Wonderland – The Journey Home Begins

The Journey Home‘The Journey Home’
The Guidance of Stray Souls

  ‘The Guidance of Stray Souls Let Your Heart Be The Map

‘Let Your Heart Be The Map’

I have re-written the start to this diary entry so many times, that I am just going to give up on trying to introduce these pictures in any proper way. Instead I need to begin from the heart, because it is what feels the most natural for a set of images that have brought me so much happiness.

Recently I gave a talk at my current exhibition at Quaglino’s in London, and realised afterwards, that every picture I had described as being deeply emotional for me had not been taken this year.  That night on the train home, staring out into the darkness I wondered if I had lost my way from the origins of the project, and the human connection that lies at the root of all I try to do. I love the pictures I have produced, but the shoots had definitely become larger more complicated productions, and as a result at times had been more stressful.  I guess I wondered if I had lost a part of me somehow. The last few months had been relentless, I felt I needed to let go…. to breathe, and be outside in the landscape. Maybe I needed to be reminded of who I had been on those first early days in 2009, when nothing else mattered… just the moment, the light… and the dreams I so desperately wanted to create.

Writing this now, I am so grateful to say that everything I worried I had lost, was returned the day I took these pictures. The emotion I have for them is so strong, it’s strange… it feels like they came to me just at the point when I needed them the most. They are my comfort …… based at the heart of all the things I care about the most – nature at its most extraordinary, precious friends and the bond I have with the woodlands. The set up was stripped of complicated props and detailed costumes, it was simply about Katie, quiet in the early morning cocoon of the trees and the emotion she conveyed. The pictures carry so much weight for me in how I felt, but also in that they are a turning point in the story of Wonderland…. because these scenes mark the beginning of the end.  They are the start of Katie’s  (and my own) journey home.  Maybe this is why I feel so close to them, because I know I am finally on the path to completion. It has been three and a half years, of all I can physically and mentally give, and by the time it’s done I expect it will be almost four. I never imagined the project would take this long, or that my life would have become what it has. Katie as a person always somehow channels that unsaid link I need throughout the series. At times she almost becomes a mirror, a self-portrait for myself, and the viewer. Her pictures are always the ones that underpin where I am in the real world, its strange it always happens like this, but it does……. and I feel so lucky to have this connection with her.

Early stages of making the giant leaf cloak.

all the leaves were graded in sizes before starting.

My finished leaf hood, which I absolutely adored. I was ridiculously proud of it, and so sad it would never last permanently for me to be able to exhibit it.

The finished cloak and hood at 1am the night before the shoot, after 48 hours of utter madness trying to make them in time!

Like many of the coloured landscapes in Wonderland, the autumn leaves were a moment I had always wanted to capture in order to balance the seasons and tones of the collection. I had always said my wish was to record every colour nature had to offer, every seasonal extreme we can experience.  As the years have passed, so had my chances, and like the fields of flowers, the vivid leaves would appear all too soon and then disappear in the blink of an eye.  I came to learn that this ‘high point’ of the perfect red and yellow leaves was just as fleeting, and knew that this year would be my last chance.  To be honest I still don’t know how I managed to push myself through the days before the shoot, it was all so fast, but the adrenaline of ‘now or never’ kept me going. It was a Monday morning in November and I had five days before I left the UK to spend a week in Paris. It was one of those dawns where the low winter sun sets the colour of the trees along the road on fire, and I realised the leaves were turning and falling.  With less than a week, I would have to find a location, and make a costume. Part of me wanted to leave it until after Paris, but I knew it would be too late. So I spent two solid days driving and walking looking for yellow woods. I visited every place I could think of, with no luck. I walked until I was lost, and spent hours chasing the coloured trees on the horizon, all-resulting as a mirage ….. never yellow when I reached them. The colour yellow was vital to my plan, and is highly significant to the story and the ending of the series. I even posted a plea for help on my local community website to find a location, but it was only after feeling completely defeated, that the concept for the scene dawned on me. I had found myself in a wood almost an hours drive from my home, staring up at the most beautiful red trees wishing with all my heart for them to be yellow, when suddenly everything fell into place. I wanted the picture to be purely about Katie…. alone, with the focus being on her journey.  As I stood looking at the crumpled yellow leaf I had kept in my pocket from my garden, I realised the impact of its colour against the fallen red leaves at my feet.  The contrast was far more powerful, it could become a way to show Katie’s energy shining in the landscape. So I started photographing my tracks, and walked deeper into the trees, eventually I turned and looked back to be faced with a long winding path that melted over the horizon, I knew then that I had found my place.

