The Secret Garden has awaken…..
I'm sitting at my computer desperately trying to put into words the many thoughts that seem to scramble through my brain at lightening speed. I feel as though I must explain what this series means to me first. I have been a photographer, a creator and artist now for almost seven years. Seven years, I often think about that number. How it feels like an eternity yet at times it can feel as though I just picked up my first camera a gift from my husband (then boyfriend). I've realized years mean nothing when it comes to art. One can be into it for a month and gain recognition in a split instance, and another can be photographing their heart out for over 20 years and still waiting for that "lucky break". I guess this is the inner challenge I face being a photographer and being an artist. Loosing my creativity time and time again, feeling weak at times, wanting to let go of it all. Yet there is that pull. The pull that tears at my little heart strings bringing me back to those moments of bliss where I am standing in front of a scene that I created. With people who truly are creatives in their own right, and there they are supporting me and believing in my work and my vision.
Taking photographs of people is my strength. It is the one thing that I love almost more then anything else, but the stories are where my heart truly lies. Seven years has allowed me to dabble into different stories. To tell stories that are fashion based, to capture other peoples love through my wedding business, to have fun with my ideas, but the one thing I have struggled with from day one (and yes this is me completely admitting my weakness and coming to terms with it) is being able to create worlds on a larger scale and to continue to pursue those worlds be it in a small project or series.
I have the heart, I have the imagination but I guess sometimes I just don't have the patience. I realized I am good at getting my ideas together, sourcing what I need, even making the clothing, the props, scouting locations finding the right team to work with. I am good at this it is second nature to me. I then get out into the world with my team and we photograph beautiful images together that tell a cohesive story, this is editorial making. This is what became my security blanket. Always knowing that if I want at anytime I can make 5 dresses and run into the forest with a model on an overcast day, and though there is nothing wrong with this, not a single thing, I began to realize that this is "safe" for me.
In 2012 I created a short series called "Empyrean". The series was my shinning light in what was two years prior to being... well I can just say it anxiety driven and even somewhat depressed. Long story short I was in school for photography, It wasn't the right place for me to be at the time, and though I don't like to talk too much about my personal life online there are a few things I need say and come to terms with, because going into "Secret Garden" I want to be open and free to be the person I am.
The reason why things were so hard for me from 2010-2012 is because in 2010 we found out that my amazing mother in law had an inoperable tumor. It is something I have kept pretty quiet about because I feel as though sometimes it is the right thing to do not to have the whole world know about every situation you are going through. I am so very close to my mother in law. My husbands parents are my second parents. My mother in law always encouraged me with my photography and I would find myself sitting with her at 3am talking to her about my struggles when no one else would understand me there she was telling me to pursue my dreams. It has been hard watching her go through so much pain, pain I can't even fathom. I don't know how she remains so strong (as she continues to push herself still to this very day.) She is still very ill, and we don't know if that will ever change. On the day's that I feel "unlucky" or sad or even just having a pity party for myself I think of her.
With that being said I really feel it is time to come out with this as I know so many people suffer from it. When I was 16 I found myself getting really anxious all the time. Unable to do simple tasks like walk home or wait in line at the store. I woke up on the street a few times, completely confused and having just fainted from an anxiety attack. My doctor told me that I had an anxiety disorder. For those who don't know anxiety can feel a lot like a heart attack. We naturally have a flight or fight response as humans when we begin to feel anxious, eventually this calms down and our hearts beat normal again, but when you have anxiety this feeling does not calm down. Your heart continues to beat too quickly, your face turns red, you feel hot and flushed and then you start to see the spots. Anything that makes you feel "Unsafe" in your mind triggers this response. Sometimes you even pass out. You no longer want to do the things that "might" trigger this response, and this is when it gets difficult to live with anxiety. I tried medication when I was much younger but quickly realized it wasn't the way I personally wanted to deal with the anxiety. I went to therapy to help me control my anxiety attacks. It helped, but I don't think I will ever be rid of it.
