Photography transcript 9 — Interview with Ann Dahlgren — A Fairy’s Child

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This is an audio tran­scrip­tion — Spelling, punc­tu­a­tion and gram­mer may not be per­fect
Marko Kulik:                         Hi there every­one and wel­come to the Pho­tog­ra­phy Pod­cast on  My name is Marko.  We are com­ing to you from Mon­treal, Que­bec, Canada.  Today is Jan­u­ary 18, 2007.  For today’s show, we are lucky enough to be doing an inter­view with Ann Dahlgren.  Ann Dahlgren along with her hus­band, Dou­glas Foulke, put together this fan­tas­tic book called A Fairy’s Child.  I was lucky enough to come across this book a few years back in New York.  I love the­atri­cal pho­tog­ra­phy and I love mytho­log­i­cal por­traits and pho­tographs, so this is going to be a really, really fun inter­view espe­cially for me and I hope for you, too.  Rather than just talk about it, let us get into it now.
So, I would very much like to wel­come, Ann Dahlgren today.  Ann Dahlgren is a fine art pho­tog­ra­pher and author of the book A Fairy’s Child that she did with her hus­band, Dou­glas Foulke, who is also a fine art photographer.  He is hang­ing around closely and maybe will be able to hear from him dur­ing this inter­view, but we def­i­nitely love to get a feel for this book called A Fairy’s Child, which is just a won­der­ful, won­der­ful piece of what I might call the­atri­cal photography.  Hi there, Ann.  Can you tell us a lit­tle bit about your book?
Ann Dahlgren:                      Hi, Marko.  Well, as you said, the book is called A Fairy’s Child.  It is an explo­ration of fairies and some pretty fan­tas­tic environment.  Basi­cally, the book started as just an idea for Doug and I to do a fun pho­to­graph of a fairy.
Marko Kulik:                         Then how did it evolve into a full-on book?
Ann Dahlgren:                      The idea actu­ally started on a com­mer­cial shoot that we were on in Florida and this art direc­tor we were work­ing with started telling us about this island off the coast of Maine where peo­ple build lit­tle fairy houses.  We thought, “Well, that’s pretty cool.“  We have never heard of any­thing like that before and so, we just started brain­storm­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity of actu­ally mak­ing a pho­to­graph of a fairy that looked real, but yet was mys­te­ri­ous and ethe­real and all the things that we love about pho­to­graph.  Basi­cally, it started out with us pro­duc­ing one pho­to­graph and from there it just kind of led to another, which led to another, which led to another. At some point I guess after we had maybe 20 or 30 fin­ished prints, we thought, “Well, maybe we can make this into a book.“  So, that is how it started.
Marko Kulik:                         How long did it take to pho­to­graph all the pho­tographs?
Ann Dahlgren:                      We basi­cally did it on our free time, in between what we do commercially.  So, we worked on it I think over a period of four to maybe five years.
Marko Kulik:                         Four to five years.  Okay.  Where did you find the children?  Were they local chil­dren, were they rel­a­tives, were they actors?
Ann Dahlgren:                      They were everything.  Basi­cally, 90% of our com­mer­cial work is on loca­tion, so every time that we were some place and we came across some really inter­est­ing loca­tion, we would then plan to either go back or else stay after our com­mer­cial shoot to actu­ally do the pho­to­graph for the book.  So, some­times we would do a cast­ing locally to find some mod­els, other times they were friends of friends or fam­ily members.  It kind of was what­ever, wher­ever we could find some­body that fit our idea of our lit­tle fairy.
Marko Kulik:                         For those lis­ten­ers that have not found this book yet, I am going to be putting some links to Ann and Doug’s site, so hope­fully you might be able to find it through there and see extra pic­tures, but I just wanted to tell peo­ple that I was actu­ally blown away when I found this book, wan­der­ing through SoHo about two years ago.  I per­son­ally love the­atri­cal photography.  I love mytho­log­i­cal images.  I love fairies and it was just an absolute treat to find this book in a lit­tle bookstore.  So, if there are still books avail­able, I highly rec­om­mend search­ing for them and get­ting your hands on them.  I will put one or two on our site just so you could see what we are talk­ing about and then you can check out Ann and Doug’s site after that.  I would like to ask you, Ann.  What is your per­sonal con­nec­tion to fairies?  Is it a sub­ject mat­ter that has inter­ested you all along?  Is it a rel­a­tively new thing?
