The grass is lush green, but the forest shadows are deep. A black-clad figure spattered in blood holds—almost delicately—an upside down baby doll.
This is “Predator,” a photo by Sale Creek photographer Misty Fugate that was recently selected for Project Imagin8ion, a hybrid photo/video project by cameramaker Canon and film director Ron Howard.
“I like shooting human emotions, and I focus more on the darker side,” Fugate said. “We all have that. Some of us recognize it, some of us confront it, but it’s still kind of a touchy subject.”
Though the subject matter is dark, Fugate’s photos have an intense lyrical beauty. This is no art photo version of a splatter movie. She is more interested in what’s hidden. That’s why in this photo, she said, “The face is not shown. I think it’s important that the viewer cannot identify that with one particular image.”
She also built out the scenario in the Canon photo into a short video, which can be seen on her “DreamPicsDiaries” Facebook page. First we see two little girls playing in an idyllic setting. The figure from the photo appears, the little girls run. Seeing this menacing presence translated from static to moving image is surprisingly jarring, but if there is any violence, it happens off camera.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to mean a child predator, it doesn’t have to be so literal,” Fugate said. “It could be because of somebody in particular, or it could just be an experience that makes you kind of lose a piece of yourself.”
She said she uses her work as therapy. “A lot of what you see is my own experience, what I’ve seen, what I’ve witnessed other people go through. I did grow up in a pretty violent environment when I was a kid, and I watched my mom go through some very horrific things. Some people keep diaries, some people go to therapists to talk it out. This is my way of dealing with that, almost using it as healing process, not just for me but my family as well. It was definitely a horrible situation that I’m trying to rectify through my work.”
Fugate started as a portrait photographer 13 years ago, but she said her professional career took off six or seven years ago when she shifted to pursuing her own creative vision.
Fugate has been on a roll for the last two years, with her work being published regularly in Vogue Italia. She’s had eight book covers in the last year, mostly in Europe. “Apparently France loves my work,” she said. She said she also was recently contacted by “a huge author” she can’t name about commissioning her to shoot the cover or an upcoming novel, and she’s talking to galleries in New York, San Diego, the Netherlands and Canada about showing her work. In the next year or so, Fugate said she wants to offer workshops to help other photographers explore their more artistic side.
There’s more menace in some of the photos published in Vogue and on book covers: a cloaked child by a dark lake, another holding a teddy bear in one hand and a butcher knife in the other. But others have more of a fantasy vibe: stone castles, clouds of birds circling a woman in a field, heads replaced by a light bulb or a spouting water faucet.
The Canon/Ron Howard project went through several phases to winnow more than 75,000 submitted photos down to 91 images in 10 storytelling categories: backstory, character, goal, obstacle, mood, relationship, setting, the unknown, time and discovery. Five celebrity directors then selected 10 photos to inspire short films that will be produced and shown in 2013 at the Canon Project Imagin8ion Film Festival.
Fugate’s “Predator” photo was selected in the “mood” category and then chosen by celebrity director Georgina Chapman, co-founder of the Marchesa fashion label.
“I truly think the most important thing about photography—and it doesn’t matter what genre you shoot—is every photo should tell some kind of story,” Fugate said. “And there always has to be mood. If there’s no mood, there’s no story.”
Every element of the photo also needs to support the narrative, Fugate added. “I try to tell it as if I’m reading you a book from chapter 1 through to the last chapter,” she said. “Or perhaps there’s a cliffhanger that’s going to be present in that image.”
Ultimately, what Fugate wants is for her viewer to feel real emotion: “I don’t want it to be contrived. I want them to have a genuine, honest experience when they see it. If I’ve even made someone experience that then I’ve succeeded in my job. It’s conveying story, conveying emotion, conveying a mood. I just want them to view it honestly.”