While trying to breath and cope with the heatwave that hit Italy this summer, my mind keeps going back to two summers ago and to the week I spent in the fresh (sometimes cold) air of Sweden. There was no heavy sweating there, nor the kind of strong sun that switches you off suddenly, instead I had the chance to work in intimate and beautiful scenarios, with stunning and experienced models, and with the help of two colleagues and friends of mine, the Swedish artists and photographers “Hogabos” (Elinleticia and Freddy). They do amazing work in those Northern lands, with their fairy models and melancholic backgrounds, always boosting their creativity to a higher and unpredictable level.
When I went to visit them in Malmo, where they live, they shared with me models, wardrobe, make-up, and location. The night I arrived I discussed with Elinleticia what I wanted to create, then we went through the huge database of dresses, gowns, shirts, and everything else they gathered in the years of constant shooting, and selected a few vintage dresses and nightgowns. The morning three models arrived, Annika Forslund Rimbléus, which I had the chance to shoot in Bergamo a year before, Stina Utter (from Sweden Models), and Ella Widell, and I sat with them and Elinleticia while she did her unique make-up, and finally we drove to the place, an abandoned house in the Swedish countryside.
Travelling with gear isn’t easy nor handy, and for this travel to Sweden I had opted for the lightest and smallest equipment I could gather, the same I had brought to Milan a few weeks before and that I had already shared with you here on Fujilove: three Yongnuo YN568EXII hot shoe flashes with a set of colored gelatins, two Yongnuo YN622C receivers, one Yongnuo YN622C-TX transmitter, two collapsible Velbon UT-43D II tripod, and one X100T with the 50mm equivalent teleconverter. The whole package fits a small backpack, is airline friendly, and is lightweight and easy to work with.
When we got to the abandoned house, Elinleticia and Freddy showed me around the place. With the camera mounted on the tripod, I started looking for angles. I ended up with three scenes, one of the “living room”, essentially because of the vintage TV (not working) still there, one of the kitchen, mostly because it looked like someone left it immediately after some sort of a party or a hurricane, and one of the bedroom with the restroom in the background. Besides the living room, that required the 35mm equivalent of the X100T to be captured, the other two scenes were framed with the 50mm equivalent of the teleconverter.
Then we started. The first scene I shot was the living room. I wanted Ella to look like she was watching TV in some sort of wicked dream of a motel room. So I first filled the room with rotten leaves (there were plenty around), then I placed the two chairs and the TV where I wanted them in the frame, and finally I started working on the lights. I placed one flash on the other side of the room, with a pink gelatin, to give the impression of some neon light coming from the streets, and then I placed the second flash behind the TV, with a blue gelatin, to mimic the light coming from the TV itself. The slightly sexy red nightgown, Elinleticia’s dreamy gold make-up, and Ella’s otherworldly beauty made the rest. The 35mm equivalent enhances the imperfections in the construction, like the not-straight window or the crooked ceiling, adding up to the wicked and hunting mood of the scene.
The second scene I shot was the bedroom. Here I used only one flash, mixing its light with the beautiful and soft natural light coming from the main window. The reason why I used the flash was that the vegetation had grew over the restroom window so much to obscure it almost completely. So I placed a flash on the tripod just outside the windows, with a green gelatin on it to enhance the vegetation effect, and pointed it at the window. It took several trials to find the perfect spot, but eventually I got the light I wanted in the restroom. For this scene Elinleticia worked on a way softer make-up, and we dressed the girls with an innocent vintage dress for Stina and a chaste nightgown for Annika. I wanted to create a mood of lingering and melancholia, with a slightly dreamier mood in the restroom (like “is the lady in the restroom real or is she a ghost?” mood). The chair, the blanket, even the little black book Stina is holding where all found in the abandoned house, but I spent quite sometime cleaning up the floor from all kind of weird junk before the scene looked like I wanted. Stina’s pose helps the light showing her beautiful and pure face, her slender neck, and the textures of her dress, while Annika was placed so the light from the flash would get her upper figure, leaving the legs and the rest of the nightgowns fading into darkness.
The third scene was the kitchen. Here I wanted to make it look like a moonlight scene, with Stina waiting for someone to be back while surrounded by that messy and rusted kitchen, the calendar (originally there, I didn’t hang it for the shot) still back at 1998. I placed the first flash out of the kitchen window, behind a few branches (so to get some shadows) and with no gel on it. Then I set the white balance on the camera on “tungsten” and transformed the white light from the flash into a bluish moonlight. The reason why I didn’t put a blue gel on the flash is that gelatins, especially the blue one, absorb quite a lot of the light, and I needed a lot of power to overtake the natural daylight and transform it into moonlight. Then, as you may guess, I placed the second flash, with a yellow gelatin (which became green with the corrected white balance) inside the old and rusted fridge, to light up the open fridge door crack and to dim light the drawers behind the model. The fridge, with its green light, is what adds the wicked and dreamy mood to the whole scene. We dressed Stina with a vintage dress, choosing one with a white top that lighted up in the “moonlight”, but with a deep blue gown that faded into darkness, helping the effect of her slender figure “surfacing from the darkness”.
That was it for the day. We drove back, we had a nice dinner, and the day after I had to fly back to the heat of Rome. Not as hot as today, though. And so my mind goes back at it again. And again.
I hope you enjoyed the story, the photos, and the few technical details. Now it’s time to list the credits:
Styling and make-up: Elinleticia Hogabo
Location scouting: Freddy and Elinleticia Hogabo
P.S. I strongly suggest you to follow the work of the Hogabos. They tend to produce a lot and to post their work on several different media sources, so spend some time to check them out on facebook, instagram, pinterest, behance, tumbler, 500px, twitter, etc. I am not pasting any links here cause I might miss some and I don’t want to reduce your chances to find some more of their amazing work.