Saturday, 21 January 2012

Sandalphon

Listen to the angels scream.
Round your body cages rost.
So warm the venom in your veins,
You are there?

Are you ready to dream, my sweet boy?
Are you ready to dream, my sweet child?
Come with me and taste your flesh, boy.
Are you ready to sleep?

Do you wanna have a dream or two?

[ Lullaby - Leandra ]
Sandalphon by *GothicNarcissusDuke Sandalphon is the current Second-in-Command of Cherubim under Great Angel Gabriel’s leadership. His position is rather ambiguous and definitely unique, as he’s neither a Fallen Angel like the Courtiers of Hell, nor is an undercover agent like Prince Absinthion, but has nevertheless a place saved in the Court as a Duke. This is because, due to his nature and story, he sympathizes for Hell and, among the Great Angels, is the farthest from the Grace of God, almost on the verge of his Fall.
Duke Sandalphon was created at the time of the Great Heavenly War along with his twin brother, Great Angel Metatron, the current Chief of Seraphim, as the key to the Tree of Life, God’s new system of power made aptly to prevent further seditions in Heaven or massive attacks from Hell: he divided the immense power of Heaven into ten Sephiroth and sealed them in the eight most powerful Angels who took his side during the Great Heavenly War, plus the two newborn twins, in order to prevent it from being accessible by anyone but himself and his most trusted Angels. Within Duke Sandalphon is sealed Malkuth, the lowest Sephira. Malkuth, the Kingdom, represents the foundation of Heaven’s powers and the basis of the ties that keep the whole Tree of Life together, without whom it would collapse. Moreover, it acts as a shield absorbing the unholy spiritual energy of Hell and the Sublunar World and preventing it from corrupting the lowest Skies.
Despite the key-role of Malkuth and, thus, Duke Sandalphon in maintaining Heaven’s order, the implication of carrying the lowest Sephira within are rather disastrous in practical terms. For instance, differently from the other Great Angels, who can draw from their Sephiroth’s powers to boost their own, Duke Sandalphon has to sustain Malkuth in order for the Tree of Life to function; thus, despite having huge powers, he can access only a part of them and is subsequently assigned to relatively low-grade duties, often regarding the Sublunar World. Among other things, he’s the one in charge of collecting Mankind’s prayers into light orbs and pass them on to the higher Angels, and is often sent off to the Sublunar World to inhabit Mortals’ bodies or to be summoned by them if needed, in a totally similar way to Demonic possession or invocation. To reinforce his ever-waining powers, Duke Sandalphon resolved to start feeding on the Mortal’s nightmares, whose energy is unholy and consequently more compatible with the one Malkuth absorbs from the lower levels of the Universe; in turn, this further hastens his corruption process, making him subtly scorned by fellow Angels and an easy prey for Emperor Lucifer’s flattery. However, he does not openly side with Hell, as his downfall would have severe (albeit unknown) consequences on his twin brother’s very existence: despite the latter barely acknowledging it, Duke Sandalphon harbours indeed a mixture of resentment and deep affection towards his brother, which binds him into not to give in to Hell... yet.

Sandalphon: development and symbolism

Credits:
Photo, concept, styling, make up, frame design: GothicNarcissus
Manipulation: GothicNarcissus and LunarShore
Model, hair: Dirk Alexander
Additional resources: Amptone-Stock (textures), DeviousRose (sparkle texture), Mithos-2000 (wings).
Special thanks to Kira Novak for helping me with the Hebrew lettering.
 
The first thing I want to say about this work is that I want to dedicate it to a very dear friend of mine, Soy Mallika, for her endless support to my Infernal Lords series, for helping me take a clear decision about this particular character and, more generally, for reminding me I have to stand for what I want and is worth to me.

