Final work

2. Beauty photoshoot

My first beauty photo-shoot was heavily influenced by my experiments with frozen flowers – this can be seen especially in the liquid element which was central in this photo-shoot. The aim here was to explore the capacity of floral colours to invoke and express a wide variety of emotions. I sought to represent this capacity both stylistically and photographically, by dividing the photo-shoot into two moods – a “lighter”, more jovial mood represented by bright colours and a “gloomier” more melancholic mood expressed by darker colouring. In giving this photo-shoot (as well as the next two photo-shoots) this binary direction, I emphasised the versatility of using flowers in fashion as a medium that can convey a substantial number of distinct emotive images.

Life is not only happiness, and is more than sadness

The story – my narrative – with which I began this project is a complex one. It is complex not because it is in any way extraordinary or unexpected. Family stories can be the most common place thing imaginable: most people have one to tell. Ordinariness, however, does not make these stories any less complex. Life, even everyday life, is a combination of different things, emotions and happenings. It is precisely in the normality of life where I also locate its complexity. In my family’s story I sought to represent this mingling of emotions which shaped and continue shaping it: warmth, connection and love, but also loss, absence and pain.

Antithesis: Buoyance and Descension

All the above made me realise that if I wanted to employ flowers as vehicles that would carry understandings of lived experience and its memory, I needed to take my work beyond the conventional path of making flowers appear as objects that allude only to pleasant feelings and experiences. In this beauty photoshoot I sought to use the theme of flowers to present visually the opposing and often conflicting emotions that make up our lives.

I find that two photos capture this kind of representation as starkly and accurately as possible. The first one represents a blooming flower rising up in water, staying afloat and spreading its petals outwards. As a photo it is meant to a positive affect on its viewers – they are compelled to bring their attention on the abstract image of the bloom, ignoring momentarily the darker overtones of the margins and focusing instead on the vibrant and vivid centre. The photo (its mood and message) is defined by the trickle of bright colour from the centre outwards. One can perhaps see that as hope and love helping overcoming past misfortunes and pains, but at the same time not completely erasing their existence.

While it follows the same form – flower at the centre, surrounded by a substance – the second photo is meant to have the complete opposite effect. In this case, the bloom sinks in a mud-like substance. The bloom appears to be drained of its colour, its vitality becoming dull and muted. Rather than spreading outwards, the flower loses its shape by being swallowed into the substance. The dread this photo inspires is located in its representation of hope slowly and inevitably disappearing. The stem, half-way gone, acts as a warning sign for the eventual fate of the flower: disintegration, demise, disappearance, desolation.

Synthesis

I decided to utilise this binary framework of bright/dark undertones of flowers at my beauty photoshoot in order to test and portray visually this capacity of flowers to evoke emotions.

In the photographic samples I provide below one can see how colour opposition was a central component in differentiating between the different moods I wanted to convey. So, for instance, the brighter colours are meant to communicate an enchanting image – the model is bathed in water of bright blue hue and white blooms surround her face. Conversely, in the darker photographs the model’s visage is gloomier, as if in a swamp surrounded by lifeless flowers, giving her a death-like appearance that sets up a more dreadful visual mood.

However, I intended to show a more nuanced representation of the interaction between flowers and emotions than simply as a bright/dark or happy/sad dichotomy. Thinking about the complexity of human lives and emotions, I wanted to show that this dichotomy is not always absolute – sometimes even seemingly positive moments in someone’s life can conceal an underlying sadness or, vice versa, moments of sadness do not take away entirely the positive aspects of life. In order to show this blurring of lines, I decided to synthesize the buoyancy/descension aspect of the conceptual images of this photoshoot (see above). In the “bright” part of my beauty photoshoot I captured photographs of my model in varying degrees of submersion under the water. Likewise, in the “dark” part, I captured photos of my model emerging from (and even taking her face completely outside) the muddied liquid. While none the other aspects of the photographs were changed (for example, the hue of the water or the type of flowers surrounding the model remained the same), nonetheless the varying degrees of submersion had a substantial effect on the mood of each photograph. In this context, on the surface this photoshoot might seem as a visual journey consisting of two paths. Upon closer investigation, however, those paths also branch out; they interlock and communicate with each other, using the theme of flowers to construct a labyrinth of emotions.

 

1. Narrative video and photoshoot: Explanation

In my first photoshoot I wanted to show the inception of my fundamental idea for my project and the source of the inspiration I draw from flowers as a topic of my work. The narrative photoshoot I made attempts to show the centrality of flowers in my family’s history. The video itself illustrates how flowers connect three generations of my family. As the art director of this photoshoot I chose the place (my grandfather’s home), the models (family members) and decided the narrative I wished to capture (life-cycle, time-lapse, flowers-as-memories). I take this photoshoot to be an integral part of my project and vital for the development of the conceptual side of my work. Beginning with the place of the photoshoot, my grandfather’s home is intimately connected to the memory of my grandfather and specifically his love for flowers. In addition, I specifically chose to work with my family members rather than professionals as models for this particular photoshoot because – while more challenging from a photographer’s point of view – as an art director I wanted my narrative to convey an authentic, rather than artificial, show of emotions. In the process of organising the photoshoot I became increasingly aware that the narrative of my grandfather and his love for flowers was indeed the narrative experienced by my models when photographed.

As a photographer I wanted to bring this family connection to the forefront of my photoshoot. The basisof my narrative are two old photograph of my grandparents next to flowers (1 in garden and 1 next to a vase with flowers). One of the steps I took in my role as photographer was to reconstruct the familial memories these old photographs conjured in the photographs that I took. I asked my models (my parents and my sister and her partner) to pose in a way that would express both the sentiment of the photographs as well as personal memories of my grandparents.

As a stylist I took great care to emphasise the linkages between the old/contemporary photographs. Like my photographic choices, my stylistic approach was intended to create a memory bridge – I wanted my models also to represent alternate versions of my grandparents and their timeline and all these were connected by the presence of flowers in the photoshoot space.

While this photoshoot is meant to illustrate a narrative which is predominantly personal, all the organisational processes involved to carry it through were drawn by my experience of how the fashion industry works (for instance I collaborated with 2 womenswear designers, 1 accessories designer, 1 menswear boutique, 2 flower shops and 2 makeup artists). I understand this photoshoot to be the cornerstone of any subsequent photoshoot I have done or plan doing precisely because it enables a clear view of the potency of flowers to express themes like life-cycle, time-lapse, emotions. As such, this photoshoot is the conceptual lynchpin for my photoshoots that have a more explicit fashion function and purpose.

1. Narrative video and photoshoot: Story behind it

My feelings and choices

I have been organising the photo-shoot for a long time and my anticipation was increasing as the day was growing nearer. On the day of the photo-shoot I was full of emotions, but, strangely, I was not feeling anxious. I knew that everyone involved was going to do the right thing at the right moment. Because my aim was to capture an unscripted representation of my family’s story, I strongly believed that everything would unfold as natural as possible. That was the reason why I chose to collaborate family members – people who, by virtue of sharing my familial memories, knew exactly the narrative I wanted to convey. For this reason, I felt that while they were not professional actors or model, there was no one more appropriate and qualified to perform in this particular video than my family. The emotions they displayed before, during and after the photo-shoot mirrored mine. Earlier, in the planning stages of the photo-shoot, I had explained to my family how I wanted to set up the story of the video around flowers and the passing of flowers. My parents immediately comprehended what I was trying to do – they knew very well my grandfather’s love of flowers. In my conversation with my parents they recounted that flowers were always there in my grandparents’ home and everyday life. Even though we all felt the sense of loss of my grandfather to some degree, the photo-shoot never felt like an act of mourning, or something sorrowful – it more resembled an event to commemorate a person we all loved and cherished.It was a work of art meant to pass on the idea of memories and nostalgia using flowers – and, in the context of the video, mine and my grandfather’s love of flowers – as a vehicle for conveying those feelings and memories. My view was that the video itself should illustrate flowers as an object that binds to get her three generations of my family.

Feelings and reactions of my family – before and during the photo-shoot

My family’s initial reaction to my idea of participating in my video was mixed. My father and my sister’s partner were very excited and they joked about being part of an acting troupe. My mother was more reserved; a reaction that I found normal because I know that my mother is a very shy person. My sister was also a bit reserved but not because she was shy. Rather, she seemed worried that I was risking too much by entrusting the job of performing in the video to a group of people that had no experience in doing anything similar. I explained to my sister that their participation in the video was precisely what would guarantee its quality. This was not just because of the physical resemblance between my mother and sister, which would work well for the time-lapse effect I wanted to create. It was also the fact that I saw in my father and mother as well as my sister and her partner two loving couples, just as I remembered my grandparents being two people who deeply loved each other. It was this love and affection – represented by the exchange of flowers – that I wanted to cement the continuum between the different generations. My thought was that having my family (instead of professional actors/models)in the video meant that the gestures and expressions exchanged between the couples would not have been artificial nor the result of pretence. They were authentic expressions of love, and familial bonds bound together each couple. After my explanation, I was certain that I convinced my sister that they were the ideal people to base my narrative video on.

On the day of the photo-shoot my family’s reactions were slightly different in that they were all a bit unsure about what they were to do during the shooting. We started very early in the morning as we had to finish before 1 pm; my mum had to go to work around that time. Everyone was there on time. I soon realised that it was a tall order to keep up with everything I needed to do. Because I was the art director and also responsible for the photography and styling, I had a substantial amount of work to do – there were times when I thought I would have coped better if I had an assistant with me. Despite the workload I faced, I was not the one who was stressed. My family were slightly stressed since the process was unfamiliar to them – I spend some time trying to make them feel more relaxed because I wanted them to be as calm and natural as possible for the video. They seemed to ease into their roles quite easily. This was especially the case with my dad, who seemed to enjoy the moment and was quite playful during the photo-shoot. My dad’s approach also helped my mum to relax, though she still had reservations about taking the video recording outside in the courtyard; she was conscious of the fact that neighbours might be watching and she did not want to expose herself to their gaze. My sister and her partner felt far more comfortable with the process of the photo-shoot and, therefore, my task of making my “actors” feel comfortable became gradually easier as the shooting progressed.

The locus of the photo-shoot – My grandfather’s house and flowers

Ever since its inception, I intended my video to take place in my grandfather’s house. I was convinced that his house was a very good location for the video, especially given the theme I sought to represent and develop. If the narrative of my video was to be atrans-generational story of my family – which would begin with my grandparent’s generation and continue with my parent’s and conclude with my generation of grandchildren – then it became impossible to imagine a location more appropriate than that house. For me, but also my family more generally, this house marked a space in the material world that hosted and nurtured all kind of loving memories that accompanied us growing up. Even though my memories of the house were a bit hazy – I was a small child when my grandparents last lived there – the sentiments it evoked when thinking of it were always warm and familiar. When I visited the house a few days before the photo-shoot to carry all the necessary equipment and to prepare the place by testing the lighting for the video, I had a peculiar experience. On the one hand, the house possessed nothing that often characterises a home: being uninhabited for the last years it was almost completely empty of people, sounds and material possessions. On the other hand, the “emptiness” of the house did nothing to eliminate the surge of feelings I got from being there.

Flowers were the catalyst in bringing those feelings forth. While my memories of the house were hazy, my lasting and most powerful impression was that of flowers always being present there, both outside in the yard and inside in the house. This memory of flowers in my grandfather’s home was so strong that the day before I went to prepare the place for the photo-shoot I asked my mother whether she thought I would find any flowers growing about on the day of the photo-shoot. She told me that there was little to no chance of that happening – no one had taken care of the house for a considerable amount of time and flowers would not survive abandonment. I was stunned to find out that the reverse was the truth: upon entering the house I saw flowers everywhere. The materiality of flowers in my grandfather’s house (a place I already metaphorically associated with flowers) assaulted me with colours, smells and, of course, memories. The presence of flowers was something that was at the same time incongruous and fitting: it both did not make sense pragmatically (how did they exist in such an abundance without careful care?) and made perfect sense emotionally and imaginatively (I had never ever imagined that house devoid of flowers). The emotional response I got from being in the presence of what I thought to be a paradox was immense. While I knew that no one was living in the house or taking care of the garden, in that moment I felt that the flowers that my grandfather used to cherish were still being cared for.This experience validated and cemented my artistic decision to shoot the video there: my grandfather’s house was not simply a good location but it was more so the only one that I could possibly create the visual story I wanted to express.

Ideas – Story – Narrative construction

My ideas for my narrative video and how it was to be developed were never static – I quickly discovered that what I thought and felt about flowers, my family and specifically my grandfather were shaped profoundly by the process of creating the video. When I first began engaging with the topic of flowers in my Creative Research in Fashion Communication module I thought that flowers reflected my memories of my grandfather simply in terms of a sense of loss. At the time I saw flowers as a representation of my grandfather’s love of them and, by extension, of his deep love for my grandmother and the rest of his family. I thought that thinking about flowers meant being confronted with the absence of my grandfather from mine and my family’s lives.

