The One at Lucy Maud’s House or Day in the Life – Part 1

“Sunday Aug. 6, 1911
Royal Hotel, Princess St.
Edinburgh, Scotland

…..Abbotsford is most interesting and crowded with relics. I should have loved to dream over them in solitude. But that might not be. The rooms were filled by a chattering crowd, harangued by a glib guide. I wondered if Scott would have liked this – to see his home overrun by a horde of curious sight seers. I am sure I would not.”

After reading this excerpt from “The Selected Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery”, I wondered if Maud would have minded the take over of her house for my photo shoot. If she was looking down on us, I hope she saw how happy we were to be there.

In my journal I wrote, “The experience far and away exceeded the success of the images.” Here is a lesson to all: DO NOT look at your images so soon after the event. Especially if you’re so incredibly exhausted from the ordeal. To all you ladies, DO NOT look at your images so soon after, especially if you’re PMS’ing. I hated everything about them! I hated the dress I spent a grueling amount of time on. I couldn’t decide if they were more like a photographer taking behind the scene photos on a movie set, or what! I couldn’t put my finger on it. What it was about them that rubbed me the wrong way? I looked over them again the next day, pleased that they were growing on me. So much so, I started the editing process finding the perfect formula for split toning a soft sepia effect.

At Casual Tuesday’s, Rob described them as, “A Day in the Life”. He liked the direction I was going and didn’t think there was anything wrong with the behind-the-scenes look. This is why some of us girls call this day, Photographers Anonymous. It’s nice to have someone else put your thoughts into words. In the “thrill of the moment”, to use one of Maud’s phrases, none of this occurred to me. I was trying to create the same style of portraits as in previous studio shoots. Only, I wasn’t in the studio. I was in a historic house with artifacts all about me, in my costume, trying to be an Edwardian woman. I physically became part of this historical environment feeling as though I completely belonged there. In that sense, I hoped to have captured lost moments in time.

I’ve only had an assistant once for The Anachronist Project. Even though they were very helpful, over the years, I’ve preferred to do things on my own. On this shoot, however, I was told on no uncertain terms that I must have an assistant. A wise move. Long before the shoot, I asked my friend Joanne, who said once before she wanted to learn more about using studio lights etc. As my hair was being styled, Joanne laid out and hung up all my costumes with shoes neatly lined up (it occurred to me, a portable/collapsible garment wrack would have come in handy), carried all the camera equipment to the second floor landing, and would have steamed my skirts, had the hand held steamer been working. Because I was still very excited and flustered, she was my eyes behind the camera. Although I composed each scene, she would press the button on the remote.  I took my time making sure I felt right in the image. I should say, correct in the way I stood, looked, made sure my hair didn’t deflate. Together we’d review them discussing other options. Best of all, Joanne offered to drive there and back again. When all was said and done, I was an over cooked noodle exhausted from the days leading up to this.

Weeks before the shoot Kai and I talked about a more relaxed hairstyle for being in the house. As a single 36 year-old  woman of that time, I would not be permitted to wear my hair in a braid or halfway up because I was an old maid. Such an horrid term for a lady who can’t or in my case, does not want to get married. Thus, Kai styled my hair with a wonderful abandon of curls gathered on top of my head. “I’m going to do your make up!” she exclaimed after my hair was done and removing cooling eye patches to get rid of my bags. I had brought my own make up of course, but what she did was far beyond my menial application of basic foundation; blush, eye shadow and lipstick. Kai blended two tones of foundation, something clear, then lightly dusted my face with blush to give an overall natural effect. Throughout the day, I couldn’t help by caress my face. My skin was oh so soft.

Tess and Barbara, volunteers of the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario, poked their heads in from time to time to see how things were going. I’d like to think they were a little excited to finally see what my project was about. They were very kind and wonderfully relaxed with the whole ordeal. I was pleased they trusted me enough to leave us to ourselves. Of all the time we had, starting at 11:30 with hair and starting to shoot sometime after 12, there wasn’t enough time in the day. However, both Tess and Barb let me know that I was welcome to return to finish my shoot. Somehow, I don’t think one more day will do it. I feel one more day in costume perhaps, but I told Barb, I wanted to build a gallery for them. Take photos of the rooms use my costumes to dress them up a little bit. We discussed other things, but these I won’t divulge until they come into fruition.

