Shortly after my first visit to the House of Wills here in Cleveland I got excited about doing a model shoot there. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have a pinup styled shoot in this decaying yet hauntingly still stuck in time location? Things fell together fairly quickly (and I completely lucked into Cassandra at the last minute after my original model fell through), but as personal projects sometimes are, it was pushed to the back burner when a whole lot of work streamed in. Now that my spring sessions and event deadlines are all caught up I finally had time to sit and edit those photos.
And they are amazing. Just as I knew they would be.
My strategy with the shoot was to hit my initial ideas as far as certain spaces and lighting went, but largely I told Cassandra – who had not been inside the House of Wills before – to explore the amazing collection of ephemera and architecture as I documented her discoveries.
Above all else I love the documentary style of photography, capturing natural candid moments that evoke an emotional response in others.
We had the place to ourselves, the owner was outside with friends doing a cleanup of the grounds and Patricia, our guide, largely left us to our own devices and checked in now and again to make sure we hadn’t fallen through a floorboard. It was great because I noticed little details I hadn’t seen on the tour when I had wanted to sort of lag behind to photograph and explore on my own but had felt the need to catch up to the group.
Cassandra was just as amazed as I was at the treasures we found just waiting for someone to look upon them again and remember those who had come before: the Civil Rights signs, the photographs of members of the Wills family, the saved newspapers about gruesome murders, and souvenirs from childhood trips to theme parks all mixed together in a weird collection that really gives you a peek into lives long gone.
Given the history of the building as a funeral home, a residence, a center for civil rights activists, and ghost hunting grounds I told Cassandra I was looking for something a bit moody and that I wouldn’t be asking her to cheese for the camera. I think we hit that mood just right.
I had been advised by other photographers to bring along a flash, but I knew that natural light was the way to go to create this sort of moody editorial work. Especially if I wanted to evoke a little of that ghostly presence that brings the paranormal investigators around.
Aside from watching Cassandra make exciting discoveries among the ephemera I was also interested in photographing her exploring the rooms as visitors to the residence level may have once done. If you had lived here, how would you have moved through the room? What might have caught your eye? Which of these nooks would have been your favorite space to pause and think? These are the things that rattled through my mind as we made our quiet journey through the building.
All in all, I hope that I am giving a fresh look to the House of Wills and that you are looking at it in a way you perhaps haven’t before.
My personal project to create interesting photographs of people in spaces in and around Cleveland continues. Now I just have to decide where my next site will be.