Monday, 2 July 2012

Ceri Williams: Mad As A Malkavian

Ceri Williams, the girl with the face, had an idea for a shoot that we'd put off for a really long time because we didn't have the necessary equipment or location.

Eventually, we decided we were going to give it a shot anyway and use what we had.

The original idea came from a character that Ceri played a long time ago in a popular roleplaying game called "Vampire: The Masquerade".

I asked Ceri to sum up what was the concept for this image and here's what she said...

"Summer was originally a character from a Vampire: The Masquerade game. In life she was introverted, socially detatched, curious in a child-like way, until she was kidnapped and killed by a Malkavian vampire. The vampire made a practice of scarring his clan name into the skin of his creations, but unlike most 'sires' he then abandoned Summer. She was later found and taken in by another group of vampires, and one among their number was able to remove the scars from her arm. But later she became terrified that her unknown sire would discover this betrayal, and she took a knife and inscribed the letters back into her arm."

So here we are.

Now then, Summer actually initially was a blonde, child-like, tie-dye wearing, tom-boyish type but for the sake of turning this into a more generic vampire image that people could better relate to, we decided to make her a bit more girly and a bit more obviously vampiric. To get this look, we roped the wonderful and very talented Hannah Lonergan on board for the make-up.

Now Hannah has already done some amazing work, including turning herself into the Corpse Bride and Edward Scissorhands flawlessly and so we also knew that, above and beyond her normal beauty make-up, she would be able to create the scars and handle the bloody task at hand.

We headed to Raven's Nightclub (the same location as the 'Destruction' shoot) and Hannah started working her magics on Ceridwen.

Ceri was getting all made up here and I was fretting about lighting in there...

The problem we were having was that we wanted to shoot indoors here but we had no lighting. Slow shutter wasn't much of an option for it and we were concerned about how the images would come out.

Now, at the time, I didn't have a flash gun, something which has since been remedied but at the time, I had to try with the built-in flash without getting a 'snapshot' style shot. I took a few pictures and played around with the settings a little before going back to find out how the girls were getting on.

Hannah had found a dandy place to hang her bag:

...and Ceri was looking much paler and in need of blood. Which was good. :)

 Now it was time for some bad-ass scarring...

Look at those welts! I was very chuffed at these. I think Hannah did a bloody brilliant job of it...

... Now then. Following the make-up job, we got Ceri into position and effectively covered her in fake blood from the forearm down.

As this was being done, we all had this Malkavian vampire in mind and were running with it. We wanted a modern gothic looking vampire scene but actually, we almost didn't post this at all.

Here is the best image from the shoot:

After seeing the images in post-production, I already knew that we'd come far from the original concept and I wasn't sure actually whether Ceri was going to consider it a successful shoot or not. It occurred to both of us that actually, the image was a lot darker than we had initially anticipated and without the concept, it did just look like a very young girl self-harming and I know, certainly Ceri, was actually quite saddened by that. Especially as the character that this was based on was in fact pretty happy-go-lucky for the most part.

I actually asked her whilst writing this blog to describe how she felt seeing the final image for the first time for you and here's what she said...:

"Chloe sent me the final image before posting it anywhere to ask what I thought. That alone should have been a warning, because Chloe typically likes to keep things as surprises. I opened the picture on my phone and genuinely stared at it for a good few minutes. Normally I do this anyway in a "How amazing does Chloe make me look" sort of way. This time it was more, "...oh. Wow. That's frightening." I really wasn't sure if I wanted it to go online. Without context (and of course I knew the context better than anyone) it seemed very stark and real. In a strange way, it made me see the character very differently. She was fun to play, cute and funny and a bit sad. But seeing it, even in my own face, was something else." 

We did decide to share this all the same as we do still like the image but we have decided to give this another go when we have some time but this time, sticking to the original character concept.

We'd be interested to know your thoughts all the same...


  1. It is interesting how we imagine our RPG characters to be one thing, perhaps idealised and perfected to be what we want them to be, and then how different the reality of them is to other people we play with.

    I have played a number of characters at LARP over the years who I believed to have certain character traits. But when speaking to other players after those characters have died they have viewed them in a completely different way.

