Archive for September, 2013

Chloe posted this blog yesterday. You may have seen it.

I’ll paraphrase myself from her blog to explain this. I played Vampire: the Masquerade at university and decided to play a character I’d created from an earlier game, a Malkavian called Summer. In life she was introverted, socially detached, curious in a child-like way, until she was kidnapped and killed by a Malkavian vampire. The ‘Malkavian’ clan are delegated thus for, in short, being insane. This vampire in question made a practice of inscribing this name onto the skin of his creations, but unlike most ‘sires’, he then abandoned Summer. She was found and taken in by another group of vampires, and one among their number was able to remove the scars from her arm. But she later became terrified that her unknown sire would discover this betrayal, and she inscribed the letters back into her arm.

While at university I also did myself a bit of drawing, and decided to draw the above scene, which I was planning for the game. Let me stop here to add, for anyone who has never played Vampire: The Masquerade before, that this is fairly light stuff for the World of Darkness series. I wasn’t trying to be edgy at this stage.

I liked the image in my head, but my drawing did it no justice. So a year or so later, after a few months of frolicking in front of Chloe’s camera, I shyly put forward the idea of creating the image as a photograph, then even more shyly showed her my drawing. Chloe is also a V:TM player, and she was very excited by the idea.

We had some chats on how to best portray the character outside of a game, roped in Hannah Lonergan for her outstanding blood effects and drove over to the abandoned nightclub. The rest of the shoot you can read about in Chloe’s blog.

A few months later Chloe sent me the final image before posting it anywhere to ask what I thought. That alone should have been a warning, because Chloe typically likes to keep things as surprises. I opened the picture on my phone and genuinely stared at it for a good few minutes. Normally I do this anyway in a “How amazing does Chloe make me look” sort of way. This time it was more, “…oh. Wow. That’s frightening.” I really wasn’t sure if I wanted it to go online. Without context (and of course I knew the context better than anyone) it seemed very stark and real. In a strange way, it made me see the character very differently. She was fun to play, cute and funny and a bit sad. But seeing it, even in my own face, was something else.

So I sat down with Chloe to discuss the image and whether we wanted to put it online.

My concerns were twofold. First up was that I know absolutely nothing about, and have no experience whatsoever with, the utterly massive world of self-harm. I’m very lucky. And the last thing I wanted was to either upset someone who was unfortunate enough to have experience, or make light of the concept in any way. My second concern was more selfish – despite breaking a few barriers with more dark and unusual shoots, everyone around me is also aware that I know nothing and have no experience in this world. Putting my face on it felt strange and self-conscious in a way that showing bare skin on camera had never done before.

But we are artists, and artists break genres and show skin and do things that scare them. We put the image online.

I asked for permission to publish a few comments from friends:

“Having known you for years, that final image is just… hard to look at? I don’t know. Amazing make up work, but, dammed. Your face to that image kind of shook me up.” 

“Damn….” 

It was this particular comment which made me realise something I had never been aware of about Summer before, not when playing her, nor when modelling her:

“That’s quite a troubling image that, rightly, or wrongly, or perhaps more accurately: fairly, or unfairly, requires a lot of context to understand.”

Chloe replied:

“Quite. We were so carried away and with the concept already clear in our heads, we didn’t actually consider at the time how it would look to other people.”

And I nearly wrote this on the Facebook thread, before I realised I was getting carried away in my own thoughts:

I think we always knew that it would need the context to work. What we didn’t think through was how that stupid cartoon version I drew would translate into real flesh, literally. But actually it doesn’t need vampires and a character situation to work. It’s about a child who was mistreated by someone whom she trusted, someone who should have been there for her, who tried to leave painful memories behind but just wasn’t ready to let go of them. That isn’t fantasy, not really. If anything maybe knowing the context just makes it easier to look at.

I don’t have a point to make with this. I’m just fascinated by how something has gone from a roleplaying character, to a concept shoot, to an image we never intended to create, to an insight on that roleplaying character that I never intended to have. I hope no one is offended by the image, or upset by it, and I hope Chloe and Hannah’s work is appreciated artistically as well as for its shock factor.

As further justification for my insistence that Summer was never meant to represent this, here is a response from my mate Ian, who played John alongside Summer in Vampire: The Masquerade:

“Ah, she was such a fun character…having a fairly good day by the looks of it. It’s only an arm!!!!”

There’s a discussion starting on Chloe’s blog about roleplaying characters and how they are perceived by people around them – jump in!

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