Now that I have had time to sit with the experience and “live” with my photos, I have more confidence in them. The next time we descend upon the house will be more organized, we’ll arrive sooner, work flow will be more streamlined, I will have more homey aspects to the images like an apron, partially stated embroidery on a hoop, that kind of thing.  “Next time”, however, will be the dead of tourist season.  So things will have to be sorted out. I’m going to Portugal in a week you see. Then I go home mid July. Summers are very fickle indeed.

Keep watch for my Portugal posts! I’ll be staying with my friend, Jeniffer and her family in a village on Sao Miguel. It’s only now sinking in.

The One With the Chair

A few days before Christmas vacation, we were handed our Christmas bonuses. That weekend, when walking in my old hood, The Beaches, I noticed a new antique pop-up store next to Ends. Needless to say, I went in to see what treasures could be found. It was destiny to have found a beautiful Victorian chair and a mid 1930’s sewing machine. Destiny? At that time I was wondering what my next Anachronist shoot would be. When I saw the chair in the window, I knew immediately what that shoot would become. In the case of the sewing machine, my 1950’s Omega was on the fritz. Quite the regression, I agree, but it works wonderfully! Each was bought at an amazing price, including delivery.

More recently, a girl, who also uses the studio space, and I went halves on a storage locker a block away. How convenient! Slowly we’ve been filling it up with things like chairs, fabric backgrounds, fake flowers and other things. I have a feeling our little 5×5 storage unit will soon be full enough upgrade before too long. Especially at the rate I’m going because on my way to work one day, walking up Pape Ave I found rolled up, slung over someone’s fence a beautiful area rug. There’s a large red (like Cool Aid) stain at the back and a small bare spot, but otherwise in excellent condition and thankfully not too large to prevent me from carrying it. So into storage it went. Along with a a new pair of IKEA faun coloured curtains bought at Value Village. The three most recent arrivals made up 90% of my set for this shoot.

It’s dangerous having a storage locker. It has become an excuse to go shopping for things that you think will do well on a set. When shopping at antique and second hand stores I’ve begun to ask myself a list of questions; How will this purchase fit into the look and design of your shoots? Does this object look authentic period wise? Is “X” amount of dollars really worth it for this purchase? How often will you use it? Are you buying for the sake of buying it, or will you use it? I’m sure there are many more questions I ask myself as I gaze in stunned contemplation around the store. My general rule, if it’s something amazing that you just can’t pass up, buy it! If it’s on the sidewalk in good condition, take it! Back to the subject at hand.

When looking back at these photos, I love how the colours are so soft and graceful. The background, the curtains and the first two costume changes worked well. When the image is changed to sepia, it’s a cohesive image. That being said, some of the images do well with an autochrome treatment. Something I’ve recently discovered in the many hours of pouring through Pinterest.

A while back I had asked my friend and sewing teacher, Marianne from Costume Witch, to help me with dressing and keeping an eye on the general all around look of my costume to ensure there was nothing sticking out, the train of my skirt was nicely laid out, in short, that I looked presentable. She worked in the costume industry for some time on film sets and plays, eventually opening a costume store. We’ve been Stitching and Bitching for many a year now, helping each other out with fittings, asking advise and just hanging out having fun.

I’m extremely happy with this shoot, but not as much as I was with the last one. Perhaps it’s because I’ve realized, unless I do the shoot again with hair down and in my under things, or re-do the moon making it out of ridged insulation board, The Anachronist Project is swiftly coming to a close. From here on in I’ll be shooting on location. My much anticipated shoot at Lucy Maud Montgomery’s house I hope, will be the crowning jewel. To prepare, I’ve begun to read volume two of her selected journals. Throughout the summer, I’ll be hitting, picturesque parks, beaches, gardens and wooded trails here in Ontario and home in Cape Breton.

There are a few ideas for what comes next floating about in my head. The main goal of this project is to create a museum-like photography exhibit. I was hoping to get a spot within Gallery 44, the Members Gallery, but sadly that did not come into fruition. It doesn’t do to dwell on rejections, but I can only think, this body of work is not contemporary enough despite the following definition from Foto Relevance: “A relevant definition of the word contemporary is happening in the same period of time, of/or, in the style of present or recent times.” Hmmmmmm……..in the style of present or RECENT times. Since I’m using modern technology, wouldn’t this count as contemporary photography? Like I said it doesn’t do to dwell.

The One with the Plinth

Lately, I’ve been revisiting (ok, binge watching) all the “Friends” episodes and realized none of the episodes had titles. On Netflix however, they’ve title them. For example: “The one Where Phoebe Runs”, or “The one with Ross’s Leather Pants”. So this blog is lovingly titled, “The One With the Plinth”.