Ann Dahlgren:                      No.  I am not the type of per­son who has pro­fessed to have seen fairies in real life or any­thing like that although we have found that there are peo­ple like that out there.  We have got­ten quite inter­est­ing e-mails from peo­ple that have dis­cov­ered our book and we have found that there is a whole world out there, fairy lovers.  No.  It just sounded like a chal­leng­ing and fun sub­ject mat­ter to try to cre­ate these photographs.  So, I would not say that I have any par­tic­u­lar con­nec­tion with fairies.
Marko Kulik:                         Okay.  Okay.  Well, it is too bad.  I am sure a few peo­ple would have loved to hear the oppo­site, but…
Ann Dahlgren:                      I know.  I know.
Marko Kulik:                         It is all good.  I have no per­sonal con­nec­tion to them myself.  I just love the way they look from my childhood.  So, I am just curi­ous, do you both pho­to­graph at the same time?
Ann Dahlgren:                      Well, sometimes.  Usu­ally what we will do is when we are pro­duc­ing a shoot, I would work a lot on the cos­tume, the make-up, get­ting the kids out­fit­ted, then their ears and their wings and all that entailed.  We would talk about dif­fer­ent cam­eras and films that we are going to be using and usu­ally Doug would start shoot­ing and then I would shoot some.  A lot of times, we would have sev­eral dif­fer­ent cam­eras with dif­fer­ent films loaded, so he could pick up one and I could pick up another and we could direct the child in what­ever way we felt was the right way to go.
Marko Kulik:                         So, it is totally a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort then.  You guys just work on all these projects absolutely together.
Ann Dahlgren:                      Yes.
Marko Kulik:                         Excellent.  Excellent.  So, I would like to always ask, what was your first camera?  How did you get into pho­tog­ra­phy?
Ann Dahlgren:                      Well, for myself, it started back in camp.  So, I was prob­a­bly 10 and we had a lit­tle dark­room at the camp that I went to and that was where I took my first pho­to­graph and processed and printed my first print.  I know for Doug, it started with him at prep school.  His story is, he was told that he should take pho­tog­ra­phy because he could smoke in the darkroom.  That is where it started with him.
Marko Kulik:                         Is he still smok­ing in the dark room?
Ann Dahlgren:                      I do not think so.
Marko Kulik:                         Well, good, good, good.  Very nice.  Very nice.  For the tech kids out there, they are going to won­der how these pho­tographs were created.  The first thing that will prob­a­bly come to mind for a lot of peo­ple is going to be Pho­to­shop, but I am not con­vinced that is the case.  Can you give us a lit­tle insight into how these pho­tographs were cre­ated?
Ann Dahlgren:                      Sure.  All of them were cre­ated using tra­di­tional black and white film.  Most of the times, we would shoot with T-Max 100 or 400 and Kodak infrared film.  We were lucky enough to have put a dark­room into our house, so we would come home after the shoot and process and make prints of what we had just shot and then work from there.  So, pretty much 98% of what you will see in the pho­to­graph was actu­ally there.  We had a spe­cial effects make-up artist make some pros­thetic ears for us.  We had a cos­tume designer who make us a set of wings and then from there, we basi­cally started mak­ing our own cos­tumes, our own wings and things like that, but over time of trav­el­ing with these things and tak­ing the ears on and off, all these kids, they started to dis­in­te­grate and we even­tu­ally had to have more ears made.  Towards the very end of the book, when we were kind of on a dead­line with our pub­lisher to bring in, I do not know, a cer­tain amount of images, the wings really were trashed at that point.  So, we started exper­i­ment­ing with pho­tograph­ing insect wings pri­mar­ily cicada and but­ter­fly wings and then putting those on to the last images that we had shot in postproduction.  So, really, that is the only Pho­to­shop that we really used.  It really was not until the end of the book process that we started uti­liz­ing Pho­to­shop.
