Creating DreamWorld, Part I – guest post by Sarah Allegra
I suppose the thing I’m always drawn to with art is telling stories. I’ve been creating and telling tales for as long as I can remember. My first real story was dictated to my grandmother at her typewriter when I was five, which I lavishly illustrated by hand. The story was called Mommy’s Adventure, and guess what, it was about an adventure my mom went on.
The drive to tell stories manifested in various ways through my life, but it was always there in one form or another. Writing stories, poetry, drawing, painting, jewelry-making, sculpting, singing, song-writing… I’ve tried almost anything at one point or another.*
Most of you probably don’t know that like our hellgoddess, I have ME** too. I am also fortunate enough to be on the extremely mild end of the spectrum. It’s somewhere between a chore, quite difficult and occasionally impossible for me to leave the house depending on how spiteful the ME is feeling that day, but most of the time I can leave the house. That is not true for a roughly half of us.
While looking back, I can see the path of the ME being laid in my teenage years, it broke out dramatically about five and half years ago. Up until then I’d had most of my artistic energy going towards learning watercolor painting. But after the ME really kicked in, I was slowly drained of the energy to create, and would find myself with forearm tendons seemingly on fire if I tried to paint anyway.
At the same time though, being suddenly struck by what seemed a completely inexorable, malevolent disease with no end in sight (nor even a diagnosis for years) I found that my need to create, to express what I was going through, was greater than ever. Painting wasn’t going to be my solution, so I turned to another visual medium: photography.
My then-boyfriend-now-husband is a talented photographer himself, so I sat him down and made him teach me the basics of how cameras work. I’d enjoyed taking snapshots my whole life, but I’d only taken one beginner’s black and white (film) photography class in college, which I’d hated. The emphasis was strongly placed on developing the film. To me, the darkroom was full of nauseating smells and a myriad of devices and steps all designed to ruin my film if at all possible. As soon as the class was over, I quickly forgot everything I’d ever learned.
After my husband helped me remember about shutter speeds, f-stops and ISO, I just started taking photos and learned through lots of trial and error. Especially error. I used myself as my own model, since the photos were such personal expressions of what I was experiencing, and I also didn’t have an end-goal for the photos. They were just therapy. Being on both sides of the lens while figuring it out was a steep learning curve, but I’m glad for it. Not only am I always available to myself if I want to shoot something, but I think it gives me a deeper appreciation for the entire process of bringing a photo to life than if I’d always stayed behind the lens.
Eventually I learned that there was a whole world of self portrait artists being on both sides of the lens at once. Their work encouraged and inspired me. Things kept going wrong in my body. Doctors shrugged at me. I was feeling the urge to create more and more, and it became even more cathartic. I could create images that expressed my deepest fears and frustrations about my illness, and I could equally create an alternate world full of beauty and wonder. It was exactly what I needed, and I taught myself along the way whatever I needed to know.
I have never been a good sleeper, but ME does nothing to help that. I distinctly remember one night, about a year and a half ago, when I was lying in bed not sleeping, feeling so frustrated, I wanted to cry. I was wishing there was a person you could pay to ensure a good night’s sleep, and my imagination snatched that kernel of idea up and began building upon it at an almost alarming rate. What if such a person did exist? What would he or she be like? What would they look like? What gives them the power to present you with sleep? What kind of world do they live in? After that I didn’t sleep because my brain was too full of ideas, but at least my mood had lifted. I didn’t realize it then, but I had just given birth to what would become DreamWorld.
Sarah Allegra is a fine art photographer and self portrait artists in Los Angeles. Read her own blog if you don’t mind occasional artistic nudity: http://sarahallegra.wordpress.com/
*Including knitting and crocheting. I like both, but I always fall out of the habit of it and have to re-learn it again each time I pick it up. Many a friend received gifts of baby booties and a bonnet from me at their baby shower. I do have some especially nice cream-and-metallic-gold filmy yarn leftover from another project that would look so lovely if I worked it into… something. Hmm.
**Except that I’m in The United States so they refuse to acknowledge the medical name ‘myalgic encephalomyelitis,’ and instead will only admit to you having ‘fibromyalgia’ or, most condescendingly, ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.’ There’s a big movement over here to officially change our name from either fibro or CFS to ME. The exact details of how our doctors (supposedly) distinguish between fibro and CFS are lengthy and complicated* enough to warrant their own blog.
* And stupid. Don’t get me started on the whole doctor thing. But as patronising brush-offs go, ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ takes some kind of prize. A large bouquet of deadly nightshade or thereabouts. –ed.
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