It started in a grocery store.
For months I had been dreaming of this image. In my mind I saw a woman in it with long silvery hair. I looked into buying wigs but was holding out to find just the right person. I looked on local modeling and agency websites but just couldn’t find the perfect fit. Until…
I was grocery shopping in my small town store, perusing the veggies as I am fond of doing, when I looked up and saw a woman with the most perfect long, gray hair. I looked at my husband and without saying any of what I was thinking, he said, “YES”. I am such a shy person that I battled with myself for a moment before going over. I rehearsed what I would say and my face kept turning red, but eventually, with some gentle nudging, I walked over to my mystery silver-haired lady.
I introduced myself awkwardly as she looked a little bit confused. She was hesitant to take part in the series for good reason. Here I was – looking particularly hippie-ish that day – approaching a stranger in a grocery store to model for a fine art series I was creating. I didn’t even have any examples to show yet of what it would be. Heck, I wasn’t even sure if it would work out. But I took the leap, and gave her my information, and left without a yes or no. She said she would look at my website and get back to me.
A little while later a glowing email appeared in my inbox. She had written me. My mystery grocery store woman! And she said yes. She said she felt a connection to what I was doing and was happy to model for me. I told her we’d make it a special shoot on my birthday and I prepared to make sure everything was absolutely ready for her arrival.
Preparing for this image turned out to be a hilarious task. Step one was to find a bed, which I found fairly quickly online for a good price. The problem? It was too tall. So, myself, my husband, and my friend got to work sawing the legs off the bed so that it would sit lower to the ground.
Next, I had to find a mattress. I am two things: stubborn and frugal. So, not wanting to spend money and desiring an already yucky mattress, I opted for a mattress that had been thrown out behind a mattress store. It was filthy, disgusting, stinky, moldy…everything awful. And yes, I am entirely aware of how incredibly stupid it is to pick a mattress off the street. Nonetheless, I did it. And aside from spreading mold to the floors and walls and potentially contracting some unknown rash, I was fine. Feel free to strike that last sentence from your memory. I know my friend has, who was so opposed to this idea I thought she would throw herself from my moving car. She came around, though. Here is said friend actually laying on the mattress for a test shot. Oh, the things we do for friendship!
Once the bed and mattress were obtained it was time to get sand. I insisted that we drive to some sand dunes about 5 hours from my house. I wanted authentic sand. I wanted the real deal. I wanted to be able to say: I GATHERED THAT SAND WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS IN THE HOT DESERT SUN! So that is what I did, sort of.
When I got to the sand dunes temperatures were reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit. I get very sick in hot temperatures so I was already fading the moment we arrived. I couldn’t pull my car close to the dunes so we had to resort to walking up the dunes with trash bags and dragging them back to the car. This proved to be a physically taxing process, as the bags were very heavy and the sun was very hot. We were burning fast.
After about eight trash bags full of sand I decided I had reached my limit, and I left feeling slightly defeated. The day, however, was memorable and amazingly fun. I will never forget the onlookers thinking we were bonkers for trying to drag sand back to my car.
The rest of the sand I got from my favorite store (NOT) – Home Depot. All together it totaled 800lbs of sand. I reserved my beautiful sand dune sand for the top layer so that it would look yellow and smooth compared to the manufactured stuff. It was important to me that the sand be authentic because that sand came from hundreds upon thousands of years of breakdown and decay. I loved the idea that it would be even more held in history through a photograph.
It also served to further the idea of the image – time passing yet feeling trapped in it as well. It moves so quickly, and yet we are held in place by the fear of missing something. The spine – a whole other story in itself – was placed to show the decay that happens to us all, and to everything. The rotting bed was being taken over by death. The long, silvery hair that I so longed for helped to tell the story of a person who has been so stagnant that even her hair is growing into the scene.
I got asked many times at the Fourth Wall show opening if I manipulated the model’s hair to have a blue cast. I did not. Because of the color balance of the sand, anything neutral, including the walls and mattress, naturally had a blue hue to them even though they were all gray. I loved the effect and kept it in the final image.
When the day to shoot came, it was a beautiful one. The sun was shining, it was warm out, and my beautiful grocery store model even brought me hand crafted jewelry for my birthday. Since the setup was finished when she arrived we got to work shooting, which was faster than the first image in the series, and before I knew it I had my birthday wish – an image that I loved. I found it so fitting that I should shoot this image about time passing on my 29th birthday.
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: Kelly McGrady
Fit BMX - Did you ever wonder if the floor would hold that much weight, or was that an after thought? 😉
You found another use for a maggot spine! Now that spine story is a good one. LOL
The photo is wonderful, and glad you, your friend, or model didn’t get bedbugs. How bad was clean up? It must have been a real pain in the neck.
brookeshaden - I wondered about the floor every single day 😀 haha! It was a bit scary for sure. Cleanup was the worst. I’m sure there is still sand/wax/glue and a lot of other things in the floorboards 😛
SU Hall - Hi, Brooke!
If you ever get back to Florida and need a lady with long, silvery grey hair, I am here! LOL I love the meaning you give to your set-ups and images! I just love your art! Period!
brookeshaden - You don’t have to ask me twice! 😀 Thank you for your kindness!
Margherita Introna - Brooke, I adore this image! This series is breathtaking and powerful. I loved reading the story behind the creating of this one and I look so forward to hearing more about each of these images.
Margherita Introna - Brooke, I adore this image! This series is breathtaking and powerful. I loved reading the story behind the creating of this one and I look so forward to hearing more about each of these images. I connect rather deeply to this image in particular in so many ways… perhaps it is my own white hair hidden under the colour and the many stories I have within myself about that (a series I have been busy sketching for myself for some time)… but also I find I am connected to the tone and texture, the mood and the way it has touched my soul <3
Addie - I am glad that I am not the only one who has gone up to strangers and asked them to model…. 🙂
Im curious as to what your model thought of the final image? and also, when you work with a model do you give them a print of the final image? I was just curious….
I am loving this series – thank you so much for sharing, it is inspiring me to do bigger things than I thought I could!
Heather - There have been a number of times where I have wanted to walk up to someone and ask for their help in a photo shoot or permission to use a location, I have just never worked up the courage to do so. Good for you for not letting that nervousness stop you. Imagine if you had settled for someone else, or if you had tried to manipulate their hair in photoshop… you wouldn’t have gotten the same beautiful results. Thank you for sharing all of the behind the scenes work on this series… you may never know just how helpful and inspiring it is to the rest of us. 🙂