Photos of Rosalind taken by Flo. Photos of Flo taken by Rosalind.
One of the greatest joys in formulating ideas for photography is the research. I’m someone who becomes rather puppyish at the prospect of spending an afternoon with a free mind, a stack of books and a pad of paper for note taking. It’s a time to wander through the reaches of others’ imaginations, whether in their words or images. Vague concepts can be clarified and expanded, or new ones thought up.
I'm lucky enough to live in a house where there are two things guaranteed for creativity. The first is, no matter what the shoot, theme or activity, there’ll be texts available to inspire. The second is that there will also be ample costumes to fulfill the brief. Between the books and the dressing up box, we cover all options.
Both resources were called upon in planning a seaside shoot with Flo last autumn. As our emails pinged back and forth, I reached for the shelves. There I found several books previously enjoyed aged eight. As we discussed the paradoxes of the sea: the suggestions of vulnerability or potency, safety or danger, serenity or storm, I was flicking through the Barefoot Book of Goddesses. There, I was re-acquainted with Japanese deity Benzai-Ten who lived with a dragon husband in the depths of Lake Biwa; the “first lady of the Welsh islands and sea” Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere in English mythology); and the mermaid Queen Nyai Loro Kidul from Java. Although all four elements could be found, the most frequent association among these goddesses was water. It brings with it associations arcing from birth to destruction. Gwenhyfar allegedly sang the ‘marswygafen’ (death song of “giving back to the sea mother”) as her dead husband Arthur was returned to the waves, while Nyai Loro Kidul required offerings to appease her tempers and taste for “men wearing green bathing trunks.”
Many of these goddesses were powerful, clever, sensuous, giving. Often their stories were full of strength. Their narratives reflect the ways in which cultures and communities have tried to make sense of the world. ‘Goddess’ is now a misconstrued word calling to mind the domestic goddess of the kitchen, Grecian goddess dresses made from cheap fabric, the faux-spiritual implications of “releasing your inner goddess”. All associations diminish the meaning.
Flo and I wanted to pay homage to the original intensity of these myths. We began with outlines of characters, our proposed shoot also informed by another Barefoot collection: Stories from the Sea. We talked about folk tales from the original and appropriately tragic Little Mermaid through to The Selkie Wife (a seal who metamorphosed into a woman but could not undo the change when her sealskin was hidden). I then assembled velvets, silks, long dresses, translucent fabrics and enough ballgowns to adorn a small group of debutantes.
But we felt less like women of the water and more like very cold girls as we rose at 6am for the morning light. November seas are unforgiving, welsh wind bitter. But as our minds warmed up (even if our bodies didn't follow suit) we braved the grey water and blue waves. We challenged the rising chill, thought of those sirens and selkies and waded on. Then we made faces and jumped about, shrieking - once the camera had been lowered and the sky, breeze and bloody freezing sea could be acknowledged.
All clothes secondhand or vintage, sourced from my dressing-up box - including 50s ruched, turquoise swimming costume worn under chiffon dress and tattered 30s satin wedding dress, dyed pink. These were originally posted at the end of last year on our joint photography blog Renard et Rose, with the shoot here and an explanation here. If you click on the landscape photos you can see them larger. It felt appropriate to re-post them on the eve of our next shoot taking place tomorrow. More of Flo's photography can be seen on her flickr.