CONCEPTUAL MAGAZINE: Dear Conceptualites, today we present to you Meghan Walker, nicknamed the “Game of Thrones” photographer! Meghan, we are so happy to get to talk to you and learn about you and your art. We cannot wait to ask you all of our burning questions and share with our followers. We are so curious to learn about the artist you are today.
Let’s begin with the basics. What is your background?
MEGHAN WALKER: I am a 29-year-old from Janesville, Wisconsin. I have an amazing 75 lb. Coonhound Labrador mix dog named Finnegan.
CM: What do you do exactly?
MW: I am an Email Marketing Specialist and I have a Bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in English Literature (Go Badgers!) While I did not attend school to get a degree for Marketing, my love for literature and writing put me down a path that resulted in an awesome career that allows me to be creative.
CM: Do you do anything else besides photography/art?
MW: I absolutely love to learn so, once I feel like I have gotten pretty deep into one thing, I start learning a new skill. My current hobbies are, obviously, my photography, but also sewing, prop making, genealogy, and practicing Norwegian.
CM: Is photography your business or is it something you do as a hobby?
MW: A little of both. My fine art is mainly a hobby, but I have started experimenting with different ways to earn a little bit of money off of the things I create. I have been exhibiting at a number of museums, internationally, and also at art fairs. This Summer will be my first Renaissance Fair, as a vendor!
CM: When did you first pick up a camera and why?
MW: I think the itch to learn photography started in high school. I have always been a very creative person with a big imagination, but my skills in drawing and painting are almost hilariously bad. So, photography was a way for me to materialize the things that I saw in my imagination without me having to actually draw it out. After college, I got a little more serious about photography and invested in some new equipment and started teaching myself Photoshop so that I could push the boundaries of reality even further.
CM: What other forms of photography have you experimented with and how did you know this is the genre of photography that you wanted to focus on?
MW: I've photographed a couple of weddings, and some special events. I've done family shoots and newborns... they are all fun in their own way, but conceptual and fantasy photography was a way for me to spend some time all by myself and enter into a sort of trance-like state. It's a space where reality is left behind when I walk into the forest with my tripod and camera. I enter into another world in that mental space. The anxieties and worries of reality are gone and my brain focuses entirely on bringing to life the image that I want to create. That's where I find that I am closest to complete inner peace.
CM: How do YOU define conceptual and fantasy photography? What does it mean to you?
MW: Conceptual photography, for me, is expressing a narrative through an image. It is using visual symbols and storytelling to explain to the viewer what you are saying without using words. It's like a story without the text!
CM: A lot of people in this industry/niche say that conceptual photography could be defined as storytelling. Do you agree? What is your take on this?
MW: I would say that's definitely a big part of it. A friend of mine described it as an entire film in a single image. What a great way to put it!
CM: Wow, that is definitely a wonderful way to describe it! Beautiful! What stories do you want to tell? What message do you want to convey with your art?
MW: The stories and message change with every image. There are so many different aspects of the world that I find to be beautiful and enticing and I want to be a part of all of them equally. One way I can exist in all of these spaces is to let each of these different worlds exist in my photography portfolio. Sometimes, I want to dress in all black and glide around in cathedral runes. Sometimes, I want to suit up in armor and wield a Viking sword. Sometimes, I want to stand in a castle window in a billowing gown... these different versions of “me” all get to be expressed through my art form, if not in my real life.
CM: You focus on fantasy and historical themes. Can you elaborate on this? What specific themes within these attract you the most and why?
MW: My favorite things about the historical fantasy genre is the dreamy aesthetic and fighting for what's right in a world threatened by mysterious dark forces. Additionally, by sharing historical themes through a fantastical lens, I can take some liberties and prioritize aesthetic over historical accuracy.
CM: That is marvelous. Truly. Love the way you think! Your website says that you are inspired by film and music. Talk to us about this. Also, which do you consider to be the most inspiring film and the most inspiring song?
MW: I would say that almost every image that I create was thought up while I was listening to a song. Music is the trigger that plunges me into creative waters and my mind goes into a deep meditative state. When I am listening to a song, I always dream up some type of music video to the “vibe” of the song, even if my vision has nothing to do with the lyrics of the song. With film, being a highly visual and empathetic person, I get lost in the film and react very emotionally with everything I watch. I am notorious for crying at most films and TV shows, and the weight of what I watch is carried with me emotionally long after the film is over. These emotions that I pick up when watching films are often the inspiration of the emotion that I try to convey in an image. Most inspiring song and film? I'd say any song by The Birthday Massacre and all of The Lord of the Rings films. I saw the Fellowship of the Ring ten times when it was released in the movie theaters and credit that film as one of my first obsessions with fantasy. Also Legend. I can never forget about Legend.