However, when I began talking about my project with my family – and when I started, more recently, to read on the subject of mourning and melancholia – I realised that my initial approach was not entirely representative of mine or my family’s disposition towards my grandfather’s passing. If, according Freud, mourning performs the internal work of freeing the ego from the inhibition and emotional pain that comes in the wake of the loss of a loved person, then it seemed to me that my family and I were in a post-mourning phase. Of course, that is not to say that I (we) did not have feelings about my grandfather’s passing. Rather, those feelings did not manifest just in the form of pain about the absence of my grandfather. Though I find it difficult to talk about this change in technical terms (since I realise I do not have the adequate background in the field of psychoanalysis) what I can say with certainty is that my discussions with my family about my grandfather had more to do about his presence in our lives instead of his absence.

My thoughts about the meaning of my project in relation to flowers and my grandfather began transforming. The story of my family no longer felt like a story of loss and discontinuity; it was a story of remembrance and continuity. Thus, I decided that my narrative would not focus on the concept (and feeling) of grief and pain but on that of my grandfather’s continued presence (now in the form of flowers and our memories of him) in mine and my family’s lives. The nostalgia that was to be a major part of the narrative was meant to do the work of showing the three generations of my family as one.

This conceptual shift to a more celebratory tone had a dramatic impact on the way I conducted myself as an art director, photographer and stylist in making my video. I decided to keep my grandfather’s house as starkly empty as I found it when I wanted to prepare for the photo-shoot. I did so because I wanted the material subjects and objects in the video to be only those that substantially contributed to bringing forth the presence of my grandparents in the house: primarily my family members and flowers. This artistic decision meant that I could focus exclusively on flowers as a material object that evokes my grandparent’s lived experience in that house. I tried to include flowers in as many diverse ways as possible: as jewellery worn by my mother and sister; as ornaments in a vase in the house; as a gift passed between loved ones; as a staple feature of my grandfather’s garden. Flowers thus continuously bound the different generations of my family together.

Another way I thought would consolidate the mingling of the generations was the use of the fade out technique in the video so that I would represent my sister and her partner as a younger version of my mum and dad (and by extension my grandmother and grandfather). As a stylist I also chose the clothes of my sister and her partner to reflect a previous age, in order to make the connection to my mum’s past more convincing. The movements and actions of my family in the video were inspired by the stories I learned – or remembered – about my grandparent’s life in that house. While I wanted my parents and my sister and her partner to perform similarly, I did not try to have each couple mirror the other exactly. After watching the video I did not think that this small inconsistency worked against merging my family’s generations together. On the contrary, I thought it made the transition from a younger age to an older one seem more believable as the expressions of love and affection can also be thought to be shaped by the passing of time. I saw my mum and dad reaching for each other as people who have loved each other for many years – with all the tenderness, comfort and familiarity that this long term commitment to each other implies. And I saw my sister and her partner approaching each other as a couple whose loving relationship is now forming; they were shy, impulsive and ready to embark on a life adventure together. I appreciated these slight differences and in turn I came to recognise the diversity of flowers as an object conveying emotions from one person to another. This was especially evident in the case of flowers being exchanged in the video; not only as gifts of courtship and helping establish a loving relationship, but also as tokens that reinforce and reaffirm that relationship during the passing of time.

 

Final work: Rationals and roles

Final work

Intentions/Rationales

During the experimentation phase of my project I developed several insights and ideas as to how I wanted to represent the theme of flowers and its relationship to human memories and emotions in my work. The central aim of the next phase of my project is to start applying these ideas and insights in the several (fashion) photoshoots I will be conducting. My photoshoots explore flowers in various ways because one of the underlying intentions of this project is to show the versatility of flowers as a thematic that can be brought into the creative industry. There are two rationales underpinning the structure of my photoshoots.

  1. First, I wanted to set up my photoshoots in such a way so that I would represent my theme (flowers/emotions/memories) in a progressively fashion-related manner. So, while I begin with something very conceptual, I want my work to move towards photoshoots that have a clear function as a fashion work (e.g. editorial, advertorial etc) – but at the same time maintain the integrity of my concept.
  2. Second, I want the insights from my experimentation to emerge clearly – but not necessarily equally – in my work. In other words, elements of my experiments– such as “life-circle” “time-lapse”, “memory and nostalgia”, “disintegration”, “floral colours invoking emotions” – are to be present in my photoshoots, but in different degrees and with different focus. I will explain further how this is done when recounting the specifics of each photoshoot.

Roles/Organisation

In order to make sure that the ideas and insights I gained from my experimental work are to be implemented fully in my photoshoots, I have decided to perform three roles when organising and conducting my photoshoots and videos: as an art director, photographer and stylist.

Skip to toolbar