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Ritual & Rope: Shibari Photoshoot with Rhodonea (NSFW)





Content Warning: This shoot includes elements of Shibari (rope bondage), suspension, ritual, occult, blindfolding, fire manipulation, and female nudity. If you are not comfortable seeing those things, or you are at work, unless you have a very cool work space maybe give this post a miss.


This Wednesday, after a few weeks of planning, gathering various props from friends, charity shops, and a bit of research, Rhodonea and I set off for Roslin Glen, at this point a staple location for much of the creative work I have collaborated on.


I met Rhodonea several years ago through Edinburgh's Fire Club, as well as the general circus and performance scene in Edinburgh, and know her as a talented pole, shibari, and fire performer, as well as a good friend.


Almost immediately after getting off the bus, we realised the route would have to take a minor diversion, as some work was being done on the usual path to Roslin. We ended up taking a high path off a side road, with a vague direction, and memory of a good suspension tree in mind.


The journey was perilous, with some scrambling, and a surprise 10ft drop on my part (Luckily with nothing to show for it but some dirty clothes, it could have gotten a lot worse). We managed to find our way to a rocky outcrop I started to recognise from shooting Blood Moon with Katrin Blackwater, and a prospective short film, also using suspension and shibari, that was unfortunately scrapped last year due to actors getting Covid, and having to return to Berlin.


We settled in and set up, and noticed immediately a strange large wooden circle jutting out from the water, likely from an old rope spool. Given the complete unpredictability of the weather at the moment, and the myriad of ideas to try, we decided to go completely without a schedule and just experiment with the space, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity.


Rhodonea prepared some of the rope, and we got to work!


ACT ONE



These images I am quite happy with as a starting point in working with Shibari in photography, and also Rhodonea's first time in front of the camera. Definitely getting used to the space and working with each other, I think especially the body positioning feels a bit 'male gaze'y, but provided the whole shoot doesn't take that tone, I still think they are quite solid photographs.


Somewhat surprisingly, many of my favourite images are actually the process of tying the shibari, and putting the harnesses on, as they take more of an intimate, unposed look, as well as the detail and texture of the skin and the hemp rope.


After that, we tried some slightly more ritual and tarot inspired imagery, back in the river, using a handful of objects.




These are interesting, because the light changed from soft cloud to harsh sun quite early on, and really changed the impact of the photographs into something more stark. I found them harder to edit, and already the background was becoming nearly completely black, just from the contrast of the lit and unlit areas of the glen. I also found the more background was visible, the less tension the photographs had, and decided to lean into the look.




Removing the rope, you can see how tightly the harnesses were tied by the lasting marks on Rhodonea's body, as well as potentially some mild bruising. We took a lengthy break to get warm and dry and eat some lunch, before moving to a location about 30 seconds away, and the main reason this spot was chosen, for a very reliable and jutting tree, providing an ideal suspension point.


I climbed up to the tree, got into position and started working on tying up the hoop, as Rhodonea prepared her harnesses, and coached me on which knots to use to suspend it safely. I tested it by jumping with my full weight, so I was confident it wasnt going anywhere, and we got started!


ACT TWO




This was probably the main event of the shoot, and my first time photographing Shibari suspension. I tried to get a good mix of detail shots and wide shots to capture the full poses, although the constant swing and rotiation of the rope did mean a good handful of missed shots. We tried a few different approaches, I climbed up and increased the ring height, and overall I am quite happy with what we got!


Due to the leaf coverage, there was a heavy green undertone to most of the images that was challenging to work with in post-production, but I am happy with the end result.


We took another break to get unroped, and prepare for the next part, a more prop heavy shoot under a thick bush.


As we were setting up, the weather started to turn very quickly, and within a minute it went from grey clouds to absolute torrential rain, as we scrambled to cover camera gear, find the waterproofs, and hide from the rain, with mixed degrees of success. We knew this would happen at some point, so we were mildly prepared, but even so, a good amount of drying and cleaning took place when I got home.


Amid the slightly calming rainfall, we carried on getting ready, Rhodonea clad in our friend Giulia's costume from a Samhuinn Fire Festival years past, and some quick face paint.


I set up the space, using fabrics, and a mixture of ritual parts also from Giulia, as well as Maja (Thank you both!)


Wheras before I was struggling with the amount of light, getting so much as to make shallow depth of field an challenge, now I had the opposite problem, not enough light to capture clearly what was happening. Thankfully, after struggles with a lighter, I got the paraffin lamp I had brought lit for a bit of ambience, and we got to work, interacting with the various objects, despite the insistent rain.


ACT THREE





We finished up, and decided to go for one quick naked fire spin in the river, as a nice familar and warming way to end the shoot! Without much preparation, and at close to the last of our energy (Rhodonea moreso than me I imagine), we lit up the fire orb and got some final shots.





We got as dry and warm as possible, organising and packing up, and slowly ambling back to the real world, damp, tired, in my case quite muddy, and heading home.


Rhodonea was great to work with, especially as a first time model! I would love to try more ambitious scenes, as well as maybe more of a defined 'character' to the movement and poses, but I am really happy with how it went, and there is plenty of time for future collaboration.


Already, I can see things I would like to try, minor improvements, and small changes. I think it being a very open-ended, experimental shoot, really allowed us to get comfortable and experiment with the space. However, I think also it led to some shoots, especially towards the end becoming a bit aimless and frantic in the rain, and I would love to shoot for a more specific vision, as well as finding more further afield spots than ones I have already become familiar with.


Rhodonea floated the idea of working more directly on a series of tarot inspired photography projects, which would provide a lot of direction and mesh nicely with the type of creative work I really enjoy shooting, especially with friends tarot-inspired so talented in different aspects of performance, ritual, skill development and play. If that sounds good, and you want to see more of that, let me know!


Jacob Forsyth-Davies





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