Last Updated on April 2, 2023
Art and Photography students are often drawn towards projects that explore imaginary worlds – longing to produce images inspired by fairy tales, stories and random dreams. In many cases, teachers view these with apprehension – knowing all too well the risks associated with such beginnings. This CIE AS Coursework submission by Melissa Kelsey of ACG Strathallan College was awarded 100% and placed top in New Zealand for AS Level Photography in 2011. Melissa’s project is an excellent example of how a fantasy theme should be approached – a reminder that sometimes the most risky starting points can be the best of all.
Some of Melissa’s sketchbook pages are included in our new book: Outstanding High School Sketchbooks. This book has high-resolution images so that fine details and annotation are clear, making it an excellent resource for students and schools. Learn more!
After beginning the year investigating colour, photographic techniques and compositional devices (such as ‘filling the frame’, looking at Japanese photographer Ken Ohara), Melissa formulated her own theme, inspired by Where the Wild Things Are, Peter Pan (the Lost Boys) and Lord of the Flies. Choosing to focus on a child’s figure in a wild and free environment, Melissa dressed her younger brother in camo-print and animal skins, with smears of vegemite on his face, and set him loose in a visually rich, natural setting.
The key to Melissa’s success, aside from her obvious compositional and technical skill, is her investigation of the theme through quality, real-world subject matter. The biggest danger with a fantasy topic is that a student will revert to using their imagination only: that they will draw from fantasy at the expense of the world around them. Melissa draws solely on elements rooted in reality: a younger brother, forest scenes and antique weapons and tribal headpieces from Tanzania. Despite the magical, fun-filled essence to Melissa’s stunning, ethereal photographs, the scenes that she creates – right from the outset – are built from carefully chosen pieces of the real world.
As the year progresses, Melissa develops her understanding of composition with reference to artist models, such as photographer Arno Rafael who, she notes, ‘juxtaposes bodies and landscapes in surprising ways’. Rafael inspires Melissa to relate aspects of the forest environment to those of the human body (with the integration and echoing / reflection of forms obvious in the sketchbook page below), helping to reinforce the idea that the boy has ‘become ‘at one’ with the environment around him’.
Melissa challenges the boundaries of photography (encouraged by her teacher Mrs Jo Palmer – whose students frequently achieve Top in the Country and Top in the World for Cambridge A Level Photography), studying the paintings of New Zealand artist Elizabeth Rees (a reminder that a student need not always study artists in the same area of specialty as them). Melissa incorporates dripping, inky backgrounds – drips of dye on acetate – which are scanned and digitally integrated with photographic images using Photoshop: frozen moments of motion, assimilated in the one work.
On this page I have captured series of snapshots of the boy in motion to show energy and movement. I have overlapped most photos with dibbles to show them acting as trees to create the environment. The series of silhouettes give the appearance of him showing ownership of the environment, through showing him attacking and running.
From here Melissa investigates more formal compositions, inspired by artist Charmaine Olivia. Silhouettes begin to dominate the works, with elements framed and centrally positioned, showing the intriguing details of the first-hand props that Melissa uses to express the notion that the boy is reverting to a more ancient, primal existence. With a scarce and considered use of colour, Melissa allows the strong contrast of black and white to dominate her portfolio. Even in smaller, exploratory works, she demonstrates a sophisticated handling of form, with positive and negative shapes carefully considered within competent, well-balanced compositions.
Continually working with textured layers (such as the abstract patterns created from forest branches), Melissa’s final phase of development shows the boundary between the human and animal world dissolving. Animals are overlapped with the boy’s face, suggesting that he has ‘conquered and dominated’ the forest environment.
Melissa’s final AS Photography piece, the sepia toned image below, is a striking work that aptly concludes her Coursework project.
Want to see more spectacular student artwork? Please visit our Featured Art Projects.
Amiria has been an Art & Design teacher and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of student work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor.