"Oh you crawled out of the sea..." So sings Laura Marling in the interlude on 'Alas I Cannot Swim'. It felt a fitting title to encapsulate these photos, the story of which can be found here. As written below it was inspired by "sirens, selkies, mermaids and women of the water."
Sunday, 18 November 2012
L’art de renard et rose: The beginning of things to come
A seaside town, a flat to ourselves, and a wonderful weekend of catching up.
It was as if the skies knew we were coming. They were on their best behaviour, providing actual rays of sunshine on Saturday afternoon and glowing softly for the rest of the time. The sky on the (very early!) Sunday morning was beautiful - shades of pinks and purples lighting our photographs perfectly. Compared to the dull weather usually experienced this was an absolute blessing!
We’d been planning this weekend for a while, emailing back and forth whenever we both got a spare minute in our frantic lives: discussing ideas, inspirations, artists, prop lists and anything else we thought of. As a result we both had quite clear ideas in our minds about the photos we wanted. This is potentially brilliant, but can be limiting as you’re constantly working towards that one photo in your head instead of letting the creativity flow and going more with instinct or spontaneity.
The first shoot we did was more about fun than anything else - leaping about in the sand, daring to venture into the freezing waves and spinning about in fancy frocks. Although we were lucky with the weather we encountered the problem of unbalanced light with the contrast between the foreground/subject, and the bright sky behind us. This became frustrating while shooting, as we lacked a flash to balance out the requirements of needing different exposures for the foreground and background.
Dresses all belonged to Roz (I’m not ashamed to admit she’s definitely the fashionista of the two of us!) and worked perfectly for the shoots.
The seaside location I speak of is Barmouth, a small town in Wales where the usual dress code is unsightly tracksuits or the walkers’ uniform of muddy boots and anoraks. It’s safe to say we may have caused quite a stir strutting out in evening gowns, fur coats and wellies! In fact at one point we had some tourists filming our shoot, which was quite hilarious.
The next morning we very begrudgingly got up just as the sun did and trudged down to the beach to take the photos planned the night before. Safe to say we were both on the verge of cancelling as we lay in our warm cosy bunk beds when the alarm went off at 7, but I’m so glad we forced ourselves up!
The photographs were created very much with the little mermaid in mind. As she crawled out of the waves, leaving her natural home behind, she noticed the two, slim pale limbs where her shimmering tail had once been. She lay, exhausted, on the steps basking in the new morning light, and wondered of days to come in this unfamiliar world.
Numb toes, stiff fingers and sandy hair are the natural side effects of seaside shoots in November. As Flo and I swapped from photographer to model and back again, we rubbed our hands and hunched in cosy faux fur. The wind was cold, but the waves were colder still. For each serene facial expression there was a matching photo, quickly deleted, full of grimaces or tensed shoulders. But such are the sacrifices made for the sake of photography. There’s always a bacon sandwich or a pot of coffee to return to; a retreat to the warmth of the indoors after the bitter bite of the sea.
I was the luckier of the two – requiring only a brief jump into the estuary on Saturday afternoon. My skin was already buzzing from repeated leaps across the sand, but my shins tingled as they made contact with water. Such discomfort did not detract from the dizzying brilliance of the shoot though; of Flo and I venturing out into the landscape, cameras and tripods in cases and towels on standby, to work together. It’s the process of forming a narrative, whether one is snapping and framing or moving and posing. Both roles require particular skills. Portraying a certain character or mood is quite different to deciding on composition, but somehow the two of us achieve a synthesis – collaborating together on each image.
The clothes I provided were pulled out of my dressing up box the previous evening. My suitcase bulged with pink satin, translucent fabrics, silks, drapery and velvet – with just enough room for practical clothes and a book. I had enough ballgowns to dress a small group of debutantes, and more than enough to fulfil the brief.
The two of us talked quite extensively about the paradoxes of the sea – the combined qualities of vulnerability and strength, safety and danger, serenity and storm. These formed the basis of the loose concepts behind each set of photos. We wished to inhabit some of these juxtapositions, working towards the concept of passivity versus power. We looked up welsh folklore and traditional tales – drawing on a combination of sirens, selkies, mermaids and women of the water. But ultimately, along with the desire to evoke a story and suggest beauty, these shoots were also about the two of us spending time together, enjoying our work and having a bloody good time.