The second is that this has been the most difficult Infernal Lord so far, both in conception and realisation, and it’s been constantly troubled throughout its development.
I will say it straightaway: Sandalphon is by no means listed as Demon by any source. He’s a very important Archngel in both Jewish and Christian traditions and there is basically no instance of him being a Fallen Angel. The only account of him being somewhat of an evil creature is a plot twist in Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary (woops, spoiler!) and that’s it. So, apart from Yuki-Sensei’s work being so influential on mine, why did I decide to include such a potentially controversial character to the bunch despite the fact that I always wanted to stick the most I could to the “official” sources and not to depend on Angel Sanctuary too much? Why did I take even more freedom than I did for Barbelo, which I already considered a risky move, this time?
The answer is very complex and multiple factors contributed to my final decision. The first is most obviously Kaori Yuki’s rendition of the character, which is simply brilliant: childishly cruel, totally manipulative, with a sort of inferiority complex towards his twin brother Metatron, and most certainly a miserable victim of God’s schemes, it’s a creepy character that gets his fair share of attention; I was also fascinated by his nature of “Nightmare Eater”, which was something I wanted to include in some character of project.
A very badass Sandalphon grabbing Sara from Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary
Sandalphon from Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary.
The “official” chartacter I discovered thanks to Kaori Yuki’s was interesting on his own and I particularly loved the fact that he’s openly depicted as having a twin brother, the aforementioned Metatron, even in the kabbalistic sources; this made him somewhat closer to humanity in my eyes, together with the fact that he’s linked to Malkhut, the lowest sephira of the Tree of Life, and carries on many duties in the Material World. He even goes as far as inhabiting (basically possessing) mortals and being summoned in a rather demonic kind of way. So, all in all, he’s an easy character to bring on the verge of his fall.
Moreover, on the one hand Soy Mallika did some further researches for me and found no interesting alternative for a “dream eater” kind of Demon, and on the othershe reminded me that, as I’m not a believer anyways, all of my characters differ from their “official” counterparts, so what’s the point in worrying at all? And since she said she would love to see Sandalphon in a Grimoire or among the Fallen ones, I was glad to fully accept the challenge and give her this “gift”.
Finally, a general plot for a possible Infernal Lords-related novel is starting to take shape, and a character like Sandalphon would be a very useful one, so why not? And there I was, ready to shoot.

Even after I finally overcame doubts and conceptual issues, the story of this Infernal Lord kept being plagued by mishappenings, difficulties and random troubles. First of all, when I accidentally dropped my external hard drive, some of my files got damaged and the PSD with the background for Sandalphon, which I did long before taking the photo, was one of them (actually, the only IL-related file that did not open). I did export the full-resolution jpg image before, but I eventually noticed that the names of the Sephiroth were spelled backwards, so I had to do it all over again, eventually to a much better result. Aftermaths, I found the perfect model in Dirk Alexander: with his blond, flowing hair, he really had something of a badass angel, which was what I was looking for. Unfortunately, it took us many months and several attempts to finally arrange a meeting (coincidentally, quite similarly to Abaddon we first talked about it in July and eventually shot in early December), so the shooting was delayed twice before we actually did it. The shooting itself went quite fine and dandy, after some time for the make up it only took a couple of test-shoots and two or three actual attempts to finally get what I wanted. And then, postproduction started and further problems rose.
I have been very ambitious with this work: the colourful yet abstract background made it rather difficult to effectively blend the model in, the white wings worsened the problem, and the bright Malkhut orb floating among his hands made the lighting quite tricky to achieve. I started the postproduction straightaway while at LunarShore’s house, and this time he did physically help me manipulate the image with his tablet, in particular for the whole light and shadows ordeal (so part of the credits go to him). With the lights set right, I thought most of the work was done, but no, just no, because the blending was painfully difficult. I kept working on the manipulation for the next month and a half and was never totally satisfied. During this time I had to change the wings twice because they looked super-fake, tried different combinations of lights and shadows to blend the model with the background before settling for a slight halo, and changed about a million textures to see what would make the image work as a whole. To no avail, the work still lacked cohesion and depth.
Again, it was LunarShore who saved me by suggesting that, rather than a neutral texture, I added something either hazy or sparkly. I found a texture that worked in both ways, and finally, after ages, the image started working, I got what I wanted and was kind of satisfied with the result. Seriously, I do think DeviousRose’s Ice Galaxy texture is what saved the whole work – which, by the way, is a monstrous 410 MB PSD file which kills my computer every time I try to open it, compared to the average 110-or-so MB of the other works. And gosh, only Legion took me longer from the shooting to the publication, and only because I had to gather more faces for the spirits.

