I am Nithya Rajapandian, a Fashion & Portrait Photographer from India. This tiny spark of recreating iconic paintings through a creative Photo series that uncovers the back story of the painting started 3 months back and now I am so happy to have completed it in the way I dreamt of. We chose a self portrait painting of the revolutionary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo – The Red Velvet Dress, 1926 and tried to create an imaginary story behind that, by researching her life, her persona & characteristics. Hope you will find this Photo narrative interesting and I would love to share know your thoughts.
Frida Kahlo life story
The nearly fatal bus accident which she met with her boyfriend Alejandro has changed her life ever since. She was broken in her spine, pelvic, ribs, legs and the doctors had to put her back together as if like a photo montage. Her father, a photographer – bought her a canvas and some paints when she was hospitalized. Frida Kahlo was invaded by herself. She was invaded by her own sickness and what she saw was herself. Only herself and her emotions. So she often painted herself saying that
‘ I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best’.
This led us to go with recreating one of her self portraits painting – actually the first of her self portraits – and the story behind it.
Intro about the series:
When we started to work on recreating one of Frida’s paintings – all that we could get was a one line where she sent this painting to her lost love and tried to win him back. So for the photo narrative we had to come up with a story by researching her life, her characteristics, the person that she was inside and out.
So with our imagination of the series of events that would have happened before she painted this self portrait, during painting and after that what would have happened, we present it through a photo narrative series. Here our story begins.
When Frida Kahlo is hospitalized and was claimed by doctors that she is over – she was not ready to give up on life. She started painting when she was bedridden, mostly herself and found while recovery period she has not heard from her love, ever since she was hospitalized. She wrote a number of letters and she didn’t receive a single letter in return. So she decided to paint herself and send the self portrait to win him back.
I wake up and find you are not here next to me, Alejandro. I don’t feel your breath against me. It has been like this ever since I have been broken into pieces and you left me instead of putting me back together. I keep looking at my doors that one day you would walk in and ask me if I am fine, but you have still not come to me. I can withstand any physical turbulence in my body but any emotional turbulence is killing from within.
What should I do to win you back Alejandro?
Do you see my beauty or my soul? If you see my soul come back to me immediately. If you see my beauty only I will send myself to you – a painting of myself in my best dress that I could ever wear – The Red Velvet Dress & the best accessories to adorn me.
Come back to me Alejandro. Come back to me.
Much much much love,
Frida woke up with a dream. Alejandro was in her dreams. She dreamt about him. With her body literally been put together due to the accident, bedridden for months and the fact that her loved one has left her, suffering from unbearable pain, Frida was tumultuous in her expression of anything – be it emotions, pain, anger, anguish and art.
That morning when she woke up, it was like a day where you don’t feel like waking up, scared of loneliness, she cries. She cries with all her heart. She feels it in her chest. Like any other day. There’s nothing that made her feel more alive than being shattered and broken. She felt comfort in pain, accepted her for what she is and was totally unapologetic about it.
She started feeling like 2 persons in a single body. There was one part of her trying to accept the fact that Alejandro is gone and he won’t come back. And there was another part of her soul wanting him to come back and the pain of all that is happening around her. She cries out.
Her soul is masked now. The overflow of emotions is killing her from within. So she decides to let it flow. Let it all out. She decides to go out, paint and express her pain through it.
Let it go, Frida:
She chose the best of her dress made of a silky velvet fabric in blood red – reflecting her soul’s color – wild & free. She chose the best flowers in red and gold to match her soul’s glitter. She stormed out – feeling all liberated – to paint the best version of herself.
For a person who doesn’t see her soul but only believes in her beauty and somehow she still loves him – what she can do. She picked up all her strength and chose to do something that would make them fall in love again. So painting a beautiful version of herself in the Red Velvet dress is all that she could think of. She walked past the woods & the forest – speaking to the nature of her pain & agony,
Singing along with the birds about her loneliness, Looking up at never-ending skies and asking for inspiration She went to where her heart tells her to. The Red Velvet dress & her beauty – is what she believed in now that can win him back. She walks in towards the shore.
Let it go, Frida.
Painting her heart out:
The waves keep crashing at the shore, endlessly. She stares into infinity and feels nothingness in her chest. She can’t help but relate her relationship to the waves endless attempts of staying together with the shores – at one point it needs to go away. In her head, she felt like its waves’ unsuccessful attempts over the million of years.
She watches the sky turn blue – and twilight is about to settle in. She stares down at her Red Velvet Dress and has thoughts whether this will definitely bring Alejandro back to her.
The mix of emotions – intense love, unbearable pain and anguish, that feeling of crying out loud to void and let it all out is starting to reflect in her painting. She wants to make a painting that Alejandro would love her features and fall in love all over again – what can she do if Alejandro sees only beauty of body and not the soul.
The brush strokes of the blood red velvet red seemed to reflect her soul of clear fire. She doesn’t seem to stop the painting at anytime soon. Her hand moves fast reciprocating what her heart feels.
She was on fire. There’s no one in the world would have stopped her from doing it.
P.s. This photograph is a single shot with multiple exposure.
I mix the right amount of the Colors in proportions to each of my emotion that I can’t contain any longer.
As I keep painting, there are terrifying thoughts of the moment I saw your face for the last time in the bus accident, screaming out your name and then going to unconsciousness.
The last time when I saw you – I was covered with red and gold – red as in blood & gold as in the glitter I remember an artist standing next to us in the bus we went and it spilled all over me covering me in gold dust.
So I am painting myself covered with Red & gold. The seas and skies denoting the storm inside me. And I am finding more and more ways to making it more meaningful to you. Meaningful for us. Please come back and kiss my pain away
The Red Velvet Dress, 1926 by Frida Kahlo
Though I have said I love you to many and have kissed or been given ribbons by others, at the bottom of my heart, I have only Loved you.
The portrait will be at your house in a few days.
I beg you to put it somewhere low, where you can look at it, as if you were looking down at me. Much much much much much love.
Let my colors show how much I love you
She kept painting into the darkness with a single source of her lantern light. Just right next to the crashing waves. At this phase of her life, all that she feared was losing the people she loved. Not the darkness.
Her soul was in a whole new world, where it was oozing out with colours all over in that otherwise dark night. Well, except for the moon who is no different than Frida.
Just like the moon, she was alone.
Just like the moon, she was shining bright.
Just like the moon, she had phases in life where she melts down and builds up.
Frida’s soul was bleeding with colors. For Alejandro. And everything was up in the canvas now. She is dancing with light and Colors in the darkness, with ocean around her, the moon beaming down at her. She is a different person inside and out now. Anything for Alejandro.
Seeking you everywhere:
There’s something about darkness for everyone. For some it restores calmness in place of chaos. For some it unleashes the monsters that are not let out in the morning bright. And for some the darkness heals. It really does.
She completed painting now. She has come out of that trance state of dancing with Colors in a whole new world. There is a sense of stillness in her soul. For a reason she heard a voice. A voice she knew. A voice she was longing for. A voice that could put back her broken pieces together. It was Alejandro’s. She took the lantern and looked into the darkness in search of him. She turned and walked in all directions but he was nowhere.
However she was not disappointed now. She had a strong feeling that Alejandro will comeback to her after seeing this painting. The unseen voice reassured it.
Alejandro, you are mine.
Thank you for going through this Photo narrative. Your feedback and thoughts on this is highly appreciated. I would like to dedicate this narrative series to Frida Kahlo, let her legend grows day by day and let her struggle be a guiding light for many women out there.