The Keeper of Starlight Goes Missing
I don't know where to begin this entry. There is so much to say and it's been such a long time coming. Maybe I should start at what is the beginning, because this is the start of something that is both new and also very old. This shoot is the first in a new series based on a story that has been growing in me for years.
I have always wanted to write a book. I guess, many people feel that way and say those words, but never really get around to actually doing it. I don't want that for me, so several years ago, I started thinking about, if I were to start writing a book, what would it actually be about? Slowly I started feeling the whispers of characters coming to life. They seemed to take shape in the form of pictures in my mind, so early on I played with the idea of telling the story photographically. A few years later and now I'm finally opening the door to this world in my mind.
It's taken so long to get to this point. I see the main characters so clearly in my mind and I want to dive straight into the story, but that's not how I'm going to do this. I'll walk slowly into this realm, not get carried away and introduce you to my world, step by step. There will be a series of shoots that will function as an introduction to this world and the themes in the story.
The very first character I'll introduce to you is the Keeper of Starlight. She's born of starlight and pure magic; A creature of light and peace, and the incarnation if innocence. She is the secret keeper of the stars and someone is out to get her. For the world which we are journeying to, is full of evil creatures and powerful dark magic, and not even ethereal keepers of light are safe there.
I'm always fascinated by how ideas originate and take form, and for this particular shoot, it was interesting to watch the tiny seed of the first idea grow into what it's become. I remember it so clearly, I can take you trough it step by step. And so I will.
Last summer, after her first two shoots, Nadja said she would like to do another one some day. I wanted to as well (of course). I don't know how other photographers do, but I close my eyes and imagine photographing the model and I get an idea of what type of shoot I can see them in the best. If that makes sense. Sometimes it's very clear and sometimes it's a only a certain type of light, location, mood or sometimes a colour will pop out quite strongly. And this time I saw Nadja in a royal blue gown and the seed was planted. I should say, it was a much more scaled down type of a gown at first. But when I finally got around to start working on this costume, I'd become obsessed with the idea of doing a huge gown with a massive hooped petticoat that I saw on ebay. At this point I was going back and forth between doing a large blue gown and a white gown. I love making white dresses, so it was no surprise that my mind was pulling me in that direction. But I couldn't quite let go of the thought of this blue taffeta gown.
This indecisiveness coincided with the feeling of having to begin this project. I have been wanting to and planning to start this series for years now, but kept postponing it because I didn't feel ready.
I was able to take a day off from work and I spent it mapping out the beginning of this series. And that's when it became quite clear to me that this creature had to be part of it. The Keeper of Starlight was born and I decided to make both a gown and a blue overdress.
She was the perfect character to begin with - Someone so pure and light, who was targeted and hunted. I feel it sets the tone for the story well, while staying true to my style. Something that's emerged in my photography, is the theme of beauty in the sad, the terrible and at times in evil. This is something that is at the core of me and therefore the core of my art. Naturally, it will also be a recurring theme in this story.
Not only was The Keeper of Starlight thematically right for the story, I also feel, she's a nice bridge between my previous work and this new story, something that's very comforting to me, because truthfully, I'm a little scared of the enormity of the task that I've set myself. I want to tell this story and I want to tell this story well, and there are endless possibilities, so it's a bit daunting, but I'm starting like this is doable. Most of the time.
I think with this shoot, I got so excited that I gradually built up my expectations for it, all the way up to perfection. That's a lot of pressure to put on yourself. To perform perfectly, is too much to live up, and I expected so much of myself that I was almost afraid to do the shoot, because there was no way that anyone could ever fulfill these expectations. It wasn't because I expected the people I work with to deliver more than what they normally would, it was only me who had to be perfect. It was because I could see the whole series in my mind and how much this project means to me, I'd need the opening shoot to be amazing.
I could feel the weight of the struggle especially when I got to the point that I had to make the crown for this character. I ended doing four different bases for the crown, before I finally felt it was looking the right way. I'm still not 100 % pleased with how it turned out, but it was by far the best of the four attempts and it had the overall appearance of what I wanted, but close up it's not all the way there.
As I sit here writing this weeks after the shoot, months and months after completing the gown, I am still astounded that I actually managed to get through the hell that was making the petticoat and the blue coat. The white gown and the blue coat combined, have around 150 metres of fabric to them. That is an unreal number for me, I still can't wrap my head around it. I have never before used that much fabric in my life for just one project. But when you start out be putting a 7-hoop petticoat with a 4-5 metre circumference on a mannequin and go "Hmm, it's not quite big enough", you know, you're in for trouble.
I think, I used 100 metres for the petticoat and that's made with taffeta, organza and tulle. Then 20 metres for the top skirt and finally about 30 metres for the blue coat. There were times when I didn't think I'd make it through all of the ruffles. Not just because it was testing my patience, but it put a lot of strain on my right wrist and I had to take a couple of days of not using my wrist at all after waking up with a shooting pain in my wrist the day after working on the petticoat.
