Some of you know that I've been doing Photography: Mastered this year. The first collaborative brief we were set was by Fabien Baron of Baron & Baron. What a legend to look up to, and what an exciting brief! As you can tell from the title, The Art of Looking is what I was supposed to shoot in the sphere of fashion.
Pris & I spent one morning sitting at Starbucks cracking our heads about what inspired us. We want to be working on something exciting, challenging, uncomfortable yet comfortable enough to conquer it. This is the typical workflow for us when we plan shoots together:
- We both decided to start with words instead of visuals and fill a page with phrases together that inspired us, and gave us visions. Meaning, we were looking for words that had the potential to trigger a narrative that was personal to both of us.
- After writing about 20-30 different phrases, we picked our favourite 5 and ranked them in order of preference. There was one clear winner - this one was on both of our lists: Put Your Mind To Sleep.
- We then took time off to each separately flesh out a short narrative of what it meant to us, and what it reminded us of. We unified both our stories into one - the core emotions were what we were after.
- This triggered a fond childhood memory in my head. I remembered reading Georgia Byng's Molly Moon as a little girl and I was so attached to Molly's story. The absurdity, the blingy holographic book covers, and Molly's bizarre abilities to manipulate minds and time.
- As I fondly recalled stories of Molly, I saw Pris getting sucked into Molly's world. Eventually we took inspiration from this character, took her abilities and made an older version of this character in our minds. We launched into elaborate discussions of what she believed in, who she loved, what she had done in life, what her future held for her - we cared so much for her, as though she was a dear friend in our own lives.
For me personally, I knew instantly that I wanted the predominant colour to be blue. Read this beautifully written piece exploring the meaning of blue, and what relationship we have with the colour blue in the physical world.
Orphan. Left on the footsteps of an orphanage as a baby in a box of Moon’s (brand name) candies - hence her surname. Parents never picked her to adopt her. Finds a book on hypnotism as a teenager in the local library. Learns to hypnotize people. Uses her eyes to hypnotize people. Has big, deep and profoundly intense eyes. Runs away from orphanage as a very young girl with her best friend. They explore the world together, seeking one adventure after another. She hypnotizes people to think she is the best in the world, to get what she wants. Draws power from different crystals. Uses the clear crystal to stop/ freeze time. Travels back and forth in time using red and green crystals. Can mind read.
Molly, years after walking through life, has done it all/ claimed it all. Life is dull, dreary. She can read people’s mind/ their agitations and sorrows/ can see their deepest and darkest corners. She looks at all her loved ones, the ones she found along the way in her adventures, and cannot bear to see them in this unspeakable pain. Molly observes thoughts of other people in their minds, she doesn’t just look. She is eventually filled with a deep darkness and sadness of her own. She wants to help them get rid of the pain, she thinks the way to do it is to put their mind to sleep. Euthanasia of the mind, assisted by Molly. She shuts their sorrows down (and in the process their entire self), painless killing of a person in psychological distress. Molly believes death is not permanent, and that there is a new life after death (and so she believes there is truly no life lost). Because she brings death to her loved ones, she is death herself. She has decided when life has offered them enough in this present/ current life, and she will perform the rite of passage into their next life/ past their deaths.
Molly’s inner eye, the hypnotic eye, sees the pain as a sad but beautiful thing. Molly’s outlook on death is quiet, calm and beautiful - not morbid, bleak or dark. This champions her belief of life = death, she doesn’t see death as the ending. She doesn’t think she is doing anything wrong, because she is facilitating new life. Molly calls to everybody in pain, she calls them to the dance - Molly’s Dance of Death. Life and Death of Molly Moon’s Loved Ones.
Life & Death
Death is stereotypically viewed as dangerous, dark, bleak and the end of life. I wanted to show death in a new light - softer, merrier, and as a celebration of a new beginning - a liberation of sorts. There is no life without death, and no death without life. I see life as the harsher one, filled with the intense energies of pain and sorrow.
