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Wildwood Goddess Photoshoot

In June of 2013, I did something I never thought I’d ever do–or want to do. I modeled for a fantasy fashion editorial photoshoot, one that I had commissioned for myself. Below, you can read more about the shoot by clicking on the questions to see the answers, and you can view the photos in the gallery.

What is the Wildwood Goddess Photoshoot?

I am the last person I would have ever thought would do a fantasy fashion editorial photoshoot. In high school, I was the geek, never the fashionista.

But as I became an adult and grew more confident about my own style (yes, it took well into my adult life for that to happen), I would see beautiful photoshoots in fashion magazines, and I thought–why shouldn’t that be me? Why not give it a try?

I found an amazing fashion photography team right in my home town–Heather and Jameson Hooton, of Hooton Images, and their hair/make-up stylist, Michelle Beran, and their wardrobe stylist, Cora Leigh–and we started putting together ideas for the shoot. I knew I wanted something to go with my new direction in writing fantasy, and Heather and I were both entranced by photography that captured the earthy beauty of the Pre-Raphaelite movement from the early 1900’s. At the same time, I had come across these amazing fantasy photos done by Kirsty Mitchell. We decided on a look that would combine both streams of inspiration.

Heather and Jameson told me that fashion editorials should tell a story. Being a teller of stories already, that worked great for me. I took that advice more literally (pun!) than probably most people would, and actually came up with a simple narrative that we used to group the photoshoot into sets.

The Wildwood Goddess photos tell MY story, and the story of so many women. A story of feeling trapped–by fear, by insecurities, by the expectations and repression of our culture. A story of learning to break away, to fight, to find our inner strength, confidence, to become the people we were meant to be. And a story of finally reaching that place of peace and rest, of knowing who we are and being able to live in that knowledge without striving.


Why did you do the photoshoot?

I’ve always felt that all people deserve love and grace, but it took me a long time to apply that standard to myself. My strength has always been my mind–academics, reading, ideas, words. I was awful at physical activities, style and fashion were incomprehensible, and all I saw in the mirror was a geeky, flawed, and odd-looking girl with crooked teeth, spotty skin, glasses, and a less-than-Hollywood figure.

My self-judgment increased as I got older, until I finally realized my bad attitude was not just hurting myself–it was affecting my relationships with the people I love. I had to change and find a way to see myself in a more positive way. Learning to love and accept my body was not easy, and some days, I still falter. Sometimes I’m still far too judgmental, measuring myself against an ideal that doesn’t even exist outside Photoshop.

But over time, I learned that my feet could dance, my voice could sing, and my hands and my eyes have artistic ability I never knew about. That I could tell a story with color and shape and texture, and not just words.

I’ve learned to take risks and have fun with my personal style. I found out that shopping can be enjoyable, and that I don’t need to dread the dressing room mirror. I came to view my clothing and make-up as a way to express myself instead of a way to hide myself.

Most importantly, I’ve learned to stand in front of my mirror (most days) without being hateful or judging. I’ve worked hard on retraining my eyes to see myself more realistically instead of measuring myself against an impossible ideal.

I am learning to give myself grace.

That’s the whole point of this photoshoot–sending myself and everyone else a loud-and-clear message: I am accepting and even celebrating how I look. I may not be what fashion designers are looking for to model their next line of clothing, but dammit–I’m worth photographing anyway!

The thing about the photoshoot I had been most worried about was whether I could face a camera and look comfortable. I was pretty sure the team could make me look great, but would I ruin it with awkward expressions or by not knowing what to do with myself?

I discovered I had to risk looking ridiculous, and trust in both Heather and Jameson’s kindness as well as their skill. That kind of trust doesn’t come easily to me–letting down my emotional barriers and allowing someone to record the part of me I am least sure of–my physical self.

My husband used to tell me that he wished I could see myself as he sees me, just for a minute. Maybe then I wouldn’t be so harsh and unloving toward myself. By facing the dark eye of the camera, by letting go of my fear, that finally happened. Far from being the judging, revealing force I always had run from, the camera showed me a version of myself far kinder and more profound than I had been able to see with my own eyes.

I am beautiful. I am flawed. And some days, the beauty seems to be deeply buried somewhere (maybe in the same place all my missing socks are). But my body is a gift and worthy of being loved and cared for. And yes, even photographed, like art. Because it is.

How did you do the photoshoot?

We gathered props and set pieces from everywhere–my own home, antique stores, Etsy, home and craft stores. The costume pieces also came from all over the world: Singapore, Australia, my own closet, borrowed from a fashion designer Heather is friends with. You’ll see a vintage choker that belonged to my grandma, chainmail hand gloves I bought at a renaissance fair when I was in high school, and an enormous floral headpiece I designed and built myself.

We started shooting around 2 in the afternoon that Sunday in June, and we didn’t finish until past 10 at night. Michelle and Cora did my hair, make-up, and costume changes, while Heather and Jameson and their summer intern, Hannah, worked outside to plan out the exact shots and locations, tested lighting, and did other odd things (like search for a big stick I could use as a spear for the Warrior set.) My husband helped move props around and set up the night scene, and my younger daughter Catrin took behind-the-scene video and photos.

It was amazing and lots of fun, but surprisingly exhausting (well, surprisingly for me–the Hooton team was doing all the hard work, and I’m amazed that they were still standing by the end of it.)

We shot in the craziest place. We were in an empty field near an extended stay hotel where Hannah was staying. The night set was just nearby–down a dirt road near an elevated train track, back among some twisty trees and weeds. At one point, we had to have my husband and Jameson running interference for us because some creepy guys were hovering and leering.

