I had an idea that I didn’t know how to accomplish. I live for moments like those. There is a split second where you have an idea, know inherently that it is unchartered territory, and you decide right then and there if you are committed. At least that is how my life works. I am very quick to commit or to know when not to commit.
I had an idea to build a room within a room. I started telling my family that I was going to try to build something with my own two hands and inevitably everyone laughed at me, though all in good fun. I have never built anything in my life. I have never properly tried. I always hid behind the excuse of not being good at it. Isn’t it astonishing how often we use the excuse that we aren’t good at something when we have never really given it a proper go? I have very little natural talent in me. I work really hard to master skills. It doesn’t come easily. So I decided that if I was going to create a new series then I was going to go all in, whether it made me comfortable or not.
I got to work building. I wound up at a Home Depot one day wandering the aisles, not having any real idea of where to start. The men working there were not all too nice to me. They clearly thought I was out of my depth and had no faith in the project I was beginning. They laughed, made off-handed comments, and pointed while rolling their eyes down the wooden beam aisle. It was a little bit uncomfortable. But then I realized that their behavior is exactly why I felt I couldn’t do something like this. It is because of people, myself included, giving me the old eye roll that I felt I shouldn’t even try.
So, I gathered my supplies and got to work building a 7 foot by 7 foot room with no windows or doors.
I can say, without question, that it was not the best built room in the world. I accidentially bought nails that were too long so they poked through the walls. My 2x4s were bowing. The pattern of the wood kept showing through the paint. But you know what? It stood up. It never collapsed. It served it’s purpose. And I daresay I have never been prouder of an accomplishment than building that room with my two friends.
The room took three days to build, and once it was finished I had to begin the first image. It was the image I first saw in my mind when I conceived of the series, so I decided to create it first as inspiration for the other images. It was so vivid in my mind I knew exactly where to start and how it would look.
With any new endeavor there are setbacks and unforeseen circumstances. First, there was the challenge of how to shoot from above. If I simply climbed a ladder and held my camera out over the room, everything was off center and it still wasn’t quite high enough. I decided to invest in a video camera slider which I mounted upside down on the ceiling (only after poking a massive hole in the ceiling first). I bought a ball-head tripod connector which I attached to the slider so that I could rotate my camera in any direction I might need. For each image, I mounted my camera on the slider and triggered the camera remotely.
I had wanted to shoot through old film cameras, but their field of view wasn’t wide enough for the room I was shooting in. Therefore, I decided to shoot through the film cameras for the texture only, which I will detail in a future post.
The next step was “yarning”, as I would affectionately (NOT) come to call it. Yarning the room took ages and ages and a lot of sore fingers and backs. It took myself and my assistant over 60 hours to lay the yarn down in the room. I bought spray adhesive which we sprayed onto black poster board (in case of any gaps, I wanted it to look dark underneath) and once the spray adhesive was down, we would lay a piece of yard in a circular pattern. She would cut, I would glue. And sometimes vice versa. It was a lot of work being hunched over for such long periods of time, and our fingers got really sore from having the glue stick to them. My fingers looked like little tufts of red poofs by the end of each day, absolutely filled with yarn residue.
The time came to shoot. Who, though, do you ask to model when the model has to sew red yarn under her hand? I couldn’t do it for her, but I did test it thoroughly on myself to make sure she wouldn’t be doing herself harm. I wanted her hand to mimic the yarn on the floor in the same pattern so that it looked like blood coming from her and spilling outward.
I knew I couldn’t hire someone totally new, just in case things went horribly wrong, so I called on my sister-in-law! She is one of my favorite people to photograph anyway, and she has a flare for the creepy, so I knew she would be on board. Here is her response when I asked:
I knew I married into that family for a reason.
I brought her out to my studio and we got to work. She sewed for 3.5 hours in a beautiful pattern on her hand while I put the finishing touches on the room. (I promise it was all very safe and sterile!). There were several challenges, like how the red yarn didn’t stand out very well where it overlapped. I had wanted strands of it to come from the corners and out into the center of the room, but I realized quickly that was something I would have to enhance in post. I did very little work to the images overall, however. For this image I enhanced the yarn as well as made her hand stand out with the thread on it.
The studio I was shooting in had 3 full walls of windows, so there was plenty of natural light filtering into the space. I let that natural light spill naturally into the room I had built. The room was roughly 8 feet tall and the ceiling of the studio was about 12 feet tall, so there was enough room for the light to meander.
When we finally got her in the room, I noticed that I had left too much of a gap for her body where the yarn wasn’t touching. I decided to shoot that day anyway and then do more yarning after that I would add in later. It worked out really well, since we had limited time together and I had to send her back to the other side of the country soon after. Not to mention she was already “threaded”. Eek.
Once she got in we did a few test shots without going fully nude yet. Since it was my first official shoot in the room, I had to test the best focus length and angles. Once she was in position, I poured vegetable oil in her hair to give it a wet look without having to continuously re-wet her hair in case the shoot took a long time. For me, it did take a long time. I had her in the box for about 40 minutes. A typical shoot of mine would take about 10.
After I got the images that I was wanting from above, I took my camera down, opened our giant swiveling wall, and shot some from ground level.
The sun started streaming in the windows. I knew that the day was almost over at that point, but I felt an immense sense of gratitude for the shoot coming together. I had been conceiving of the image for 4 months before I finally got to make it happen. A lot of unknowns went into it and I felt stronger and more creative for having pushed myself. I felt I had hit the right medium between my old work and where I wanted to go. It was recognizable yet distinctly different. It was exactly what my heart needed.
This image started out personal for me. I wanted to create a series around the things we keep inside; the things we feel that we can’t tell anyone. I wanted to be able to voyueristically peer into someone else’s inner-workings and symbolically represent the emotions we all feel. For this image, I pulled from my experience of giving too much of myself, of being run ragged and trying to spread yourself too thin. So many people have lost their identity because of their need to put others first. The red yarn was my symbol for blood. The choice of a thin model was my symbol of losing yourself. The choice of the thread under the skin was to show that even inside of her, her most precious space, something foreign enters.
I welcome any meaning to the image and I don’t intend for it to have just one. That was where it started, though. And for me, where it will always have a place in my heart.
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.
Photographed with a Sony a7ii and a 25mm Zeiss lens.
Model: Steph Pez
Assistance: Kelly McGrady, KD Stapleton