‘You are your own box – get out’

The brief was handed to me. Something which depicts Spring, but with a touch of blossoming, rebirth or metamorphosis somewhere in the background; lying there, its presence as subtle as possible.

The first part was easy enough. Spring to me means fruit, and in Malta that means sweet, juicy strawberries. But how to best bring out rebirth or metamorphosis? This was the challenge. Thankfully, the brief was given to me well in advance of the deadline, so I could spare some time for soul searching. The thought I latched on to was that negativity underpins anything to do with change – a destructive push that inspires the same metamorphosis we were aiming to capture.

The conflict between love and hate, creation and destruction, that still feels so fundamental to the way we organise our lives and thoughts… if taken to its logical conclusion, it can only lead to one thing: madness. And this is what I wanted to depict: insanity caused by inner conflicts. That was the metamorphosis, the never ending change.

The next challenge was to make these feelings tangible. As luck would have it, around the time I was planning the shoot, the 75th anniversary of Batman’s arch-nemesis The Joker were going on – with a lot of virtual ‘celebrations’ in the air, and the image of the Joker, and his equally demented love interest Harley Quinn, gave me the visual push that I needed.

What I needed now was a team to work with, the setting up of my equipment and two boxes of strawberries. I had a lot of time to think about the model I would use. I needed someone I had worked with before, someone who would be comfortable being my subject, and someone who trusted me in knowing what I am doing. The subject’s look in this case would also be of great importance. I then saw that Jade, a model I had worked with before and whose portrait session I had just shot, had just cut her hair really short. It was the perfect look. Short hair meant more body structure and less interference. Exams may have been on the way, but as soon as I explained what the theme was going to be, Jade agreed to being the model.

The second team member to be recruited was Christine, who was the same hairstylist to give Jade her short hair. It would only be fair that as she gave the look to Jade, she should also be the one to style it.

I now needed a make up artist. I had many options but I could not make my mind up, especially this being a very meaningful shoot. Then, a good friend of mine introduced me to Luz Cubas, an Argentinian make up artist, currently living in Malta.

On the day of the shoot we all met at the studio, had a coffee and started the process of hair and make-up. Chris jelled the hair backwards, nice and tight, while Juz gave Jade smoky eyes and gave her lips a nice tint of dark red. We started shooting as soon as Jade was ready and first just had some fun, chilling and getting into the mood.

I then briefed Jade: “Try find a way to escape from yourself. You are your own box. Get out.” She did not need much more direction. She understood what I wanted.

Jade was holding the strawberries as if they were something loved and cared for, and then the strawberries were bitten, and attacked as if my subject had just become ravenous. This led to them literally being turned to pulp, with Jade bathing herself in their juice. We then all agreed that for the final images we would write ‘Schlock’ on the model’s chest and with her lipstick – as you can see on the cover for this issue.