But you would never know any of that from the photos themselves. They really are magical. A week or so after the shoot, we gathered at the Hootons’ apartment/studio to go over the photos. They had originally taken somewhere around 400 photos, but had narrowed it down to about 200 to show me.

We had to get it from 200 down to 20. And the amazing thing was–it was a really hard job! I was used to photo sessions where I’d be lucky if I liked 5-10 poses out of the bunch. But most of these 200 were perfectly viable photos, and there were many that we painfully and reluctantly let go of to come up with our final set of 20.

After we picked the 20 shots, Heather edited them and put them into the formats I needed for either print or use on the web. Even though the photos have been edited, it hasn’t been drastic. I didn’t have ribs removed or a digital face lift. It’s really me. She just adjusted colors or fixed a piece of hair that was sticking out, etc.

The whole process took several months to plan and several more months in post-production. I had a wonderful time, and I came away with a new perspective of myself, as well as a new group of friends in the Hooton team.

PLEASE NOTE: These photos are all copyrighted by Hooton Images. They may not be used in any way without permission of the photographers. I have a license I purchased to use them in my promotional materials or to provide to my publisher or members of the media. You do not have that license. You MAY pin these photos on Pinterest or link back to this page, but that’s it. Please respect the skill and artistry of these wonderful photographers by not stealing their work. 

The first set of photos is my professional headshots. They aren’t really part of the photoshoot narrative, and you can see them on the media page, but I thought I’d put them here as well, just for fun.

Set 1: Nyx (“Trapped” Set)

Our first actual editorial set was actually shot last because we shot it at night. It’s a little Phantom of the Opera meets pre-Raphaelite movement, and a touch of Gothic. You can read the story/poem that goes with it here.

My favorite part of this set is the reproduction 1920’s opera jacket I’m wearing. It was made in the 1980’s, and we bought it from an Etsy seller in Austrailia. It’s a very sheer burned-out velvet floral pattern with gorgeous long fringe. It looks amazing with skinny jeans and boots, as well as with a dress like I’m wearing here.

The cage-like corset is a creation of a designer friend the Hootons know. If they give me a name and link, I’ll update this with that info.

The set pieces were mostly either things I already owned or things we collected from Craigslist and local picker shops. The chair is an Eastlake armchair, likely from the 1870’s or early 1880’s.

All the photos were shot using only the light from the candles. Heather held a candle in front of the camera to get the flame effects you see in the foreground on some of the shots. She gave me a black-and-white version as well as a color version of each photo, and it is really amazing to me the details that the B&W version brings out, so I’ve included those in the gallery below.

It looks like we are in a forest, but really, it’s just a copse of trees off a dirt road near some railroad tracks. It’s actually on a fairly steep hill, which made some of the poses precarious. And I kept expecting a spider or other creepy-crawly to nibble on me. (Didn’t happen–think all the hairspray warded them off!) But when I arrived to do the set, the team had everything set up and the candles lit, and it was one of the most magical scenes I’ve ever witnessed.

Set 2: Minerva (“Warrior” Set)

This set was shot second, timed right at sunset–and it was totally a race against the clock for Michelle to get my hair all balled up and ready in time!

Everything about this set was designed to convey a sense of battle. To me, the piled hair is like a helmet (NOT in the “helmet hair” sense, but in a truly symbolic way), and the layers of chains spread across the satin corset is a breastplate. The poofy shoulder thing gives the impression of a kind of armor or at least a military epaulet, and it was borrowed from the same designer who created the cage corset in the Trapped set.

You can’t see it really well in the photos, but I’m also wearing a vintage ’90’s black mesh dress we found on Etsy under the corset. Intern Hannah and the guys searched and searched for just the right stick to be a spear.

We’re standing in an empty field next to the hotel, and if you could peel away the trees, you’d see the interstate on the other side. I really love the golden warmth the sunset gave us. Heather and Jameson used special filters to capture the setting sun.

What I love about this set is Heather’s direction to me. She said that the way we keep this looking interesting is to play against the toughness of the clothing by going softer with the expression. So instead of trying to look fierce in every photo, she guided me to show a more vulnerable side, and that’s what inspired the poem/story for this set.

Set 3: Gaia (“Flowers” Set)

This was the first set we shot, after the head shots, and in some ways, I think it was the most fun because it was still early in the day.

The photos were all taken in the empty lots around the hotel. The ones where I’m lying down were done in a surprisingly soft mound of small pink flowers. Trying to lie down with the headdress on was quite the undertaking!

Speaking of the headdress…I am proud to say I created that myself. We saw something similar on Etsy, but after studying it awhile, I realized I could make something uniquely suited for me at a fraction of the cost. So I did! The base is a floral wire mesh lined with burlap, and then the silk flowers are wired to that. The wavy, spiky top is actually made from a book (!) that I sawed in half (!) and then soaked in water (!!) to shape it, and then I painted it (!!!). I added dried moss and beads, and the whole thing came out even better than I could have guessed it would.

The dress is the same one I wore for the head shots. It’s a Hommage from Los Angeles dress I bought at Nouvelle Eve in Omaha. We paired it with a vintage choker that belonged to my great grandmother. The green wrap is actually either a shawl or some kind of table covering I found at an antique store, and I’m guessing it’s from either the Edwardian era or possibly the 1920’s, but that’s only a guess.

This set entranced us all with the vivid colors of the headdress and the wildflowers. We wanted a pre-Raphaelite goddess look, and I think we achieved it. As with the Warrior set, Heather encouraged me to play against the softness of the look with a stronger expression, which is how we got the shot everyone refers to as the “lioness” where I’m crouching in the grass.

This was intended as the triumphant finale to our story, and you can read the final poem here.

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