hard work, but this physical part to the photos is something I have always loved. The child in me delights in the dirt and the wind on my face, especially when there is the promise of something magical at the end of all. So we worked tirelessly, stashed our hoard in the shade of the trees and returned to the studio to collect the costume, equipment and Katie.

building frameBuilding the floral ‘wave’ from fresh flowers

location
By 2pm we were back on site and work began on creating the ‘wave’. The location was set in the heart of the trees, and the warmth and shade was a breeding ground for hungry mosquitos. I honestly can’t describe how many there were, but it was unbelievable. We coated ourselves in repellent, but they just kept coming – which is why was well as our horrible old clothes; we also had to wear ridiculous hats to stop us from being bitten on the face and in our hair. I cant stop laughing looking at these pictures because I can remember the names we were all calling each other, not to mention the hysterics we were in after seeing Katie in the full coat and wig for the first time. It was a moment of utter, utter delight, the wig was extraordinary, and once it was balanced and Katie was able to walk around, suddenly everything felt possible again.

building flower frame

spraying katieMe and Elbie working on the finishing touches – dressed like idiots :( !!!!

finishedThe finished result, I don’t think any of us imagined it would look so beautiful, it was such a wonderful sight!

It took a further 3.5 hours to build the set and get Katie in position in time for the early evening sun. Over the previous week I had returned to the site several times to check the position of the sun so we knew exactly when it would hit the set. By 6.30pm we were ready and I was shaking from adrenaline I was so tired and excited. We shot two types of picture, one with smoke and one without. Here is the video of that moment. As I said its appalling quality, everything looks way too dark, but it’s pretty funny to watch,  especially as you get to hear me barking orders like a mad woman. The groaning and whooping in the background is Elbie, who always makes me die laughing, the poor bloke getting shouted at is Matt, and my assistant was Saskia who you can just make out buried in the skirt of flowers. There were only 5 us on the day and it was a killer, but the results were so, so worth it!  Video warning……..  terrible clothes alert.. cringe !!

 

set
Selecting the shot …..

Finally I wanted to just say a word about the choice I had to make regarding the final image.  Above you will see the new picture laid along side its predecessors. Something I have learnt about building a series this big over such a long time, is the importance of continuity in colour and balance. If you have ever looked at the whole series lined up together on my flickr or 500px you will notice it flows through bands of colours, seasons and light and darks. This has been something I take very seriously and really agonise over with my printing. The dream of all these pieces hanging together in one huge gallery show for me is very real, and so I always have in my mind what comes before and after an image and the relationship between them. This was not the case when I first started the series, but over time it has developed within myself, and I now pay great attention to it. Below is a little snap taken in my studio, it shows you the rough test prints of my last two images lined up next to each other. This is how I work – obviously each new image is shot on a different location as a different time of day / sometimes season, so it is impossible to expect the pictures to magically work alongside each other. So now I make a habit of working in this way

pin boardTest prints in my studio

When I first looked at the shots from this shoot I was really torn about which picture was my favourite, I loved the drama of the smoke and it had been so much fun to shoot, it was hard to separate myself from that memory and the cinematic gut reaction to the result. However, almost a year later and after taking the shots that would come before and after this scene, it became clear that the smoke simply wouldn’t work or make any sense.  Below I’ve included one of the raw shots straight out the camera for you to see. People often ask me if I find it hard to chose only one image from these elaborate shoots, when the natural temptation for any photographer is to use 2 or 3 or more.  It is extremely difficult, but I firmly believe in trying to keep every single image in the collection unique and for it to have purpose, otherwise it simply dilutes the overall impact and the sense of preciousness for a collector of my work. In this case I now adore the freshness of the picture I chose and in print the landscape feels so inviting that it is something I want to hang on my own wall and enjoy losing myself in everyday…..
So this was just a little insight into how I develop the series, but I thought some of you might like to see!  Now on to editing the next huge scene, involving the biggest prop I have ever made!

smokey spookyThe one that got away. Such a fun picture picture but in the end it wasn’t suitable for the story.

UPDATE *** 17/4/2014 The picture was just selected by Vogue as their photo of the day !

vogue 4

** June 1st.  I just thought I would share this beautiful full feature interview I gave to one of the top florist / flower art magazines in the world ‘Fusion Flowers’ Wonderland was the cover story, it was a huge honor !!

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Wonderland – ‘The Stars Of Spring Will Carry You Home’

March 25th, 2014

The Stars Of Spring Will Carry You Home‘The Stars Of Spring Will Carry You Home’
150cm x 150cm (View large here)

I have loved this photograph from the day I took it 9 months ago in the summer of 2013, it is full of all the things that drive and inspire me with my work …..theatre, human connection, colour, the landscape, and above all a certain unsaid English eccentricity.  It has been six years since I first discovered the overgrown mouth of the abandoned path, and stumbled into its hidden tunnel of fallen leaves and twisted vines. It felt like entering the pages of a forgotten storybook, where the trees grew gnarled and stunted, knotting their branches together overhead, weighed down with their cloaks of wild ivy.  It was a timeless place, one that has inspired me many times over the years and felt like the perfect setting for this next scene………..

Returning to the story, and following on from the ‘Secret Locked in The Roots of A Kingdom’ this portrait was really about further expressing nature’s role as Katie’s guardian,with the branches encircling and outstretched towards her, and the precious coat  – a gift from the flowers to protect Katie during her final days in Wonderland.. The scene was really to portray a sense of knowing that time was running out, and Katie’s own self-awareness that she would soon be gone. I suppose I intended it as her last look back at us, like a brief private moment of connection and understanding through the screen. As strange as her appearance is, this final fusion of her body and nature together was to emphasise her completion and acceptance of the bond between herself and the landscape, and where it would eventually lead her.  To me I see strength in her eyes, and as we all stood wrapped in the womb of the woods that day it felt intimate, quiet, and echoed all that nature has become for me in reality, …. my comfort …… protection, and the place I am truly myself.

locationLocation
fixing hair 2
Costume and Wig were made and designed by me, to see the full photographs of the pieces, please visit my previous blog entry here

make up doubleElbie Van Eeeden working on Katie’s make-up

preparing katie doubleThe wig had to be wired to the branches above for support

katie close up double

Since then this picture has sat on my computer untouched for 9 months waiting for its moment in the closing sequence, unaware of the second meaning it would soon sadly adopt. Little did I know that 1 week after opening the shoot files and beginning work, that this piece would become far deeper, sadder, and more emotional than I ever could have imagined. As I write these words tears are running down my face, because this will now always be for a life that was taken from this world far too young, without warning, and has left so many of us stunned in its wake.  On March 5th our dear friend John Clarke tragically died in a motorbike accident, he was only 35. My husband had seen him just 2 weeks before, when John had talked of moving out of London to the countryside to be nearer to us with his girlfriend Samira. His life had changed so much in the last year, he had found love, happiness and purpose within himself, and I cannot begin to explain the extent of his warmth and kindness as a human being; in short everyone loved John. So once again throwing myself into work and pouring everything I have into the pixels before me became the only way I could make sense of things and somehow try to honour his memory
As the picture came to life, the light around Katie became more relevant and vital with each day that passed, and in my minds eye it became how I imagined John. Everything I had mentioned before about a sense of journey, looking back and making a final connection, suddenly gained new meaning, worth and weight. It is the strangest thing how events can suddenly impact and resonate through something created from a different origin, ……but this is how the photograph evolved.

set up double
shooting Katie 2
shooting Katie 3
shooting katie
sunFor a few brief moments we were visited by a beautiful sun burst, this is the only behind the scenes picture we managed to snap at the time.
waiting 3
filmingFX Media filming the process
** (Update March 27. The picture was made ‘Photo OF The Day’ by Italian Vogue)
vogue 3

The coincidence of the picture’s original narrative still takes my breath away,  and for that reason I feel I can dedicate it to John’s memory in the most genuine and heart felt way. I have named it ‘The Stars Of Spring Will Carry You Home’ . Part of the title I took from an Epic45 song that for me will always represent love, and secondly for both John and Katie they were now set on their path home, returning to where they came from. It is about strength, and the merging of flesh with nature….. completing the circle of energy I feel we are all a part of.  As I have said many times I believe we do not end, and that our vibrations simply ripple and grow, becoming all things.  On the day of the shoot for a few brief moments we were visited by a sunburst that sent shattered stars of light across the path and haloed Katie’s form. It was brief and beautiful, like Johns life and I still remember how I had softly greeted it under my breath as my mother. This is why I will always shoot in the landscape because of the gifts it brings us; ……. that unexpected light became the defining part of the image and the glue that now holds the emotion of the piece together.

But despite all of this, I do not wish to end on a sad note because this photograph still brings me great warmth and happiness, and even a little laugh when I remember the chaos of us wiring the wig to the tree branches to support the weight on Katie’s head. It was a simple, happy shoot with all my favourite people around me, and I love it dearly. John will always be remembered for his infectious laugh and warmth, and I see that radiating through in the form of the hazy light flare rainbow in the leaves.. During the funeral John’s father read aloud one of John’s favourite quotes and these beautiful words somehow seem to sum up everything I feel and can hope for when I think about what has happened ……

“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.”
(Australian Aboriginal proverb)

I take comfort in this, and all I have learnt through personal experience is that we must try to love and live for each day with no regrets. I am grateful for every day I have been able to work as an artist and truly feel alive in what I do. If I hadn’t lost mum I may have never taken this path, and discovered this part of me.  So John, wherever you are tonight, I just wanted to say thank you…… you are so loved……. fly free dear friend xx

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John Paul Clarke
2nd June 1978 – 5th March 2014

Wonderland – ‘The Secret Locked In The Roots Of A Kingdom’

February 17th, 2014

Pair blog size

‘The Secret Locked In The Roots Of A Kingdom’ (Left) 200 x 133 cm
(View Large Here)

‘The Pure Blood Of A Blossom’ (Right) 200 x 137cm
(View Large Here)

 It’s late, I should have gone home hours ago but the thrashing rain at the dark mouth of the window, and the roar of the wind that rips through the empty streets below has kept me here later than planned. This blanket I’m wrapped in, and the soft lights of the studio are far more appealing than the broken umbrella that waits awkwardly by the door, so I guess I’ll stay and write a little longer. In a way this will be a different kind of diary entry compared to the last two, simply because these new pictures feel so much lighter for my heart. Somehow it always feels like coming home whenever I photograph Katie, my muse and heroine of our story. For almost 5 years I have projected my emotions on to her, and created a world around this timeless gift of a girl. I feel I know every hair on her head, crease in her skin, and have stared into her eyes more over these last few weeks, than probably any other person she knows. Without Katie this series would have been nothing, and I am so grateful to have been on this remarkable journey with her. As I look around my studio, her image radiates back at me glowing from a lake filled with lilies at sunset, in another she sits upon a giant cake dripping in liquid yellows and pinks, whilst high up on my shelf she walks through waist deep ferns, wearing tattered wings just after the dawn. All are real memories, captured and framed, like fragments of the most fantastical dream – a dream we all lived for real, and one I never want to wake up from.  They are postcards from the most extraordinary moments of my life, treasures I will cherish always, and tonight my company for now…….

                                             Behind the scenes film created by Richard Wakefield of FX Media

So, to return to the story, during the last scene “She’ll Wait For You In The Shadows Of Summer’, Wonderland was changing, nature had begun to shift and rise, embracing her inhabitants with outstretched arms of ivy and suffocating cloak of fauna. She has always been a silent part of every picture, an unspoken guardian leading each character along their paths of wild flowers, snow and golden leaves. She is all things, a shape-shifting backdrop of seasons and skies, life and death, and if I am honest, throughout all of this, has become the metaphor for my mother. The landscape is my comfort; it is what soothes me when I need her. From the very first shoot we often joked my mother was part of the team, I would say ‘she does the weather’, I put my trust in her, whatever she gave us, we would deal with it. This energy I feel in the woodlands is deep and indescribable, but above all it is home to me………. It is love………….

This emotion was something I always wanted to bring to the forefront of the story, and address in Katie’s last days. From now on the scenes are purely about this bond, and the relationship between the two. ‘The Secret Locked In The Roots of Kingdom’, is the moment in which nature reveals herself as Katie’s guardian.  A secret is whispered between the flowers of a hidden place that waits deep in the woods for her to find.  As the tale is told, their roots and vines entwine her form, overwhelming her frame with a coat of protective petals for the journey ahead. The flowers will guide her final path, their knowledge forming tendrils that pierce her mouth as ‘The Pure Blood Of A Blossom’ seeps into her heart………

The Secret Locked In The Roots Of A Kingdom‘The Secret Locked In The Roots Of A Kingdom’
(Close up detail crops below)

Kingdom close up
Kingdom face close up
‘The Pure Blood Of A Blossom’
The Pure Blood of a Blossom
Close up eye detail

eye close up

Inspiration

01 Inspirations (7)
01 Inspirations (8)
book(33 years later) My photograph beside the original illustrations by Errol Le Cain

As I have said many times before, the photographs are always completely intuitive for me, and something that just seems to flow from dreams and memories like a tap I am unable to switch off.  In particular this image was one of those, in that it had been clear in my head for almost two years and yet I had never really stopped to think about where it had come from. It was only this week, as I was preparing this entry that I honestly had quite a shock. Throughout the entire process of producing the pictures and editing them, I had feverishly been playing the soundtrack to the film ‘Perfume, The Story Of A Murderer’, thinking about the language of flowers, secrets, and the darker undertones of the stories my mother read to me. I never wish to be seen as someone who produces ‘pretty’ images; my work will always have a melancholy or darker edge to it than it may at first appear. I feel beauty and decay are intrinsic, and this is probably why I am so fascinated with nature.  The sense of a journey through seasons has always been at the heart of Wonderland, and this is a direct link to one of my favourite stories from my childhood ‘The Snow Queen’ specifically the edition illustrated by Errol Le Cain from 1981. Throughout the tale the little girl Gerda is guided by nature to find her missing friend Kaye (kidnapped by the queen). She listens to the voices of the wind, the water and most importantly the flowers, who use their roots to speak to their cousins in distant parts of the kingdom.  Gerda’s relationship with the earth had always been on my mind, and how the roses that grew around her window in the book were a symbol of home. So when I dug out my original copy this week, I suddenly found myself a little lost for words. As I placed my finished picture beside the illustration of Gerda and her flowers, a shiver ran through me…… the colours matched, the purples, green and corals, the silhouette of the witch’s hat, the shape of her profile, even the exaggerated eye drawn in soft mauve. The way the green earth studded with peach roses surrounded the characters took my breath away, it was as if it had been planned, but it hadn’t, at least not consciously.  So now I simply can’t stop looking at the two together as a pair, it’s hard to explain the fondness I feel, but it is as if a gap in time has momentarily closed. Vivid memories of my mother turning the pages as she read to me, her voice, her warmth, it fills me with happiness and heartbreak all at once. I am moved that 33 years later they bizarrely work beside each other, it is an unnerving mix of emotion that makes we wish I could run to her like a child and show her what I have made.

Costume

coat front small
coat sides small
coat back small
wig 1 small
wig2 small
Making The Costume

making wig
Adding vintage silk flowers to the base of the wig

making coat
Katie’s coat of flowers and wig being made in my studio  (unfinished)

naking wig and coat 2

Katie’s costume for this scene (and the pictures that follow) is probably the most beautifully made and refined of all the outfits in the series. I absolutely love every part of it and now have the wig and coat on display in my studio (which makes me smile every morning when I arrive). I have never made a wig before, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and just made it up as I went along. I used a LOT of glue, a lot of extremely cheap hair extensions, gardening wire and just stitched and squished the shape to life. The coat started life as a humble £9 duvet, which I then quilted and covered using antique curtains. All the flowers took a long time to source as they are from endless places, many were old vintage shops as I was specifically after typical English garden flowers.  It was an expensive and difficult piece to make, but in the end I have no regrets as it was a dream come true once I had finished, and I now take great delight in owning such an ridiculously eccentric flower display!

