Tonight I will be watching Ephyra perform; she specialises in aerial performances using chains. Which reminds me, come down the road with me, to when I lived in Staffordshire; I lived in a strange rundown manor house; the place was practically falling apart. This place presented itself to me when I needed it the most. When I needed to leave London after I had lost my mother and recently finished my master’s degree. As a lost girl, I moved there and stayed there for many years; it afforded me creativity and space to think and grow. It was very much a one-off life experience, and when the landlord decided to sell up and have the place converted into luxury flats, I moved back to London. This house was in a quiet town called Oakamoor, just outside of Alton. Every summer in the vast topiary garden outside my window, I could hear the screams of people on the rides at Alton Towers. These screams echoed throughout the valley I lived in. It was here that I first met Ephyra.
When we meet...
Ephyra was very young when we met, and she was brilliant, she is also breath takingly beautiful, but thats just half the picture. Occasionally you meet someone who somehow is just so fully formed beyond the rest of us. Years ago, I read an interview with Nick Cave where he spoke about Warren Ellis. He said something similar; I really wish I could find the interview. It was words to the effect of, he met him, and he seemed so ready for the world, so thoroughly informed and shaped. It wasn’t said in an overly sycophantic way, which implies that no mistakes could be made, but the more profound intuitive trust of somebody on an emotional level.
When we met, I took Ephyra to the chained oak in Alton; it’s a real place. It’s a real tree, and it’s enormous. Each tree branch has deep cuts where chains have grown into it. It’s there, and it’s extraordinary. The story goes that one night the Lord of the estate denied an elderly peasant woman charity when she asked for it, to which she transformed into a beautiful witch and cursed the tree on his land. She claimed that every branch that would fall a member of his immediate family would die with it. He ordered to have the tree chained up.
I have always been fascinated by how real this tree is, it’s in pieces now, but it was very much intact when I lived there. For me, it was a reminder that England was not beautiful, but a landscape of constant story and a reminder of its dark and weird past. Blake’s satanic mills remind us of the great injustice of being a serf on the land, and these prompts lay on every corner. At this time in my life Staffordshire was always calling to me, I could feel the siren call of its forgotten stories. The visceral sound of mystery begs to be remembered. Few people can embody this deep sense of history, but Ephyra can. We did a shoot at the chained oak, we did many infact, and not only do they remain some of the most tactile memories i have, but I remember how Ephyra moved amongst the histories of the chains, so vital, so very sure, so strong!
Tonight I will watch her perform her chain act, mixed with memories and reverence at just how accurate and expressively she moves.
I’ve so painfully missed women in the last year and a half. But towards the end of the pandemic, I was introduced to Rosie, a dear friend of Ephyra’s. Another fully formed soul, full of talent and intuition. I feel so fortunate to know these women. We began conversations about femininity, sexuality, gender, environment, and we conjured up this shoot. Kent has been calling me for some time now; it’s almost a cliché as a Londoner considering moving out to Kent. But now, with Kaveh working there and it being so close to London, when Rosie suggested that we shoot on the coastline, I jumped at the chance. It was such a wholesome day, we made a fire, and we ate our pre-packed food. Rosie created this exceptional dress, fashioned by hand from a plastic sheet; an extraordinary artwork feat made to Ephyra’s measurements. Throughout the day, Rose’s carefully made garment caught the sun, Ephyras intuitive movement danced and my specific type of photography evoked a feeling of seafoam on the body. We wanted to make something feminine and creature-like, of the sea and open-air, of women’s memories and moods that are long forgotten and evoked again.