I always have 3 or 4 Secret Garden characters in the making at once. Which means I am avidly collecting flowers, scouring the internet for strange and unique things I could incorporate into the garden world. I spend days, glueing, spray painting, sewing and cast plastering. Some days I feel like I am a crazy person.
I often wonder why? why I do any of this. Is it because I feel as if there is some empty void I need to fill with art? Or is it the rush I feel when I realize that I can create the things I have imagined? These last few weeks (beginning from the resurrection of the series) have been like this for me. This back and fourth of what to make, how to make it, and questioning why am I even creating.
There was an entire day last week where I experimented with different types of polythermal plastics all day. That was it. The only thing I did that entire day! I was working on a piece for a concept to be shot much later in the series and no matter what I put together it just didn't seem to be working the way I had envisioned. That is how it often is. That missing puzzle piece that people often don't seem to see online these days. The simple fact that I am researching like a mad woman everyday and constantly learning new ways to make things. That I fail time and time again when constructing costumes and making props. That it's never just one idea and poof everything is shot. It's one idea that changes and evolves. One idea can grow 70 different limbs. Then I have a small seed of an idea that grows into a giant wall of blossoming branches and then it becomes my job to make it all real. It's a never ending cycle and each week I am working on many different concepts in tandem. I like to say I am an artist. A self proclaimed one and now I know what that really feels like. Everyday I dedicate towards the Secret Garden now.
The Sun Queen. This concept is close to my heart. Because of everything it represents. It represents a colour resurgence back into the series. It represents the light to the dark. It takes my biggest love of art and inspiration and wraps it all together into this perfect little gift box. The White Witch had represented the death and rebirth of something. The Sun Queen was that rebirth. As I mentioned, I always find it so bizarre how the series concepts follow the way I feel in real life. It is art imitating life. I guess that makes sense since I am me and I can't possibly disconnect who I am, my feelings, my thoughts, or my desires from myself. So all of that explodes into the art and images I am creating. The Sun Queen wasn't originally planned but with everything in life we need to embrace the surprises. I have now added a few more concepts (that weren't in the original plans) into the series that I feel the garden world truly needs. They will help tell the garden story as it progresses.
Everything started when I was thinking about the painter Klimt. In the back of my mind I have always wanted to photograph something inspired by the strange shaped and colourful works by Klimt. However, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how I was going to make that work. Or how I could translate that into my photography. I had recently worked with my great friend and makeup artist Jilly on a fashion editorial where we used gold flakes on the models eyes and it all started to spiral from there. Gold flakes, Klimt, Yellow, The Sun. All such strange connections and yet somehow they make sense in my peculiar little mind. As soon as I pictured the model in my mind I knew what I had to do. I knew this image needed a model that was underrepresented in the series. Someone unique, someone who would be the Klimt Sun Queen of my dreams and that's when Hillary introduced herself to me. I am always searching for the right model for every concept. As in my mind I can see all of the images and I can always see what the fairytale subject will look like. Whether she is blonde, brunette, a red head I can always see her very vividly. I could see my Sun Queen very vividly as well.
Hillary sent me an e-mail with a few images attached and everything just clicked. I truly, truly believe in karma and the right timing. As both of those things seem to come together for the series and almost scarily. Just when I think it won't all come together I get a glimmer of hope and it usually comes in the form of people who believe in the series as much as I do. Just like finding the right sun queen, Katie, our new videographer became another a glimmer as well. Another piece of the Secret Garden puzzle. I was telling my husband for weeks now that I needed someone to make more compelling video for the series. Usually it's just me shooting some behind the scenes shots quickly then sticking the tripod and camera in the corner of the attic to record some of the shoot. It's difficult I can't be both the photographer and the videographer. As much as that pains me to admit. I like to have control over everything and I always feel like I push myself so much that I am used to pushing myself to try and do everything I humanly can. However, it comes to that point where the work is suffering because of it. I can't fully commit to making the videos like I commit to making the images, or the props and costumes. There just isn't enough of me to go around. The videos in the beginning were used as a way to tell the behind the scenes story. So people could see the attic and the small set. So I could have more of a visual diary to accompany the photos then just behind the scenes images. However, as the series sis growing it needs much more to tell it's story and in stepped Katie.
Katie has been a friend for a few years now. She's a fellow photographer and videographer. She is almost at the end of her college photography course and needed someone to work with for her internship. We chatted on skype one night for so long that my fully charged laptop was at a measly 2% by the end of our call. I loved being able to tell Katie about all the things that the series needed from a video stand point. Everything really clicked and she just completely understood me and the vision of the series. I could breath a sigh of relief because I felt like the weight of making videos or finding someone who would understand the series the way I do was lifted off my shoulders. It's always hard to find people to work with you who love what you are creating as much as you do. I mean why should they care about my ideas or my concepts. Who am I to ask anyone else in this world to give a shit about what I do? and yet time and time again I find those amazing people and I am beyond grateful and humbled.
