Friday, 6 November 2015

All Things Ophelia

A family friend of ours used to skip school and hightail it from her home in the suburbs to central London. Her destination? The National Portrait Gallery. Or, more specifically, Millais’ portrait of Ophelia. She’d sit there for hours staring at the gown, the flowers, the face we all know to be Elizabeth Siddal’s. This was years ago now. The anecdote has a delightful grandeur to it – a sense of unwavering adolescent purpose.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about it recently. The other day I had something published on Broadly (which I’m thrilled about, as I love their articles!) discussing the cultural history of Ophelia. There’s a lot about Millais in there. Also plenty on art history, mental health, gender, sexuality, photography, and the modern phenomenon of young women re-envisioning that famous death scene. It’s a long story, and a fascinating one too – stretching from the 17th Century stage to Victorian asylums to 90s self-help books about teenagers to present day Tumblr and Pinterest.

Back over the summer these ideas were still vague and wispy, but definitely in the air - as evidenced by the shoot pictured. To me, this was something of a subversion of the Ophelia trope. I wanted to wear a ballgown in a river, but to be very much alive and kicking (and swimming!) throughout. Last time I did an Ophelia inspired shoot, I was 14. You can see it here. This felt like a pretty thrilling update – one much more vivid, confident and assertive. Just as chilly as before though... 

It's wonderfully circular really - thinking about Ophelia, doing these photos, then having the chance to research her image and iconography with a proper sense of depth, and now, finally, bringing it all together. 

The dress was from a jumble sale, last seen on this blog sported by the glorious Flo (as a mermaid, obviously). All jewellery is vintage. I've also been posting lots of the visual references I looked at for the piece over on my Instagram



Closet Fashionista said...

Ooh such fun photos!! I must confess, I don't know that much about Ophelia, but I'm off to read your article! :)

mondoagogo said...

Well, how timely, as I've been wondering about this fascination with depictions of Ophelia myself lately. I was collecting imagery on a private Pinterest board which this evening I happened to make public, and then I clicked over here! The board is here if you're interested: (but you've probably seen most of the images during your own research)

Like you I've always been struck by how people take the pretty imagery and ignore the muddy death part (not to mention that she offers up "rue, for rememberance" which was a herb used to induce abortion...)

(Oddly enough while reading your article I was listening to a track by the National which has the line "what makes you think I'm enjoying being led to the flood?" in it, which seemed appropriate!)

Izzy DM said...

So perfect that you ended that essay with so many questions. That was the brilliance of that piece: it raised a great deal of timely questions and made me want to think more and more on the topic.

And yes, the language was gorgeous, but your language always is.

I don't have much more to add, because it's been a while since I've thought about Ophelia other than Hamlet's weirdly flirty line to her at the end of his "to be or not to be" soliloquy, which I wrote about over at Lascaux Review. I've been wanting to watch Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, though. I've heard it's the best one. Maybe this is the sign that it's the right time at last!


Demilade Aina said...

This is my first time hearing about Ophelia, will definitely read more about it. I love these pictures, you'd make a good model. Love how the water looks so tranquil and how peaceful the scenery is.xx

Alyssa G said...

These photos are so beautiful!
xx Alyssa

Shoaib said...

Beautiful :)

Vix said...

Millais' poster from Athena was on teenage Vix's bedroom wall - bet your Mum had it, too!
A wonderful photoshoot! xxx


Well done, I enjoyed your article on Broadly. I've had much fascination with representations of Ophelia, especially as a teen. As I got older, I think it's true there's somewhat a deeper comprehension and interpretation for me. Captivating images, and what an absolutely stunning photo shoot.

Ivana Split said...

These images made me think of mermaids....these is something powerful about them. You seem to be at home in water...I can conect them with Ophelia in my head and see the refrence, but the mermaid is what comes to my mind. Superb photographs.

Interesting to see your last hommage to Ophelia as well:)

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