CM: Is there anything else that you are inspired by? How about any other artists? Whom and why, if so?
MW: I am constantly inspired by so many other artists. Not just in their art, but also in the way they view the world and exist in it. Some artists that introduced me to the genre that I am in now are Sonja Sandtröm, Samantha Goss, Kindra Nikole, Rosie Hardy, and Kirsty Mitchell,
CM: You feel that calling yourself a photographer is a limiting term. You take your time to come up with a concept. You plan for it. You create most of your costumes and headdresses. You even create the sets where you shoot at. Sometimes, you even model yourself! We would say that you are a well-rounded artist. Completely. So, talk to us. What is your workflow like? How much time does it take? What steps do you take until completion?
MW: My workflow almost always begins with a song. I may be listening to something and suddenly a beautiful tune transports me into another dimension, and I start receiving mental images of castle windows and billowing gowns or the sounds of swords clanging together on a battle field. When I get these images, I try to quickly (and very poorly) draw them in my concept sketchbook that is kept in my purse. Next to the drawing, I make a list of things that I want to be sure that the image has: mood, colors, vibe, materials, etc. At this stage, the image is usually super fragile and as fast as it came into my brain, it starts to shift into other things; so I try to write down as much as possible. Then, I begin gathering the materials that I'll need to make the costumes and props. The crafting process can go anywhere from a day to 4 months (I've made two gowns out of natural materials that took months) and then, I try to figure out who the right model for the image will be. I try to always model for myself because then I have full creative control and ownership of the image, but if the concept is simply too difficult, I find a friend that will model for me. The shoot takes a few hours, usually out in nature somewhere. The editing is the final step and that can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks or months. My ultimate goal in a photo shoot is to create one or two final images, so all of that work goes to a single piece.
CM: Think about one of your prior shoots or even about a future shoot you have planned or are planning. What inspired you to create this particular photograph or shoot? What materials did you or will you use? If it had a set, how did you construct it? Were you or will you be the model?
MW: A shoot that I did last summer, that ended up going viral, was when I had a model wear a handmade birch bark corset in a child's plastic swimming pool. The shoot was inspired by an environmentalism concept. I initially wanted my friend to be wearing something made out of natural materials and sinking into a pool of “oil”. I thought of using watered-down chocolate pudding as the oil and I knew I couldn't put chocolate pudding in a lake, so I thought of using a plastic cheap pool that I could fill with water and a few packets of chocolate pudding to give it that brown, oily look. The day of the shoot, I pulled some vines off of my apartment building, gathered the corset, pool, and packets of pudding, and drove to the model's house. There was a thunderstorm that day so we had to shoot the image in her garage with the garage door open for light. She laid in the water and when I tangled the ivy around her and began pouring in the pudding, it didn't have the same look that I envisioned. I also started to really fall in love with the beauty of this earthy person laying in water with ivy tangled around her body. I decided to leave the oil concept for another time, I took the images by standing on either side of the pool. My boyfriend took the behind-the-scenes images of that shoot and after posting the behind-the-scenes of the model laying in a plastic kids pool in a garage and the edited shot of her looking like she's an earth goddess in a lake, the public really responded with awe. It's always really fun to see the reality behind these magical images.
CM: What is your experience with models? Do you work with clients? Do clients pay you to create these “Game of Thrones’esque” photographs?
MW: My experience working with models is limited. I try to use myself as the model as often as possible so I can use the experience as a relaxing, trance-like experience. I'm an introvert, which always comes as a surprise to the people who know me in real life. Trying to build a concept where I’d have to use other people usually comes with a lot of anxiety. I worry a lot about their comfort and the value of their time, and sometimes, the pose or the costume that I create isn't the most comfortable thing to wear or do. Additionally, I worry about what the image will look like in the end. Will it turn out? Will I let them down if they don't like it? What if I have to retake it? These kinds of things are always going on when I bring more people into the process. No, I've never had a client pay me for the fantasy images since I've never done them as commissions. I'd like to start exploring using the fantasy images as part of ad campaigns, though. I think it would be interesting, especially as someone that works in marketing, to try bringing products into them and seeing what kinds of fun and fantastical things I can create around products.
CM: Tell us about your fabulous nickname and who came up with it? We also want to know about your fascination with the ethereal and with warriors! Those are some incredible elements that we are obsessed with as well.
