Wonderland – ‘The Last Dance of the Flowers’
‘The Last Dance Of The Flowers’ (200 x 130cm)
Sitting down to write this today is a completely different feeling compared to my last few entries, and to be honest it feels like a happy relief. My head is full of laughter as I look back at this absolutely chaotic shoot; it was carnage from start to finish and we all worked so damn hard. For once there are no heavy emotions for me, no underlying sadness, I have loved every part of this pictures creation from concept, to shooting and even the editing. It has felt like a page from my childhood slowly filling with colour, growing under my fingertips as the days have passed…..and I let go of it today with nothing but joy inside of me. It has become a huge favourite of mine, and one I have every intention of having the full 2-meter print on the wall of my own home. Each time I look at it I long to be there again, standing beside Katie in the warm shadows, remembering Elbie’s laughter echoing around us. The wonder of creating these scenes for real is that I will always be able to connect back to that day, and that place with all my senses because we were truly there, and we created that moment together. I know how the earth smelt, I can remember my hands, dirty and sticky with the sap from the flowers, and the rush of adrenaline as we raced against the low sun to get the shot before it was too dark. All of it is precious and has come to be the thing that makes me feel alive…….
Close up sections
(below is a closer crop to show Katie’s almost black eyes. her irises were wide open due to the dark set, resulting in this slightly unnerving appearance which I love !)
So to return the previous scene ‘The Stars Of Spring Will Carry You Home’ we watched as Katie said her silent goodbye, a last look back at us, and all that Wonderland has been over the years. It was about her acknowledgement that nature has always been her guardian and a metaphor for my mother throughout. Her fusion with the flowers was to depict this acceptance, and the trust she placed in the path she would be led along during her final hours.
Throughout the series I have always used trails in my work to demonstrate journey and movement through a static image, like the yellow leaves in The Journey Home or the powdered colour on snow in Spirited Away. Here I hoped to take that one step further by making the flowers physically lift Katie’s form, raising her up in a surge of colour that would carry her through the forest to the hidden place that has waited so patiently for her arrival. At night I dreamt of the flowers coming to life in this last maternal gesture of protection. Inside my own body I could feel my spirits rise with her, a sense of completion on the horizon for both of us, as Katie’s journey parallels mine in the real world. I am so close now, just 4 pictures away from the end of the series. In the mornings I can feel a change in me, I walk to the studio in a different way, I look up again, I feel lighter, I breathe slower,….. I whisper to myself with each step ‘almost there……. almost there……. almost there’ ……….
(original phone snap of me on location)
I thought with this diary entry I would begin with the background and write about my process a little, as in how the image came to be, the choices I made, and even show you a shot that despite the fact I really liked it, I rejected it in my final selection. I’m so sad to say that this time there wont be a beautiful accompanying film by FX media for this picture as Richard wasn’t able to join us on the day. However (for your great amusement) we did shoot some very rough, (and terribly under exposed) footage to show you what it was like to be there with us (scroll down).
The whole scene started back in June 2013 from one little camera phone picture of me (above), taken by my husband Matt. I had spent a week location scouting, the rhododendrons were budding and about to bloom in the woods, and I needed a private place where we could be left alone and out of sight to build the floral ‘wave’. I spent the day walking and taking pictures; finding some beautiful areas, but nothing that felt dramatically different to the others already used in the series. At one point in the late afternoon I was standing in a path of bright light, framing a shot of the sun in the trees when Matt happened to take this snap of me. It was only when we got home that night and I felt disheartened and uninspired with my research that Matt showed me the picture, and suddenly everything changed. The irony of seeing myself standing with my back to the most amazing natural vignette of twisted storybook trees, completely unaware was almost laughable! My mind was suddenly on fire and I knew that was it, the location was chosen, as well as the framing of the scene in one fair swoop. There was no doubt in my head and I stayed faithful to it throughout the shoot, not moving my position once.
Making the wig
The next day I began work on the wig. To explain, I shot the entire final sequence of the series in reverse, in order to meet with the correct weather and bloom of certain flowers. So the wig you have seen over the last few pictures was modified and added to in-between shoots (there is also a reason for these modifications, which I will explain in my next blog) So this shoot was the first time it had been used. As I said previously I have never made anything like this before, and still cant believe it actually worked. It was so incredibly difficult to work out how to attach it to Katie and keep it balanced on a location shoot. Unlike the last few scenes there were no trees above her head to wire it to for support, so this really was a baptism of fire for Elbie trying to attach it to poor Katie’s head, and for Katie to balance it throughout the shoot. Below are the pictures of us trialling the wig in my studio and then attaching it on location.
^ So funny !!!! The first attempt at attaching the wig in the studio
Second attempt on location which turned out much better !
