Am I Beautiful Now?
I spent the majority of his working life in public service before Government cuts and general negativity took a toll on my health and led to early retirement. I then set up as freelance writer and photographer working chiefly in the music industry.
For several years I was embedded with the music industry, shooting hundreds of bands and spending the summer months at music festivals across the UK. A couple of years back I signed up for an online course delivered by Sebastian Michaels at Fine Art Grunge.
I was hugely inspired by Sebastian’s work and by the other artists on the course. As a result, I realized that I needed to expand my photography if I was to create art that really resonated with me. I created a casting to shoot a grunge or punk set with a suitable model and was overwhelmed by the response.
One model really stood out to me, Dizzy Massacre. Dizzy is an American model who moved to the UK four years ago. As we talked it became clear that we were on the same wavelength and shared an interest in the way body image could have a huge effect on young people and especially on young women. We resolved to work together on a suitable project even though Dizzy was not what I was looking for with regard to my model casting.
Some weeks later Dizzy sent me a video clip that totally shocked and horrified me. It was from a foreign language film but the message was clear and powerful. The film showed a young woman being body shamed and bullied because she was “large.” Surrounded by stereotypical images of size zero model the young woman took surgical knives and cut away flesh until it killed her.
The image was powerful, evocative and very impactive. As a result, we decided that we would create a series of images reflecting the theme. We wanted to portray the dark side of the beauty industry and highlight the impact that body image can have in its most negative sense. We knew from the outset that the theme would be very dark
We decided that working at Pozers studio in Cricklade near Swindon would be ideal as the studio owner is also a makeup artist, so Pink Lady Makeup Artistry was booked to provide the special effects makeup we would need.
We set about collecting props for the shoot whilst I planned out how we would light the shoot. It was critical that I got this right. The lighting needed to reflect the mood and lend itself to digital manipulation. In the end I decided to use a large soft box that faced away from the model and onto a black background. A second light was added with a strip box and grid off to one side and a speed light with a red gel used to help add emphasis to skin tones and the special effects wounds.
The night before the shoot Dizzy contacted me in something of a panic because beauty magazines and other props had been left in a black bag ready for the shoot. Unfortunately, Dizzy’s husband had taken the lot to the dump!
Fortunately, we were able to improvise and some of the magazine covers that you see in the shots were added in post-production.
On the day of the shoot we worked for 15 hours, long into the night and Dizzy spent a huge amount of time in makeup. Fortunately, I had anticipated long breaks between sets and had booked a second model to keep me occupied between sets. Amazingly I came away with some incredibly good images from that shoot as well.
The power of Dizzy’s images was always going to come from the post-production. We knew that the series had to tell a story, a story of increasing despair and eventually death in the name of beauty. To be convincing as a story we believed that the images had to look similar and share a central theme.
Over the course of several weeks I worked on the images, consulting with Dizzy and artist friends along the way. Many drafts were considered and rejected as not having exactly the right feel. In many ways this was an organic process as things were added to move the “test” image forward. Slowly the first piece came together until we knew we had it nailed. I asked an artist friend to critique the image and when she told me that it reduced her to tears I knew we had reached the right conclusion for our vision.
Much of the power from the photography comes from Dizzy’s emotion. Make no mistake, the emotions you see are not the product of Dizzy’s acting ability. They are very real indeed. Dizzy lived and breathed every single shot and exposed the camera to years of pent up emotion and life experience. Dizzy simply allowed years of hurt and negativity to flow from every fibre of her being during the shoot. The atmosphere in the studio was palpable, as moving as it was exciting.
I can’t express how grateful I am to Dizzy for allowing me to be part of this incredible project. Dizzy was determined to shout her message from the rooftops and I hope my own work has helped her to achieve this.
Photographer & Digital Artist