So, now that I’m finally done (and have ranted about how difficult it was to complete it), let’s talk about the symbolism. As in the continuity of my project Sandalphon’s position is unique, this work is in many aspects an “odd one out” in the project. First of all, a particular emphasis is put on the background (which doesn’t show that much in the final work, but you can see it by clicking on the preview on the right), in which I built the scheme of the Tree of Life except for the lowest Sephira. Indeed, even though I got inspiration for the pose from the idea of Sandalphon collecting the prayers into orbs of light, what he’s holding in the image is actually a physical manifestation of Malkhut, which is how it is in the picture. I was really glad to use Hebrew characters (which simply spell the names of the Sephiroth) as I particularly like them and find them mysterious and elegant (yes, I know that sounds stupid), and had fun with the whole copy-paste process, which proved to be a bit difficult because Photoshop screwed the right-to-left direction and I had to manually compose the words.
Of course, much like Absinthion, Sandalphon has pure-white wings and lacks a Seal, as he’s not a Fallen Angel yet (he’s not even an undercover agent, he’s just… confused, if you will).
Also, this work is unique because, despite its theme colour being fandango, the background itself had two dominant colours and the work as a whole tends more to a bluish hue which, in turn, gives it a more heavenly feeling. Anything but heavenly is the theme song, Lullaby by Leandra, which is more connected to the ambiguous, dream-eating nature of the character.
On a side note, I mentioned a more concrete possibility of a written work inspired by this project. Although I sort of have a long-term plot and I’ve even tried to write down a prologue and a chapter, I can’t really say I’m moving in that direction yet. The details of the plot are still unclear, so it’s something I’m saving for the future. Perhaps after the graphical project is done. Oh, and by the way, this is the twentieth entry out of thirty, so two thirds of the Infernal Lords project are officially done! While waiting for the next work, enjoy a couple of test shoots that turned out particularly nice.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

In The Shadow Of Mother Nature II

In The Shadow Of Mother Nature II by GothicNarcissusIn my dreams I see the life She brings to me,
But I forget Her in the morning.
And I don’t need Her holy blessings to be free,
And I can stand it when She’s talking, talking back to me.

In the shadow of Mother Nature
We find it hard to live our lives,
But we never chose the life She gave us
And we don’t need Her to survive.

It’s no wonder we grow strong while You grow weak,
And that’s exactly how You made us.
And all your violence makes it harder to believe,
And every death just leaves us faithless, faithless in defeat.

In the shadow of Mother Nature
We find it hard to live our lives,
But we never chose the life She gave us
And we don’t need Her to survive.

[ Mother Nature – Hurts ]

Briar Rose and I have different ways of working - which, I guess, is the reason why we do amazing things when we work together: while I am a careful planner and a control freak, she’s much more istinct-driven, very Lilith style. This is just how I can put it easy, as we tend to work in both ways although with a different approach, but we can say that I generally plan my photos while she generally cherishes the inspiration of the moment.
This photo was born with no title. Briar Rose has a huge fascination with shadow plays on the models’ faces and did this experiment with me: it turned out to be, like, the best portrait of me ever shot my anyone. It’s easily one of my favourite photos in my own gallery, and as Mother Nature is one of my favourite Hurts songs and the shadow of the flowers reminded me of its lyrics, I immediately opted for this title despite having already used it. To be honest, the true In The Shadow Of Mother Nature is this one, but as I had already printed the other in the photobook I gave to the band, I thought it was too late to change my mind.