Shoot Day

make up

The day of the shoot was nothing like the huge production of my previous entry, but even so it was still very stressful in a different kind of way. The biggest problem with working with plants is the obvious fact that they simply don’t last long before they start to wilt. The hollyhocks were especially fragile with only a window of around 8 hours of use after being cut .To add to my problems Elbie was unable to come a day early as planned to help gather the ivy from the woods, and then to my utter dismay my car broke down !
In the end I was faced with 24 hours to find two specific types of ivy, one that grew in trails, and another more unusual pale cream species that grows together like a blanket over stonewalls. Car-less, I spent the day in a blind panic searching my local area by bike and on foot, until to my great embarrassment with scratched arms and muddy clothes, I was forced to drag sack loads of ivy from my local wood back through the streets to my home. I worked non-stop into the evening, spending a further 3 hours cutting and sizing leaves from the trees in my garden to create the backdrop and base of the picture. By sundown I was shattered, I hauled my bounty to the studio and began building the set using an old screen and chicken wire frame to hang the ivy from. As midnight approached I was only half ready and vaguely hysterical, I went home and slept for a few hours and then set out again at 3 am to cut the flowers. Hollyhocks are a flower I had wanted to use for many years, they grow to extraordinary heights like great spears of colour with strange bulbous pods that knot at the stem. If you are lucky they can be found wild, so I cut bundles from the roadside in my village, as well as a few utterly odd flower’s I later discovered to be called ‘Bears Breeches’ (which are now my favourite flower)!
By 5am I dragged myself and the flowers back to the studio, placed them in pots of water and fell asleep for a handful of hours before Katie, Richard and Elbie arrived.
Despite my best efforts by the morning the leaves I had cut the night before were already beginning to curl and the hollyhocks were starting to droop in the July heat. It took a further 5 hours to prepare Katie and finish the set, simply because almost every part of the foliage and costume were connected with wire or woven together. It was incredibly static, Katie was only able to sit in one pose and not move for the entire shoot. All the curves you see in the pale ivy that echo the shape of the hair are real and not manipulated in Photoshop. The wig was impossible to support naturally and so had to be wired to the ceiling beam above the set, and then threaded into the leaves.
                                                               (Film stills below from time lapse by FX Media)

bts 5

bts 1
bts 2
bts 4

However, exhausted as I was, when everything was in position I couldn’t help but hop from one foot to the other, it was such a beautiful, beautiful sight, even more magical than I had first imagined it in my head.  Elbie was squealing and Richard couldn’t stop grinning as he filmed the final wide shot of Katie in full character, she just looked so extraordinary I had to keep covering my gaping mouth in delight. If I’m honest I feel its one of my best ever portraits, and I’m very proud of it.  It took an entire month to edit as the final piece it is actually 2 meters high. Thanks to my new D800E every single microscopic frayed petal edge, glue strand, stray hair and broken leaf is visible at that scale, (especially when spot lit in a gallery) so the retouching was a whole new level of refinement for me as an artist, and took a great deal of patience. Anyway to end, there will also be plenty more of this costume to come, so the coat will also have its full photographic moment in the pictures that follow. It has been a monumental amount of work to create this character, but now it’s all finally over I’m so glad I pushed through it to create something I now love so very, very much……

** Update ! since posting this entry  ‘The Secret Locked In The Roots Of A Kingdom’ has been selected by Italian Vogue as their photo of the day :)

vogue new
And I also had the amazing news that last week Wonderland was published in ‘Stern’ Germany’s biggest selling weekly magazine (almost 1 million readers). It was a huge honour to be their main photo story, the magazine has been running since the 1940′s and has enormous coverage. I don’t usually write about press in these entries anymore, but this was quite a special moment for the series, I’m really thrilled.

stern full

Wonderland …. ‘She’ll Wait For You In The Shadows of Summer’

December 2nd, 2013

‘She’ll Wait For You In The Shadows Of Summer’
(View Large Here)

This photo represents such a deeply  complex range of emotions for myself that I often struggle when I look at it, and no doubt I always will. It is about love, loss, and longing, tinged with the dark aftertaste of my own self inflicted impossible standards. It is one of the hardest pictures I have ever created, and the one I would call my ‘limit’ in terms of how far I now know I can push myself . It is a roller coaster for my heart, filled with highs and lows and for once I am finding it hard to write the right words. I am proud of it, largely because of the amount of time, patience and preparation that went into the scene , but also because it forced me to attempt a new level in shooting I have never done before, one that scared me to be honest.

