The village settles down
Undetected by the stars
And the hangman plays the mandolin before he goes to sleep
And the last thing on his mind
Is the Wild Eyed Boy imprisoned
‘Neath the covered wooden shaft
Staring through the message in his eyes
Lies a solitary son
From the mountain called Freecloud
Where the eagle dare not fly
And the patience in his sigh
Gives no indication
For the townsmen to decide
Oh “It’s the madness in his eyes”
As he breaks the night to cry:
“It’s really Me
And really Me
It’s so hard for us to really be
And really Me
You’ll lose me though I’m always
This series came to be out of an instant moment of inspiration that struck me in early May, when I was browsing through the net to see if I could find a hotel where to spend my summer vacation – I was planning to visit Paris. The second I saw these futuristic windows, behind of which opened up urban Parisian cityscape, a vision of a wild eyed boy imprisoned in this room emerged to me.
If you have been following my work (or if you happen to know me) you should know by now, that I have been listening a lot of David Bowie after his passing. To be honest, I haven’t really listened anything else. And the more I’ve listened, the more I’ve discovered from the songs and fell in love with the variety of his music and its humour. One of the songs I hadn’t paid that much attention before was the Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud from the album David Bowie (or Man of Words/Man of Music as it was released in the US – it was still reissued in 1972 as Space Oddity). I loved the story, which I think is quite unordinary for a pop song, but for me that is just what makes it so interesting (as does the fact that Bowie was only 22 at the time). But more importantly I literally got the chills when I heard the It’s really me / really you bit for the first time. That really touched an intimate chord, deeply, so the song has stuck with me from then on.
Of course I had been also looking a lot of images of David Bowie and watched his music videos, movies and interviews. And the more I looked, the more I fell in love with his visuality, aesthetics and theatricality. There are so many classic photographs and styles, but for me the most powerful look has always been the one from the music video Life on Mars? (which for me is also the best Bowie song, if I had to choose only one). So in that clear moment of inspiration, triggered by the image of this hotel room, I knew I wanted to do my interpretation of the wild eyed boy and that he would wear wild blue eye makeup.
Before I started to make a more detailed scheme I emailed the hotel to ask for the permission to shoot in one of their rooms, which I was happy to receive. They were also very helpful getting me a room with a view I preferred to have as a background, which was terrific. I didn’t know of course what the room would be like exactly, but I did know it had this window and that it would be somewhere in the upper floors. (As it turned out, it was in the top floor, the 31st! I had never been in a building that high before, so I must admit that I felt quite dizzy when I looked out of that window for the first time!)
[ note: at this point I was really excited about the whole idea of me going into Paris to shoot not just one, but two series- the whole idea felt actually quite surreal. Just after I had found this hotel, I found another, rooms of which were also extremely captivating, so I ended up shooting two series. This was the other one. ]
Now that I had the general vision and hotel booked with permission to shoot, I started to sketch few “scenes” that would make the core of my story. I started with three. One concentrating on the wild eyes that would have madness in them and hold a message, one where he would sit on the floor looking blank and calm and one in which he would go mad and bounce off the walls so to speak. What I also thought beforehand was to use the view to its full – or as much as I could. Rest I would decide on the spot when I’d know what the room was like; what kind of furniture it had and so on.
Because I wanted the series to be most of all a tribute to David Bowie, I wanted the style to combine different elements from the “visual Bowie-chronicle”. Because the song was released in 1969, I concentrated on styles from the early stages of his career. I already had the Life on Mars –makeup. For hair I wanted to have those cute curls David had in the album cover. I was lucky to find this quite perfect wig (named Johnny) to do the job. At this point I did a rehearsal shot with the makeup to see if it worked (the “title” image in this post). That evolved in post processing to be in high key which set the general tone for the series. For mood I wanted something playful but dramatic, so I googled some 60ies fashion to get me in the right frame of mind.
Like Bowie, I also wanted to toy with gender and desired the character to look androgynous. This in mind I started to look for clothes that would fit the idea. I decided to go mainly with silver when I found the silvery t-shirt. After all, silver is the colour for space and anything space related was quite fashionable at the time (as you can see on the collage above). Bowie too was fascinated with space travel and science fiction – Major Tom had made his first appearance on video in 1969, not to mention Ziggy, an alien rock star, who fell to earth three years later. Next I found the shorts, which suited well for the 60ies theme (there had to be mini-something), but left me with a problem that turned out to be the biggest problem I had with this series. There just didn’t seem to be pair of silver pantyhose found on this planet! It was pure luck that I happened to differ from my usual route one day and found this shop that had silver leggings in the window. The fit and texture weren’t perfect but good enough so that I could stick with the original plan. Another problem was shoes, since I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for (or I did find a pair pretty close, but they would have cost way too much). Luckily my daughter had these combat boots that worked very well in the end. Most importantly they were reddish, which was my main criteria.
Here are some images of Bowie that have the main elements and feel I borrowed.
Then came the day to pack my suitcase and I must say that it was quite stressful. If I was to forget something, it might ruin the whole shoot. I even had nightmares, that I was on the airplane when I realised that I had forgot to take my camera with me! So I checked, double checked and triple checked that I would have everything with me: makeup, clothes, shoes, wig, camera, tripod, flashes, batteries, chargers… I took with me two flashes and a small softbox that can be tied straight to the flash, but I couldn’t take with me any stands for them, so I knew I wasn’t going to get perfect lightning. Fortunately I was able to build pretty good “stands” using the furniture, but there are some unwanted shadows in the images that couldn’t be helped. Shoot itself went pretty smoothly with Bowie playing in the background. I ended up with these five scenes – for the last one I shot few alternatives from which to choose. I think it took about six-seven hours from start to finish after which I went for a walk in Champ de Mars which was close by (and there was life on that Mars).
Back home started the post processing phase. It was pretty simple because there wasn’t anything special to do (I mean compositions, layer masks etc.). I spent most time with the colour tones – the ambient light in the room was quite yellow and it was hard to decide if I wanted it gone or not. In the end I left the images to be slightly yellow to give them some retro feel I liked myself. And yes, as a finishing touch I altered the colour of the left eye in those images it is visible, because (as everyone knows) David’s eyes seemed to be different colour.
That’s pretty much it. If you’ve made it this far, I want to thank you for your interest and I hope this clarified my thinking process. For me this series has been the most exhilarating one I’ve made so far and I hope you’ll enjoy it too, but of course you’ll be the judge of that. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. Or if you just want to talk about David, I’m always up for that!
Shot with permission in Hotel Novotel Paris Centre Eiffel Tower, 26.7.2016.