The Four Seasons: A Photoshoot, and notes on Authorship, Part One
Content Warning: This shoot is actually surprisingly not needing as much content warning. The second part of the shoot will contain some NSFW imagery of a non-sexual nature, but this part does not. General themes and aesthetics of witchcraft, as well as some play with fire, non-human skulls, and some pretty great vibes.
Introducing our team for this shoot:
Jacob Forsyth-Davies - Me, Photographer, director, editor
Natalie Rashid - Second in command, prop carrier, fixer of makeup and hair
Maja Tokar - Model, Spring
Nikita Doncheva - Model, Summer
Nina Willms - Model, Autumn
Megan Roberts - Model, Winter
Notable thanks also go to Giulia and Rachel for lending some of the props used, Jenny for being an understudy, and to the general community for being supportive and lovely.
Visually, a lot of inspiration also comes from some of the wonderful Tarot decks I have seen from friends over the years, and from a handful of talented photographers and artists whose work I admire, including: Marieke Captures, Daria Bilyk, Katrin Blackwater, and many others.
After weeks of hoarding props from friends and charity shops, planning out costumes, and preparing ideas, the six of us bundled into a taxi heading towards Wallaces Cave, in Roslin Glen. Arriving at the side of the road, we pulled out several backpacks, Ikea bags, costume bundles, and camera bags, and set off for the mildly treacherous 40 or so minute walk into the depths of the forest.
After a good amount of walking, sliding, singing, and nearly falling over, we arrived just above Wallaces Cave, and set up camp, to start getting ready for the shoot, putting on costumes and makeup, while Nat and I scoped out the area, looking for different location and shot ideas.
We started with a brief exercise of sitting together and a guided meditation, to settle into the character, and the movement, headspace, and actions they would have, in the perception of the models. Like a lot of my models guidance, this comes from character work within the Beltane Fire Society community, and leading people in finding authentic and consistent character embodiment.
As we started out, it took a while to get into the flow of it (Aside from Megan, who immediately jumped into the movement), but even some of these early shots are really promising. Instead of focusing on building specific poses, keeping a flow of movement and change keeps things fresh, and allows for really novel poses to come out of it.
As it started to get more comfortable, and everyone seemed pretty in the zone, we introduced the use of props, particully the mirror, which I have seen used in a lot of photography recently. Sometimes it can come across a bit like a gimmick, but I wanted to play with it, and see what could be done, and it also made me realise again how much effort can go into even the most '10 Photography Hacks You Need to Know!' work, as shooting with a mirror is tricky.
After all this, a quick snack break! I had everything timed down to about 15 minutes, to make sure we got through as much as we could, while still having room for creative ideas. It's very easy to let time slip away and quickly end up at 6pm with only a handful of good shots, and the organisation ahead of time really comes in handy in my experience.
After the break, we started to work on more posed, put together shots, with increasing use of the absolute hoard of props we brought out into the area, matching the prop to the characterisation of each season and aesthetic in some way.
Having shot a lot above Wallaces cave, we ventured further down, to a narrow path closer to the cave, to work with some more ritual looking work, using arms to draw on visual aesthetics I have seen used a lot in fire performance and visual performance, as well as some Pinterest research.
After that, we headed back up, and after a quick break, got ready to play with some fire. Using a method I have never really used before aside from testing at home: Butane Bubbles. By creating a soapy solution, and pushing butane into the solution, it creates bubbles full of flammable gas, which can be lit safely on most surfaces, including wet hands. However, the window for photography is brief, and the bubbles were less than reliable, likely due to the mix of soap and other ingredients being a bit off, and something I need to do some homework on for the future. Even so, I am happy with how a lot of these images came together!
We did some work in twos, pairing together Spring and Summer, and then Autumn and Winter. This provided I think some of the first moments where we really started to see where the project was going. Maja and Nikita have a ridiculous natural chemistry, and in playing with different elements, a lot of the shots started to take on more of an editorial look. It was also when other models (Hi Nina) started suggesting movements, and what looked good, and the process of direction became more collaborative.
While I bring a lot of work, and organisation, and the key seed for the ideas to the shoot, I have always disliked the myth of the 'auteur', the exacting visionary who has a specific goal, and will go to great ends to achieve their exact piece of art. Working collaboratively, and as part of community, seems a lot more realistic and less hyperindividualist to me.
I am happy to say, a lot of the best ideas and shots in this shoot, were not my idea, they are the result of creative collaboration, of getting everyone involved in the decision making process. Top down approaches are at times efficient, and some level of authorship is useful, but for the process of creation and novelty and experimentation, they seem quite limiting.
This is a photoshoot I have had a hard time editing. Particularly for the volume of shots I am really happy with, but also the amount of different scenes shot in one day, and the desire to do justice to all the hard work put in by everyone involved.
It is also the largest amount of models I have worked with at one time, and required a lot of planning and logistics to put together. The costumes were created and put together mostly by the models, on the brief of portraying a specific season (Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter). While some elements carry through, I really love how different all the characterisations are both in costume and in movement and character.
This was a long day, and a lot of my favourite photography is still to come, which is why I am splitting this blog post into two parts. For now, I want to thank everyone involved for being so invested in the day, and treking with so many props and costumes all the way to Wallaces Cave and back!
Part 2 Coming soon! In the meantime check out some of the other projects I have been working on.
All the best,