Carnival of Shadows

Hello everyone!

Long time since I last posted. That’s going to change. This post is a little different from things that have come before. I’m setting a new intention for my work. I’m going to be putting a lot more of myself into my website and blog posts.

I’m going to write about my thoughts and feelings. I’m going to talk about things I love, things I find interesting, things that scare me, things I’ve done, things I want to do and things I read, watch or learn.

This way, the pictures I post might make a bit more sense and be a bit more interesting. Or, you’ll just scroll past all the drivel, straight to the pictures. That’s fine too. I won’t be offended.

So here we go. The focus of this post is around an idea of a carnival. When I say carnival, I’m taking the definition to mean a travelling funfair or circus.

Often in works of fiction, I think carnivals are depicted as being a bit creepy or sinister. For example, I really really don’t like clowns. They’ve always freaked me out, I’m getting shudders just writing the word. They aren’t suppose to be like this, are they? Clowns are supposed to be happy and jolly, making people laugh with simple tricks. Right? Right??

So why did we turn them into blood-stained, axe wielding maniacs? (Thanks Stephen King, you really ruined it for us there!) This more macabre take on a carnival is the theme around this set of images. Before we delve into the pictures themselves, I’d like to venture into this topic a little more. I’d like to talk about something that may seem a little off-topic, but I promise, this is what made the images what they were. So just stay with me.

I’ve always had this fascination with Freak Shows. Not in the exploitive sense, where in the past, disabled, disadvantaged or otherwise ‘odd’ people were shoved in cages for ‘us normal people’ to pay money to oggle at. I’m not talking about those times where these poor humans were abused and exploited.

I’m talking about the sort of carnival or travelling circus which is made up of the people society has shunned. The people we didn’t want around us. The people we didn’t want to look at. Simply because they looked different. The people who found each other and banded together, to come back into our society to entertain us.

What I’m talking about is the beauty to be found in an amazing array of humans of varied appearances, with unique abilities or skills. A carnival on their terms, not the terms of some money-hungry sadist.

There are a few works of fiction I would like to mention here, to highlight what I mean and explain where this fascination came from. Hopefully to also explain how it relates to the set of images. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations!

When I was in school, one of the first novels we read as a class was a book called Cirque Du Freak, by Darren Shan. Cirque Du Freak is the first book in a series of 12, written for children (obviously). It’s about a boy who becomes a vampire’s assistant as a trade for an antidote to save his best friend who was bitten by the poisonous spider he stole from the vampire at the freak show *breathe*. Sounds great, right? The point is, this is book was probably the start of a lifelong addiction to horror and the macabre. This is where it all started, thanks to Mr Carter (my English teacher at the time!)

The thing I loved most about the book was the people in the Cirque Du Freak, the people with amazing abilities and very unique looks. The ones that stick out in my mind the most are: Mr Tall (the owner, who was… well, very tall), Evra Von (snake boy, covered in scales), Rhemus Twobellies (an overweight man who can eat anything), Truska (a lady who can grow and ‘un-grow’ a beard), Cormac Limbs (who can cut off any body part and have it grow back) and so many more magical and interesting characters.

The premise of the book is that these people have been gathered together, saved from persecution by Mr Tall. He gives them all a safe place to be, away from the society that had hurt them. Suddenly, this notion of a ‘freak show’ doesn’t seem so bad. These people have found a home, a place where they fit in. A place where they can be truly themselves without reservation. Isn’t that what we all want?

“The con men put these poor people – who were no different to you or me, except in looks – on display and called them freaks. They charged the public to stare at them, and invited them to laugh and tease. They treated the so-called ‘freaks’ like animals.”

Darren Shan, Cirque Du Freak

So, last year when I was watching through the TV series American Horror Story, I got very excited to find out that season 4 was called: American Horror Story: Freak Show. I knew I’d love it before I’d even watched the first episode.

