I remember 8 months ago I asked Cristina if there was any sort of photoshoot she would like to do, and she said she wanted to do a shoot based on Day of the Dead. She told me that what interested her in it was that it wasn’t necessarily a sad holiday, for some people it was a big party. Even though she’s never been close to anyone who’s died, she thought about how she would want people to grieve her death, which involved bringing her yellow flowers and black balloons, dancing on her grave, and reading Harry Potter to her. I clung to the idea of turning a grim holiday into a celebration, and wanted to create a creepy, cartoonish, classic image involving Day of the Dead iconography.
We spent a day shopping for an all black lace outfit for her; a long sleeve shirt & skirt from H&M, leggings from Hot Topic, gloves from Party City. I bought fake carnations from Hobby Lobby, hot glued them onto a headband, and spray painted them black. I couldn’t find anything even close to appropriate for a skull cane, so I bought some wood blocks and a baton, busted out my grandfather’s old woodcarving kit he left me, and I carved a wooden block for the very first time. It took me all night to whittle it down just how I wanted, and I painted it the next day, drilled a hole in the bottom, and super glued it to the baton.
My old friend Natalie Price did Cristina’s beautiful sugar skull makeup, to add to her portfolio as a special effect make up artist, Flesh Piñata. Cristina couldn’t get over how cool she looked. We started by taking some typical Day of the Dead photos in my home studio.
We drove to IOOF cemetery as storm clouds were rolling in, just as I had hoped. IOOF had exactly the look I was wanting; gravel roads, lopsided headstones, scattered cypress trees, and mausoleums in the distance. I set up my new off-camera flash and umbrella for dramatic soft lighting, and we were off!
For the main photo we were after, it took many, many attempts to get the perfect walking pose with the perfect composition. After we got Cristina’s pose & movement exactly how I wanted, I had Erin strike various poses in the background for each of the skeletons on parade. I used the stylus on my new Surface Book to trace skeletons over Erin’s poses in Photoshop. Then I added some texture to the drawings to seem more handmade, a glowing effect to make them seem more surreal, and a blurring effect to make the drawings match the depth of field in the photo. The final result turned out almost as badass as I was aiming for.
I’ll be ordering a 3ft x 4ft engineer print of this photo for Cristina. Can’t wait to see how it looks all blown up.