All photos © Sarah Allegra. All rights reserved and used with permission.
by Timothy Rutt
Allegra’s work currently focuses on her photography, but her goal is not just to create pretty pictures: her latest emphasis is exploring mythological themes, drawing on the work of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, creating dreamlike pictures, frequently of women in elaborate costumes, having journeys in a primordial landscape.
But the gowns and elaborate decoration are all done on a budget. And the forest primeval is frequently her Altadena backyard, enhanced by creative angles and Photoshop.
Enter the camera
“About three and a half years ago,” she said, “I first picked up a camera to use for artistic purposes as opposed to just documenting somebody’s birthday ...I had done a little art modeling for other photographers in the area and found myself with some ideas that would make some really good photos -- but they weren’t the photographer’s ideas. And it’s usually hard to make a photographer do your ideas as opposed to theirs. I’m the same way now that I’m a photographer, so I understand.”
Using the name “Artos the Bear” (a figure from mythology), the 4 ft. 11 in. brunette with naturally curly hair posed for several edgy local photographers (including Geoff Ashley, who became her husband). As an art model, she was fearless, taking everything from vintage costumes in studio to nudity on city streets in stride.
Taking the name “Sarah Allegra” as her nom d’art, she began exploring her photographic ideas in a series of self-portraits.
“I started using myself as a model just out of convenience .. I had no guarantee of a final product. it was a way to learn in a safe environment. without disappointing somebody else.”
One of her earliest subjects was her own physical pain. Allegra said she suffers from multiple chronic illnesses: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain stemming from two other illnesses: “It makes me really tired all the time,” she said.
As a self-portrait artist, her pain became fodder for her art:
“One of the things that I like to do with my art is to promote awareness about chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia,” Allegra said, “ and I like to do that by portraying what it's like to have it in a visual way. It seems to me that that's a very useful way to teach people about it without beating people over the head.”
The perennial journey
But her current work involves her interest in mythology. While eerily beautiful, she says “I like to say mythic as opposed to fantasy because to me fantasy may draw up some connotations that I feel are not relevant to my work.”
As a struggling photographer on a budget, Allegra has used a lot of tools to create these images: Photoshop, of course, but also applying a lifelong interest in crafting to make the crowns, props, jewelry, and and costumes that ornament her models. “It’s challenging to do everything on a budget ... I do get frustrated. But often, once I have the finished project, it’s more personal and meaningful because I had to work so hard on it ... if there’s something I want to do, I figure out a way to do it.”
Even though her new career is only a few years underway, she has enough of an established portfolio that models are willing to do whatever she thinks will make the picture work. “The models are usually good,” Allegra says. “Now that I have an established portfolio, they know I can pull things off, even if it looks silly.”
And her work is attracting interest. She recently signed a contract with Conlan Press, which publishes the work of one of her influences, author Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn).
“I have loved Peter’s works since I was a child, and I love them more every year,” she said. “I’d done quite a few photos inspired by his work, which Conlan discovered, and asked if I’d be interested in working with them. Of course I said yes. Right now, they’re going to be marketing and selling prints of mine, both Peter-inspired and not.”
Her growing reputation also attracted the interest of actress Lauren Cohan (“Maggie” on “The Walking Dead”), who modeled for a piece inspired by Joseph Campbell’s ideas of the hero’s journey.
Allegra’s goal is to be able to make a living from her art. “I have a day job that I work at two days a week, but I can only do two days there, otherwise it’s just too much for my body,” Allegra says. Art is “something I can do well within the confines of what my body allows me to do ... this is a way to earn a living and contribute to the household income and pay my bills, and do it in a way that won’t make me sicker in a couple of years.”
And she’ll continue to look deeply inside for inspiration. “I’m rarely interested in making a pretty picture,” she said. “There’s pretty much something motivating me beyond.”
Sarah's websites (NOTE: Some pictures contain artistic nudity)
Artos the Bear (modeling portfolio, self-portraits, and and artwork)
Sarah Allegra Artistry (portfolio)
Mythic Pictures (Sarah's blog, where she frequently shows how the photos were created)