Marko Kulik:                         Very, very interesting.  So, really these kids are against real backgrounds.  The back­grounds that you are going to see in all the pho­tographs, those were the back­grounds on loca­tion?
Ann Dahlgren:                      Yes, definitely.  Like I said before, when we would go on loca­tion and we would find these inter­est­ing spots, that is when we decide, “Okay.  This is our next loca­tion” and we would go back and pro­duce the shoot.  We shot a lot in West­ern Florida where the Banyan trees are.  Actu­ally, our very first shoot was in the Sara­sota, Florida region and just the way that the Banyan trees grow, it is pretty fantastic.  So, we started with that.  We have shot in loca­tions in Cal­i­for­nia, Col­orado, New York, kind of wher­ever we found a spot that spoke to us.
Marko Kulik:                         For cer­tain of the images, it looks as though the chil­dren are fly­ing almost or one in par­tic­u­lar that I have the lux­ury of look­ing at right now, one of the chil­dren looked almost sus­pended or flying.  How would that have been accom­plished?
Ann Dahlgren:                      Well, she went flying.  We did a few shoots in the stu­dio and one par­tic­u­lar shoot that we knew we wanted to do was to actu­ally have a fairy flying.  So, we hired a rig­ger or a grip per­son from the movie indus­try to come into the stu­dio and set up this whole har­ness sys­tem where we could actu­ally fly her.  I think the shot that you are prob­a­bly look­ing at has two fairies in it.
Marko Kulik:                         Yes, it is.
Ann Dahlgren:                      Basi­cally, we designed the set in the stu­dio and then we had the two girls take turns in the har­ness, fly­ing.
Marko Kulik:                         Fantastic.  If you are going to attempt this today, would you go more Pho­to­shop or would you still try and do it the tra­di­tional way?
Ann Dahlgren:                      I think now since we do use Pho­to­shop every­day in what we do, we prob­a­bly would uti­lize Pho­to­shop a lot more.  It just was not some­thing that we were using on a daily basis at all back when we started this project.  I think we started it in 1997.  So, every­thing we did was on film in there.
Marko Kulik:                         Okay.  Again, we keep hear­ing this all the time, Pho­to­shop has become a pretty impor­tant tool for pho­tog­ra­phers these days and we are using more tools.  It is just a tool that we can use instead of hir­ing a rig­ger, let us say, to have some­one fly.
Ann Dahlgren:                      Right.  It def­i­nitely cost us a lot more money to actu­ally pro­duce the pho­tographs the way that we did, but that was the way that we went about it.  We did not really think about doing it any other way at that time.
Marko Kulik:                         As an artist, for you, is it more sat­is­fy­ing to have done it the old fash­ion way?
Ann Dahlgren:                      Sure.  It was just so excit­ing to be able to have a vision and put it all together, go to a loca­tion, make it hap­pen, bring the fog machine and the whole deal and come back and have on film what we really imag­ined was there ver­sus sit­ting in front of a com­puter and mak­ing it hap­pen.
Marko Kulik:                         Right.  Right.
Ann Dahlgren:                      Yeah.  I think there was a sense of accom­plish­ment def­i­nitely after all the work that we went through.
Marko Kulik:                         A well-deserved feel­ing of accomplishment.  On another tech­ni­cal level, I am curi­ous actually.  I noticed some of the pic­tures are quite soft, which really adds to the mood effect.  Were you using soft focus fil­ters as well or was that done in the printing?  How was some of the soft­ness achieved on the pho­tographs?
Ann Dahlgren:                      Well, it was done both with fil­ters, with par­tic­u­lar lenses and also dif­fus­ing again in the darkroom.  I know in some of the pho­tographs, we used an old lens that Doug had which is an old Imagon por­trait lens.  It just had this won­der­ful qual­ity of hav­ing a very min­i­mal amount of focus to it.  So, that was over dif­fer­ent lens put on the cam­era, but yeah, we would shoot with softer fil­ters and dif­fuse again in the dark­room.