But before I explain the process, I must begin with the meaning so you can slowly sink back into the story.  The picture is of the ghost of Gaia’s former  human self….. her ‘shell’, abandoned by her spirit, like a snake that has shed its skin. We are returned to Wonderlands landscape following the picture of Gaia’s rebirth, to discover the aftermath of her transformation . The butterfly effect has begun…… her vibrations have shattered the fine balance between life and the land, and nature has begun to overpower its inhabitants. The scene was intended as an echo of ‘Gaia’s Spell’ ….. a similar yet entirely different image that would be the metaphor for this ‘shift’ in the earth. Gaia’s ghost is left forgotten and weeping in the shadows, slowly becoming entwined and swallowed by the vines that chain her to the galleon and the ground. This ‘hollow self’ has parallels to many feelings in my life right now…..  the concept of waiting for something you know you will never have, or see again. It has been 5 years since I lost my mother, a time that feels endless but in someways still leaves a sense of possibility, in that it has not yet been long enough to feel final. That I could turn a corner and she could still pass me by . This faint anticipation is hopeless, but nonetheless lays quietly in the pit of my stomach, and maybe this photograph is the reflection of that. They say every photo is a self portrait no matter what the subject is, and there have been times when my blood has run cold at the realisation of the connections locked deep within my finished pictures. Wonderland is ending, but I can never imagine the characters fading, they will always be alive within me,…..and maybe this is how they will remain…. encircled by nature, albeit brutal… or an embrace.
In short this is about trying to face a goodbye, one that you know you can never say out loud, and instead would rather wait in those last remaining shadows of that person…. until they came back to you, to feel their arms around you again …. no matter how long it took.
This picture weighs heavy on my heart,  and I am so grateful to Marianna my model for channeling the emotion so beautifully for me. It is a strange and haunting melody of release, one that was necessary for myself and the story, so I guess it is only fitting that it became one of the most difficult shoots and edits I have ever produced. However despite it all, I am left with the most extraordinary thrill when watching the film back from the day. The final scene that reveals Gaia and the her boat just after twilight, feels like a dream ripped from my body and brought to life. Sometimes these pictures are so much work I cannot understand it all until it is there in front of me living and breathing, and often even then it is almost too overwhelming. It took 6 months of waiting for the right time, the right light and weather, and for nature to grow around the boat. I know some people may think I’m mad, but it was worth every minute to be able to step inside that fragment of another world on that day, and this is simply  why I work the way I do ……

Close up crops

6 months before the shoot …………….

So this was how it all began, 6 months before the shoot day back in February 2013.  The yellow boat from ‘Gaia’s Spell’ had been left outside in my back garden for almost 2 years and was in a terrible state (which was deliberate). It was full of leaves and watery slime, and we were faced with the daunting challenge of transporting it all the way from my house to an area of protected bogland in the middle of a private wood. To set the scene, it was so cold we could barely feel our fingers, snow was due at any moment, and the sun would set at around 4.30pm (It was  2pm). The van we hired was too small, and there was only myself, Elbie and my husband to manhandle the boat across the lawn and into the back…… (its fair to say there was a lot of swearing)
The whole way to the woods every rattle and thump stopped our hearts as the back doors were only held together with rope. The tip of the boat was overhanging by about a half a meter, but we had no choice but to carry on as  it was a race against time to reach the location before sun down.
Once we arrived at the foot of the wood, the kind land owners Alexandra and Alex turned up to help us with the epic boat drag down the hill and through the trees to the underbelly of their bogland, where the boat would be left. I wont go into the comedy that ensued, but the photos below will give you an idea. Basically it was night by the time we had made it ,and the disheveled little galleon was laid to rest in its new home…….


Like most things I attempt in the Wonderland series, almost every new picture is an unknown and a challenge for me. When I had the original idea of leaving the boat somewhere in the woods to overgrow, I had no idea where or how I would be able do it. I knew I couldn’t leave it just anywhere unprotected, and it was only by a fleeting chance that I discovered a friends sister owned some woodland. It was my only option, unlike other locations in the series I obviously choose them for their aesthetics, but in this case I was entering into things blind.  When we left the boat in February the entire area was dead and barren, it was a complete gamble, I had absolutely no idea how the landscape would look by the summer. It would basically be impossible to move the boat ever again, as we would have to pull it from the sinking mud  and drag it up a steep hill, so I had no choice but to say my goodbyes to our galleon, and return over the coming months to chart natures progress

Thankfully, as you can see from the picture below, the transformation was extraordinary and far exceeded anything I could have ever imagined . Over the years  since starting the project I think my greatest lesson and advice to others is to have patience, and I mean this most sincerely. Be patient with your work and your ideas, do not rush them for the sake of producing pictures quickly to feed the internet. Work hard, plan and only when you are ready and satisfied follow your concepts through. I guess this had to be the ultimate example for myself, and now all the stress is over I am so glad I went through with it.

