From Day 1 of starting the Fourth Wall series, I declared: “I am going to flood the room!”. My friends looked at my like I was nuts. After all, I had just signed a contract for a studio on the second floor. My room was being built inside of another room that wouldn’t allow me to easily move it. And there was no way anyone but me was going to risk getting in massive trouble by pumping hundreds of gallons of water into a second story room.
I kept trying to figure out how we would do it. A long vacuum, I said! Lots of buckets! A huge tarp that would catch the water! A portable swimming pool! But nothing seemed realistic enough to not severely damage the old floors we were standing on.
Finally I came to terms with the situation. I had three options: I scrap the picture entirely, I Photoshop water into the room, or I painstakingly disassemble the room and rebuild it outside in a pool. I went with the latter.
When the day came to create the image I asked some friends to come help. Two of them were hours late, but it turned out to be an easier job than I thought. I had stressed for months about the difficulty of the situation, but with a few good friends we were able to have almost the whole job done before the rest of the crew got there! It took one full day to take the room apart, set up the pool and fill it, and rebuild the room inside of the pool. Thankfully I sweet-talked (that’s how I like to see it) the manager of the studios we rented and he let us set up the pool (15 feet in diameter) in the parking lot near my studio. Even so, we loaded the pieces into a truck and drove it closer, since the wood I used was so heavy.
We even strategically build the pool right next to the dumpsters for easy disposal of the room.
The pool took a lot longer to fill than I anticipated. The morning was spent taking the room down and moving it, while the whole day was spent filling the pool from hoses. Lunch came and went and we all took bets on how much longer the water would take. Just when the light got really good outside (toward the end of day with mountains blocking the direct sun), the water finished and I was ready to shoot.
I knew that I wanted very specific looking props in the water. I chose the yellow chair which I had in my studio the whole time. I got it just to sit on and because it looked neat, but I realized it was perfect for the flooded room I was creating. I went to several thrift/antique stores to find this painting, which had the right colors. Everywhere I went I asked for paintings of a ship, and this was the only one that was the right time period and color palette. Finally I brought an old book to submerge.
I went flipping through the book to find the perfect page and there it was. I sunk the book and took some shots, making sure you could read the book page if you looked closely enough. It reads: “Epidemic of Fear”.
Everything was in place. The only trouble was that I didn’t have my normal setup. I put my ladder in the pool just outside the room but there was no ceiling to attach the camera to. Further, this image was going to take longer to shoot to try and get the water moving in the right way with the subject. My friend started out holding the camera, which I attached to my tripod and had her lean over the walls, holding it up as high as she could. It wasn’t an easy task, since it was heavy on the end of the camera (thank goodness I had switched to a mirrorless camera so at least it was lighter!). Eventually she had to take a break and switch off.
Because of this the image was shot closer than the rest, so I expanded the frame outward slightly. There wasn’t a lot of editing that needed to happen in this image to get it to where I wanted it – mostly color enhancement. I remember the first 15 minutes of shooting the shots were all out of focus. I couldn’t get a good measurement on the distance between camera and subject and the person holding the camera kept moving up and down out of exhaustion from holding the camera. Eventually we got it!
This image was very special to me. I have always been afraid of water and have always had problems with fear of any kind. I even have “Fear is the mind killer” tattooed on my arm to remind me to face my fears. It is a quote from Dune by Frank Herbert. I think that fear is a fascinating topic. The fear of being trapped, of feeling out of control, of being in a space that is invaded by something else entirely. These are all natural fears. This is what many of us try to avoid. The book sank to the bottom of the water after about 10 minutes of shooting. I remember feeling that it was a beautiful sign – the book about fear suddenly lost it’s boyancy. It lost the battle with the water.
As Frank Herbert writes in Dune – “Where the fear has gone there will be nothing, only I will remain.”
I hope you enjoy this new series which is on display and represented by the JoAnne Artman Gallery until February 18th. It is showing in New York City (Chelsea).
Very limited editions. Each print is offered at 42×42 inches with an edition of 2, and 8×8 inches with an edition of 3.
You may contact the gallery for purchase requests. Each print has been proofed, signed, and numbered by me, and comes with a certificate of authenticity.
Photographed with a Sony a7ii and a 25mm Zeiss lens.
Assistance: Tim Condron, Wakyna Fullington, Kelly McGrady, Matt Force
Ellie Chavez - This is magical. It gave me goosebumps. Your whole series has left me entirely speechless. Thank you for creating! <3 So much love to you!
brookeshaden - Aww thank you Ellie! I am really grateful for your kindness!
Kyle Studstill - Fantastic notes on an incredible photo—thanks for sharing, and I particularly love the note about the book sinking!
brookeshaden - Thank you so much Kyle!
Erin Applebee - This is my favourite from the whole series. I just love every little detail. I have a fear of water mainly because I can’t swim very well but I love the way water looks in photographs and paintings so I would love to let go of my fear and shoot some photos in water one day. hopefully sooner rather than later 🙂
Fit BMX - A few weeks ago when you originally said you put the room in a small swimming pool, I was really hoping you didn’t put a swimming pool in the second story studio! LOL
It turned out so beautifully, it just looks perfect! 🙂