Marko Kulik:                         For good effect, for absolutely good effect.  Are you going to be doing any other the­atri­cal style themes or con­cepts in the next lit­tle while or do you have projects sim­i­lar in nature for the near future?
Ann Dahlgren:                      We do not have any­thing in the works at the moment.  We have thought about it.  We have a lot of images that we played with in the process of this book that were edited out in the process of our pub­lisher want­ing a cer­tain look to the book.  For instance, we pho­to­graph a lot of old peo­ple to make it a lit­tle bit more of a scary, edgy field to it and we did a whole sec­tion of under­wa­ter pho­tographs where we actu­ally have the fairies in the pool and we were down there with them, with scuba tanks and pho­tograph­ing them under the water.  So, there is poten­tial for another aspect to this whole fairy project that we would love to con­tinue with, we just have not had the time recently.
Marko Kulik:                         Well, when you do have it done, please think of me.  I def­i­nitely want a copy.
Ann Dahlgren:                      Okay.
Marko Kulik:                         For those peo­ple who are going to be intrigued by this book, is it still available?  How can they get their hands on it?  Can they get their hands on it?
Ann Dahlgren:                      Well, at this point, we just were informed that the first print­ing, which was 10,000 copies, is sold out.  In fact, we only actu­ally have two copies I think as our own.  So, we are wait­ing to hear back if Abrams is going to do another printing.  If they do not, then we will have the option to try to take that some place else to have another print­ing done.  So, hope­fully, we will keep it out there.  At this point, your guess is as good as mine of where to find them.
Marko Kulik:                         Okay.  At least for now though I guess thank good­ness for web­sites, peo­ple who want to see some of these images, I know there is a lot of them avail­able at  I am going to put that in the show notes.  Ann Dahlgren is spelled A-n-n D-a-h-l-g-r-e-n, if peo­ple want to go directly, but I will put the link in the show notes as well and I believe Ann has allowed me to put a cou­ple of the images on my blog to intrigue you to go to her site because it is also a fan­tas­tic site with a lot of images left from the book.
Ann Dahlgren:                      Right.  The direct link to the fairy web­site is or you can go directly to the book web­site also, which has a short lit­tle flash movie with some images from the book.
Marko Kulik:                         I am going to put that link in the show notes as well.
Ann Dahlgren:                      Okay.  Great.
Marko Kulik:                         So, I would like very much to thank Ann Dahlgren and Dou­glas Foulke.  Unfor­tu­nately, Dou­glas was not able to be on the line now for tech­ni­cal rea­sons, but we were lucky enough to speak with Ann today and I absolutely thank her.  So, thanks so much for agree­ing to do this, Ann.  I know it was a pretty spon­ta­neous request, but I have been in love with your book for a long, long, long time and your style.  It has really been my plea­sure to speak to you today.
Ann Dahlgren:                      Great.  Thank you, Marko.  It has been a plea­sure.
Marko Kulik:                         So, thanks so much.
Ann Dahlgren:                      Okay.  Bye-bye.
Marko Kulik:                         Bye now.  So, that was our inter­view with Ann Dahlgren.  We really hope you like that interview.  I know I learned a lot and I appre­ci­ated it.  We are going to have more inter­views for you in the next few weeks as well.  If you would like to com­ment, please do so either through the blog, or through the bul­letin board.  You can just click on the link and find your way there and you can leave com­ments and sug­ges­tions and any­thing else you like in either of those two places.  So, thanks very much for lis­ten­ing every­one and we will be back prob­a­bly next week.  We will bring you either another inter­view or some knowl­edge, either way you will get knowl­edge on both.  So, take care every­one and happy shooting.  Bye for now.
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  1. Fairy Games says:

    I enjoyed read­ing your inter­est­ing yet very infor­ma­tive insights. I just love read­ing any­thing about eye-catching arti­cles. Thank you for shar­ing and I am look­ing for­ward to read­ing your newest and most recent mas­ter­pieces!!! — Fairy


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