It’s interesting to note that, although both photos are inspired by the song, none of them bear its actual title. The reason is I feel they represent only one of the aspects of the song, not the whole. I’m still waiting to catch its real essence, and although I sometimes feel very close, I can’t yet. I feel something taking form when I listen to it, but it’s still blurry, vague, undefined. Perhaps it’s not the time for the song to disclose its innermost secret to me yet.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Totally blending the lines

Quiet Spite by *GothicNarcissusSwitch to another dream, to a quiet spite.
Think back at some time when there was a fading touch.
Colour me white and paint the vistas grey.
Everyday there’s an electric ray of all too many shimmer-lights.

And I can see another time,
Another face, forgotten days.
And I can see another time,
Another face, forgotten days.

[ Astray - Theatre of Tragedy ]

Blending the lines, bending the rules, sabotaging commonplaces and clichés, experimenting brand new solutions, exploring different aesthetics, reinventing ourselves and our work: this is what this photoshoot of me modelling for Briar Rose is all about. After taking a step further in my exploration path as a photographer, I could not miss to do so as a model too, in particular given the chance to work with such a gifted photographer as Briar Rose.
The general idea for this photoshoot was born when I told her I wanted a different, more masculine look, with a much more sober make up and even beard. And, in particular, that I wanted to be more expressive than I have been in the last few years. Even though I initially thought of something more runway-ish, she seized the opportunity to shake me totally out of my polished Dandy character to turn me into a wild indie Mother Nature’s child, totally reinventing my look: shapeless jumper and huge woolen scarf combined with my black skinny jeans and shoes, wild hair, natural make up and there I was, a totally different version of myself directly out of Indie magazine.
That we’d blend the lines and bend the rules was something that showed from the very beginning, when we managed to pack a Canon and a Nikon camera in the same bag and ended up using both. For once, I gave up any directing pretence and just let Briar Rose shoot and direct me without interfering, totally relying on her. The set we chose was as harsh as my look, a small meadow with dry grass and brambles with a very sharp light that enhatched the general effect.
One notable thing is that the further we went with shooting, the more daring we got, so Briar Rose suggested that I tried to pose bare-chested and I agreed despite my general unease in doing so (she is the only one that succeded in getting me topless so far, and this is the second instance), another challenge I was willing to accept. And this is how this unusual (for me) photoshoot was born. I am very satisfied with the result, as it shows a totally different side of me. As Briar Rose said, though, I was not really “myself” yet, as I was showing a different character, an “IndieNarcissus” I stepped in the shoes of just for the photoshoot, but given my general lack of genuineness when I pose, it was a nice outcome anyways. Besides, I really liked the experiment and I really want to try again someday. Meanwhile, enjoy the photos (which I will be adding in the next days as I publish them on deviantART):
Dying In Your Heart by *GothicNarcissusUnbroken, Unchained by *GothicNarcissus
Song Of The Dispossessed by *GothicNarcissus
A Moment In Time by *GothicNarcissusShaman by *GothicNarcissus

Monday, 2 January 2012

The Infernal Lords XIX: Kobal

‘Tis the Divine Tragedy -
The fool and the mocking court;
Fool, kneel now, and ring thy bells!
Make us guffaw at thy futile follies.
We hold the Earth fro Heaven away.

Shadow of annoyance - ne’er hither!
...And when He falleth, He falleth like Lucifer,
Ne’er to ascend again.

