Maman Brigitte © Bekka Björke

I’m finally getting around to sharing a more thorough behind the scenes look into my projects, and with the spookiness in the air as we count down to Halloween, this feels like a good place to start. This photo series depicting Maman Brigitte was shot 3 years ago, and was one of the first in Project Mythos, my ongoing pursuit of lore based imagery. Even though my style, workflow, and so much else has changed in that time, these images still remain some of my favorites, and really influential in my evolution as a photographer.

Maman Brigitte © Bekka Björke

It started with the simple want to create some gritty mythology photos, so I threw out a kind of vague casting in the local scene. The response was astounding, full of passion and internalized connection to different stories. It was such a formative experience for me as a younger artist to connect with other people’s history and emotion outside of but alongside my own legend-obsessed bubble.

My model, Kayla, was from Louisiana, so I wanted to explore that background and dove headfirst into learning what I could about vodou. For the wealth of information available on the internet, it’s sometimes amazing how little there is, or the same words regurgitated and cited in circles, but after cross-referencing and re-reading and looking at other visual artistic interpretations, I narrowed down the kind of images to create of our chosen Loa, Maman Brigitte. Maman Brigitte is a prominent and powerful figure in vodou lore, wife to infamous Baron Samedi and protector of the dead, demanding respect and reverence. A formidable and fascinating spirit to channel.

I hadn’t yet accepted the magic that is digital compositing, and didn’t want to desecrate any real graves, so my partner-in-crime, Josh, and I decided to build our own. Since it was October in California, we had a nice collection of autumn leaves and parched dirt on the ground and could avoid most of the weird looks from the neighbors while building a cemetery in the front yard.  It’s festive! With the proper perspective and atmosphere we could get away with creating a massive mood on a starving artist budget. One massive load of tombstones, fake skeletons, and dollar store candles later, and we were in business.

Maman Brigitte © Bekka Björke

Creating the rest of the atmosphere was a little more involved. Shooting with a fog machine was a new adventure, and it ended up being the greatest challenge of the shoot. PSA: autofocus + fog = recipe for failure. Learning how the fog moves and behaves was also a learning curve, and Josh ended up running around with it to cover a greater distance more thoroughly.

Then comes the lighting. I love to shoot in the late afternoon, the light is just so naturally beautiful year round and lends itself to so many different looks. In this case, the sun wasn’t enough, though it added to the dramatic backlight and played amazingly through the fog. TO amplify that backlight even more, I added artificial light form the same direction, and then some fill from the front left as well since I didn’t want strictly silhouettes. Because we were racing against the sunset, many of the images ended up being entirely lit with artificial light. I didn’t shoot a good pull-back shot of the set-up, but this light test is pretty close behind the scenes look.

Maman Brigitte Behind the Scenes© Bekka Björke

The styling of the model also was an endeavor. Having a great makeup artist, Kristen, on board pulled the look together. You can see more of that process in the behind the scenes video above. Kayla had beautiful natural hair texture already, so we stuffed some roses in there for a pop of fiery red to play with the red of the peppers, rum bottle, and sash. The outfit was pieced together with some thrift shopping and fabric. Wrapped up in post-processing with some moody blues and flaming oranges and red, and the images came together magically!

Maman Brigitte © Bekka Björke


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