In this, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, there is a character called Elsa Mars who collects, what she calls her ‘monsters’. She doesn’t mean this in a derogatory way, it’s set in the 50s when things weren’t as politically correct as they are now. Elsa loves the people who travel in the carnival with her. She protects them from the hostile outside world, makes sure that everything within the show runs smoothly, they all have food, shelter and companionship. She gives them all a place of sanctuary in which they can feel safe and not have to hide who they truly are. Unconditional acceptance. Beautiful.

From a girl with two heads, to a guy with ‘lobster claws’ for hands. Everyone found a place, safe from the scrutiny and judgement of the outside world.

“No matinees. No, people don’t come to see freaks in the heat of the day, they come in the evening, when the darkness moves in and speaks of mystery, the unknown. When logic loosens its vice grip and the imagination comes out to play. Night allows the stars to shine and we come alive. No, daytime is for kiddie shows, clowns and Kewpie dolls. Maybe that’s what you’re used to, but you’re in a real freak show now, my freak show.”

Elsa Mars, American Horror Story: Freak Show.

Keep in mind, that these two things are simply works of fiction that I enjoyed. I think it goes beyond a fascination with the bizarre and more towards an appreciation of the differences between us all, the amazing things human beings can accomplish and the amount of love that can be found to counteract the darkness in the world (if you know where to look). I’m nearly done, I promise.

At the time of the shoot, I was half way through an amazing book called Carnival of Shadows, by R. J. Ellory. I’d like to quickly mention how this book came into my life, at risk of making this post wayyy longer than it needed to be! It’s my birthday on the 31st July (you get extra nerd points if you know which fictional character I share my birthday with!) and i’ll be 25 (I know, right. I don’t look a day over 20!).

One of my presents, I’ve already had (because it was a subscription to a monthly box) was called ‘a book and a brew‘. Thank you Matthew! Every month, you get sent a hardback book and a speciality tea through the post! Brilliant idea if you ask me! Anyway, this was one of my presents, and I was allowed to have it early (lucky for me, they ship in the middle of the month!). Obviously I began to read it as soon as I’d finished the book I was reading when it came, and it is this that was on my mind when I turned up for my shoot with Michael Szabo on the 24th July 2016.

In Carnival of Shadows, set in the late 1950s, an FBI agent in America is sent to investigate an apparent murder on the site of a touring carnival. In this carnival, apart form a dwarf who can read minds, a magician with seven fingers on each hand and a set of quintuplets, most of the carnival members didn’t look so different, unlike the previous works I’ve talked about. This made it no less fascinating to me as there was a hint of supernatural magic surrounding the carnival folk and they were still ostracised by society. This carnival was more of the weird and wonderful, optical illusion, fortune telling, popcorn, candy floss, fair ground rides carnival. Like the images you will see shortly. There was still that sense of community away from society with these people. They weren’t accepted by society and all had rather sad back stories until they found and joined the carnival. This is what interested me. Anyway, onto some pictures, yes?

“The sounds and smells of the carnival came up to meet him as Travis parked his car and started down the edges of the field. He had seen the lights and heard the calliope music within a quarter of a mile of the place, and along the edges of the road it seemed that all of Seneca Falls and a half a dozen towns beyond had made plans to be there.”

R. J. Ellory, Carnival of Shadows.

The day of the shoot! The shoot took place in a building that was a nursing home before it was abandoned.

Before the shoot, Michael asked me if I would like him to bring certain items, which included a mask. It was a black bunny mask. Anyone who’s worked with me or has seen my work, knows I love those weird shots. Of course, I said, ‘hell yes, bring it!’Another message asking me if I thought balloons might be a good idea for a separate shot. Again, I said yes. It’s always great to have lots of stuff to play around with, and you never know what’s going to work. So I packed my modelling case full of clothes, and we drove to Standon.

When we got there, we decided to start with the mask. I was rooting through my case to find some clothing that would go with it. Then, inspiration struck me… I just had to convince Michael that it would work!

I’d laid eyes on my bridesmaids dress from when my sister got married. This dress has featured in my modelling work a lot. It’s an amazing dress, burgundy with two long straps that you can wrap around the top half of the body in any way you like to create a different look every time.

