I take a deep breath in before writing this because this post is going to be one of the most memorable ones I think I have made in a while. Beginning again, phase two, a new start it’s all like a rebirth. It’s almost like a flower after a long dead winter. It’s a surprise every spring to see the new blooms in the garden. Somehow the stems are longer and the pedals are more vibrant then the year before. Here I am now at the beginning again. Starting my Secret Garden series for it’s second journey. Another voyage into the attic garden world.
2016 was a strange year and a difficult one for quite a few people. For me it was a year of travel and confusion. I was quite all over the place mentally, and though travelling was amazing I felt like I was missing out on being able to create. I was at a low point with my anxiety and I needed something to dig me out of this dark hole.
Everything was already put together for ‘The White Witch’. Every concept is already sketched and roughly thought out for the entire series. I stood in my attic (nearly a year ago) spray painting the blue backdrop back to white and draping 50 white wisteria’s overtop of the wall. I did everything I was supposed to for the set and yet there was something missing. It was like I didn’t believe in it. It was like all the magic had disappeared. The initial idea was in shambles and I had a hard time making up my mind with how this character was going to be worked out. I knew it would be the witch of the series. I just couldn’t see it in my head like I so often do.
I didn’t motivate myself to get everyone together to shoot. I just went back and fourth with ideas. It was a mess and I knew I couldn’t shoot it. That’s the thing about creating and photography, sometimes things just aren’t meant to be in those moments. I think it worked out for the best to be honest. So I left the set and closed the attic doors and that was it. I travelled and worked on fashion for the rest of the summer and tried to better myself as a photographer. I did it so I could come back to the series stronger and better. I have so much more to say with the garden world and I want to be able to say it with the best imagery I have ever produced. Not just simple stories that are forgotten about. I wanted my images (for the remainder of the series) to really take people to another world. For the viewer to connect on some emotional level with the garden.
I started by cleaning the attic space and it was a good thing I did because soon after I was interviewed by CBC news and through that article The Hamilton Spectator (a local paper) asked to interview me and photograph me in my set. This is why I believe in timing.
I moved the boxes that seemed to have grew higher and higher hiding the set away. The garden world was disappearing and I had let it disappear. I felt a sadness. I know that the garden world is so deeply bonded to who I am that it makes sense that if it was disappearing then so was my passion to create. Slowly bit by bit the boxes fell away and the space was cleared. I moved the set to create more space for the upcoming shoots and it felt like a well needed change. The set was changing and moving as I was changing and getting ready for bigger and better. The set is linked to me in some strange way. Like a trinket in a horror movie is linked to the cursed.
From that point on I haven’t slowed down. I have made myself sick to my stomach thinking about everything I need to create for the rest of spring/summer. I had made my head hurt with the fumes of spray paint. I have lie awake sleeplessly thinking about every detail of every concept. I have spent more money then I have telling myself how it’s going to all be worth it in the end once everyone can see what’s in my head come to fruition.
Everyday has been a day of a crazy projects. I tell my husband of all my ideas and I see him lifting his brow but he supports me and knows of my craziness by now. I sit in the backyard with one of the biggest props I have ever made. One of the most challenging things to date. A secret thing I want to hold off talking about in detail until it’s shot. It frustrates me to no end. I end up using silicone in a way I never thought I would. I am caster plastering, glueing flowers, making crowns and head pieces and it all feels so right. I love the paint smeared across my hands unable to be washed off no matter how hard I try.
I am back and it feels right. It feels like where I belong. I promised myself going into this new journey that I would work harder then I have ever before for this series. I make goals and plans and I push myself. I tell myself to keep going bigger and bigger and if I think of something impossible it drives me to make sure that it actually happens. I tell myself to make meaningful art now and I know that will be a challenge.
Five days before ‘The White Witch’ and I find myself putting the final touches together for the concept. The grass goes in, the snow machine is ready, The floral armour is painted. I find my paints, my hair color spray, I force myself to make sure every detail is ready. I don’t want to half ass this. It’s finally happening now.
The week flies by quickly and it’s already the night before the shoot. My husband helps me set everything up in the attic. It’s the first time I will be live streaming one of my photo shoots and I want to make sure we can get the best possible angle in the tiny attic as space will be a bit crammed. I have knots in my stomach all night and I find it hard to sleep. I awaken almost every hour but force myself to sleep because I know I am useless during photo shoots without rest.
The morning approaches and Kellie, Thelma, Katie and I are all ready to make magic. Thelma starts with the hair. It’s the first time we work together and I am beyond excited. I have been stalking her instagram page for days with glee. Thelma starts sculpting Kellie’s hair while Katie and I chat about Kellie’s character and throw out ideas. I love what Katie shows me and I have 100% faith in her creative abilities and vision.
