Houtouwan Dream


A girl is lost in the depths of her own daydream in an abandoned seaside village; nature can no longer be viewed as an idyllic playground. She wrestles with her own narrative: her repression, her jealousy, her lust.

The beauty within the frame creates a dreamlike mood; there is a subtle and indelible mystery unsettling the viewer. Each scene is hauntingly beautiful, gorgeously composed and softly lit by natural light.

Despite their differences, each setting appears tranquil and safe, and yet it’s an unknown world that’s majestic while at the same time menacing. Everything is not as it seems.

“Dave and I began brainstorming about this project in March 2016,” image consultant and wardrobe stylist Annie Atienza tells me as we discuss her and award-winning photographer Dave Tacon’s passion project. “I wanted to turn away from future-facing work and dig into something that celebrated the past. This work is meant to be dreamy and exist in its own space, away from whatever the trends are telling us.”

Their photography series is based on the 1975 Australian movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, a haunting drama that has no final resolution. The movie is based on a popular Australian novel from 1967, whose author refused to confirm or deny whether the events in the book were based on a true story. “The film has no resolution, and its intense nature struck a chord,” Annie explains. “We built the project around the Victorian era depicted in the movie, and wanted to explore the idea of losing yourself in dreams, and perhaps finding yourself too.”

The handcrafted women’s wardrobe pieces in the shoot are designed by French Couturier, Yannick Machado, who studied fashion design at Supdemod in Lyon, France. “The guipure laces are produced and embroidered by hand,” Annie explains clearly excited by the project. “The ostrich feathers used to create the shorts are hand-selected in Japan and applied by hand. The corset is particularly remarkable, with a very pronounced V shape, emphasized by the volume at the hips. This shape imitates the essence of the panier, and is particularly Victorian-inspired.”

The hats and fascinators are handmade by milliner Angel Wong, who is based in Hong Kong. The headpieces took between one and four weeks to create. The jewelry pieces were all handmade in Shanghai by artisans at Josie Chen Studio and used the highest quality stones and materials. “One of the necklaces used in the shoot was created exclusively for Swarovski Studio,” Annie divulges, “and we were fortunate to receive it on loan for this shoot.”

“I initially planned to shoot it all on film, but I ended up shooting on four cameras,” Dave Tacon tells me when asked about the cameras used for the shoot. “A Hasselblad Xpan panoramic camera loaded with roll Kodak HIE infrared film, which has been out of production for more than a decade, a Hasselblad medium format camera with a 50, 80 and 120 mm lens, and a couple of Nikon DSLRs one with a 50mm, one with a 35mm lens.”

And how did he get the dream-like soft-focus effect that’s distinctive throughout the series? “Researching the motion picture Picnic At Hanging Rock, I found that the Director of Photography, Russell Boyd, had shot through a wedding veil, but I like the effect of a black stocking more than a white one,” he explains.

After a chat with an Australian fashion photographer, “I started playing around with a few old school techniques to degrade a digital image including creating soft focus filters by passing them through a mist of hairspray,” Dave says, “stretching a stocking over the front of the lens and smearing the edges of a filter with Vaseline.”

“I also cut up some red gel and attached some jagged bits to one of my lens hood on my Nikon. This gave some pretty extreme and random flare in bright light and a bit of a rose-colored vignette,” he tells me referring to the photos from the beach scenes with the natural looking lens flare.

And the double exposed photos? “I shot these on digital, although I play around with double exposure when I shoot film. I’d shoot a portrait, and then adjust the exposure and shoot a landscape or an abandoned interior over the top of it.”

Finally, how were the black and white photos composed? “Infrared light behaves differently to what we can see with our own eyes. For instance, you can see right into dark interiors in one of the images,” Dave muses. “I also like how incredibly grainy the photographs came out, so you need to search within the shot a bit to make out what’s going on. The graininess and black and white, the landscape and the wardrobe also add to the feeling that these photos might be from another time.”

All the photographs in this series were captured between May 13 to 15, 2017 in Houtouwan Village, Gouqi Island, China.

Photographer: Dave Tacon

Wardrobe Stylist: Annie Atienza

Hair and Make-Up: Ojaba Cesario

Models: Guo Yang, Ting Ting Hu, Jasin Chang

Executive Producers: Dave Tacon and Annie Atienza

Production Assistants: Jayson Atienza, Joe Nafis, Sammy Oh

Retoucher: Ramon Fernandez


The project worked with the following brands:

Dresses: Yannick Machado

Dresses: Whole9Yards from DFO

Dresses: Asilio by DFO

Jewelry: Josie Chen

Lingerie: Atelier Intimiso

Hats/fascinators: Angel Wong Image

Menswear: Jackson Tailoring


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