Wonderland – “Gaia, The Birth of an End”

Gaia, The Birth Of An EndGaia, The Birth Of An End(200 x 130cm)
(Scroll down to watch the film)

Tonight it’s dark in the studio, and I’m curled up in my chair staring at this blank page, about to write the first Wonderland diary entry in 9 long months.. Outside its raining, and this morning brought the first frost I have noticed since last winter. Earlier, as I walked to work I stopped and watched a flutter of yellow leaves circle my boots, reminding me fondly of the cloak I made for ‘The Journey Home’ almost one year ago to the day. These fragments of seasons have become like old friends I find myself silently greeting, one by one as they return unannounced, blown by the autumn wind. The landscape is changing in colour and I’m hoping for snow, as there is still one last picture I need to create before I can let the story complete. But for now, after months of work I am finally ready to let this last chapter unfold, of what has since become the last 4.5 years of my life.  I still can’t imagine the day I write the words ‘The End’ but it is slowly becoming a palpable reality, which leaves a bitter sweet emotion in my gut. The pictures I have created over the last few months have at times pushed me to my limit, and I know I have learnt so much about myself in the process. I have had days when I have never felt to so happy to be alive, standing in the woods with my camera, so grateful for every precious moment ….. and others where my own crushing lack of self confidence has made me sick with worry, as to whether or not I have created something good enough. It is always the same with me …. all or nothing, the highest highs and lowest lows, but throughout it all I can say I have tried my hardest. I faced challenges I was genuinely scared of, but forced myself through as they were the only way to produce the ending I always dreamt of. So I just wanted to say how thankful I am to the people who have been on this journey with me and taken Wonderland into their hearts, both the followers of the project and the irreplaceable tiny team I work so closely with.
This is every ounce of what I have in me, and more …….it has taken so long to to make everything by hand, and I know the wait has been excruciating, but sitting here now I feel it has all been worth it, and I am so excited to share this last journey with you.

Gaia, The Birth Of An End blog crop
Close up detailed crops



So to begin, I named this first portrait  ‘Gaia, The Birth of An End’, as it about the last seen character ‘Gaia’s’ transition from a mortal to her true goddess form. I named her after the Greek equivalent of our Mother Earth, and this picture represents her incarnation, (birth) surrounded by an explosion of vibrating, shimmering energy. Her character affects everything, ……..as she changes so to will the landscape, creating a butterfly effect that sets in motion the end of the story. It was heavily influenced by how I see the human spirit; after losing my mother people often ask me what  I imagine comes afterwards, and my only answer is my belief in an endless energy, the circle I feel we are all a part of. My mother is with me always, she is the earth …..the rain, the wind in my hair was I walk to work. The body may cease, but I feel the vibrations of people continue, like ripples from a stone cast in a lake, and It was this power of spirit that I have tried to express within the picture.

I expect some will see the scale of the headdress and ask why I didn’t focus more on the costume, but that was not my purpose with this piece. It had to be about emotional impact, transition and a human connection with the viewer, which is why I often get so frustrated when people call me a ‘fashion photographer’. My work is never about clothes …  there is so much more, and I guess that’s why I write these diaries for anyone who wishes to understand my motivations. The finished piece will be printed at 2 meters high, and so although on a computer screen it is hard to take in the detail, when faced with the print in real life it is a completely different experience, and is the reason I did not crop the frame tighter. Printing and exhibiting my work has been a learning curve over the last few years and has drastically changed the way I look at my work, with the treatment of this portrait being a perfect example.

Finished Costume

The headdress, like the character was a reinvention of the original piece worn by Gaia in the rape seed field pictures. The basis of my design was to elevate the costume to a new goddess- state. I was heavily influenced by Inca gods, and my trip to Tibet in 2012, during which I had specifically collected traditional bells and tribal necklaces for this picture. I began by building up an entire new lower level to the piece, that would help surround the face and balance the enormous proportions of the top section. The headdress was entirely hand painted, dyed and beaded by myself and weighs so much, that it had to be wired to a wooden beam in my studio to take the weight off the models head.