Dressing Katie ! The coat was made by me, to see finished photographs of it please view here
The day of the shoot was absolutely crazy, all Wonderland shoots are exhausting, there’s never been a ‘quick’ one and there is always the worry of the terrible English weather, the unreliable light … endless factors that mean I never sleep the night before and always worry for days in advance. However this shoot was a whole new level of panic because it relied on cutting fresh flowers on the day and building a huge construction – something which I had never attempted before. I had no idea how long it would take, no idea if it would work, no idea what I was doing, or whether we would actually be able to collect enough flowers … but it was all so clear in my mind that we just pressed on regardless! We began early in the morning, just me Elbie and Saskia; we went to the woods armed with bags scissors, gardening gloves and old clothes, and cut flowers for 4 hours. It was exhausting and ridiculous, we quickly became filthy with mud and sap, our hands cut to ribbons, arms scratched and worst of all we were attacked by mosquitos at every turn. We scrambled up trees, and muddy banks, groaning, swearing, laughing …. It was hard work, but this physical part to the photos is something I have always loved. The child in me delights in the dirt and the wind on my face, especially when there is the promise of something magical at the end of all. So we worked tirelessly, stashed our hoard in the shade of the trees and returned to the studio to collect the costume, equipment and Katie.
Building the floral ‘wave’ from fresh flowers
By 2pm we were back on site and work began on creating the ‘wave’. The location was set in the heart of the trees, and the warmth and shade was a breeding ground for hungry mosquitos. I honestly can’t describe how many there were, but it was unbelievable. We coated ourselves in repellent, but they just kept coming – which is why was well as our horrible old clothes; we also had to wear ridiculous hats to stop us from being bitten on the face and in our hair. I cant stop laughing looking at these pictures because I can remember the names we were all calling each other, not to mention the hysterics we were in after seeing Katie in the full coat and wig for the first time. It was a moment of utter, utter delight, the wig was extraordinary, and once it was balanced and Katie was able to walk around, suddenly everything felt possible again.
Me and Elbie working on the finishing touches – dressed like idiots !!!!
The finished result, I don’t think any of us imagined it would look so beautiful, it was such a wonderful sight!
It took a further 3.5 hours to build the set and get Katie in position in time for the early evening sun. Over the previous week I had returned to the site several times to check the position of the sun so we knew exactly when it would hit the set. By 6.30pm we were ready and I was shaking from adrenaline I was so tired and excited. We shot two types of picture, one with smoke and one without. Here is the video of that moment. As I said its appalling quality, everything looks way too dark, but it’s pretty funny to watch, especially as you get to hear me barking orders like a mad woman. The groaning and whooping in the background is Elbie, who always makes me die laughing, the poor bloke getting shouted at is Matt, and my assistant was Saskia who you can just make out buried in the skirt of flowers. There were only 5 us on the day and it was a killer, but the results were so, so worth it! Video warning…….. terrible clothes alert.. cringe !!
Selecting the shot …..
Finally I wanted to just say a word about the choice I had to make regarding the final image. Above you will see the new picture laid along side its predecessors. Something I have learnt about building a series this big over such a long time, is the importance of continuity in colour and balance. If you have ever looked at the whole series lined up together on my flickr or 500px you will notice it flows through bands of colours, seasons and light and darks. This has been something I take very seriously and really agonise over with my printing. The dream of all these pieces hanging together in one huge gallery show for me is very real, and so I always have in my mind what comes before and after an image and the relationship between them. This was not the case when I first started the series, but over time it has developed within myself, and I now pay great attention to it. Below is a little snap taken in my studio, it shows you the rough test prints of my last two images lined up next to each other. This is how I work – obviously each new image is shot on a different location as a different time of day / sometimes season, so it is impossible to expect the pictures to magically work alongside each other. So now I make a habit of working in this way
Test prints in my studio
When I first looked at the shots from this shoot I was really torn about which picture was my favourite, I loved the drama of the smoke and it had been so much fun to shoot, it was hard to separate myself from that memory and the cinematic gut reaction to the result. However, almost a year later and after taking the shots that would come before and after this scene, it became clear that the smoke simply wouldn’t work or make any sense. Below I’ve included one of the raw shots straight out the camera for you to see. People often ask me if I find it hard to chose only one image from these elaborate shoots, when the natural temptation for any photographer is to use 2 or 3 or more. It is extremely difficult, but I firmly believe in trying to keep every single image in the collection unique and for it to have purpose, otherwise it simply dilutes the overall impact and the sense of preciousness for a collector of my work. In this case I now adore the freshness of the picture I chose and in print the landscape feels so inviting that it is something I want to hang on my own wall and enjoy losing myself in everyday…..
So this was just a little insight into how I develop the series, but I thought some of you might like to see! Now on to editing the next huge scene, involving the biggest prop I have ever made!
The one that got away. Such a fun picture picture but in the end it wasn’t suitable for the story.
UPDATE *** 17/4/2014 The picture was just selected by Vogue as their photo of the day !
** June 1st. I just thought I would share this beautiful full feature interview I gave to one of the top florist / flower art magazines in the world ‘Fusion Flowers’ Wonderland was the cover story, it was a huge honor !!