The story of how I got the plinth is this… Where I work on Carlaw Ave in Toronto, is a plethora of interesting businesses. One little boutique shop was moving from one hallway to another, selling some of their merchandise and displays. To my joy, there was a waist high, black, plaster column, for $20.00. How could I say, “no” to that? It was weeks later after having it in front of my desk, beside my desk, in the board room, etc., that I finally Ubered it and myself to the studio in Liberty Village.

The photo shoot happened some weeks past now, but for some reason I’m still going over the photos. Oh believe me, I’ve started to edited them. Even printed and framed 2 portraits. I have many successful images from this shoot that mesmerize me. I  going to let modestly hit the fan here and say, I feel this shoot is the best one yet.

Designing this set in particular, was quite fun, especially the task of affixing the ivy and berries to the plinth. In the end I’ve managed to have things look natural. I have to admit buying and collecting these items aren’t remorse purchases as one would think when you make up the excuse, “Yeah, I can use this for my sets!”. They have been used again and again, becoming interracial supplies that make up a repertoire of props and designs. When Nadia exclaimed, “It looks like a painting!” after taking one shot of the background, I knew this shoot would turn out well.

My hairstylist, Kai came to the studio with a more Gibson Girl look in mind. It completely blew me away. She is an amazing person. Having spent the morning with me, she had another job in Mississauga doing make up for a group of acrobats. When I hire her now, there’s no discussion. It’s not necessary. She knows what I want and what will look good. And I know she enjoys the fruits of her labours when I send her photos of the finished product.

For one hopeful reason, I won’t mention because I might jinx it, I’ve started hunting for antique frames. For those who follow me on Instagram, you would have seen them already. The feeling I got when the image was in the frame sent shivers through my whole being. It sounds silly, but there was a visual connection, a remembrance of seeing myself thus. This feeling was completely different from looking at an original photograph of a stranger from that time. I don’t quite understand it myself.

Be sure to check out my third Instagram account, The Anachronist Project. If you’re not already, please follow.

Stay tuned for my next blog, “The one with the Chair”.

 

 

The Anachronist

For some reason I thought I had already wrote an article about my project. But when I went to look for a link to send to someone, I found that I didn’t. How disappointing. For those who don’t know about the project let me first say that Rob gave me the idea when I was printing an image for one of the Beach Photo Club contests. One of the other members of Casual Tuesdays  or Photographers Anonymous had  popped into the studio to pick up some equipment and  asked what the prints were for. Rob told her I was an anachronism. Nither she nor I knew what that meant, but now I know it means a juxtaposition in time. For example me in a a 1940’s polka dot dress with a necklace of pearls at The Local in Liberty Village with the Olympic  Women’s Westling on the TV’s above the bar. Who does that? And I don’t mean women’s wrestling.

From then on, I adopted the term for myself and developed it into a continuous project where, Moi (to use Miss Piggy’s term) dresses in period costume and take self portraits. I had planned three different backdrops for studio shooting. Two of which have been enacted already and one more to go. As you know I’ve already done some on location shoots when I was home in Cape Breton in Gabarus and Peter’s Field. The last background is based on an idea from a painting dating back the eighteenth century when Madame Du Berry commissioned a painting from Watteau of a woman on a swing with her lover looking on and no doubt, up her skirts. In my research, I ‘ve since found that many studio’s in then Edwardian period have photographed women on a swings.  For this, I plan on buying many fake flowers lacing them through the rope of the swing in the studio. There’s some astro turf that I might use or, I may use the mottled green muslin for the floor as well, if it’s along enough. I’ll have to try both.

There is one other set I’d like to build, but I’m afraid it would be way over my budget. While still living in the Beaches, I had picked up a roll of floral wall paper that looked as though it would have decorated an Edwardian home. My first idea was to adhere it to canvass so I can roll it up and take it with me wherever. I’m told the glue will not stick to the fabric. Then someone suggested S1 Studios Toronto for set rentals. One would actually rent a blank frame in what ever quantity you desired, supports are extra and you have the option of building said set yourself or hiring someone to build it for you. There are daily or weekly rates. It’ll be worth it to rent everything for the week to get your moneys worth. But then I thought, there are so many beautiful historic houses already furnished for the part. Why not solicit to these places, so I’m currently drafting a letter to do so.

The following posts are about the journey for that look, feel and authenticness of an Edwardian portrait, though I’m working digitally in modern circumstances. All my life I’ve been told I’m from another time and here is my chance to explore my old soul.