(Project Anima #1)
In my dreams, there is a woman. She is vaguely familiar, but mostly unknown to me. Sometimes she resembles a woman I know, but not a woman I know well. I find her upon opening a door into a room I didn’t know existed, or swimming in a lagoon in a far-off country. Sometimes I see her at the periphery of a crowd of people, beckoning me. She implores me to come with her, to stay with her, to wait for her. Sometimes she is just there, a presence: not speaking, not acting, just standing beside me, somehow a part of me, radiating serenity and trust. Other times she is devious and deceitful. She steals from me. She tricks me. She allies herself with men who want to kill me. She leads me to places I do not want to go.
My dreams repeat themselves, over and over. There is a city on a hill, overlooking the water. An old city, but with no fixed geographical location–sometimes Europe, sometimes Australia, sometimes North America, sometimes South America. The city is always old, and always magnetic, beckoning me to find a way to get to it and explore the riches it has to offer.
I dream of searching for a lost guitar. Of being without my camera while an incredible scene plays out before my eyes. Of riding on buses and bicycles, vaguely aware that I have left my bags behind. I dream of being nearly, but not totally weightless, able to leap tall buildings (and crowds of people) in a single bound. I dream of the earth crumbling, and myself running towards a road that will take me somewhere safe.
But somewhere on the periphery, she watches me. And sometimes, she journeys alongside me. She is my protector, my soul’s mirror, my mother Mary, my sister Rosa, my dark angel. She is my Anima, the high priestess of my dream-world.
In of one of the most ground-breaking dream studies ever attempted, Carl Jung recorded “over a thousand dreams and visual impressions coming from a young man of excellent scientific education”. The unfolding of this man’s journey through his unconscious is mysterious and suspenseful. Not in such a way that it would make a good story or movie, but with Jung’s commentary it sheds light on deep mysteries, uncovers hidden fears and untapped strengths, and provides invaluable analogies for those who wish to adventure into the strange and beautiful world of the Dreaming.
Jung’s dreamer meets his Anima in dream #4, where he is “surrounded by a throng of vague female forms”, and thinks aloud to himself, “First I must get away from my father.” In subsequent dreams the Anima becomes more real, more powerful. Jung writes of the various female forms that manifest themselves in dreams, “They are fairies or fascinating sirens and lamias, who infatuate the lonely wanderer and lead him astray.” Where they are leading the wanderer, it becomes clear, are deeper into his own unconscious, where they will eventually act as “solificati” or “sun-trees”, shining like the sun to shed light on the mysteries that lie there.
I’ve thought often of exploring these dream archetypes through photographic projects. A year or so ago, while covering the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico for my friends at the New York Times, I had a dream of an angel, rising out of the water, covered in oil like the oil-soaked pelicans which became the iconic images of the spill. When I returned home, I ordered the most interesting pair of angel wings I could find from a costume distributor, and started thinking of images to create around them. The one that stuck in my mind the most was an image of a “fallen angel”, half-buried in the blowing sand on an oceanfront dune in the Pea Island National Seashore. But work and other projects distracted me from the idea, and the wings sat on top of my television for over a year, a constant reminder of unfinished work.
Then, a few weeks ago, I was on the beach with my friend Lauren Martinez. It was an overcast day, late in the afternoon, very few people left on the beach. almost a little too cool for laying on the beach; but a perfect time for conversation. Lauren was leaving to go back to school in a couple of days, and it suddenly occurred to me that she would be the perfect “angel” for my shoot. Young, precocious, beautiful, with a strong faith and an adventurous heart and a personality that alternates between innocence and rebelliousness. I asked her if she had time to model for me before she left, and lo and behold, an angel was born.
The day of the shoot was one of those Outer Banks summer days, rare this year due to drought, where giant stormclouds covered the sky in one direction, and clear blues dominated in the opposite direction. I met Lauren and our friend Rachel DeGabrielle at the coffeeshop and we made a last-minute decision to chase the clouds and re-locate our shoot to Jockey’s Ridge, where we had a better chance of some interesting sky. Little did we know at the time just how interesting.
For the next couple of hours we shot until dark, working through rain, wind, a rainbow, and a magnificent sunset. Lauren brought her A-game supermodel mojo with her, and Rachel was the perfect assistant. Aside from the gear getting wet and sandy (just keeping my friends at Canon Professional Service employed), and all three of us getting soaked to the bone, the shoot was magic. What better way to spend a rainy afternoon than getting soaked on a sand dune with two beautiful women? I could probably think of some if I tried, but let’s just say for the purposes of this post, that I can’t think of any. It was, pardon the obviousness of the expression, like a dream.
As far as the significance of any of these images in any meaningful sense, I’m not sure I’ve bridged that gap, nor do I necessarily think it is my intention to. At this point, this is just an experiment, merely an attempt to bring more of a sense of dream-consciousness into my work. I’ve had grand designs to do an entire series based on archetypes and mythological figures, but for now, I think I am going to limit this project to the simple title of “Anima”. Rachel was kind enough to model for the second installation of the series, which we began yesterday. Due to time constraints, we did not get a lot of variety, but we got some amazing shots nonetheless. Stay tuned to see Rachel as the incarnation of Demeter, the goddess of the grain. Or maybe she is Diana, the huntress. Lack of hunting props and the seasonal availability of a dried-up cornfield made the execution different from the concept. That, however, is the beauty of shooting for the sake of pure art. Letting circumstances dictate your decisions rather than trying to control every aspect of a shoot allows for a little magic to creep through, as the gods breathe into the spaces you leave for them.
While processing the images, I felt they needed more of an “otherworldly” quality to them, and thus got a little carried away with layering compositing from my robust library of Outer Banks skies…in some cases I was successful, in others not. The successful ones were so good they made me want to keep going in that direction, but I have come up solidly against the wall of my Photoshop limitations; thus, I can only offer these photos as studies and not as final products, until such time as I either learn more skills, develop more patience or get John Paul Caponigro or Tom Chambers to help me out. Until then, I hope you enjoy these images and the ideas behind them as much as I’ve had working on them.