The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Joan Lennon and Howl's Moving Castle

I met children's author, Joan Lennon, at Wigtown Book Festival last year, and was chatting to her about the "Authors as Characters" series of images I've been creating. She was interested, enthusiastic and said she could feel a wide range of possibilities all bubbling up.

One difficulty was she lived about 150 miles away, but we kept in touch after the festival and ideas were bounced back and forth. Eventually we settled on Sophie from "Howl's Moving Castle" by Diana Wynne Jones, and last month Joan came over to this corner of Scotland to do the shoot.

It wasn't a story I was familiar with, however it turned out to have been made into an animated movie by Hayao Miyazaki - the man behind the Oscar winning "Spirited Away" - and I enjoyed watching it for research.

Although the heroine of the story is a young woman, she is transformed by a witch into someone much older. Seeking a cure for the curse, Sophie wanders into the mountains where she encounters a living scarecrow, and this was the scene we decided to recreate for the photo.

Needing someone to play the part of the scarecrow, there was only one person I would think of turning to - the wonderful author, storyteller and good friend, Renita Boyle, who has helped me on many of the photos in this series.

Costumes at the ready, we met up in Gatehouse of Fleet in the evening, and drove up a narrow back road into the hills where I wanted to get the shot near sunset.

Joan dressed up as Sophie

It took a while to get the light balance right. With the sun directly behind them, Renita and Joan were thrown into silhouette, so I needed to use an off-camera flash to light them back up again. By the time I'd worked it out, the sun had already stared to disappear behind the hills and we were plunged into shadow, so we had to climb further up our side of the valley to catch it up again.

We were rewarded with a rather lovely view once we reached the next plateau, though didn't have much time to get the shot done before the sun disappeared once again.

View down over Gatehouse to the Irish Sea beyond

With the shoot over, we were able to relax, enjoy the light and carefully work our way back down the hill to the car.

Quick group photo as the sun disappears

However, it wasn't completely over for me. Back home editing needed to be done and Renita needed to be transformed a little more convincingly into a scarecrow via Photoshop.

Looking at the final image, Renita commented she was delighted for once in her life to be "stick thin"...

The final photo - Sophie encounters the scarecrow

As always, feel free to click on the photos for slightly bigger versions.


Aoife.Troxel said...

I had no idea this was a book before it was made into a film. So of course I've now purchased the book (thanks to you)!

Joan Lennon said...

So much fun - and such a great result! (And such a cool camera - I have serious envy issues!)

To see some photos I took of the master at work, and a scarecrow at rest, pop over to my blog on Sat.! (

Great book, great film, great shoot.

Ruthie Redden said...

As always I love the storytelling element of your work Kim, this is wonderful. Shall have to look out for the animation now as I loved "spirited Away"!

Kateri Von Steal said...

WHAT A FUN SHOOT! I love this!

Anonymous said...

These are beautiful and magical, Kim!

Unknown said...

You have the craziest ideas and they all turn out just right. So weird. It's like you have an "automatic-it-will-turn-out-great" chip in your brain. Please duplicate and send me one.

Mimi and Tilly said...

Joan looks like a very interesting and fun person to talk with and share creative ideas with. Beautiful photographs. Thank you for your lovely words on my blog. It's good to know you still read my posts, even when I'm not able to blog for a while. Thank you for that, Kim. :)

neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

I just love the passion you put into your work!

Pat said...

They are stunning photo.

Kim Ayres said...

Aoife - Thanks to Joan! I'd never heard of it until she said she wanted to be a character from it :)

Joan - thank you for your suggestion, and for your time and enthusiasm :)

Ruthie - thank you :)

Kateri - it was a lot of fun :)

Allen - thank you :)

Carole - not everything works - only the ones that get posted (unless the not-working makes an equally good story). The trick is to keep doing it, even though you don't know it's going to work and even though sometimes it fails spectacularly :)

Mimi & Tilly - I always read your blogs, even if I don't always comment :)

Guyana-Gyal - thank you :)

Pat - thank you :)

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