Separate to the headdress I wanted to create body adornment for Gaia, which came in the form of these over sized necklace pieces. Every part of these were hand made, beaded and painted by me, apart from the central traditional necklace. (You can see the process below)

Making The Costume

A few examples of the things that influenced the characters costume and styling. The film Apocalypto , Tibetan traditional dress and the history of decorative Inca gods in art.

Me working on the half finished headdress back in August

Making the giant beads for one of the necklaces

Yellow enameled hand beaded collar pieces, and weaving hair extensions to make oversized decorations for the headdress.

Shooting The Picture

(Behind The Scenes photos by FX Media)

Stills from the incredible short film Solipsist which inspired the powder ‘explosion’ in the portrait

Throwing powder on to the backdrop

To be honest the day of the shoot was very hard going. It was actually my last photo of the summer, as I had shot everything out of sequence in order to get the right weather for each scene (beginning with the snow back in February ) . It had been a manic 2 weeks of shooting 3 huge pictures back to back, and the pace was almost impossible to deal with. I had been awake for what felt like days, gluing painting, researching make-up, sourcing environmentally safe powder paint… (the list was endless). The night before the shoot Elbie, myself and Marianna (our model) had been up until 1am attempting a make-up trial, but in the end we had to face defeat from exhaustion. Between us we managed to wire the enormous headdress to the ceiling of my studio, and left it suspended until the morning (for what I thought would be a ‘simple’ shoot).
As Elbie and Richard will tell you, nothing I plan ever comes out ‘simple’ even if I am the only one convinced it will. So predictably the shoot took an entire day from 9am till 6pm. I could barely speak or focus when Richard arrived I was so tired, and dear Elbie was faced with the hardest make-up challenge I have ever given her. In total the entire preparation of Marianna’s make-up / body painting took around 5 hours. Elbie and I work incredibly closely, and in some cases the make-up will develop like a painting, as Elbie builds more and more depending on how I feel it balances with the costume. This day was no exception, and became the most complicated look Elbie has produced for the series. I needed the make-up to be powerful and extraordinary, with a hint of tribal (without hitting the point of over-kill). It was all about balance, and so she worked relentlessly with yellows and shimmering powders until we jokingly felt we had achieved the ‘holy light’ appearance I had wanted for the picture. The yellow tears were the crowning glory, and as they dried they unexpectedly cracked becoming a perfect delicate link back to some of the original tribal images from my research.

Richard setting up the crane shot of the costume (before the yellow powder covered everything in the room) !

Once Marianna was in position I had one last challenge to face, which was the dreaded yellow powder . As I described earlier I needed this picture to be about an explosion of radiating human energy, and ever since watching the incredible ‘Solipsist’ film a year earlier, its mind blowing scenes of shattering bodies had heavily influenced my thoughts. In the end it became a combination of two things, real time throwing of powder into the shot, and the happy accident of realising that the powder instantly gripped and remained on the black backdrop behind the model. This made life so much easier, as I was able to control the paint’s direction and shape, and then bring both together in post, as well as add new layers to achieve the ‘vibration’ effect I was after.  By the end of the day I had shot 700 frames, destroyed my entire studio (and most of Richards filming equipment) and all of us were coated in a faint layer of yellow !
In truth I’m still very new to shooting in a studio environment, in fact I have barely any experience. All my pictures are usually shot out in the landscape, and I find being indoors quite an alien and nerve wracking feeling. Its not something that gives me that tingle down my spine, it feels more sterile and controlled in a way, but on the day it was the only option. However, despite struggling with the unknown factors of powder and lighting, in the end there still came that wonderful, creeping familiar moment when Marianna truly became ‘Gaia’. It always takes a while to reach that point, but as I worked with Marianna on her breathing and played music to help her mood, eventually she reached a slight trance state of mind, allowing her to sink into the emotion. So finally, just before the sun began to fade everything came together, and we got the last shot of the summer…. it was a long day, and a lot of mess, but worth every minute.

***On a small personal note, this picture is dedicated to a very dear friend and talented photographer Miss Aniela . Natalie if you ever read this, I know you will understand why, and I love you dearly  xx **