“No location has ever creeped me out as much as this one,” said Alexia Sinclair. Nevertheless, she headed out into Belango State Forest in Australia with the ambition to turn the forest’s dark history into a thing of beauty and meaning. This is the third part of Into The Gloaming. Be sure to also check out part one and part two.
“Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it,” claimed Bertolt Brecht. I believe that’s true, and it was with this in mind that I ventured into the woods of the Belanglo State Forest no less than half a dozen times to create this image.
Those familiar with the forest’s name will need no further introduction. For the uninitiated, all I will say is that it’s notoriety was gained through the heinous crimes committed there in the early 90s.
No location has ever creeped me out as much as this one, and it’s for that very reason it’s so important to reclaim what it once was. To try and reshape it’s horrible history into something more than just a forest of bones.
My Dance with the Macabre
I often talk about my love of chiaroscuro (the play of light and dark), and this painting style plays an integral role in the way I produce the look of my work.
My play with light and dark extends beyond a visual style too. Telling a dark story in a hauntingly beautiful way is intended to leave a bittersweet sensation in the viewer, and this is clearly my intent with my latest creation.
Early in my career during the research for my series The Regal Twelve, I like many, became infatuated with the mystery surrounding the execution of the Russian royal family, whose bodies were only located almost a century later amongst the leafy outskirts of Yekaterinburg in southern Russia.
In search of a new location, I found myself wandering through the decaying old pine plantation of Belanglo forest. In truth, it’s hard not to feel like you’re being observed. That sensation that lifts the hairs on your neck also ignited my imagination with the tales of two influential stories of my past: the predatory fable Little Red Riding Hood and the folklore surrounding the disappearance of Princess Anastasia of the House of Romanov.
How to Bring the Who, What, Where, When & Why Together
With the character, location and story in place, I’d need to produce a scene to visualise the similarities between them all.
The checklist included; fabricating a red hooded dress, a diamond encrusted Fabergé case depicting Nikolai Romonov, a wolf, and crow like birds.
My love of symbolism made me determined to have a murder of crows in the scene, interacting with my character. Eerily, I haven’t heard a single bird out at Belanglo so this would be composite.
Crows are very intelligent and not easily manipulated. So although I spent weeks luring birds into the studio setup in my garden with a smorgasbord of delights, the closest I could capture on camera were the equally beautiful native Currawongs.
Domesticated wolves are neigh impossible to come by (in Australia anyway) thus we look to it’s closest relative in appearance the Siberian Husky. Unfortunately unleashed racing huskies are likely to race home to Siberia, so my hunt for a big bad wolf lead me to a cheeky pack of racing huskies that I photographed in a studio setting with lighting that mirrored that of our heroine in the woods.
Lighting the Woods
We were about 50km to the nearest power outlet, so we’d need to rely on Pro-B2 battery generator and Pro-B2 Heads for the lighting. We started with an overhead HR Softbox Octa 7‘ at about 1.5 stops under. Our Beauty Dish would act as our key light, and two HR Softbox 1×4′ strips would lightly separate our subject from the woods.
For detailed placement of the lighting check the 360° panorama below
Bringing it together
Having the pre-composition all worked out, and all the elements captured I headed to studio to bring everything together. I had mixed a slow shutter speed on location with the strobes which allowed me to capture the model and background in a single frame. Very minor grading allowed me to achieve the final look. The only significant work would be merging the composite wolf and the currawongs.
Documenting The Work
After every shoot I like to document the dress that I’ve created and used on the production. I can’t stress this enough to those embarking on creating art for the purpose of exhibition.
As an artist you need to establish every decision well in advance, and the best way to do this is by keeping a visual diary, fill it with references to your inspiration and most importantly document your decisions along the way.
If you’ve hand made a dress, you best light it beautifully so when the museum asks for an image for their catalogue you’ve got it ready to go.
Learn more about Alexia’s post-production via her online tutorials & masterclasses.
Into The Gloaming: Part One