I have long been inpired by the philosophies, themes and characters of Southern authors, particularly Flannery O'Connor (if we'd had a girl she'd have been named Flannery,) Walker Percy, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty among others. I don't wish here to write a thesis on the tragedy and comedy of the American South, nor do I want to pass judgment on its proud but flawed characters. (I actually wrote a paper on this in college; now, where is it?)
This project began with a desire to create classicly-styled portraits with a Southern Gothic twist. In creating the wardrobe, I was thinking, first, of Southern Belles, and how proper the "true" Southern Belle must be. She's the apple of her father's eye, after all. Eventually I abandoned the idea of creating historically accurate Southern Belle wardrobe for all the girls, partially because the really nice dresses are too expensive, but mostly because I want to explore more of the psychological and less of the physical. One dress was purchased on eBay, and the rest of the outfits were pieced together from findings in my closet, online or at Goodwill. Many pins were used: safety, clothes and bobby.
I imagined this series as a group of images that would eventually be in a gallery, and though it still may, my goal now is to create a book. I've been writing a short bit of prose to accompany each image. I've actually struggled with how to explain what I am doing exactly. I first must go back to the writing style and brilliant characters of Flannery O'Connor. She has a way with words, a way of depicting a character without sentence after sentence of description. Her sentence sturcture, diction, use of dialect, the way her characters interact with others and the secret thoughts they have... It's nothing short of genius, and what's more, she has something to say! (In writing about her own work, she admits that she writes to see what she has to say, which I connect with, since I'm figuring out what I think even now as I write this, and when I create images, I find I'm doing just that - seeing what I see.)
I'm having fun creating these troubled characters who seem so polished on the outside, but who are struggling with something deeper on the inside. I know that sometimes images can be storystarters, and artists choose not to interfere with the viewers "reading" of the piece, but I'm taking the opposite approach with this series. I'm trying to create complex characters in a two-dimensional format. I want you to view the image and begin to understand there is more to this character than external beauty, and I'm trying to tell more about the character with only a sentence or two which appears as though it might have been plucked from a short story or novel. I intend the title either to provide more insight into the character's struggles and/or to offer a framework for understanding the story.
In one day, I shot five images with five models, all of whom have not modeled before except for me. They're friends' children, some of whom have worked with me before, but mostly with their own family photoshoots. I found a partner in crime and kindred spirit in Nina Fitzgerald, make up artist, hair genius and creative genie. Plus, my husband spent the whole day keeping things organzied, helping with lighting and holding reflectors. It's pretty incredible to look around and realize everyone is there working to achieve MY ideas, MY vision, MY Goals. It's surreal and magical and humbling.
To date, I have five new images completed and five new pieces of prose/characterization written. I'm including an earlier image in this series because it's a perfect fit, and, honestly, I think I may have already been headed this way when I created it. I want to try and shoot about five more images to complete the series, but, if there are more characters to create, so be it! Let there be more. I'm having a blast.
Location of First Five Images: The Winfield Inn
The Presentation of Grace
Her whole life she’d been told that the grace of God was all around her, that she had to open herself up to receiving it. Well, she was more than willing to receive it if only she could recognize it. Lately she’d begun to entertain the notion that the offering of grace may not be gentle and inviting, but rather startling and violent, and she would be ready.
Her mama called it stubbornness. She preferred to think of it as confident determination. Either way, she felt the expression suited her face and she wore it on a daily basis.
In The Gray
She knew folks who saw color as akin to happiness and wealth, but she could never take them seriously. One can never truly appreciate color if it’s all they’ve ever known, the way one cannot understand light without darkness or sight without blindness. There may be beauty in the color, she thought, but Grace is best viewed in the gray.
Make Me A Bird
She felt she had more faith than most, anyway, and she wondered, if faith can move a mountain, just how much faith it would take to fly away.
It would never matter how many times she was told that the girl in the photograph was her great-grandmother; she was too young to comprehend the vast passage of time that separated the girl in the photograph from herself.
Philosophically, she was a Skeptic, the only one she’d ever met as far as she could tell, and, as such, she would not have been surprised to find she’d been outwitted by a powerful evil demon putting all its efforts into deceiving her, but this she hadn’t seen coming.
Location of Last Image: Mayfield Park