Genteel Beasts... An African Dream

Enchanted by the gentle murmurs and the foreign lyrics of a song drifting on the night air Tatiana sat back and dreamt…

She dreamt her African dream…
a dream of giant silent creatures
a dream of floral magic and secret script
of beads and crosses and dripping jewels
A dream so vivid that Tatiana could feel the pulse of Africa’s heartbeat as she lay at her window with the city of Vienna fast asleep beneath…

A dream so bewitching and lovely that even the mermaids and the monsters of her everyday dreams had trouble believing that it could possibly be true…

What inspired this shoot?

Every year we plan a few shoots just for ourselves, a way to boost our creativity, give wings to our imagination and challenge ourselves. This photoshoot grew slowly from a single seed… our love for nature and my husband Steph’s deep love of elephants.

Having spent over a decade living and working in the African bushveld before we chose to pursue our photography careers full time, we have always felt a deep bond with all creatures. So when we spoke about putting together another heart project, the only thing he asked for was if somehow we could incorporate those beautiful, gentle beasts.

With that in mind, I started delving a bit deeper and chose to center the photographs around a few core elements, one of them being the texture of an elephant’s skin. The creases and wrinkles, the slight variations in shades of grey, the tiny bristles that rasps your skin as you draw your hand over their massive ears and trunk. We knew that we wanted to carry that though the whole story. Create a sensory journey with unique twists and turns.

From there it grew… the lyrics of a song from Khadja Nin moved us and it was whilst listening to those sounds (and words we could not understand) that I wrote the story and poetry for Genteel Beasts.

The shoot came together with an incredible team of artists all threading together that initial need to tell a story of texture; from the beautifully textured eyebrows and floral art created from live succulents and blossoms to the textures layers of the bridal gown, the textured braid and the handmade paper that carried our poem.
Gentle sleeping giants and a rustle in the grass
a shadow pass

Murmuring lyrics drift across the sand
and slowly
another shadow pass

Gentle giant beasts with shadows of their own
with gentle gentle footsteps
sweeping as they roam

And slowly
slowly breathing
The last of the genteel giants pass…

Why do you believe it is important to allow yourself times to create freely?

We try to foster a “life” that looks at the world with a childlike curiosity, and we are often completely compelled to create something that comes from the heart. Often we feel the need to create as much as we need to breath, and that is what makes it exciting when you create for the sake of creating. There’s no right and no wrong. As a creative project is completely open to interpretation, we adore the challenge of breathing life into our fictitious stories, and by creating just for fun we push our own boundaries. We get to stretch our minds, our imagination. We want people to stop, look, think and above all feel when they look at these photographs. We want to give wings to their imagination too..

By doing these little projects we challenge our art, how we see the world and how we interpret what is around is. It is a huge part of how we grow and foster that childlike wonder. For us it is a way of living our best lives.

This photoshoot was a fine art concept that gently weaves the mystery of foreign lyrics, giant genteel beasts and the ethereal feminine beauty together. It is a concept that combines the unique essence that surrounds the African elephant with the delicate texture of a unique garment born in a dream and combined with poetry that evokes the eternal magic that is Africa.
By combining the raw elements of nature - the elephants and the silver Ethiopian crosses we wanted to place emphasis on the delicate texture of the fabric of the dress, the porcelain-like quality of the model’s skin and the very delicate floral pieces that drape and weave themselves around her body. A threadbare shawl adds a touch of East Africa together with a sense of nostalgia and mystery… a veil of sorts against the world. Together this ties the florals in with the intricate silver crosses.

How were you able to incorporate the beautiful creatures within the shoot?

Actually so happy that you asked this. We looked long and hard for a sanctuary where we’d agree with their conservation policies, where the elephants were not chained or tamed. Glen Afric hosts a small herd of 3 elephants who are habituated to humans but not tamed. This meant that we could get very close (handlers were in place to guide and assist us) but we had to constantly work around them and their very large feet! We had to move and place our model close to them if and when we could without blocking their way. It was a very challenging shoot – the sun not always being in the ideal spot, being covered in dust showers from time to time, not being able to use our floral tattoos when we were too close (as the elephants wanted to remove them, flowers are after all food…)  and having to carry all gear and styling items with us at all times as we could not risk them stepping onto something.

It was something you had to feel, smell, live to really understand and that is exactly what we wanted for this shoot – a sensory explosion!

The zebras were just luck and with them being super curious and use to being viewed we were able to photograph very close to them as well.



Concept, Design & Photography by Dust and Dreams Photography | Venue Glen Afric | Wedding Dress by Silver Swallow Design | Floral Tattoos by Teneale from Szoosh | Jewelry by Soul Design  | Styling by Blue Brooch & Peony Rose for Dust and Dreams | Calligraphy & Handmade Paper by Papier Handmade | HAMU by Candice Storm  | Model Jana Robertson  | Elephant Hannah, Three & Marty  | Videography by Deep Field Films | Song Lyrics by Sambolera, Khadja Nin | Poetry by Elaine Van der Merwe-Louwrens