This first published Cimmerian project is about coming back to a subject I first rejected. The goals are to identify why I rejected the subject, explore it in depth and create something I’m going to love from it.
I think knowing why you dislike something is as important as knowing why you like something else. Often, you can learn quite a bit about who you are, as a person and as a creative, by understanding this.
My subject is a theme I came across when I was studying graphic design. We had to choose a theme to illustrate a calendar, and there were a few choices like specific poems, local marine creatures, local myths and legends, etc. I chose to illustrate the poems. At the time, most people thought that I would choose the legends, since it’s something I really enjoy in general, but I rejected Québec’s legends. Why did I?
There were three reasons :
In a given culture or community, there’s always a set of beliefs, practices and artifacts that could be defined as typical. The typical music, the typical style, the typical flavours, the typical architecture… Some of them accurately portrays reality. A typical meal in Québec would be shepherd’s pie, poutine or tourtière. Every culture has those beliefs, practices and artifacts, and they are often connoted with positive or negative elements. For example, our typical meals are usually described as greasy, unhealthy and often associated with poverty and an unrefined lifestyle.
But no matter how accurate these typical things may be, they are clichés, preconceived notions or even prejudices. It is really important to be aware of what is or isn’t true, and especially of what is not necessarily true. Of course we have poutine in Québec, but we also have a very vibrant food culture that, despite being young and borrowing from a variety of sources, is very active and interesting to explore. The concept of a typical poutine doesn’t stop cooks and chefs from reinventing the dish and serving it even in the fanciest restaurants!
My idea of what was Québec’s culture was biased. Of course I still see the bad parts, but I took the time to discover the good things and tried to understand why things are the way they are. I’m a lot more open minded and the word “local” lost most of it’s negative implication since then.
My vision was also negative because I felt rejected by this culture. I was atypical, I didn’t like typical music, I didn’t create work that was expected. This feeling of rejection kept feeding my dismissal of Québecois culture. I learned with time that there will be no places already made for you, you have to carve your own. Culture is created by the people living inside of it. If you don’t like its present state, nourish it. If you feel like the mainstream rejects you, find the underground community that you relate to, or create one! I still feel there’s something lacking here, but a culture is constantly changing and growing.
Not fitting in the mold made me wrongfully reject my culture as a whole because of the mainstream figures, the clichés and the values I couldn’t identify with.
Instead of taking that subject matter and taking the time and effort to explore how it could unravel with my aesthetic vision, I accepted the preconceived visuals I associated with the genre and didn’t question them.
But I could have. The more we enclose a subject in a mental box, the harder it becomes to take it out of that box, even if that box doesn’t really exist. You can turn it around, remix it, grow something unusual from it. It is your power as a creative to do that, and I made it a goal for myself.
So, this is why I decided to revisit Québec’s legends as the theme of this first published Cimmerian project.
I came across a forum with a list of many legends. I read a few of them and the ones that got me excited were “La Corriveau”, “La Dame blanche” and “La Dame aux glaïeuls”.
“La Dame blanche” is a legend shared by many cultures. It takes local flavours. Ours is a young lady who was going to marry a man who died fighting English soldiers. She jumped in the Montmorency waterfalls and killed herself. Her translucent spirit haunts the place, protecting nature and people in need, as she is calm and motherly, but also a dangerous threat if you dare touch her water drops dress, as you will die in the following days.
“La Corriveau” is a widow of 7 husbands that were all killed by her in violent ways. She was executed after the death of her last husband, which was the only one she ever loved and the only accidental death. Her corpse was displayed in a metal cage in her village on a busy road. After the seventh day, her body disappeared. She is seen at night, looking for a new husband.
“La Dame aux glaïeuls” is a lady who lives by the Saint Lawrence river. She is a beautiful figure with coppery skin, who attracts her victims with her smile and halo. She gives them gladiolus just before attacking and killing them.
I read a few versions of those three legends. There were some variations from text to text, especially for “La Corriveau”, which comes from a real story. Even after my initial research, I only learned after the photoshoot that the real woman who inspired the legend only had 2 husbands. All those variations are fascinating! That’s what happens with legends and oral traditions, you can get two completely different versions for the same story.
The next step was looking for images and visual informations, which I do to get rid of the preconceptions I have towards those legends by looking at what comes back in every picture to help me identify what is mostly used and why.
It wasn’t the most helpful thing this time, though. There were very few images about our legends, and as I suspected, it was mainly “La Chasse Galerie”, a “typical” legend.
With all the informations I had, I asked myself where I wanted to go with this project, visually and conceptually.
It was the “questioning” phase, the most important for my creative process.
I had to keep the focus on one thing: my main goal was to show that you can make wonderful and creative images inspired by things you have rejected before.
One way to do something personal and different is to keep only the core of the idea and put it in another context to see what works and doesn't. When I thought about Québec Legends, the context that comes to my mind is Nouvelle-France or any old rural town before modern times. I needed to change that context. I needed to know what were the elements in their stories that were both essential to the characters and visually interesting.
Another method is to look at aspects that are not much discussed in the stories. How do I imagine them moving, talking, feeling? What would it be like talking to them, seeing them, living with them?
