Photographer Renee Ho sees forests much like our best folklorists have seen them for millennia: as magical places that reveal important insights into who we are. J.R.R. Tolkien, Hayao Miyazaki, and Lewis Carroll are but a few who’ve been enchanted by the spellbinding woods.
Like Carroll, Ho likes playing with a sense of scale and anthropomorphism as seen by her self-portrait series Nature Wanderer, in which she captures herself in fantasy environments where band-aids wrap around trees and giant flowers bloom from the ground.
Ho tells us, “Alice in Wonderland was a great influence to me. I like the different perspective of scale and I thought it would be fun to do it in my self-portraits. [It was] more like an experimenting process but after the first self-portrait, people liked it.” Therefore, she tried to carry on a similar approach with the rest of the series.
Shot in the forests of Malaysia, the retouched photos look like something pulled out of a Studio Ghibli rendition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
“Studio Ghibli was also a big inspiration to me," she said. "Hayao Miyazaki's first works were often [related] to nature, creatures, animals...Most of the time, [they deal with] saving mother nature and I was deeply influenced by that.”
Nature-inspired self-portraits make sense because Ho’s identity is intertwined with Carroll’s and Miyazaki’s as much as it with nature itself. In fact, she would list nature as her main source of inspiration.
“Although I live in a city, I've always prefer the outdoors, especially venturing into forests. I like to be surrounded by nature because nature to me shows the existence of a higher being and it makes me feel more alive. In a way, nature also makes me a humble person and reminds me that not everything is bad.”
For the curious, Ho didn’t pull off a bit of magic to capture herself on camera. After coming up with a few concepts, she sketched out her compositions, researched locations to do the shooting, then recruited friends as proxy photographers.
“Most of the time, I had a friend there to help me click the shutter button (because I don't have a remote controller). Before I’d shoot, I placed the camera and adjusted it to the most suitable angle. During that time, [I would] test the first few shots on my friend; he/she would model for me during that period. Once I had the right angle, both of us would switch places and he/she would press the shutter button for me.” If Ho was alone, she’d pull off the time-tested technique of hitting the self-timer and running back and forth like a beheaded chicken. Something that would bring a Cheshire Cat-ish grin to the Queen of Hearts.
The forests of Malaysia might not be the only ones given the enchanted treatment as Ho is a dedicated traveler. Many more wonderlands await ahead.
See more of Ho's work over at her website: www.renee-ho.com/