MW: The “Game of Thrones photographer” nickname started when I took an image of myself standing in a dark castle window holding a sword. I put it on Facebook and my friend shared it on her wall and said something about me looking like I belong on the show. Shortly afterward, I was talking about wedding photography with a couple and they said that they refer to me to their friends as “the Game of Thrones photographer.” I always laugh and am extremely flattered when people say that. What an honor! It's also a relief because I think artists wonder what viewers get out of their art and to know that strangers think of that show when they see my work is one of the best compliments I can receive!
CM: Are there any tricks that you have learned along the way to make your workflow easier or simple? Or, perhaps, you know some hacks for creating a more effective set or prop or something related to the wardrobe aspect?
MW: If it won't be seen in the image, don't sweat it! I have so many gowns that are held together with pins, tape, etc. I, sometimes, post the before photo next to the finished piece to show just how much compositing goes into my work. I have 3 silk trees in my studio and I've made images that look like I'm in a forest with only those trees. It's so much fun to see what magic can be made with as little materials as possible. I've had to defend Photoshop often to artists who see it as cheating, but learning to effectively composite is a huge skill and opens a ton of opportunities to bend reality. It's just another tool in an artist's toolbox and it has allowed me to create surreal settings in the most unlikely of places.
CM: Tell us about the Elizabethan paper gown! WOW!
MW: The Elizabethan paper gown is one of my favorite things I've ever made and I wish I had more images with it. The concept behind the gown was about my own obsession with learning. I consume the things that I am passionate about until I learn everything I can about it and then move on to a new thing to study. I decided to build a gown out of the book Frankenstein, which is a story of a scientist whose obsessions took him to a dark place where he created, literally, his own monster. I bought a copy of Frankenstein and tore all of the pages out, burned the edges of each of the papers, and hot glued them to an enormous hoop skirt that I crafted from fabric and tubing from the hardware store. I wanted the skirt to be huge (think Scarlett O'Hara at Ashley Wilkes' birthday party), so I built it 200 in in diameter. The fanned collar was made out of card stock and more pages from the book that I folded like an accordion. Unfortunately, the gown had a short life because of its fragile build. It's fallen in puddles, been crammed into the backseat of my car... eventually, I had to say goodbye to my paper gown, but it will live on forever in the few images that I got of it.
CM: You have different series of photographs. We are obsessed with the series “Of Fog and Mist”. It’s quite magical and the aesthetic is absolutely marvelous. Can you talk to us about this concept and the story behind it?
MW: Thank you so much for loving that series! It's one that is very near and dear to my heart. Of Fog and Mist is a series that is inspired by Viking myths and legends. I am half Scandinavian and genealogy is something that I have been extremely interested in for most of my life. My family has our lineage traced back to the medieval times, so it's been my way of paying homage to history. History, especially ancient history, is tricky because we see so many TV shows and films that shine such a romantic light on these historical lives. Additionally, records and written history are few and far between so we have had to make due with myths, legends, and whatever history can be pieced together with artifacts. The ancients survive around us in this foggy and misty state - we can sort of see it and feel it, but it's hard to really comprehend it and see it for the reality of what it was. Of Fog and Mist is meant to evoke these scenes of beauty, fierceness, danger, and spirituality, and I have a lot more coming in 2018 that will push those concepts further. It's been a really fun series.
CM: It seems like most or all of the subject(s) in this series is (are) men. Can you talk to us about the difference in working photographing men as opposed to women?
MW: The series, currently, has mostly men but it won't stay that way for much longer. The Shield-maidens are on their way! I just got really lucky and met a gentleman that has the most magnificent red beard and all of his own historical garb, so he's been my main model so far. I met him in an Applebee's restaurant and asked him on the spot to model for the series. I've been very fortunate to have worked with a number of men as models and, honestly, I haven't noticed any difference in working with them vs. working with women. We approach the concept in the same way by talking about what the image will look like in the end, the vibe I'm going for, the poses I'd really like to photograph, and then I let them work their magic.
CM: Talk to us about the group shoots you’ve participated in.
MW: The group shoots have been a very cool experience. I was connected to a local group of artists who gather together a few times a year and host themed shoots in various locations around Mid/Southern Wisconsin and Chicago area. They invite MUAs, photographers, models, assistants, designers, etc. and everyone gets a chance to spend a day showcasing their talents and building their portfolios. They are a totally different experience than what I am used to since I have to build a concept from scratch, right on the spot, and work quickly which usually makes me very anxious. In the end, it's always been a lot of fun and I've had the opportunity to connect with a lot of local artists that I never would have met before.
CM: You have an Etsy shop. Tell us about it. What do you sell? How much do you sell it for?