[ And When He Falleth – Theatre of Tragedy ]
Kobal by *GothicNarcissusCount Kobal is a Higher Demon who was formerly a powerful Cherub. Well known for his entertaining wit, creative expressivity and huge talent in pretending and lying, when he decided to join Emperor Lucifer in the Great Heavenly War he was assigned the task to distract Yahweh and his most loyal Angels for as long as he could, along with Countess Jezebeth, while His Majesty and his newly acquired generals organised the sedition. After the Fall, he quickly made it to the Second Level thanks to his successful deed, of which he was so proud that he made an art out of his skills; he is now the Demon of Tragedy and Comedy and one of the three Demons of Art. He was the one who taught men to pretend for artistic and recreational purposes, thus actually introducing acting as a craft in the Sublunar World; now, as a Goetic Demon, he can be summoned by Mortals who want to be granted creativity and skills in writing plays and acting, serving as a human’s muse in exchange for their soul. He is quite fond of creative Mortals and when he finds a particularly interesting and talented one, he often decides to work unbeknownst and unsummoned, providing his protégé with inspiration and passion. This is not necessarily a good thing for said Mortals, as the brighter they shine thanks to Count Kobal’s powers, the quicker their life burns out, often ending up in misery despite producing incredible works of art. Out of the Three Demons of Art, Count Kobal is the one who acts independently from the Goetic Deals the most.
As part of His Majesty’s Entourage, he’s appointed the Director of the Infernal Theatre, often working closely with the Demon of Music, Count Murmur, and the Demon of Figurative Arts, Count Naberius, in entertaining the Court. A close associate of Duke ??????’s, whom he can almost rival in wit and dark humor, his company is treasured by the most refined Demons, such as Duke Astaroth and Marquis Adramelech, who greatly enjoy his subtle sarcasm, brilliant intelligence and entertaining talk.

Kobal: development and symbolism

Credits:
Photo, concept, manipulation, styling, frame design: GothicNarcissus
Model, hair: Alessio La Bella
Make up: BriarRose
Additional resources: Amptone-stock (texture), Sxc.hu (curtain, wings)

When researching Demons, it’s quite easy to bump into Kobal. He’s often cited as the Demon of dark humor. He’s described as witty and playful while, according to some other sources, he’s generally the Demon of acting, mostly comical but also tragic, and can be summoned by people who wish to become skilful at acting or writing plays.
As it is generally difficult to find such a well defined Demon, with both information about his personality and what he does, I immediately decided he was going to be included in the project; he even had a very charming name, something kind of rare for the Demons get interested in. It was an easy concept to work on, too, as his activity is quite easy to render graphically: the idea of his holding a mask in front of a theatre curtain was developed quite early and remained pretty much the same until the finished work. Also, I wanted him to have rather fancy clothes to fit the theatrical theme and, while looking for a model, I gathered what I needed: the sumptuous black shirt with a big jabot and a highly decorated tricorn hat.
For the record, I also considered the idea of him holding two roses, a dead and a fresh one, like in the early Theatre of Tragedy album covers, but I eventually scrapped it because it would have been too unclear for those unfamiliar with the band (if there were any among watchers, considering how much I talk about them).
An early concept sketch of Kobal with the Theatre of Tragedy roses.
As for the model, I initially thought of someone who acted in a theatre. I found a suitable model who lived in Trieste but he just didn’t make himself available for like a whole year, so I dismissed him and looked for someone else. I’ve already described how I met Alessio and how I found him naturally expressive when posing: this is what made me cast him, as I thought a spontaneous expressivity was more in character with Kobal, whose wit is a natural skill.
The strangest thing about this work is that I shot it right after Jezebeth: all my previous attempts to do more than a single Infernal Lord at a time were foiled by some random circumstance, to the point I started joking about some curse placed upon my work. Well, apparently the curse has worn off, so let’s just see what comes next.
I have to admit the choice of the colour was influenced by the assonance of Kobal’s name with cobalt, but as I had enough blue-themed Demons, I switched to teal instead as it suited the decorations of the mask I originally intended to use (which was changed at the last minute because it did not look as good as I thought in the photo). The theme-song, And When He Falleth by Theatre of Tragedy, is just so Kobal. Also, the Seal is another last-minute addition: I had it ready for use, but totally forgot to add it because there’s so little skin that shows. As Kobal lacks one of its own, I chose that of Bathim because it resembles a mask… although it almost doesn’t show at all.