Party dress, bunny mask, balloons, abandoned location. I could be a crazy carnival girl, anonymous, ghost, haunting. I explained to Michael that I think this will work and explained where my inspiration had come from. He said we should give it a go. I’m so glad we did because these images are up there in my favourite ever!

Finally, some pictures! I’m normally a strict  “save the best ’till last” kinda girl, but this is too good to save. So I’ll show you my favourite image from the set first, and end up with my second favourite! Here it is: creepy, macabre, crazy, carnival girl in her derelict dwelling. I love everything about this. The pose I was pulling, the general colour and tone of the whole image, the darkness of it all. the way the light is hitting the dress and my skin. Then topped off with the smoke all around. Michael Szabo really nailed it on this one 😉


But what’s a crazy carnival girl, without her minions of death? “Come to me, my pretties and let’s dance with death!” (I apologise, I’m trying so hard to not be weird, but it just doesn’t work! I don’t even know what I’m saying any more…)


Just look at the room. Even the peeling, mouldy wallpaper worked for the theme! It also remains rather timeless too.


This image reminds me of someone at the end of the night, who is the last one left. “Who’s going to walk me home?”


A close-up!! Well, closer than the others anyway. I love the tone of the colours on this one.


For me, there’s something about the hands on the face of this next image. Is it innocence or confusion? “Who am I? Am I real? Where am I? What year is this?”


There’s so much going on in this image. An apparition, cut throat, blood stains, mythical smoke, debris. I love it so much.


And finally, my second favourite of the carnival set… Just a fantastic image, the colours, the definition, the way the light is hitting my body and the chair, the pose… Just wow! I love it!


So, the post is not over yet. We have another one of Misuzu’s crazy ideas… I tend to get a little carried away sometimes, especially working with someone else who’s very creative. I had a weird idea of holding the balloons and mimicking giving them to someone. Then it would look like a sort of crazy Alice in Wonderland sort of thing.

As Michael rightly pointed out, it would be hard for someone looking at the image to understand what was going on. It wasn’t until later, when I was in a different outfit, I pointed out that we had sort of missed a trick. If I’d have thought of it, we could have set up a tripod and done a composite. However, all was not lost. When you’re shooting with someone who is awesome in PhotoShop, there are always options. And sometimes, they come out even better than you’d expected! I’m not sure how Michael pulled this one off, but he managed to get carnival Misuzu to give ghostly space girl Misuzu a balloon. I was blown away when I saw this one! It was 100% more awesome than what I had in my head!


For a little bit of context, this is what I mean when I say space girl Misuzu. I’m not sure why, but I just felt like some sexy alien from another planet or someone from the future.


And of course, the crows came back for a little while to play with the girl from another time and place.


Thank you so much for taking the time to read through this. If you made it all the way through until the end, then I salute you! I’d love to hear what your thoughts are! Feel free to comment!

Special thanks to Michael Szabo for all of his amazing work editing these fantastic images. And of course for all the technical stuff I don’t really understand that happens on the shoot as well. F-stops or whatever. You were fantastic to work with and I can’t tell you how happy I am with these pictures!

One last image before I finally shut up! I just thought this was too good not to share! Peace, everyone!


5 thoughts on “Carnival of Shadows

  1. An excellent and erudite commentary Tonia, nice to see your education is paying dividends!

    I enjoyed your analysis and understand your motivation, I think others will too.

    Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thankyou for all the kind words Tonia , im so happy you love the pictures as much as i do . i told you before the shoot , i knew i could not palm u off with rubbish with you being an experienced model and done so many different shoots , i knew i had to be on my game [ so to speak ] on the day of the shoot as we were deciding what you should wear with the mask , and u told me about your dress and the book you were reading and the crazy carnival girl , i thought yeh this could work , so i didnt take much convincing . We worked well on the day together [ teamwork ] and i think it shows in the final images ………. ps untill the next time duk.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection – Gautama Buddha | Misuzu

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