Inspired deeply by the wonders of Danse Macabre, I chanced upon Lübeck's Dance of Death. The image has such a huge presence, overwhelmingly so. I was captivated by the wonder of just how intense the image was, obnoxious in its own way. This was when I decided I wanted my image to be a single one, a panorama featuring Molly as she time travelled. The upside of this decision was... I couldn't wait to print a giant panorama of this. The downside to this was that it would feature poorly on social media, as well as websites where formats do not favour long panoramas. Details would be lost, and a little bit of the magic along the way. Nevertheless, I was determined this was the way to go, one way to do justice to Molly's character.
View a larger version of Lübecker Totentanz by Bernt Notke
We brought in the absolutely amazing Hoi Yao who has designed and styled the emotive clothes that the model wears in this image. We had a last minute addition with Sherie of VETIVR who has designed the accessories the model wears, and has styled them for this shoot. Makeup & hair by bae Pris who also creative directed this shoot alongside me. On the day of the shoot, we also had Jing Hui come in to assist Pris with hair and makeup.
We cast the model, everything was set for shoot - the team was pumped! Shoutout to Tim for arranging the space for us, this was a really last minute shoot and I really appreciate the help! The day before the shoot, we had a bit of a hitch. We heard the model we initially cast couldn't make it to the shoot. After some frantic scrambling around, and massive massive efforts by Pris who went above and beyond to ensure we still cast a model who not only fit the look of Molly, but could also move beautifully like we intended for Molly - we ended up shooting with the gorgeous and talented Ave from Looque (shout out to Varien - booker extraordinaire!). Being on set with an all girl team had so much energy, and it was a great experience!
I assumed the role of art director for this shoot predominantly, the shoot came along really well with everybody's selfless and sincere contributions to the narrative. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted. What I wanted was nowhere to be found in references. I had a vision in my head that I wanted to create, I only know what I wanted to feel from it. I know what I wanted people to take away from it. After thinking for a long while, I narrowed down the look for the image to the following, a very unconventional way of storyboarding. I storyboarded emotions, more than anything else.
I love Tim Walker's strange ability to make the more bizarre things beautiful and charming. He makes me want to go up to something I'm afraid of, and confront it willingly. I wanted to take this enthusiasm to approach such a dark topic like death. I wanted the viewers to look at the image and feel like they were transported into another world - something magical. They knew it was a serious and solemn thought, but they still couldn't help but acknowledge the beauty in it.
Paolo Roversi's ability to emote with light even in the simplest images steals my breath away. With 11 Mollys in the image, I toned down the intensity of the magic the light itself played - but took Roversi's work as the starting point. We used long stretches of silk organza to make the background - a material so beautiful and wonderful in the way it catches and sees light. This, I felt, would add a touch of otherworldliness to the image.
When I decided I wanted to use blue as a predominant part of the image, I was looking for references to execute this - technically and otherwise. I am always in awe of Txema Yeste's colour work. Anyone who knows me would tell you I love colours, and I instantly thought of him as inspiration. The more I looked at his work, the more it hit me that his work is very red. The same way the same type of blues seem to reappear in my work. Each red in his work held a different meaning, different depth, different emotions. I used this as my reference for use of blues in this image.
I planned the lighting to follow the panorama. My focal point in the panorama is the centre. Typical panoramas are usually viewed left to right (or right to left, if you use languages that follow a right to left script. The makeup and styling progress towards the center from the far corners, increasing in intensity. Consider it a yin and yang of sorts. The light source also had to be moved accordingly to show that subtle progression while keeping with the mood. Here is a view of the images before the final cleanup and composition into the final panorama.
Leaving you with a sneak peek of behind the scenes - all the fun we had, all the fast paced actions because we had to achieve so much in very little time! Images & videos by Pris (excuse the low resolution hehe).
I'd love to know your thoughts as you read through this. Connect with me x