This shoot would not have been possible without every single person involved, most especially Joey Phoenix, who acted not only as Fritz, the Kleptomaniac but also as lighting designer for near. ly five hours. She’s a fellow magic-maker and most of all, a dear and trusted friend that I look to for inspiration constantly. Her partner Kevin also took the time to make props for us, and I’m endlessly grateful.
Special thanks and gratitude to Joey Nicotera of Retonica Event Lighting. The project was brought to absolute life because of Retonica, especially because Joey took the time to program the Emerald Star into his lasers. I’ve had the extreme pleasure of witnessing Joey’s talent before The World Ender photoshoot and could not be more honored to have used his lighting for this project.
And of course, Josh Semedo, who spent a month of planning, drawing, painting, thrifting, and test shooting with me, and encouraging me to stick with this, as I’m infamous for giving up when I have to expend energy from a nearly empty well.
I have endless, fierce affection for everyone who lent themselves to this project. On the heels of a rejection letter from photography and film school, this could not be more a work of conscious love and ambition. Hope against hope, as it were. As I once told a good friend of mine—Anthony Rainville of The Press War, who played Johnnie—“Do it anyway.”
A school looked at my work and said, “Not good enough.”
I did this anyway.
One Month Before the World Ender Comes
I was flying right over the desert valleys in Arizona, stirring in and out of sleep. Between connecting flights, I had been traveling for nearly 10 hours all the way from Boston. Lord Huron’s album Strange Trails woke me up and put me back to sleep periodically. I had the album downloaded and I’d known of the band for a few months, but only listened to them casually. The complexity of the band’s work– the universe of adventure and stories– was lost on me. In the plane, once more before landing, I woke up to the song Meet Me in the Woods, and the feeling I had while listening to it is not one I think we have a word for in the English language. At first, I thought it might be sadness. Thinking back on it now, though, it was more like uncertainty, which I first reacted to with fear, as most people do when faced with anything strange or new. Certainly, this adventure was strange and new, as I’d grown up on the East Coast my entire life. I was never encouraged to travel or experience much outside of what I’d known in the Boston ‘burbs. I watched the sun setting in that orange-purple glow over the dipping valleys, Ben Schneider in both of my ears singing about journies and change and vulnerability, and though that feeling uncertainty remained, fear dissolved into hope.
Josh was able to get his hands on a copy of the Strange Trails comic book, which to my understanding hasn’t been printed in a handful of years, and I’m not even entirely sure how many copies exist total. We were sitting on the couch watching Making a Murderer when the package arrived. My birthday wasn’t for another couple weeks, but Josh asked if he could give me a present early and jumped up to grab the box from the steps. He smirked at me and said, “I’ll be right back, I have to check this,” thus closing himself off in his room. Minutes later, the comic was in my hands, and that was the beginning of everything.
In going through text logs to revisit the planning stages for this shoot, I had to laugh at the message I sent Joey Phoenix when I first proposed the project: “Hey, I know you’re busy, but I have a small project I want to execute and could maybe use you and a small team effort…”
The Day the World Ender Came
The word “small” is the furthest from what any of this was. But on day 1, I didn’t realize how far I was willing– and those I called upon were miraculously willing– to go to honor Strange Trails and Vide Noir to the truest and most authentic form. We did this to the best of our ability within a limited budget and limited equipment. This team, however, was limitless. The shoot ended up taking place over the course of five hours in three different locations. We had to set up and break down lighting equipment, costumes, and props three separate times. Brittany turned to me at one point and said, “How do you know so many people that love you this much and want to help you make this happen?”
That was probably the most profound thing anyone has ever said to me.
I’m not a religious person, but if I did believe in a higher power, then I’d say that power was testing me during this process, especially when Virginia Commonwealth University denied me from their photography and film program five days before this shoot was scheduled to take place. And I almost let my ego get in the way of it. I didn’t even want to look at my camera. In the time it took to read one sentence, I was ready to cancel this whole day and throw away a month’s worth of work.
I came to the realization, though, that I made this shoot way bigger than myself. I have now taken up the time of more than ten people, and a few of those people were working above and beyond what I’d asked of them to help me make this happen.
There are no words for the joy I have now that I’ve followed through with the shoot. Especially since it concluded after I lit the rejection letter on fire in front of my cast.
To read in full about the preparation for this shoot, please follow the link below: