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Surachai – Ritual Artwork

Tip-on Gatefold OUTSIDE - left pocket glued shut

The first four tracks of Ritual

Ritual was composed entirely on the Cwejman S1 MKII. Digital release date: May 12th, 2014. Vinyl ships June 1st, 2014. The Ritual Process article covers Pre Production, Recording, Mixing, Mastering, Artwork and Vinyl Preparation of Ritual – and will feature the rest of the album artwork. It can be viewed at

For my previous albums I’ve worked with some of my favorite visual artists that I’m fortunate enough to call friends and Ritual was no different. I’ve followed Emilie Elizabeth’s photography for years and have always admired her style, sets, and aesthetic. John Crawford was also involved throughout the process and provided his post production expertise that helped the images reach another level of unsettling. Honestly, they made me a bit uncomfortable by asking for my input so often. Here is Emilie Elizabeth’s interview in its entirety about how the artwork for Ritual was created. – Surachai.

Initial Instructions
Surachai hit me up back in December to see if I was interested in shooting something with a “minimalistic black/white occult” feel after seeing the images I shot for DJMREX and the photos for Skinny Puppy I worked on with John Crawford. Surachai sent over some reference images that included various occult-related photography and illustration: figures in cloaks and hoods, illuminati-esque symbols, bizarre Asian illustrations of porn and torture, etc. Pretty much Surachai in a nutshell.

I thought this would be another good opportunity to work with John. He definitely inspires me to experiment and not rely on the same old tricks I’ve been for the past few years. John and I got together and began putting a few ideas together based some of the recurring themes we saw in the initial reference images. I think Surachai also sent us the music around this time, which was very helpful. The goal was to find a story in all of this so that we could create a series of images that made sense together.

Reference 1

We presented three concepts that were esoteric and/or eerie. At some point in our image research, we began to focus on still life paintings from the “Vanitas” style of the 16 and 17th centuries. John’s been really into H.P. Lovecraft lately, so that was a major influence. We were also leaning towards the idea of incorporating alchemy somehow, especially considering the name of the project and the overall feel of the original reference images. In addition to the still life images, John created two comps based on images he found online and these ultimately became the concepts Surachai chose and we based the entire shoot off of. Surachai gave us a few notes, a quick lesson about the Cwejman and we kind of took it from there.

When you have so many variables – location, models, props, wardrobe, concept, style, etc, you can pretty much rely on the fact that some things will not be exactly what you expected in the beginning. For example: We were originally looking for a Shelley Duvall type to play the Witch. The location we ended up using was nothing like the Victorian-style attic shown in the original comps. The scene shown on the inside of the album wasn’t even discussed until a day or two before the shoot. This was only the second project John and I had worked on together, so there was still a learning curve and as with any collaboration, we had to figure out a way to achieve an end result we would both be happy with.

Reference 2

We were both involved with selecting the location, models and props. Wardrobe is more my thing, but before the shoot, I didn’t think it would be very important. My friend Tosh Yanez is a great wardrobe stylist and luckily had a few pieces handy that worked… the long gown designed by Bao Tranchi definitely helped to inspire one of the final shots. We were all on the same page for makeup and hair and Amber Kerns knew immediately what we were looking to achieve.

For the two days before the shoot, we attempted to come up with a loose shot list. We knew we needed to tie the story of the two figures together somehow. John had the idea that one was controlling the other. Since we knew the Witch would be featured more heavily, it made sense for her to be controlling the Alchemist. I also began compiling images that were more specific to the style of photography. I knew Surachai was leaning heavily towards black and white and high contrast, but I felt like we should provide a strong color option as well. At the time, I was looking at a lot of work by fashion photographer Elizaveta Porodina who is brilliant with her use of color, both in camera and in post.

Reference 3

The day of the shoot was challenging. We booked the space for a half day, which was extremely ambitious considering the amount of shots we wanted to get. Somehow we pulled if off thanks in part to an amazing crew of people and some additional time granted by the location. Also, Harwood (the Alchemist) stayed to help us pack up. The man’s got some amazing stories… and for some reason, sunglasses for chickens so they don’t peck each others eyes out. Please, everyone hire that guy because he’s awesome.

Post Production
The next day, John and I got together to start making edits and to talk about how we should proceed with post. The cover shot was obvious from the start, so we were able to narrow that down to just a few options pretty quickly. John began coming up with some ideas to try in post, partially based on some of the reference images I pulled early on and partially based on ideas he came up with on his own. Most of the images in the digital packaging were included in the original group of edits. We went back and forth until we had 6 images and from there, we narrowed it down based on which images made the most sense together visually.

John and I are typically hired to do more commercial work, despite the fact our personal taste is not very commercial. I do enjoy working for all of the clients I’ve had, but it’s been really nice to have more creative opportunities lately. The first time I fell in love with photography was in 1995 while photographing a bunch of waspy girls dressed in my clothing, prancing around a cemetery in Ann Arbor. I still go back to some of my early work and miss how pure it was. Projects like this allow me to combine the last 10 years of experience as professional photographer with some of the experimentation that I’ve greatly missed. So thank you for that!

We’re both really, really happy with the way the shots turned out. We were both challenged in ways we didn’t expect to be, which I believe is the best way to evolve as an artist. However, I’m a little surprised at our inability to work a few cats into the photos. Next time… and probably several times after that.

Witch – Alli Cripe
Alchemist – Harwood Gordon
Wardrobe – Tosh Yanez
Hair and Makeup – Amber Kerns
Photo Assistant – Adrian Espinoza
Post Production – John Crawford
Layout – Caspar Newbolt

Emilie Elizabeth
John Crawford
John Crawford’s Mock Up

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