Shooting The Picture

(All behind the scenes pictures taken by FX Media)

It was now July 2013 and for the first time in years Britain finally had a hot summer. I cant express how nerve wracking it is for me trying to plan big outdoor shoots in this country as the weather is so unpredictable anything can happen. I don’t have huge teams and a massive budget, everything is made by hand and I scrape through every new experience on a wing and a prayer. So to face a situation that would involve exposed constant lighting, a generator, a decorated galleon and a model in a 9ft silk dress in a muddy bog was a worry to say the least. Luckily the promise of dry weather was an enormous relief, and so the date was set for July 17th.
In the two weeks that led up to the shoot I spent most of my time visiting the boat on my own. It was a time I really valued and felt so precious to me. I would leave in the early morning around 6.30am, and arrive just in time to catch the first bright shards of sunlight that sliced through the silent wood. Those mornings gave me time to think, to connect with the land, and slowly let the picture form in my head. Since losing mum its fair to say that the woodlands have become my spiritual home, it is where I am my true self. Where I sit, and watch life crawl, fly and grow around me, tilt my bare face to the sun, and trail my hands through ferns . I love being on my own in this way, no one really knows this side of me because It is so private, but it’s where I feel better, I can breathe and my demons leave me alone.
During those days I charted the sun, where it would be in the sky and how the light would look on the boat. I took pictures from all different angles and heights using my trusty step ladder and started work on decorating the boat. I made new distressed sails , and collected two car loads of ivy to weave around its disheveled form.. I sprayed bleach onto the sails to fade their colour, and used spray paint in white and brown, to create ‘real-life photoshop’ adding highlights and low lights to the fabrics and the boat edges. It was a real luxury of time that I have never experienced before, and was invaluable for the picture.


It was during this time that I had also become mildly obsessed with the work of Gregory Crewdson. I rarely look at other photographers, In fact I am always more influenced by historical painting, but I had found myself watching his documentary Brief Encounters and became more and more interested in attempting lighting for an outdoor scene .To be clear I have never used professional lighting on location, only home made contraptions with light bulbs, cables and the contents of a DIY store. But once I had set my mind to it, I knew this would probably be the only possible picture that would be suitable. I wanted to take the shot just before twilight, at the end of the ‘golden hour’ when there would be  enough light for the woods to have a warm glow, but the boat and the model would need to be picked out with spotlights. It was a ridiculous idea… my first ever attempt would be in a muddy bog, full of dangerous pit falls, water, and only one small generator. But I decided to go for it nonetheless…. (gulp)


Finally the day of the shoot arrived and as usual I felt sick with worry as it was such a big idea and I knew it would take hours to set up. We got to the foot of the woods and spent hours carrying all the equipment down to the bogland. The mud was a serious issue, people were getting stuck up to their knees, and there was a genuine threat of going waist deep in parts. We had to use wooden boards as bridges and crates to set up small areas for the equipment. Elbie worked methodically on our model Marianna turning her into our ‘ghost’ spraying her hair and body white, Whilst I ripped vines from the surrounding trees to cover the base of the dress. It was hard, hot, physical work and took hours. Poor Marianna was then balanced on a table, her enormous dress put on, and finally the vines were attached to her body.  We had to run wires from the trees to support her hair extensions, and further lengths between her body and the boat to attach the vines that ‘chained’ her to its side. In short, she was completely unable to move for over 4 hours. I hadn’t really thought about the reality of that until Elbie and I had  finished dressing the scene, and I am eternally grateful to her for such a super- human effort on her part for the picture.
Finally  I am so thankful to say I was lent a full rig of amazing Lupolux constant lighting by my dear friend Miss Aniela for the shoot. They were fantastic, and powerful enough to light the set from quite a distance (as this would be a very wide shot). The constant lighting helped me visualise the scene far better, and allowed us to try out various effects such as textured drapes using lace over the lamps. This helped to mimic a similar dappled light pattern to the natural one formed by the surrounding trees.


Finally at 5pm everything was ready, the late afternoon light was softening and the insects were out in full force searching for blood (hence our bizarre headscarf fashions for protection). To top off the pressure my father had also come along to witness the chaos, it was the first shoot he has ever seen me do, and will probably be last considering it took about 18 hours from start to finish =S !!  So I had no choice but to bite my lip and pray I would get the picture I had been dreaming of for well over a year. We lit the powerful smoke bombs and Adrian my assistant began to zig zag through the scene filling it with a mix of yellow and white smoke. Richard our film maker (FX Media) managed to capture the most epic crane shots panning the entire set from the grass to the sky, swallowing up every detail as the camera rose. We all stood and watched as the smoke curled and hung in the humid air, pools of golden light clung to the trunks of the trees in the distance, and Marianna transformed into Gaia’s ghost…. twisting and pulling at the vines that wrapped her pale body. It was the most surreal and extraordinary sight to behold, the branches appeared to ravage her tiny frame, and the distressed knotted hair extensions gave a ghostly glow around her shoulders, as they were caught in the lights……..


