Disney has always been a major part of my life. I grew up with Disney, watching all of the movies countless times, singing all the songs, and dressing up as all the characters. It’s always been a big inspiration to me, both creatively and in my personal life. When I began my creative project, I was pretty set on the theme/central topic of the project. It was going to be Disney inspired. There were no hesitations or second thoughts; I knew that whatever I did, somehow it was going to relate back to Disney. I had wanted to do a Disney inspired project for a long time, but unfortunately it hadn’t really fit in with any of my previous assignment briefs, but for this assignment, I was pretty much given complete creative freedom.
In case you didn’t know, I’m a photography student. Photography is my passion; it’s what I love to do and how I like to express myself. In particular, I have a keen interest in film photography. Now this might be a bit pretentious of me, but somehow I just feel it has more soul, and I love the way that you can really push the film to harness it’s full potential. So, naturally, my original creative project synopsis was all to do with Disney and film photography. I also have a keen interest in fashion, and actually collect old ball gowns and wedding dresses; therefore I wanted to use these dresses as part of my creative project.
So, the original creative project idea. I wanted to create a fashion editorial inspired by the Disney princesses, using the dresses I own. I didn’t want to actually physically replicate each individual princess, but rather the essence and moods of the princesses, and the movies themselves. I wanted to do this by experimenting with film and double exposures. Double exposing a roll of film is when you put the roll through the camera twice (shooting both times), so that the two photos are laid on top of each other. I felt that this would give the photos a mysterious, fantasy, other worldly feel, as if they were not quite rooted in reality. However, I knew that I would have time constraints, and therefore decided that I would produce the negatives in a darkroom, but scan and print them digitally, as working in the darkroom is very time consuming.
My original idea was inspired by Annie Leibovitz’s Disney Dream Portrait series, which was created in collaboration with Disney. The series features modern day celebrities as classic Disney characters. I love the feel of the series, the photographs are beautiful and realistic, but at the same time they feel as if they are not quite rooted in reality. However the thing about the photographs that really inspired me throughout the entire process of my creative project, was how the photographs bring a new side to the old loved tales.
The target audience for my original synopsis was extremely broad – it would appeal to women of any age who love Disney and the ‘princess’ dream, however, it would predominately appeal to girls aged 5-35, who love Disney and are interested in fashion.
I loved the original idea that I had for my creative project, and it’s still a project that I would one day like to pursue. However, during my creative process, my original idea was changed into a completely different idea, which I really love. The first change I made was that I decided that my workflow would be completely digital. As much as I love working with film, the reality is that this project had a time period in which it needed to be completed in, that didn’t really allow for hours spent in the darkroom, and that film is quite expensive.
The next change was the actual topic. As much as I loved my original idea, it was a very broad and time-consuming idea, and I felt that within the parameters of this assignment, I could not complete the project to the best of my ability. So, I started to contemplate focusing on one princess and one movie, which would be a much more approachable task, in the terms of this assignment. I had basically decided I was going to focus on The Little Mermaid, when I sat down to watch Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.
I’ve always been quite inspired by Alice in Wonderland. I love the craziness and ridiculousness of Wonderland, and the characters themselves are all so intriguing. There’s also an editorial, shot for Vogue by Annie Leibovitz (who, you may have noticed, is one of my favourite photographers), inspired by Alice in Wonderland, that I have always loved. That’s when the thought hit me. Why don’t I shoot an Alice in Wonderland inspired piece?
The target audience for my piece remained relatively the same – it would appeal predominately to females aged 5-35, who love Disney and fashion inspired photography, however there would be more of a focus in a love for Alice in Wonderland, rather than for the princesses.
Changing the story of my project to Alice in Wonderland instigated one other change in my original synopsis – whilst I love editorials, I really wanted to explore the characters from Alice and Wonderland, rather than the fashion. So instead of shooting an editorial, I decided to shoot a series that would explore some of the characters of the classic story.
I was spoilt for choice when deciding which characters to explore, Alice in Wonderland has so many complex and intriguing characters, and I can’t help but wonder what made them the way they are. But the two characters, and the relationship between them, that really stood out to me, were Alice and the Queen of Hearts.
Alice is naïve, curious and rather innocent, yet at the same time displays a sense of self-assuredness and cheekiness. She is the central protagonist of the story. On the other hand, the Queen of Hearts is basically insane, chopping off the head of anyone who dares to defy her, and always seems angry. The Queen is one of the main antagonists in the story. The relationship between Alice and the Queen of Hearts is quite an intriguing one – the Queen of Hearts displays extreme hatred towards Alice, declaring ‘off with her head!’ (“Alice in Wonderland,” 1951) in reference to the young girl multiple times during their interactions. The Queen despises Alice with a passion that seems extreme in relation to the reasons she has for disliking Alice, and Alice appears to be confused as to why the Queen hates her so much. The traits of these two characters, and their complex relationship, inspired the theme of my series – the exploration of the background of these two characters, and their relationship.
Why is the Queen of Hearts the way she is? Why does she hate Alice so much? What has happened between them, or in the Queen’s past, that has caused her to feel this way? These are some of the questions I attempted to raise in my photographic series. I wanted to have a fantasy inspired mood to the images, as if they were not quite rooted in reality, and were surrounded by chaos. To help do this, I chose the setting for the series to be in the Tulgey woods, at the Mad Hatter’s tea party (I took some liberations with the story here).
