Pig Hearts and Gasoline Explosions

I've mentioned before about how I started photographing fire because I needed it as material for a photograph. This is that photograph.

The history of this symbol is much deeper and older than the others, and more directly spiritual. It's an awesome symbol, in any case, and such a tense mix of suffering and hope.

Actual barbed wire is too big for the pig heart, so I twisted up some model barbed wire, and painted it gloss black. I did an opaque blood to give it a little connection to all the illustrations through history. And the dwarf roses were another genius touch from prop stylist Courtney Walch.

Bird Wings

The inspiration.

The funny thing about bird wings is that their main purpose is to provide lift, not serve as decoration in a symbol, so they're more complicated than, uh, they need to be.

At one point, I thought the most authentic approach would be to use an actual bird. This bird was awesome.

Awesome at being a bird, maybe. Modelling, not so much. This would be great for some weird version of that german bird. He wasn't being hurt, but that didn't stop him from getting mad at, and trying to bite, his handler.

In the end, I ended up going with taxidermy wings, a glass heart, and ribbon with dry-transfer lettering on it.


The Rattler

I went through multiple iterations on this one, and the lesson is; trying to save money usually wastes time.

Going with the idea that each sculpture features something real, I called the East Bay Vivarium, the local reptile house. I talked to the owner about my idea, and said that I wanted him to bring a rattler to my studio, coil it around a skull, and bare it's fangs toward the camera. He thought that this was crazy and he told me that there's one circumstance in which the rattlesnake will bear it's fangs – when it's about to kill something.

So, okay, no live rattlesnake. A rubber snake is right out. Taxidermy then. I had noticed that there were taxidermy rattlesnakes on eBay really cheap. I contacted one of the vendors and it turns out that she freeze-dries rattlesnakes. I explained what I wanted, sent sketches and photographs, and conferred over the phone, but she soon gave up in frustration.

She was semi-professional, so I upgraded to professional. I found Captured Moments in Reno, and was able to work with him in his studio. Taxidermys mix of sculpture and biology is interesting, and so is Rob. He did a bang- up job on the wings for the glass heart, but my requirements for the snake were too extraordinary, and we gave up after a couple tries.

Finally, I went Hollywood - Bischoff's. They do a lot of stuffed animals for films, and have been around for a long while. They got what I was doing, and were quick and responsive. Even though the snake looked great, the skull shattered in transit, so I had to cut the rattler off the remains, and put it on a new skull.

The end result is almost perfect. The slightly visible stitching on the belly is probably my favorite part.

In the end, I'm definitely reminded that time is money.

Authenticity and Appropriation

I'm always interested in how authenticity and artifice work together, especially today, as postproduction techniques allow for looks that were never before possible. Not that I'm terribly interested in doing that, myself - I continue toward more perfectly finishing the photograph on the set, at shoot time. There's an immediacy and conclusiveness that's incredibly satisfying. In addition to that, with this project, I wanted to explore remixing, to explore the iterative transformative process. It can be a touchy subject with photographers, as the wide availability of easily duplicated material coupled with a muddying of intellectual property rights in the culture has created an environment rife with infringement. Thus, there's the two vectors - authenticity and appropriation, in contemporary culture.

I decided on tattoos. Tattooing has a powerful resonance in our culture, and still manages to retain some countercultural credibility. Some tattoos have become iconic themselves, so I picked some to work with, and then entered this loop:

It starts with a phenomenon, then becomes an idea.

The idea becomes a symbol, which people turn into an Illustration, and sometimes that gets used as Skin Art. I sketched my own version of a common tattoo, then turned that into a Sculpture.

I made a Photograph of the sculpture, and finally printed the photo as...

a   Temporary Tattoo

Temporary Tattoo


For the objects themselves, I created them in space, utilizing "real" objects. All together at once, with the flames being the one exception. And when I say "real", I mean some of the objects actually are the things - a rattlesnake, a pig heart, a glass heart, a cat head. That's something I owe to the prop stylist, Courtney Walch, who is a genius. When I first described the project to her, very early on, she said, matter-of-factly, "…and some of the items should be real, like a real snake…", and that's the exact moment the project really gelled.

There's something about working with objects in place, especially with a crew at hand, that I prefer over pushing pixels around. Happy accidents and strokes of genius seem to occur more frequently, it's more joyful, and more instantly collaborative.

More on the individual images over the next several days.