But luckily my impatience is paired with a stubbornness to finish and eventually I got there. I think it's that little voice in the back of head going "It has to be hard, otherwise it won't be good" that pushes me on. You're going to suffer, but you'll be happy about it ;)
I had this idea in my mind that we were going to shoot these photos in March. But I think both Nadja and I could feel the weight of the shoot and wanted more time to prepare and practice. So we did a few other shoots in the Spring and suddenly Summer came around. With a few extra shoots, fresh in our minds, I think both of us felt more ready to go into this large shoot. I don't know if that's true or if we'd just been stalling, haha. I mean, I knew that Nadja had wanted to do a few extra shoots before this, with still being fairly new to modelling, but to be clear, my reservations about doing the shoot in March hadn't been because I doubted Nadja's abilities for a second. She was the perfect model for the character; She's one of the kindest and most gentle souls I know, and she brings an immense patience and calm to a shoot. While having only done a few shoots, she takes instruction well, and I saw the photos so clearly in my mind I felt confident I could guide her if it was needed.
My reservations were simply due to not feeling ready to jump into the series just yet.
So we waited.
But then shoot day came at end of June. We shanghaied Nadja's sister, Estella, to come and help us carry stuff into the forest. To be honest, even though, we had Tenna there too, of course, we could've used one more set of hands. Haha, that costume weighs a lot and takes up a lot of space.
I remember it was so hot that day. We met up at my place and started off with a bit cake and celebrations, because it was Tenna's birthday that day. Poor thing, she had to log around stuff all day ;)
Then I did the makeup on Nadja. Even though I'd done a makeup test and all, it just seemed to take forever. I felt like time stood still. Maybe it was just because it was so hot, or maybe I was just so anxious to get out in the forest and do the shoot.
Creating the second to last photo was so much fun. There was something so ridiculous about the whole situation that just made me and the others (mostly me, haha) laugh so much. Nadja in that insanely huge dress standing halfway into a tree and Tenna standing behind Nadja, jerking her backwards, but steading her right away, so Nadja wouldn't fall. It looked so funny. Prior to the shoot, I'd mentioned that we might have to try something like that (someone pulling Nadja into the tree) in order to make it look authentic. On the shoot we tried with just Nadja posing first on her own, but it was simply too hard to essentially mime that you're being pulled from behind, but you're trying to escape while still having a real look of terror on your face. That's when Tenna volunteered to go in behind Nadja and hide in the branches. It still makes me laugh... we continued for a while until Tenna found a huge spider in the branches.
The photo with Nadja lying on the ground under the tree, we did because I couldn't decide in advance whether I wanted that shot or the one where she was standing and being pulled into the tree, but in the end, I decided to use both, because I really like the ambivalence of this last shot. Is she being pulled in under the tree? Or is she crawling away from there? After a while, Nadja realized there were ants crawling on her, a moment eternalized in the photo above. That's when we called it quits on that shot and got her up from the ground.
The two photos above are from a setup we did before doing the glitter closeups. I wanted to just get us all to get a chance to warm up in the this other location, before doing the stuff with the glitter, also just in case that that didn't work out, I'd have some "regular" close up anyway. I had Tenna sit behind Nadja and frame her with the plants.
At this point my video dslr was running out of storage and battery - and my shooting camera was also running out of storage because, idiot that I am, I had forgotten to format the card before beginning the shoot. The light was, well, it was almost gone at this point. The sun had moved behind the tree and the sky was covered by clouds. So it was the lighting was very flat and dull, but it had to make do as we powered on with the last two setups.
For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to have this character have clouds of glitter around her. So I'd brought along a lot of silver glitter that Estella and Tenna had a lot of fun throwing onto to Nadja.
Once we were done, packed up all of our stuff. We were all covered in glitter, Nadja, most of all of course.
I took this very glamorous photo of myself after getting back home after the shoot. I just wanted to have something to remind me of how I felt at the end of that day; Exhausted, a mess covered in glitter, but also so, so happy. It'd been such a long day, but it felt amazing to have done the shoot. There was something that Nadja said to me during the shoot, right after we'd done the shot with the blue coat billowing and were about to set up for her being pulled into the tree, she said "I've never seen you smile this much on a shoot". Haha, I did smile a lot, it was absolutely thrilling to finally see the character come to life after working so long on the costume, planning, and scouting for a location. When we did the first setup, it only took a few tries with Tenna throwing the cape into the air, before it looked just right. I'd prepared myself for the fact that I'd might have to composite the cape of several pieces to get the right billowing effect, but actually in the final photo, it's just one shot. That makes me very proud, because it's the result of everyone involved being committed and focused, working to bring this idea to life.
Here is a behind the scenes video from the shoot:
As I was working on this costume, I thought about extending the narrative and maybe in the future doing a second part of this character. For a long time it was only a "maybe" situation, but after doing the shoot and seeing Nadja covered in silver glitter, I decided it had to be done. Since it's November now that this is published and it was shot in June, I have already done the second part, so stay tuned to hear more about that :)