Stella and the Blue Stragglers


This image started with a vague idea in place, and a desire to make a triptych. When it was shot, I knew the sisters three would be seated in a row and interacting somehow, but I wasn't sure of the particulars, I wasn't sure what the conversation was, or what precisely I was going to convey. Mind you, I prefer all that - it keeps possibilities flowing, and doesn't lock you into a predetermined image. 

Something about siblings, or in a broader sense, a social pecking order dynamic. I lit the shot with the intention of the middle sister's head being a brilliant light source, so that concept, referencing Magritte's "Pleasure Principle" image was in mind from the start. It was shot with the middle sister being ignored or overlooked - the idea of the quiet one or the overlooked one being the most brilliant, the most illuminated. 

In the month and a half it took to finish this one, it went through a lot of iterations, and when the candles and lanterns were added, something started to click. In addition to the original vague concept, the dynamic of the two side sisters hoarding light sources became more meaningful, and I had another layer of meaning as a result: the theft of ideas, the borrowing from a source. 

It is something I've written about before and will again, this plagiarism euphemistically called "inspiration." I see it all the time in the strange circles of conceptual art/photography. One person does something, and suddenly there are three other images looking exactly like it, with almost no change to the original's composition. I could name names, but I won't. So, my sisters are artist wannabes, stealing bits of light for their "art" from a singular and powerful source  - siphoning it in an attempt to match the light they desire to emulate, but producing a duller, feeble light despite their efforts. The center sister, I call her "Stella," has real animals near her, drawn to her, and the blue sisters have artificial constructs. They have matched her dress, matched her chair, but still they do not shine as brightly. 

This was the idea in place for most of the last month, and then, last week, I found another layer to add to the allegory of the piece - one that mimicked the art thievery perfectly on a massive, macrocosmic scale: vampire stars. 

There are stars in the galaxy called "Blue Stragglers" that appear young, too young for their locations in the universe, and they appear that way because they are sucking the energy from a larger more powerful star they have attached to, until that star is drained of all its plasma and reduces to a white dwarf. Quite the symmetry there, yes? The connection was too perfect, so I added a light matter stream from Stella's head (Stella comes from the word "stellar" or "star" of course) that the sisters are using their wands to absorb. I changed the glow of the wands to blue for my "blue straggler" reference to connect. The animals chosen for the blue sisters, a goat and a horse, are references to constellations - one in the northern hemisphere and one in the south - just to reinforce the metaphor further. 

So ends my first triptych - certainly a new challenge for me, and ultimately a rewarding one. Better to be a Stella than a Blue Straggler, a thief who creates nothing original, and borrows the ideas of others.

Michael Bilotta

May 18, 2016