The days that followed were a race against time as I only had 48 hours until the shoot. I spent a morning clambering around in the grounds of my local hospital garden where I had found the purest yellow leaves I could source. The ground was thick with their fallen cousins, but the best with the purest colour were still on the trees.  So I jumped, and tugged, and huffed and puffed, clambering around the branches like a mad woman, filling my bin bags, praying no one from my street would recognise me!

Preparing Katie’s hair, the hood needed to sit high on her head so Elbie had to pad out a shape to support it.

Me and Elbie making Katie’s trail of leaves

On the day of the shoot we set out as early as we could. It was just the four of us, the original gang from the very first pictures back in 2009. I sat in the van staring out the window clutching my precious hood made of leaves, while the step ladder and equipment jangled and shook in the back. Arriving at the location it felt so good to only have a few things to carry, so we marched off into the wet mud carrying the giant yellow leaf cloak between us.

I rarely shoot two pictures that look similar, but in this case there is a deliberate transition across the three frames I have chosen to portray this part of the story.  I imagined them as film stills of Katie’s journey, and intended them to express the physical aspect of her traveling towards us. That is why the first was framed from a distance with the emphasis on the landscape and the direction of her path; I suppose I saw this as her turning point.  The trail of leaves was to express her movement – without realising it, these connecting trails of powdered colour, fabric or flowers have become something I constantly re-create in my works, and is my way of depicting motion within a single frame.  The sequence was about Katie hurrying away from the Queen’s Centurion with the precious key. Its why I choose to make a cloak instead of a dress, the pictures are about her protecting the key, and Katie’s need to pass through the woods unseen. I love the fact that although she appears almost anonymous, the bright blaze of yellow betrays her – as though her light and goodness is shining through the disguise. I’m sure by now you think I sounds like a babbling fool, but trust me I know what I mean!

I rarely take a picture from normal eye level, and am always climbing tree stumps, or grovelling around on the floor on my shoots. Heres an example of our low-tech kit ! 3 Tesco food crates and a step ladder ! Oh dear !

For the second shot I positioned Katie closer, she appears in a dream-like state, sleepwalking as though under a heavy spell, moving yet unconscious of her surroundings. It is here the key around her neck is now visible; I wanted it to be seen to be  guiding her as much as she was protecting it.  I love the solitude of the picture and how lost and alone she seems; yet by the very nature of her clothes she will always be a part of the woods. This is how I have always felt since losing mum, the woods are the only place where I can feel calm and pull myself together on the bad days when I miss her the most. In short, I wanted the second picture to be a moment of quiet contemplation before the final awakening of Katie’s close up.
For me it is the final picture ‘Let Your Heart Be The Map’ that means so much to me personally. There were many times during editing, when my headphones were flooded with film scores, that I found myself lost in the moment with my eyes full of tears. It is hard to describe, but for me it is a picture of Katie, but it is also a picture me, and maybe you too if you have been following the series and ever felt connected to it.  It is a parallel between my own life, and Katie’s character in the series. Sometimes staring at my monitor I felt like I was looking in a mirror, with both of us on opposite sides of the glass. You see Wonderland has always been my escape; I have spent its duration  hiding from reality in my imaginary world, in order to block out losing my mother. Some days I felt I had sunk so deep into its story, that the real world was completely out of reach. It was what I needed, it was what I wanted, and as Katie experienced the different places and characters…. so did I as I created them. But like all things time moves on, and I have begun to need my family and friends, and maybe… after such a long time of working so hard and being hidden in this place, it is time for me to turn back, and return to the surface. So in truth ….. It is my real life echoed in Katie’s story – this picture is like the first breath above the surface for both of us, It is the remembrance of home, the spell is breaking,………. her eyes are open, and the breeze through her hair is calling for her return.
It is a milestone picture in the series, and there is a reason why the light is so strong on her face …..  someone is coming to guide her……… and with them they will bring a change to the current darkness of Wonderland. And finally, yellow……why is yellow important you might be thinking? Well maybe if you click your heels together and close your eyes, you’ll remember it can only mean one thing …………….
that  ‘There’s No Place Like Home’ ……….


Finally  (I just couldn’t help myself). I had to share this behind the scenes picture of Katie, it makes me laugh so much. Sorry to shatter the mood of the pictures, but theres really nothing funnier that an extraordinary crisp-eating leaf creature deep in the woods to make you go home smiling :) !!