For the series I am quite picky as well. I really need to find those people who love every aspect of what they do as much as I love what I do. It's not just about throwing some make-up on a girls face, it's not just about standing in a set and posing it's about so much more then that. I love to work with those people who see it as challenging the way I do. When a model steps into the garden world and tells me they feel so ethereal or tells me that they want to make sure that they do an amazing job and do justice for their concept I am blown away and so completely overjoyed. I love to see the creativity oozing out of others when I am shooting. For me the series is so much about immersing myself in a pretend world that resides in my attic. That is what makes it so special for me. I want the people I am working with to feel immersed in their own magical world even if it's only for a few hours.
For the series I work with a small selection of make-up/hair artists. I work with artists who have become my friends. People who have been with me from the very beginning. Who wanted to collaborate with me before the series went viral, or before I had enough time to even become a better photographer. They were the ones with me from day one and I have so much love and respect for those people in my life. Without them I have nothing and I owe this series to them. I owe it to them to let them create other worlds with me. Jilly stepped in for make-up and hair. It's been such a long time coming to have her part of the series. We worked together pretty much every weekend this passed summer and I think we both have really grown a lot and have grown together. She was even one of the original make-up artists who worked with me in 2008/09 when I was discovering the more conceptual side of my work. It's crazy to think how much we have both grown as artists.
Everything about the shoot came together smoothly. I started with the Klimt paintings as inspiration and went from there. The set would be yellow, the dress a mixture of yellows and blues, and I knew I needed a collar. Just like the painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. It looks as if she has this circular collar behind her in the painting and I really wanted to emulate that. So I created a caster plast collar with the base made out of 4 wire hangers glued together. I spray painted the collar and glued the sun flowers and daisies onto it. There wasn't too much to make for the set this time around as the dress was designed/created a few years back. I never really got to shoot it in it's full potential but knew instantly that it needed to have it's time in the "sun" (no pun intended). The callalily flowers were a surprise find. I was thrift shopping for a completely different prop when I found these giant callayilies. I almost didn't purchase them but instinctively I kept holding onto them.
The more I looked at the paintings the more and more I began to think of a narrative for the concept. The sun. It took me back to high school when I wrote a paper on the egyptian sun goddess Sekhmet. I loved the egyptian mythology and remember being enthralled in that class learning about the gods and goddesses and the king's and queen's of Egypt. I love how powerful the woman were regarded as. For the garden The Sun Queen became the awakening of spring. Opening the doors to the blasts of colour and much larger concepts that are going to cloak the secret garden series.
The Sun Queen is an immense accomplishment for me as I feel it is the most technically inspired. Each concept has a narrative but none have been so complicatedly inspired. I feel that the rest of the series is moving more into that direction. Where it's not just about this one main idea but many ideas all layered into one. I even feel like everyone on set may have felt that way. I was watching Jilly work and I could see her concentration. I could see it in her eyes that she wanted to make the makeup as explosive and perfect for the concept as possible. Even at the end of the day she mentioned to me how she had so much inspiration dancing around her head that she was so happy she made it all work out. I never had a doubt in my mind as I know how talented she is but it was great to see she was just as challenged as I was. Also, watching Katie doing the video was quite exciting for me. At one point I was standing screaming excitedly at Hillary (as I usually do) and Katie was sitting directly under me videoing everything that was going on in the scene. It was a surreal moment. I could see how excited Katie was getting her shots and I felt like there was this overall positive energy flowing from her. It was this massive synergy between everyone.
The smoke bombs were giving me trouble and of course because I am a mess of a person so many clumsy things happened. I dropped 5 of the smokes bombs down the stairs, misplaced things several times, and closed my finger in a sliding door. I must seem crazy to the onlooker but the reality is most of my shoots usually are like this. However, the smoke bombs once lit were perfect and the smoke drifted very evenly throughout the set. The sun queen had come to life and everything felt smooth and right.
I try to keep myself from getting too excited as I am now finally starting to see the direction in which the garden series is heading. It inches closer and closer to the end however and I find myself panicking at the thought of everything I need to make and just how quickly I need to make those things. The set is really just starting to transform and with every shoot it's a beautiful beginning but also a sad goodbye. The entire series is so ephemral. It's created for weeks, lived in for hours then it's gone. It completely becomes something new. Those moments, that concept, that world only existed for a short amount of time. There's only eight shoots left for the entire series. It overwhelms, excites and saddens me all in the same. I remind myself it's not over yet and there is so much work left to be done.