Monday, 30 July 2012

Agares: development and symbolism

Credits:
Photo, concept, manipulation, frame design: GothicNarcissus
Model, hair, make up: ContessaNera
Styling: ContessaNera and GothicNarcissus
Assistant: Fabrizio Shake
Additional resources: Amptone-stock (texture), Solarka-Stock (wings)

Ever wondered why the first things people learn of a new language are swear words? Well, the answer is simple: because Agares, the Demon of Languages, loves teaching profanity! I swear, as soon as I read that part of Agares’ biography, suddenly the whole world of language studies made sense to me!
Now, jokes aside, Agares is a really important Demon to me and I wanted to do him since the beginning of the project. In “real life” I am a language student, so this is sort of a “patron Demon” of mine. Besides, he’s a very important and well defined figure in Christian demonology, being listed as a Duke or even as a King according to many sources; The Lesser Key of Solomon even states to which Choir he belonged before the fall, Virtues, which is quite rare. So the reasons to include him were many and very important.
Agares from the Dictionnaire Infernal.
Nevertheless, once I started developing the idea it appeared clear that I had to take a good steps aside from his popular depiction, not only because of his unfitting portrayal as an old man and the difficulties to include a crocodile in the picture, but mainly because of the model I chose. Although I had tried to enlist her as Jezebeth before, I decided that the part belonged rightfully to my dear friend Veronica Morphine because she’s a fellow language student and attends the same faculty as me, Interpreters and Translators (albeit in another city, unfortunately for us but very luckily for our university careers). Who better than her for that? Thus, Agares became a woman and I decided to rank her as a Countess to tribute Veronica’s nickname, ContessaNera (which means Black Countess). Once Veronica confirmed she was interested in the project, though, we had to wait forever for the actual shooting. Either one of us was always busy with some other stuff and for a reason or another we didn’t make it until last month. Which turned out to be a true blessing in disguise, because I would have probably never had the idea of a pin-up-looking Demon before.
The truth is: developing the visual rendition for Agares has proven an extremely difficult challenge. Languages are a totally abstract concept, so how to put it into graphics? “Dictionaries!”, said Veronica, but although it was a really funny joke… well, just no. So, there I was with no idea whatsoever about what to do, and I decided to focus on a strong visual impact on which to build a deeper concept later on. I knew the pin-up look, combined with a fitting pose and Veronica’s beautiful features and bright red hair, would have helped, so first we styled the photo and opted for the dress you see, which recalls the Fifties for a change. The next challenge was to come up with a visual element that hinted to languages and literature: the best idea we could come up with was parchments, and so we did. However, having already had experience with Mephistophel that actual writings on paper don’t stand out in a photo like this, there had to be something else to reinforce the concept.
Shame on me, the final idea didn’t cross my mind until after the shooting and my collateral modelling session for Veronica; so yeah, basically I shot in the dark and when our meeting was over, all I had in hand was a nice photo with a beautiful pose and a hint to literature given by the parchments. Then, when I was on the train listening to Delain (and after a good nap), the idea struck: a background with one sentence repeated over and over in all the languages I could find. Whoa, that was perfect! I wrote down the sentence on my mobile phone not to forget it, then arrived back home and started asking all my foreign friends for help. Indeed, the work became some sort of group effort for which I have to thank a huge lot of people.
The sentence I chose to include reads, “Knowledge is power, communication is freedom; beware of ignorance’s blessing”. It’s a hint not only to the backstory I wrote for Agares, but also to the fact that what the Church has tried to do since it has become an organised political power is spreading ignorance in the name of God – its “version” of knowledge, with strong resistance to anything that could update it – as though it were a blessing. If you have a close look at The Lesser Key of Solomon you will see that any kind of potentially subversive knowledge has been made into a Demon: mathematics, astronomy, music, art, comedy, and also languages. This is because it is easier to exercise a supposedly divine (actually political and economical) power over people who lack enough knowledge to develop critical thinking and question the the divineness (and thus the righteousness) of said power.
On a side note, the languages I’ve managed to gather are, top to bottom: Hebrew, English, Russian, Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Belarusian, Japanese, Arabian, Spanish, Hindi, Swedish, Romanian, Catalan, Dutch, Chinese, Ukrainian, Galician, Finnish, Danish, Bulgarian, Portuguese, Icelandic, Slovak, Polish, Breton, Urdu, Croatian, Georgian, Albanian, Korean, Latvian, Hungarian and Armenian, with the Icelandic text turned into runes at the bottom because it looked cool. The order is quite random (I added them as soon as I got new ones).
The main colour is red because it’s Veronica’s favourite ever. The choice of the song is really recent; it’s been extremely difficult to find one about languages, but finally Delain released Babylon and saved the day with a perfectly fitting song.

Special thanks for helping me with the languages go to: Shachar Shed (who really found a lot of them, including the most exotic ones), DamaInNero, Josefine Jönsson, Hein Frode Hansen and Vegard K. Thorsen of Theatre of Tragedy, Ayl Rose, Kira, Ilman Lintu, Ruira, Lili, Mael, Andrea, Eilyn, Kristine, Ördög, all those I’m forgetting right now (sure as hell there must be someone) and all the people they turned to for help. Without all of you this work would have not been possible, so I wish to dedicate it especially to you: this is a proof that people of different language and culture can achieve a lot whenever they unite.

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