When Taking Photos Feels Magical

My friend, Yelena, mentioned she was looking for someone to model for her, I couldn’t resist jumping at the opportunity to hang out with her and be on the other side of the camera. I often photograph self portraits, however I very rarely model for other photographers even though I really enjoy it. She put together a mood board and said she was looking for a field of wild flowers. I suggested a field near by my house filled with delicate blue flowers. We arranged to meet and spent the evening allowing our creativity to run wild. I asked her if I could bring my camera, as I couldn’t resist taking some snaps, to which she agreed and we captured the light at its most beautiful and ethereal; my favourite! 

I took inspiration from my favourite set of photographs, “The Cottingley Fairies”. These photos were taken in 1917 (and later in 1920) by sixteen year old Elsie Wright and her nine year old cousin Frances Griffiths. Elsie cut fairy illustrations out of a book and the two girls took it in turn to pose with the fairies and take the photographs. After developing the photos  in Elsie’s fathers darkroom, they tried to convince her parents that they were real. Her father did not believe them but her mother did. The photos were shown to the Theosophical Society who instantly believed the photos to be real. The girls swore to one another that they would keep the truth a secret. A member of the society, Edward Gardner, started a campaign to convince the public of their authenticity by holding lectures, making copies of the images and passing them around during meetings. Arthur Conan Doyle, a noted spiritualist, expressed how the photographs were evidence that communication could exist between the material and spiritual worlds. In fact, the girls were asked by the two men to provide them with more photos of the fairies. The girls took out their camera and decided to give them three more images, which lead to the men falling for the images again. This time Gardner brought a psychic to the garden who claimed the area was full of fairies. In 1983 the girls finally told the truth about the images being faked, but claimed they had seen the fairies. The two girls had different stories, Elsie confessed they were all faked but Frances expressed how the last image taken was real. She explained that when she took the photograph, the fairies were not there but showed up when the film was developed. Interestingly, even though the two girls explained how the images were set up, people still believed in them, even to this day. I think it is because people want to believe in the magic. During WWI, more people were drawn to the images and convinced they were real due to a need for escapism and the desire for a better world. To me, the photographs are magical - real or faked. Their story is magical too. The photographs created by Elsie and Frances are so stunning and creative. The composition, lighting and backdrop of each image feels like they have stepped out of a fairy tale. The girls look relaxed and happy in the images, as though they were friends with the fairies. I wanted to incorporate a similar set up with Yelena being the focal point of the image and the landscape around her to be natural but magical by using glorious evening light to create an enchanting glow. I wasn’t going to use cut out images of fairies, or edit fairies in afterwards. For me, it was more about making the location feel spellbinding and intriguing. 

The Cottingley Fairies

The Cottingley Fairies

The Cottingley Fairies

The Cottingley Fairies

The Cottingley Fairies

I asked Yelena to bring some neutral coloured clothing, ideally a white summer dress or something similar. Earlier that day, she picked up a white summer dress from a charity shop, which turned out to be perfect for the look I was after. It was really simple with a hint of a pattern and texture on the top, almost like a slip dress. This, matched with her beautiful, curly brown hair, gave the images an earthy feel. We jokingly said the look felt like we were impersonating Mother Earth, or something similar, which to be honest, I adore this concept and think it fits. It adds to the spiritual story what was unfolding in my mind. 

Using only three set ups, I took the photos of Yelena. The first was in the centre of the field, I gradually lowered the placement of the field so that Yelena looked taller and more powerful. Yet, she stands quietly, strong as though she belongs there. I wanted to keep the posing fairly natural, directing Yelena to look in a certain direction or use small movements. The pretty, blue flowers danced around her knees as the delicate clouds swirled peacefully above her head. It honestly felt really magical simply standing in this field, let alone taking the photos. When you notice that the world around you in magic, it opens your eyes to how special it is. 

The second set up, I think, shows more of an influence from The Cottingley Fairies (particularly the fourth image in the series - “Fairy Offering a Posy to Elsie”) where she is looking towards the creature and both of them are framed by the plants. Originally, I asked Yelena to sit against the tree, but just as she sat down and we were about to take some photos, we heard a low buzzing noise and saw wasps exiting the tree. Yelena jumped up and thankfully did not get stung. It is a shame that we could not take photos in that position as it looked stunning, but I really liked how the alternate option came out. Yelena stood behind the tree and gracefully leant up against it. I love the way the tree and its branches framed her. We also took a shot slightly further away from the tree, which I think was just as whimsical. These shots also remind me of the beginning of Alice In Wonderland where she is sitting by the tree and first spots the white rabbit. 

That’s when I noticed the full glow of the sun was peering through the clouds. I asked Yelena to sit with her back to the sun so I could take some back lit photographs. The golden brilliance of the sun was gracing the edge of her features: her hair; her skin and the flowers around her. I was more than likely making excitable noises at this moment in time - I can’t really remember what I was saying but what I can remember is the feeling of electricity flowing through me and the need to keep taking photos whilst exploring the different compositions to see the variation of the light. 

It was really lovely to spend the evening with a good friend, who is also a creative person, to discuss ideas and create art together. I had an absolute blast taking these photos with Yelena. I felt so creatively free and I’m truly inspired to take more photos like these; I’m buzzing with passion to use my camera again and again. As a matter of fact, I am currently working on some mood boards for future shoots as I am aching to get back out there and take some more. I will be telling you more about these projects soon!

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