Kellie’s character is very specific and one I have been working on for years. She is the witch of the series and the only one that will have any black incorporated. The series has always been about wild colors and I intend to go bigger and bolder with those colors. Her character is almost this sort of goodbye to part one of the series and a rebirth of part two. Like a new beginning. I told Kellie the witch was ancient and once very powerful. There was darkness to her as you can see; her ears are painted black and black vines run up her arms and on her chest. They are symbols of all the dark spells she has cast. Left on her body like tattoos to remind her. Her character is almost antique in a way. She represents the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The end of part one and the beginning of part two. The white witch is seen with her floral armour that has collected dust. It’s no longer as vivid as it once was. She let’s go and is later seen without her armour. Tired and free from her duties.
At first I planned to use another dress I had made by hand and I wanted to incorporate the pillow fluff we used for the ice queen to make it look like snow. I thought that the set would be a full winter set. However, it was all wrong. Even the costume I had planned. Then I became inspired by trees and white blossoms. Though I originally added a tree to the set it just wasn’t working. It was frustrating and I decided to step away. The idea’s for The White Witch went in a few directions as most of my concepts do. They go back and fourth from being one thing to another. I finally, last minute decided on a beautiful white dress I had made by hand a few months back. I had an idea to create a dress that was draped by hand over the bust form and completely sewn by hand to keep it together then finally sewn by my machine. It took days to complete. I used 3 different fabrics, trim with fringe, hand cut pieces of lace embroidery and leaf trim. When the dress was completed It reminded me of something that was quite Grecian and once I decided it would be The White Witches dress the idea moved more into a Grecian Goddess direction. I thought of ancient statues and relics. It was all beginning to make sense for the character.
The armour was made from casting plaster, decorated with flowers and twill to create texture. Then spray painted white. I liked the idea of letting some of the flowers coloring show through but just slightly creating this mist of white. As if it was dust. Like the armour was old and used much past it’s prime. The crown used is a real Indonesian sumatra headpiece I purchased from an antique shop. I sprayed it white as well to give it that old world look.
A few of my inspirations are also the 2006 Dior runway show. I loved the armoured models with the antique makeup and overall strength they exuded. It's something that I wanted to incorporate into the witch.
Kellie put on the dress. Make-up and hair ready. I stood staring at her and that’s when the emotions hit me. Everything had lead to that moment. The year I had taken off, the weeks of making things. Getting back into the series that I had worked so hard at. I almost dropped a tear as my eyes watered. My arm hairs stood on end as I saw this Grecian Goddess standing in my living room. This is why I photograph. It’s because of the overwhelming feeling you get when you realize you created something. You see this vision in your head finally pull together and it’s so much more then you expected. It was probably the most emotional I have been throughout the series. There is always this sense of quiet and peace when I am by myself decorating the set but this wasn’t like anything else I ever experienced.
Kellie was painted pretty much from head to toe. She stood in the garden set and I got ready to do what I do best. I got ready for the chaos that would ensue in the tight space we would all have to share. My husband was shooting behind the scenes footage for me this time around so we had one extra shooter then normal. The snow machine was ready and Katie and Thelma took turns handling it. What I didn’t realize was that the foam actually irritates the lungs. I soon found myself coughing and my chest feeling irritated and heavy. I thought it was just me, like I had been bothered by the dust of the attic. I soon heard others in the room coughing and we realized it was the snow machine. Though it isn’t potent right away long exposure to the foam can cause damage. I opened the window immediately and then shot the rest of the photos with my face covered in a tee shirt tied around my head. I looked crazy. As I so often do.
I am still coughing at 12:35 am as I write this. Hours later. I think this series is going to give me some serious lung problems. This week alone I have inhaled silicon, spray paint and now foam chemicals. Not to mention that next week I will be spray painting the entire set again in preparation for the next concept. We usually use the smoke bombs indoors as well which cause a bit of coughing. I apologized to everyone for the craziness of always having something irritating the lungs during these shoots.
Everything is like a blur and soon we are finished shooting. So now I am left with hundreds of images. I take a well needed nap and once I awaken I start to comb through every single image. I narrow it down to 65 and then narrow it down some more, and then continue narrowing down even more. I start the editing process to get a sense of where I’d like to take the images. I sleep on it and when I awaken with fresh eyes I begin the process again. The final selects are five images that I feel tell the story of The White Witch. I usually cap myself at 4 images maximum for the finals but this time around I feel I needed that extra 5th to finish her story. I guess there really aren't any rules when it comes to this series. It's my series and I choose the outcome. The final two images show the witch ready for her long sleep. They are beautiful but sad and it's just the emotion I wanted to convey with her story. It makes sense that the old ways are being replaced by the new just like the first part of the series is evolving and blooming into something new. I also feel it's art imitating life in a way. The way I used to think about the series has changed and is evolving as well.
This shoot was just what I needed to blast me into the rest of the series head first. White is one of the most difficult colors to photograph so I am happy I was challenged. Every Secret Garden shoot comes along with it's challenges but with every shoot my energy, passion and creativity grows. I am beyond emotional and happy to be going on the journey and can't wait for what's to come. xx
The entire series online gallery here: www.danielamajicphotography.com/secretgarden
(at the bottom is the Hamilton Spectator article)