I recently did a series which I titled ‘Things’ in collaboration with the amazing Drew Beckett. The image is based on a little poem I scribbled one day, which goes like this:
I surrounded myself
by all these things.
Things that I clung to,
trapped and collected.
They all crumbled,
and faded away.
And I felt so angry,
Loneliness rushing back in.
Because all I was left with
was myself again.
The initial concept as sketched, depicts a king figure who wears his crown and is surrounded by indistinct nature while he stares at a jar where he’s trapped some indistinct glowing object or perhaps faerie like creature.
The key ingredients here were the notion of transient, ultimately pointless opulence, in the hogging of fleeting things which won’t stand the grinding pass of time. The more I worked on the concept, the blurrier the lines became between a classical memento mori, and a materialistic critique: transience both of the possessions and of the character himself, and the search for meaning and identity via the objects that define us.
A king must have a crown to symbolise power over his dominion, and I also wanted to impart some sense of beauty and decadence on this object. I thus teamed up with my wife Raquel, most talented potter behind Glaze me Pretty, to create a crown made out of ceramics. The crown is jagged, brittle in nature, with faceted edges and decorated with a metallic black and gold glaze. It took over a week to make, but looks beautiful under the lights, and despite not exactly practical, I feel it conveys the right mood for the intended concept.
While the crown was in the making, we stock-piled all sorts of plants, flowers and leaves for our set. If you look carefully you’ll notice there’s a transition between green and increasingly dry plants towards the left hand side of the image. The various jars made out of thick recycled glass, are filled with a combination of faerie lights and photographic CTO gels which give them the right warm tones, a stark contrast with the overall cool mood of the scene. On the background you can see a framed (real!) giant moth, another symbol of fleeting fragility, frozen in time.
Finally the image is taken in medium format colour film using my trusty Mamiya RZ67. My first impulse was to try using an even large 4×5 large format negative to capture all the glorious detail in the frame, however after measuring the light in the scene I noticed that we’d need a dangerously slow 1/2 second exposure for the faint warm lights to build up, and I felt the risk of not getting anything in focus was too big. Drew happens to have experience as a life drawing model, which was extremely useful both in providing poses and being able to hold them while I composed and took the pictures.
I really love this picture, not only for its aesthetic beauty but because, just like the things in the jars, it traps some of my inner demons. A lot of preparation and work went into it, but it all adds up to make something lovingly crafted and more meaningful.