• Vanessa Wood

BEHIND THE SCENES: Mayan Princess Photo Shoot Collaboration

When starting out on a collaboration I have normally been the one to approach the stylist and model and talk them into going along with my crazy ideas, but this time it was the other way around. I was approached by actress and model Gal Hochman, whom you may recognise from TV. Gal had an idea for a collaborative fantasy shoot based around the character of a Mayan Princess, which she had developed with her stylist friend Marz Court. Gal showed me the images from the last collaboration she had done with Marz (who goes by the title ‘The Baroness’) and I was blown away. I instantly got very excited about the project, but at the same time I was a little nervous about how well we would all click as a team. I had never met Marz and only gotten to know Gal via our messages on social media.

Our first meeting was at Marz's house and once I had recovered from the fear of being eaten by her enormous dog Hades, I was invited into her workshop, which is appropriately located beside the garden full of gravestones and skeletons. I knew the moment I walked into her ‘woman shed’ full of extraordinary creations that we were going to hit it off!

A flood of ideas came thick and fast and the three of us were so engrossed in conversation that we lost track of time. By the end of our meeting we had not one, but four characters that we wanted to bring to life. The first two were to be the Mayan Princess Ixchel (pronounced IT-sil) and her ill-fated lover Kawil.

Marz created a heart-wrenching (literally) back story for the Mayan couple, which inspired the costume, props and makeup design as well as style of images we planned to create. It also meant we needed to find a male model to play the lover, whom the Princess is going to kill and sacrifice to the gods.

Above: me (right) showing the pose I want to models Shin Nummy (left) and Gal Hochman (middle)

Above: the final image

Gal was tasked with finding a guy with long dark hair, no tattoos and a natural tan willing to be photographed half-naked while having his heart ripped out by an angry Mayan chic. Marz and I were in charge of the costumes and props.

From a variety of unlikely materials: leather, lace, velvet, skulls, bones, chains, ribbon and feathers, Marz skilfully crafted the Princess’s crown, skirt, gauntlets, adornments and the lover’s costume, but left the sewing of the bra to me. My first attempt at making the bra was an epic fail and I had to start over. I couldn’t come up with a design I liked, so I moved onto something that I was inspired by: a throne.

Above: Me painting the polystyrene throne I had carved.

It was two days before the shoot day and I was driving past Expol when somewhere in my brain a light bulb switched on. I had been looking all over town for a fake rock to use as a seat for the Princess, so I could increase the variety of her poses, but had no success finding something which would fit my non-existent budget. So on a whim, I pulled into Expol’s carpark and asked them politely if they had any scrap polystyrene. I was in luck! A very enthusiastic staff member gave me enough to cobble together a modest throne.

After some helpful advice from Marz on how to carve and glue the poly, a material I had never worked with before, I was off. In a flurry of white polystyrene snow and copious amounts of hot glue, I carved and assembled a throne in an afternoon. I painted it the next day and prayed that it would dry in time for the shoot the following morning.

Above: Videographer Nicky McDonald (left), Stylist Marz Court (middle) and model Gal Hochman sitting on the finished polystyrene throne.

Above: the finished image.

For health reasons, the shoot had to be postponed so our Gal could give her best performance. I was going to sew another bra that night, but I used this opportunity to do more research and create something I liked better with different materials.

Inspiration avoided me and before I could blink, two weeks had lapsed. It was a day before the shoot and I still didn’t have a bra! I was starting to wonder how Gal felt about doing the shoot topless. Thankfully I didn’t need to have that awkward conversation with her, because in the eleventh hour I finally came up with a design I liked. (In high school I always left my essays and assignments to the last minute too and well….nothing much has changed. I must need the adrenaline rush to put me into creative overdrive.)

I bought a bag of leather off-cuts from the local craft store and dusted off my sewing machine. But wouldn’t you know it, my machine spat the dummy and wouldn’t work! While muttering many expletives under my breath, I hand cranked the sewing machine until the bra was finished and I had cramp in my hand.

It was the night before the shoot and while I was still furiously sewing, building a set and setting up the studio lights, Gal was also multi-tasking; with a mobile phone in one hand and her hair straightening wand in the other. Our male model had fallen through at the very last second and Gal was frantically calling around her friends so see who was game to replace him. By about 10:30pm we had recast the lover with a guy named Shin, who was suitable… apart from the fact that he had recently cut off his long hair (which would have been perfect for the role) and would need to wear a wig. Although I was immensely relived we didn’t have to reschedule, I was worried the wig was going to look naff.

Above: Me (left) applying gold tears to Gal (middle)and Shin (right) is having a nap I think.

Above: the finished image.

We were all so excited about the shoot that I don’t think any of us got much sleep. We met at my home based studio and got straight to work. I did Gal’s hair and makeup before Marz helped her into the amazing costume. I gave a quiet sigh of relief when the bra fitted Gal like a glove. I did some shots with Gal and while we were shooting Shin arrived and was transformed my Marz, who did a wonderful job of his makeup and costume. Thankfully the wig suited him and it even provided us with entertainment throughout the shoot when it would fall off during the serious moments.

The most fun we had during the shoot was killing Shin…well, his character anyway. Marz attached a gruesome looking prosthetic wound to Shin’s chest and spattered him with fake blood. No stranger to gore, Gal received her fair share of blood spattering too. Gal and Shin desperately tried to keep straight faces while Gal gave her best blood-curdling scream and held his bleeding ($2 shop plastic) heart skyward towards the gods as an offering. I’m pretty sure the gods were smiling back down on us because the shooting went smoothly and we are happy with the end results.

Above: Setting up the final shot of the day with Gal (left), Marz (middle) and the bloody heart.

Above: The finished image.

I would like to say a huge thank you the wonderful team of people who collaborated on this shoot. You are all so talented and awesome and I can't wait to work with you again on the next project.


Mayan Princess: Gal Hochman

Dead Lover: Shin Nummy

Character Concept/Costume Design/Props: Marz Court 'The Baroness Creates'

Photographer/Digital Artist: Vanessa Wood 'Suede Studios'

Videographer: Nicky McDonald 'SPG Communications'

Lighting Assist: Dave Horsnell

NB: at the time of publishing this post, I am only about half way through retouching my favourite images. There are so many that I love that it is hard to choose which ones will make it through to the final edit. So watch this space...


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