The creative process for this project was quite a long one. It began with researching. Lots and lots of researching. A lot of this research was actually done without me even realising, and before I had even come up with the idea for the project. Watching the film and viewing all of Leibovitz’s images were an integral part of the research, even though I did them without realising I was researching (Young & Smith, 2014). Even though I didn’t shoot an editorial, the industry I was ‘working’ in was the fashion industry, as my photographs were very fashion inspired, and have a similar style to that of fashion photographs. I was comfortable working in this area, and working in this area helped to inspire me during my process (Franklin, 2014). Next came the organising of the shoot. My shoot was largely a creative collaboration between me, my models and my makeup artist. Luckily, we all benefited equally from the collaboration, as for a creative collaboration to work, all members of the collaboration must receive
‘mutual benefit but at the same time, retain ownership of their achievement’ – (Mamykina, Candy, & Edmonds, 2002)
I retained the copyright of the photographs, and was able to use them for my assignment, whilst the models and the makeup artist all got free photographs to use in their portfolios. A win-win situation for all participants.
After organising the shoot, it was time to go out and shoot the series. The day we shot on was horrible, it was raining and stormy and not at all a good day to be carrying around heavy equipment, and trying to shoot models in full costume. I’m pretty sure we all looked quite mad trying to cover up equipment with umbrella’s whenever it rained, and running around like headless chickens trying to shoot whenever it stopped raining. That madness though, is all part of the creativity.
‘There’s a fine line between madness and producing something for which people might pay’. (Harman, 2014)
That shoot day definitely brought out my ability to be both playful and disciplined, and to alternate between fantasy and reality (Csikmentmihalyi, 1996). Technology was definitely important, and helped me to create my series on the day; I don’t know where I would have been without my camera and lighting equipment.
The final part of my creative process involved selecting the images to use, editing them and putting them in order. I chose my final images based on how well they were shot, and also how they helped me to create a ‘story’. I wanted photographs that would tell a story, but at the same time allow the viewer to come up with their own story, therefore the ‘story’ of the images had to be quite vague. The editing of the images was quite a time consuming process, because I edited each image in a multitude of different ways, so that I could compare them and decide which look I liked best. In the end, I tried to make the images have quite dark backgrounds, with lit foregrounds, as I think it helped to give the images that real fantasy feeling. I used mainly images that had movement, as I think that added to the partly chaotic atmosphere I was trying to create. Putting my images into their final order wasn’t too difficult – I simply put them in the order that I felt best told a story.
My creative project was interesting to me because it visited the same concept of Leibovitz’s Disney Dream Portrait Series – bringing a new side to old tales. I wanted to reinvent the story of Alice in Wonderland, rather like the musical Wicked has done to The Wizard of Oz. I wanted to encourage the viewer to question the backstory of Alice and the Queen of Hearts, and why they are the way they are. I don’t believe the Queen is necessarily evil, I think that there is something that made her like this, a reason why she wants to cut off everyone’s head, and I don’t think Alice is as innocent in this matter as she makes out to be.
That’s what I wanted to do with my series. Explore the backstories. I think there’s always a backstory, to absolutely everything, and just because you can’t see it or know about it doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s something Disney has helped teach me, and a concept that I find ridiculously intriguing. I could sit here for hours and tell you the backstory that I imagined up for the Queen and Alice, but the truth is, I want the viewer to come up with their own story. I don’t want to be all controlling, I want this to be a series that can be interpreted in many ways.
I’m really happy with how my creative project turned out. I think the images I selected helped to create a ‘story’, however what that story is, that’s entirely up to the viewer. I believe I captured that other-worldly feeling in my images, and put a new spin on the story of Alice in Wonderland. I also think my creative process as a whole was extremely successful. Perhaps you don’t like the series, that’s all down to personal taste, but it’s a concept that I’m really passionate about, and I think that’s what makes something creative, passion. I also think my personality shines through quite a bit in this series, which although I wasn’t necessarily attempting to do this, is also something I think adds to the creativity of the work. I believe creativity is all about putting yourself wholeheartedly into the work, which I really did with this project.
I learnt a lot on this creative journey, not just about my chosen discipline, photography, but also about myself as a creative practitioner. That’s what creative journeys are all about, learning and improving. I’m not completely naïve, I know my project isn’t perfect, and that there are many things I could improve. Perhaps one day I’ll have the opportunity to do just that, and shoot the theme again. If I were to do this project again, I would love to also explore some of the other characters, such as the King of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat. I think it would be interesting to do a whole story, a photographic novel if you will, on the stories of the characters of Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps that’s a project for another day.
If you’re still reading and interested in these blogs, even though you’ve finished your assignments and this unit is over, I would love to know what you think. Let me know in the comments below. Did you like the series? Do you like the Alice in Wonderland story? What do you think about the characters? What is the backstory you came up with for Alice and the Queen of Hearts, based on the series?
Alice in Wonderland. (1951): Walt Disney Pictures.
Csikmentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity:Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Franklin, D (2014). [Creative Environments].
Harman, J (2014). [Personal Creative Process].
Leibovitz, A. (2003). Through the Looking Glass: Vogue.
Leibovitz, A. (2007a). Where every Cinderella story comes true: Disney.
Leibovitz, A. (2007b). Where imagination saves the day: Disney.
Leibovitz, A. (2011). Where a moment of beauty lasts forever: Disney.
Leibovitz, A. (2013). Where a world of adventure awaits: Disney.
Mamykina, L, Candy, L, & Edmonds, E. (2002). Collaborative Creativity. Communications of the ACM, 45(10), 96-99.
Young, A, & Smith, L (2014, May 20). [The Creative Researcher].