Here is where photography comes into play. Being able to keep my mind thinking creatively is what helps my anxiety the most. Challenging myself and doing things that scare me help rewire my brain and in turn helps me feel much more at peace and less anxious. Photography is my therapy. As corny as it sounds. When I am photographing I feel free of the constraints that life has on me, I feel free of the constraints that my body has on me. I am so drawn in the moment and truly living in the story that I have created. I don't stop taking pictures because of my anxiety, being out there, taking those photos and pushing myself pushes the anxious feelings away, and it is amazing. It has helped me more then anyone would know.
So I know you are wondering what does any of this have to do with "Secret Garden"? Well it has Everything to do with this series because the series is really a reflection of who I am and what I feel, the struggles and the achievements of my life and also the up's and downs that I think anyone in the world might feel. Along with the things I love and the voices of other creatives who support the series. My mother in law is the strength that I think about when I feel as though I can't do something, and not to mention that strong female presence is always around me strengthening me. I have an amazing mother who has supported me like no other since the day I picked up a camera and two sisters who believe in me. I am truly lucky to have so many positive people in my life who help me deal with the negativity that this industry and artistic field can sometimes bring. (of course I would never forget my husband who is my #1 support system as an artist and entrepreneur).
The love, the positivity the strength of these people in my life show me that I can open that door. If I want to be unsafe I can be, and if that means loosing myself in a project that is going to challenge the hell out of me then so be it.
When I started "Secret Garden" it was almost by accident. The original idea was much grander and a lot different. It was only supposed to be an editorial type story, but there I was unable to make it all work out so I switched gears and found myself thinking of "Secret Garden". One backdrop sat alone collecting dust in my attic and I couldn't bare to just leave it sitting there. I had this crazy idea in my head that what if instead of falling back to my security blanket I stood in front of this backdrop and made myself re-imagine it several times. What if I was never allowed to step outside to photograph? What if it wasn't as easy as finding a lilac bush in the spring, but instead I had to make a lilac concept out of scratch? Could I do this? Could I really change this backdrop and add to it enough times that new idea's and characters could spawn from it? Could I use what I have learned from the past seven years and put all of that knowledge and heart into this series?
I don't know the answer but what I do know is I am trying. 'The Ice Queen: The First Frost' is the first concept in Secret Garden. I didn't know it then but I know now just how personal this series is already starting to become. How much of a reflection of myself my art actually is. The Ice Queen had put a freeze on the garden. Leaving it cold and lonely. Soon after those images I switched gears completely to focus my time and energy on another side of my photography. On the business side and it has been great and it is a journey in it's self. However I began to feel lost as a conceptual photographer/artist. It was like an itch I couldn't scratch and I found myself telling my husband that I felt like something was missing. I know now it was a piece of my creative soul.
It isn't something that affected me on a day to day basis. I was photographing beautiful stories for clients and getting really good at it. I was and am enjoying that aspect of photography and being a business woman at the age of 26. I can't believe how much I have accomplished so far but yet there was still something missing. I found myself looking at Secret Garden over and over again. I couldn't leave the garden frozen, barren of characters and colours. I knew there were stories that needed to be told. When I close my eyes sometimes I see them. They are just vividly in front of my face. Some are children, some are beautiful women some are older woman with a feeling of mighty royalty. So I finally awoke from a deep sleep and freeze photographically and out came 'The Queen Awakes'.
The Queen of Secret Garden has been asleep. In a deep dream frozen in her own land. The idea of the classic fairytale sleeping beauty was the main inspiration behind the character. I began collecting illustrations from the the story and even watching movie adaptions of sleeping beauty. The back drop was the very first ingredient in the series and it has always been inspired by floral art installations and recently by the many floral Dior walls I started to see in 2011/2012. The garden needed a main focal point. Something that I could build around or use simply.The idea of sleeping or having a concept and character frozen in time was one I had in my mind for a while now. I just didn't know how I could work this character into a photograph or how I could find a story to tell. Two movies that intrigued me with the 'sleeping' idea was The Brothers Grimm and Prince Caspian.
In the brothers Grimm Monica Belluci's character is asleep in her bed and webs surround her. I love that scene where Jacob see's her for the first time. There is something so eerie and yet beautiful. Of course when I saw Prince Caspian a few years later the part that really stuck in my mind was when the characters stumbled upon the sleeping kings.