Another good way to create something different is to make it more personal. Living the legends from your perspective, relating to aspects of them.
Did I like their stories, their descriptions ? Did I identify with something they lived or one of their characteristics ? Why do I like what I like about them ? How were those legends portrayed before and what did I like or dislike about those portrayals ?
After all those questions, something more concrete was building itself in my head. What kind of abuse or childhood trauma can lead a women to the murder of so many partners? Do you still feel loss when you’re a spirit? What darkness could create a luring evil ?
I was seeing fragile but strong people with sad, cruel or love-deprived lives. A gloomy sadness and a terrifying loneliness. At the same time, an inherently fascinating but unfortunate beauty. And a ghostly, ethereal mystery. The violence, I didn’t really connect to. I felt something more emotional and elegant. I found humanity and emotions in the characters and I wanted to represent my vision of it.
So my visual choices were easy to make after that.
Without putting them in an historical or fantasy context, I could focus on some of the core character traits and emotions. I went for dark and dramatic lighting with a grey background, so, dark, but not pitch black. Something more enveloping and dreamy, so that you could feel the darkness without being hit by it. I wanted the faces of the models to be illuminated so that their expressions would strike you, so I chose a small DIY beauty dish, high and slightly angled. I also added two lamps on each side of the model to make accents for a supernatural look. To emphasize the ethereal and ghostly aspect, I put together an home made filter on my lens with plastic wrap, vaseline and an elastic. The light catches in the edges of the lens, giving a blurry hazy feel all around the subject.
I wanted portraits, not too close up so that I could still feel have emotions through the movement of the hands and shoulders, but not too far because I still wanted the eyes to be the central point.
I wanted the makeup and hair to fit with the character’s main description, without compromising the harmony. I collaborated with my team to make the best choices. The Corriveau with her blood red luscious lips and her dead, angry and disturbed expression. The Dame blanche with her sad and pale appearance and her deliquescent hair. The Dame aux glaïeuls with her copper accents and hypnotic red lined eyes. All of them highlighted with glowy skin for a mesmerizing effect.
Styling, especially what they were going to wear, really had me thinking. I didn’t have the resources to put them into historical costume, and I didn’t want to. It was too obvious a choice.
Since I was going with a theme from my own culture, it was a perfect time to reach to local creators for their help.
Because it is not only important to have interest in legends, the past, what made your community what it is today, it is also important to look for the beautiful things that are made in the present, and the people making them.
I decided to keep the clothes really minimal, and go with evocative jewelry instead. I found 7 jewelers, but only three of them were available. That was more than enough in the end and I don’t have any regrets!
Captve , my discovery of the month, makes jewelry with themed collections. Each piece is something between a wearable statement and an artist’s sculpture. Every collections tells a complex sportable story.
Femme Mécanique makes pieces that are more subtle, but still eye catching and full of character. She uses elements of nature and minimal shapes in an elegant and feminine way. Her items can be central pieces or accents.
Brelokz uses nature as her main inspiration, in a raw and literal manner. It makes you feel like a part of the forest, as if it was growing on you. Small natural wonders in the form of long lasting treasures you can bring everywhere.
Each of them lent me many pieces for the fashion styling of my models. I’m forever grateful when wonderful creators accept to work with me!
The end result of their look was amazing. I loved seeing everything coming together. The effervescence of a photoshoot brings so much energy!
I can thank my epic team for that :
Each of them poured their heart into the project and I can’t thank them enough for their trust and their involvement.
[ Model Clara Cloutier - Necklace and bracelet from Femme Mécanique, rings from Femme Mécanique and Brelokz ]
[ Model Ms White Willard - Necklace and earings from Captve (except strech), rings from Captve, Brelokz and Femme Mécanique, bracelet from Femme Mécanique ]
[ Model Mathy Paquette - Necklace from Femme Mécanique, rings from Femme Mécanique and Brelokz, earings from Brelokz ]
Here's some behind the scenes for you :
After a photoshoot, it is really important to do a small recapitulation. In retrospect, what have you learned, what have you done well, and what can you do better next time.
What have I learned ?
I learned about the origins of many legends. I discovered the work of a very incredible jeweler. I met new interesting people with whom I’ll be happy to collaborate with in the future.
What have I done well ?
I carefully chose each piece of jewelery for each character and they felt right. I used an interesting light setup that helped me achieve my vision really well.
What can I do better next time ?
I have a little trouble talking to other people about what I’m doing, why I did this thing, why did I chose this over this, etc. I have a phobia of being annoying and too intense, but I really should give more to the people I work with so that they can bring even more ideas to the table. Not everything has to happen in my head. My process shouldn’t only be shared after, but through all the steps.
In the end, I am very proud of this project and I can’t wait to do my next one. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish most of my late work before the end of winter and be able to do something outside in the snow!
Thank you for reading my journal about the process behind Cimmerian’s project The 3 Legends. If you have any questions, do not hesitate! Leave me a comment here, send me a message on my Facebook page or by email [email protected] . If I have enough questions I’ll make another journal to answer them all!
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G L Reid