MW: I have started experimenting with different ways to sell my images: coasters, magnets, jewelry, and prints. I opened my Etsy shop a while ago but started actually populating more content in it this year. It's a nice way to sort of extend what I would have at an art booth online, so people who aren't local can still buy things from me. My prices range anywhere from $8 to $100, depending on what they want to buy. I want everyone to be able to afford my art. That is why I try to keep a wide variety in my pricing.
CM: Now, talk to us about your Flickr profile. What is Flickr normally used for and why is it good to have an account on this platform?
MW: I mainly use my Flickr account as a place where I can keep all of my work. Flickr is nice because you can upload a high quality image and then people can zoom in to see finer details, which Instagram and Facebook really don't have.
CM: You have an awesome Fb page and you have 5K+ followers! That is exiting! Tell us about your Fb page.
MW: Thank you! I love Facebook because I can post the image and add a long caption with links so people can read the statement with each piece. It is a little more user-friendly in that way than others.
CM: Do you find clients through your Fb page? Where do you get most of your clients from?
MW: My clients for my non-fantasy, wedding or lifestyle images usually come through Facebook, or through recommendations from friends.
CM: Tell us about your IG account!
MW: I have been spending a lot more time on Instagram, lately. I like seeing my work laid out on their photo grid so that I can observe my portfolio all together. I never thought of my art as having a “look” or a brand before until I laid it all out side by side and saw the similarities. Of course, that both pleased me and gave me a new challenge: time to start learning new editing styles to keep things exciting!
CM: We found something quite interesting on your IG account. Tell us about the tattoo on your back and the history of your last name, Walker (waulker).
MW: My tattoo is of my favorite flower: the thistle. The thistle is the national flower of Scotland, which is the country most near and dear to me other than the United States. My father's side came to the United States in the mid-1800s from Glasgow, Scotland, and I have had a spiritual connection with Scotland since I was a very young child. I was so fortunate to have gotten to spend two weeks in Scotland a few years ago and I walked the streets of Glasgow, taking in everything that I could, wondering if my ancestors looked at these same buildings, walked on those streets, and heard the same types of voices that I was hearing. When I got back to the States, I wanted to commission a thistle for a logo and tattoo, so I asked an artist named Casstronaut, whose work fit the exact vibe that I wanted it to have. She drew the most unbelievably beautiful thistle I could have ever imagined, and I had it tattooed on my shoulder. My surname, Walker, is one of the most common surnames in Scotland, and it comes from the word “waulker”, which were people who worked tartan with their hands in order to thicken the wool, often to the rhythm of music. If you've ever seen the first season of Outlander, with the ladies sitting around the table with Claire, that is what waulking tartan looks like.
CM: Tell us about any exhibitions, publications, and events that you have participated in?
MW: So far, I have been fortunate enough to participate in three different exhibitions in 2018: “Beneath the Surface” in Orlando, Florida; “Ethereal: Démons et Merveilles” in Paris, France; and “Emote” in Cape Cod. As far as events, I have done a number of local art fairs, and will be a vendor at a Renaissance Faire in Janesville, WI this summer.
CM: What message do you want to convey with your art?
MW: I really don't have a single message that carries through each piece. They all have their own message to convey independently from each other.
CM: Is this what you want to do for the rest of your life? What are your goals? Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
MW: I certainly hope I’ll still be doing this in 10 years, but I always look forward to and invite change. What constantly keeps me inspired to keep creating is the thrill of learning a new skill, so even though I will always be creating art, it may not look the same way it looks now. In fact, I hope it doesn’t.
CM: What advice would you give photographers/artists who are embarking on a similar journey as yours?
MW: It can be such a hard thing not to compare yourself to artists with a bigger following. It's in our nature to be our own worst critics, and it can be hard to see the beauty and talent in our own work when our following doesn't match the artists we are inspired by. Keep reminding yourself that no artist is safe from those feelings and even the ones we look up to are often plagued by feelings of not being as good as the ones they look up to. Keep creating, do it for YOU, and don't lose hope because of a number.
CM: What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you began experimenting with this art form?
MW: Don't take everything so seriously. I, often, forget how much fun I can have creating when I am simply letting myself create to learn. Just play, explore, and never stop reaching for more. The moment I start creating to impress others, it all stops being fun and it stops being mine.
CM: If this time machine truly existed and you COULD go back, would you embark on the same journey or choose a different path?
MW: I would probably embark on the same journey, but I would add film to the mix. Since I already create these little mental music videos from which my photos are often inspired, it would be neat to try to actually make them, too.
CM: Meghan! You are wonderful! We are so happy to have you and have gotten to know you, your passion, your motivations, inspirations… your love for what you do! Your art is profoundly beautiful. We cannot wait for our audience to get to know you as well and understand why you are the artist you are today.