We are always intrigued to see individual’s unique interpretations of classic scenes from literature, mythology or folklore. When we came across Fotolia Contributors Marcin and Sylwia Ciesielski conceptual and original take on Alice in Wonderland we just knew we had to speak with them to understand the story behind the image:

“There are two ways we create story-telling images. Sometimes we know exactly what we want to “say”, we have an image ready in our heads, and so we just need to think about technicalities of it and make it happen. But sometimes we discover the story as we work. And as the story unwinds we need to follow it adding various elements and adjustments. “Have I gone mad” was one of these images created in this second way.

For this photoshoot we had a number of ideas to try and amazing outfits by Ewa Jobko. But Coco GJ (our model) wanted something inspired by “Alice in Wonderland”. Only she was worried than you cannot have an Alice with red hair. Indeed, majority of people when thinking about Alice think “blue dress” and ”blonde girl”, but our first associations were “teapot”, “surreal”, and “on the other side”. So we took a challenge to create Alice with red hair and in a reddish dress.

And this is how it all started.

The initial idea was to make a tight crop of Coco pouring tea against the gravity rules. The idea was to make the viewer somewhat confused, wondering if the model is actually standing on a ceiling, if world is upside down or maybe something else is happening there. But we knew that the teapot and the cup themselves would be too small to immediately create this confusion, so to emphasize the effect we wanted Coco’s hair to fall in the opposite direction too (so actually stand up on the photo).

Taking a photo of Coco holding cup and teapot in reverse was relatively easy. There was also nothing major in photographing the pouring tea with the intention to Photoshop it later in. The first challenge appeared when we wanted to take a photo of Coco’s hair hanging upside down. Quickly we have realized that Coco’s hair is not only beautifully red but also quite long, and any attempt to photograph it with Coco either lying on the table or keeping her head down will utterly fail. There was no easy cheating here, she really had to hang upside down. Fortunately, Coco being of a rather small build was easy to lift up. But it was a bit surreal itself to photograph Coco being held up by her ankles (not that it made an impression on her at all).


And this was it – in the studio. Then it was on to our favourite tool of the trade – Photoshop.

We cut out Coco, replaced her hair, added pouring tea and… the result was not that impressive at all. We needed more. And that is how the scene began to build itself.

  1. Space.

We realized that we clearly needed more space around, as a tight crop was not working. We came with an idea to put Coco on the chessboard. But to be honest the infinite chessboard is quite boring if you look at it for a while. Hence, we added some mist building up in the distance. After all, the land on the other side of the rabbit hole is somewhat mysterious.

  1. More reversed gravity

We have also noticed that by adding space around Coco, the teapot became even smaller part of the picture, and the idea of reversed gravity even less obvious (even with impressive red hair stretching up). To emphasize distorted gravity we added a few dead trees shot earlier in the Dead Valley in Namibia. We placed them growing upside down from the low hanging clouds.

  1. More surreal

To emphasize surrealism in the photo, the dead trees shed vibrant rose petals that fell to the bottom of the photo to lie on the chessboard.

  1. More desolated

This looked quite cool, but it was still not ready. The dead trees from the African desert gave us a mental connection to the empty chessboard. But empty is often boring. So we decided desolate was better than empty. And what is more desolated than an empty graveyard? And this is how the tombstones of angels (some may recognise famous graveyard in Havana) appeared in the mist with the birds circling above them.

  1. And here comes the Flamingo

Now we only needed something on the right side of the photo to balance Alice proudly taking the left side. Something to emphasize the main idea of the photo. Something small yet giving clear clues to the audience. Something to make Alice less lonely. Something pink.

As soon as flamingo landed on the chessboard we knew the story was finished. Because what else could one ask themselves looking at this image than only:

“Have I Gone Mad?”

Oh you know the answer:

“I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

A big thank you to Marcin and Sylwia for sharing their story behind the image. You can discover more of their surreal and conceptual images in their Fotolia portfolio here.

Photo: Quality Pixels Photography (Marcin & Sylwia Ciesielski)

Model: Coco GJ Model

Make-up: Teresa Jolly – Make Up Artist

Phoenix Dress: Ewa Jobko – Costume Designer

Hair: Teresa Jolly & Marcin Ciesielski