Wonderland – ‘The Secret Locked in the Roots of a Kingdom’
‘The Secret Locked In The Roots Of A Kingdom’ (Left) 200 x 133 cm
‘The Pure Blood Of A Blossom’ (Right) 200 x 137cm
Its 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….
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 and if I am honest throughout all of this she 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’and put my trust in whatever she gave us and 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 a 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. As the tale is told, their vines entwine her form with a coat of the finest petals for the journey that lies 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………
Close up cropped sections of ‘The Secret Locked In The Roots Of A Kingdom’
‘The Pure Blood Of A Blossom’
Close up eye detail
(33 years later) My photograph beside the original illustrations by Errol Le Cain
I have found myself constantly 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 these pictures are 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 who was 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 a test print of my finished picture alongside an illustration of Gerda and her flowers. A shiver ran through me as the colours matched perfectly, the purples, green and corals, there was even a relationship between the silhouette of the witch’s hat, the shape of her face and her 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 all been planned, but it hadn’t, at least not consciously. I hadn’t opened that book for at least 4 years and now I simply can’t stop looking at the two together as a pair. It is 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 over 30 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.
Making The Costume
Adding vintage silk flowers to the base of the wig
Katie’s coat of flowers and wig being made in my studio (unfinished)
Katie’s costume for this scene is probably the most beautifully made and refined of all the outfits in the series. I absolutely love every part of it and I 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 and confess I had no idea what I was doing but now it is complete I know this is something I want to continue practicing in the future. Both pieces feel like a huge progression for me, and I adored every tiny stage of their development
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 beautiful 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, so I was alone 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 utterly exhausted and hauled my bounty through the trees to my studio and began building the set As midnight approached I was only half ready, 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 and I managed to cut bundles from the roadside in my village, as well as a few highly unusual blooms called ‘Bears Breeches’ I discovered growing on a building site of all places. These are officially now my favourite flowers, I have never seen anything like them before and they were incredible in the final mage. By 5am I dragged myself and the flowers back to the studio, placed them in pots of water and fell asleep on the studio sofa 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 woven together with threads and pins. It was incredibly static, Katie was only able to sit in one pose and not move for the entire shoot. All the curved waves you see in the pale ivy that echo the shape of the hair are real and not manipulated in the computer. They were controlled by wires bent into shape tied to supports out of the frame. The wig was also impossible to support naturally and so had to be tied to the ceiling beam above the set and then threaded into the leaves, it was a ridiculous set up, but the results were incredible. Once everything was in position I couldn’t help but jump from one foot to the other in sheer excitement it was such a beautiful sight, far more magical than I had ever dared imagine 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 looked so extraordinary I had to keep covering my gasping mouth in delight, If I’m honest I feel it is one of my best ever portraits and I am now so deeply proud of it.
** 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 🙂
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.