As day turned to night I carried on shooting. I had envisaged two versions of the scene and wanted to carry on until sunset. I wasn’t sure which would be the most successful, so we continued for four hours until 9pm when I finally called it a day. We released the last of the smoke bombs in one epic finale which Richard filmed with a 9ft crane, capturing the last trails of smoke as they soared over the galleon below, and then it was over ……….
It had been one whole year of thinking the scene through, 6 months for the boat to bed down in the landscape, 2 weeks of prep on location and an 18 hour day for the shoot. I had barely eaten all day, and was shaking with adrenaline at the close. It had been an absolutely gargantuan effort on everyone’s part. The amount of equipment that had to be carried and the state of the land we had to work on was a huge challenge.  I had frequently shouted, panicked, and been a total detail freak during the day, testing everyone’s patience, and all I can say now to my dear friends and family, is thank you for helping me get through one of the hardest shoots of my life. It was definitely my physical limit, but was also (as so many of the Wonderland shoots are) one of the most extraordinary days of my life.
I cannot explain what it is like to do things like this for real. the sense of achievement on the day is overwhelming. It is not about back slapping and taking an ‘awesome picture’ (I still had no idea if I had actually taken a decent photograph) , for me it is about living ‘a life less ordinary’ . We had built something incredible that day, out of sheer blood sweat and tears. We were muddy, tired, and wired, but had experienced the most bizarre and beautiful thing. Each person had enriched the scene with their own efforts, worked together and had be rewarded with the sense of accomplishment that you don’t often get in everyday life. We had made our own little movie set, minus the Hollywood budget, and for that I am so damn proud…..


To end ….. just as we had started cutting the vines down and began to release Marianna from her 4 hour prison, to my surprise, my dad appeared through the back of the set and strode in for a souvenir photo . As I write these words , I am sitting here grinning because I’m so very glad he did. It had never occurred to me to get such a picture as I was just too tired, but now I have them I will treasure them always. It has been 5 years since we lost mum, and both our lives have changed dramatically because of it. When we had no hope, I seriously doubt either of us could have imagined a future where we had this photo taken together deep in an english wood at twilight. I guess it proves the yin and yang of life, how at times we will all pass through the good and bad. How it breaks us, heals us, tests us, but ultimately we have to try and find beauty in its depths somehow….. and learn to live again…..
To me that is what these pictures stand for, we are surviving our loss, and Wonderland has brought us closer together than I think we’ve ever been….  So dad if you’re reading this (at 3am knowing you)….. I just wanted to say I love you very much  xxx

*** Special thank you’s !!!!

As I frequently mention in my blog I am constantly humbled by the support of others and the kindness I have been shown by friends, and more recently companies who are approaching me and giving me the chance to work with their fantastic products. As this was such a big production I wanted to just take a moment to thank the following people for their contribution to making the  picture and film.
Music
First is my friend the composer Diego Buongiorno from Rome. Who came to our rescue and created a beautiful unique mix of his tracks ‘Let Your Eyelids Close Down‘ and  ‘All The Days’  from his album The Bush for the film. I am so grateful and lucky to know someone who can compliment the emotion of my work with their music in such a way, and just wanted to say thank you for all your hard work and patience on this piece Diego.
Lighting
Secondly I want to take this opportunity to thank Andrea Lupo of Lupolux who following this shoot heard about my use of their lighting, and has since become a sponsor of my work. I am now the proud owner of 4 beautiful lights and I can’t wait to use them on my next big shoot !
Location
Basically this picture would not exist if it was not for the kindness of the land owners Alexandra and her husband Alex (yes that’s their real names :) !  If you are a budding photographer or film crew and are in need of a woodland location for our project, you can contact them about hiring the land for tour purposes here – @  The Magic Wood

Wonderland Team Credits

ModelMarianna Toka
Hair and Make-upElbie van Eeden
Film and behind the scenes photosFX Media   ** I wanted to say a special thank you to Richard for the production of this particular film, as it has been an especially challenging one to shoot and put together. Thank you for your patience and putting up with all my endless requests and tweaks. I adore the film and I’m so grateful for all your hard work on making this into something really beautiful, that I am incredibly proud of .
Assistants - Adrian Farr  and Matthew Stevensen