Night of the Witches

Witches photographed by Mark Eilbeck

Model: Lucy at Profile Models (London)

Please move along, there is nothing to see here!’

In German folklore, April 30th is Hexenacht (witches night), a historic pagan festival (AKA ancient rave) to banish winter. These witches would gather on the mountaintop cackle and swap potion recipes, or so I imagined. Aha, I thought, this would make a great kickass image!

During some Satanic research, I saw a few images online, but this is my interpretation of that annual event, somewhere on a mountain near you.

In my trusty notebook, I had sketched a straightforward triangular composition of lithe bodies and bony elbows. For the clothes styling, we avoided choosing the typical witches hat, instead preferring  primal nudity. Apart from, of course, the sacrificial victim.

To create the scene, which is predominantly bare flesh, the same model was photographed eleven times and painstakingly composited on computer, which lasted five times more than the actual shooting. Lighting was a large overhead soft-box and hair backlight for the central figure.

The model, Lucy, was fantastic in acting out the deranged witches and contorted her body in a manner suited to the subject matter. The apparent spine and ribs on the lower figures make these worshippers seem feral, ready to transform into a bat she-wolf or other creature of the night. I wanted controlled chaos, and Lucy delivered.

To add to that savage effect, the make-up was dark like a badger, and the hair back-combed like the wild woman of Borneo. (Did she use back-combing?) This was decided on the spot as we debated on what these ladies would look like in such a frenzy.

It sounds obvious, but in photography, we must shoot the subject matter that interests us. As a fan of folklore and myths, this stuff turns me on. In the end, the image was worth the work, and post-production time flew by, retouching with Nine-Inch Nails playing on the speakers.

Yep, I was in a bit of a dark mood that day.