A Tail of Transformation *

A couple of months back now I organized to have a shoot at Hanging Rock in Victoria, Australia. Hanging Rock was made famous first through Joan Lindsay’s book Picnic at Hanging Rock , then later by Peter Weir’s film which was based on Lindsay’s novel. It is a place about an hour or so outside Melbourne of strange rock formations and partly attempted tamed wilderness. It’s quite an iconic place and definitely worth visiting.

The shot I was working on is based around ideas about the Norwegian Hulder.

The Hulder is a mythical, female creature, considered to be a part of the troll family, which lived in the Norwegian forests. She was beautiful, fair and cursed. Had it not been for her cow’s tail (in other Scandinavian countries this feature differs), and that she was hollow like a tree trunk from the back, she would look like any other strikingly beautiful Norse girl.  Huldra was a devious creature, often luring men into the forest to have sex with them. If they were fortunate enough to please her she might have let them live and even rewarded them, but if they failed, they would almost certainly be killed. The hulder would also, according to the stories, often steal human children, leaving behind her own hulder children in their place. The only way she could lift her curse was if she managed to keep her identity hidden and marry a man in a church. If this were to happen the hulder would loose her cow’s tail, but would always retain her true nature.

A Tail of Transformation (2011) 111.2 cm by 76.4 cm. All rights reserved © Dida Sundet

The shoot itself was tricky business, probably hands down the hardest (and most dangerous) shoot I’ve ever done. Because I had to organize times and pay a ranger to be present since the shoot was after hours, changing times and date was not an option. And when things are set in stone, I usually find that my worst-case scenario is more likely to happen. And so it did.  The night was foggy and it rained. If anyone has ever worked with light painting before, these are not the conditions you want to work in. Thankfully, having done this a few years now, I am getting good at preparing for the worst and finding ways to work around it. Some scissors, tape and thick garbage bags quickly made covers for camera, power and light equipment. The other major issue was the darkness itself. Being used to shooting closer to city lights and such, I had planned my shoot for a day where the moon would be the smallest possible. I have had shoots in one-night locations ruined by moonlight before and was weary of this happening again.  The option that in a place such as Hanging Rock, that far out from the city, it would get too dark to see where I was going never occurred to me until we got there.  Suddenly I was stuck having to navigate wet, sharp rocks in the dark, some of which you could easily slip off and fall to your death if you were not careful or knew where you were going.  This combined with the issue of mist and rain, which did its best to swallow any reflected light and constantly change the temperature of it, left me with the only option of breaking the image down into parts and shooting with the aim of reassembling it in post-production. This way of working presents its own problems, but careful preparation and planning made me able to visualize the image and how I was going to reassemble the various parts in post-production before shooting them and therefore made what could have been a mammoth task manageable.  A couple of months of research, careful location scouting and preparation absolutely paid off when push came to shove.

All factors and hard work considered it was a huge success in the end. I take my hat off to my models, who not only got naked in the cold, wet night for me, but did so without question or complaint, even when lights temporarily failed and centipedes crawled over their naked skin.

The image has now been test-printed in full size (about 1.1m wide by about 70cm high or so) and has been entered into the night photography category in the 2011 International Photography awards and also to the jury of this years Scanart exhibition in Melbourne.  Fingers crossed!

*pun intended

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About Dida

Visual artist, light painter and mother.
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