    1. Exactly this - arguably the hardest medium to accurately portray a character to an unfamiliar audience as there is basically no closer you can get to the character. It's all very well trying to distance yourself when writing a story or something and trying to see the character from a reader's eyes, but when you literally live and breathe that character, it's harder to see it from the outside. I think this is why DMs cry so much when they hear players trying to describe their NPCs :P

  2. Do you think that the image glorifies, or makes self harming look cool, or glamourous? And do you feel that an artist has a responsibility to the messages that their work puts out there, inadvertently or otherwise?

    1. Glamorous, no - personally I think the opposite. I think it's stark and startling. I think the dark background and the downcast eyes are an obvious artistic choice but I think they emphasise the emotion which is meant to be portrayed. But I’m very emotionally biased for a number of reasons.

      I was very aware of the responsibility of posting the work online. I thought about adding disclaimers or trigger warnings several times - on Facebook, on Twitter, and on my own reaction blog. I very nearly called Chloe and asked her to put one on her own blog. In the end the most I did was to state that there were graphic images when I shared Chloe’s blog myself, because I didn’t want to overshadow the final piece by being afraid of what it was - that, in a way, also seemed like denying responsibility for it.

      I think images such as these speak far louder to certain people, and for the first time I was pulled into that demographic by it being my face and my body. Maybe I didn’t consider how the image might glorify the concept when I first drew it or wrote it for a game, but sure as hell it opened my eyes to it seeing myself in there. But maybe people like me, being distanced from it, would always look at things like these from behind a safety curtain, and maybe it isn’t until they see their own face on them that they have a better chance at understanding what it means to the other demographic. I would hate to claim to understand people who have been through something like this. But I definitely appreciate that I had no idea before seeing the image.

    2. ... and I guess the fact of the matter is, that people who do end up hurting themselves in this way do often get there out of fear and to feel an escape from something 'worse'. I think there's a certain desperation involved that would get you to this place that actually isn't overlooked in this image.

      I'd be interested to hear thoughts from someone who has been there but I think it's an incredibly hard and delicate story to discuss for even those who have known someone in that position, let alone someone who has been there.

    3. Are you familiar with this picture? (Warning of graphic imagery.):

    4. Not the picture but I know the story.

    5. I have not but I am intrigued...

      I will look it up.

  3. I feel compelled to leave my thoughts in reply to this one. Perhaps firstly, my own apologies at what might likely seemed to be making light the seriousness involved in the post. I had only viewed the photo when I posted, and had no idea of the thoughts and feelings around it. To me, Summer was a very fun, bouncy character who I enjoyed role playing with, and the darker side of her was always dealt with in a fun and humorous way.

    I personally am very glad that Ceri had the bravery to suggest the shoot in the first place, and between the girls agreed to post it, despite the fact it had drifted so far from the concept they had originally aimed for. Mental health is something that is rarely discussed, even with government projects to try and improve peoples understanding. Self harm is perhaps one of the more misunderstood mental health problems, both by the wider public and the health care professionals that treat them. In a way they are one of the most unempowered groups of people there are, who don't feel they have a voice to speak with to make people understand.

    One of the common problems for self harmers may be an inability to cope with or express the emotions they have, and in the end, this can sometimes be the only outlet they feel they have available. You might note that last sentence was a bit open worded. From my own personal and professional experience I've found that what one persons causes and experiences of mental health problems can vary greatly between one person and the next even when those two people have the same diagnosis. These two reasons can make it very hard for people to make themselves understood, and thats just to people who are prepared to listen. Sadly, more often than not, people draw their own conclusions based on little more than stereotypes that are entirely unfair.

    I would argue then, that shoots like this are a necessity and they open up a forum to discuss really tricky issues and I hope in turn lead people to have a better understanding of what is happening for people who suffer mental illnesses. If that happens, then perhaps people might just be a lot less judgmental.

    I have have heard that images like these have been seen as glorification before, however, I would argue, that if someone was to self harm from seeing an image like this, the chances are they are already in a serious situation, and likely have developed a mental health problem. I question what the media's role in stories of mental health, its discussion and the images that are created have on the overall understanding of suffers, and worry that for the most part, they feed the stigma of these conditions.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Ian.

      I think you are right and that too many opinions are given too harshly by those who don't understand.

  4. What flavor is that "blood"?

    1. I believe it was just a sugar-based theatre make-up. No particular flavour.

  5. I loved the photography. I mean, so many people can relate to it. Its so perfect and deep.