Melora and I became friends through a working relationship. Melora spent many years working as model in the fashion industry and had switched gears and become a make-up artist and stylist. As i began to see Melora more and more during our client shoots I really caught on to just how whimsical she looked. She always reminded me of an ethereal queen and I constantly bugged her by telling her she needed to be a part of my series.
Well come September I knew I was going to pick the serious back up and as I mentioned I reached out to Melora and asked her to help me bring the series back. I couldn't picture anyone else as the original Queen of the Garden. The mother of the flowers awaken her children after a very long sleep.
I jumped right into the development of her character and my idea. First I needed to expand the backdrop. I can't believe how far the backdrop has come since 2012 when we first built it, then a few months later adding the flowers onto it for the Empyrean series. Back then I didn't realize just how many flowers I would actually need and how much of the backdrop I really should have covered in order to get the best photographic space to photograph within.
With the Ice Queen, I realized very quickly after the shoot that If I was to follow through with the garden and using only this one backdrop that I needed to expand the flower wall. I didn't realize just how limiting not having those extra flowers was going to be. I think that's the beauty of series and shoots like this you really learn things from them and you take those details with you in order to add to the next concept.
As I spray painted the backdrop I nearly passed out. Using 4 different spray paint colours to add to the backdrop in order to create a bit of shadows, highlights and depth to the flower wall. It mentioned on the spray companies site to make sure all windows are open and to wear a mask if you are going to use the product indoors. So I opened every window in site and began to spray, it must not have been enough because I could feel the blood rushing to my head and once I finally put the spray can down I flew down the attic stairs and immediately lied down pretty much gasping for air after I ripped off the paint mask.
I never said art wasn't dangerous.... but in the end all was well and I managed to head back up to the attic a little while later to add some finishing touches. I then sat down on the floor tired and a bit woozy and just examined the wall. It was marvelous. I could see some tid bits where I would need to do some touch up's, but for now it would work.
The hardest part of the shoot other then the normal challenges on the day of, was finding webbing after Halloween. To my dismay every store seemed to stock every Christmas decoration you could imagine but nowhere seemed to have a sale section for after Halloween. I spent a week going to every store I could think of, messaging people on face book when finally my sister suggested a store called Party City. I was just in time as they were hiding most of their Halloween stuff and putting the rest to the back of the store. I grabbed three packs and some other goodies and finally I could breathe a little again.
Only one week to go and Melora and I were sharing make-up ideas online everyday. Because she is also a make-up artist we decided that Melora would create her own look. I sent her over some inspirational idea's and everyday she created a new look to show me with the inspirations in mind. She sent a picture of herself with different make-up looks over face book and we would both tell each other what we liked about each look. In the end the make-up look was a combination of looks and the inspirations put together, and she did an absolutely beautiful job.
Finally the day was here. I barely slept the night before as excitement knotted my stomach up. After months breaking from conceptual work I was about to create an idea that had been stirring in my mind for months. It was a pleasant surprise when their was a knock at the door and a package I was waiting for had arrived. I used to have this giant fairytale book as a child called "The Fairy Book" with illustrations by Warwick Goble. I recently looked for the book but could not find it in my house anywhere. I remembered how in awe I was by the illustrations and by stories like Rumpelstiltskin and Beauty and the Beast. I had to have the book back, so I searched online and finally found a smaller version of the book.
It had arrived in the post and I was so excited to rip the packaging open and hold the book again. I found a used version so it was well loved, and those are always my favorite. I felt like it was a sign like a good omen that things would be okay and that the series would breathe life.
So finally after we attached Melora's hair to the garden and added the webs to her, the smoke machine puffed smoke into the scene and I sat there with my camera in hand looking at my childhood fairy tales for real, in real life. It was there. The Queen was awakening. In this little attic, surrounded by storage, boxes and other photography props, there was this one little world. The Secret Garden World.
Now that you have read through this giant post, I must say that it is looking as though June will be the month that Secret Garden has it's gallery show. Please remember that I will be collecting donations during the show for the charity 'Because I am a girl' I want good things to come from these fairytale dreams and I think this is the best way to start. Check out the previous entry to learn more.