Gretel’s Escape

“Early in the morning, Gretel had to go out and hang up the cauldron with the water, and light the fire. “We will bake first,” said the old woman, “I have already heated the oven, and kneaded the dough.” She pushed poor Gretel out to the oven, from which flames of fire were already darting. “Creep in,” said the witch, “and see if it is properly heated, so that we can put the bread in.” And once Gretel was inside, she intended to shut the oven and let her bake in it, and then she would eat her, too. But Gretel saw what she had in mind, and said: “I do not know how I am to do it; how do I get in?” “Silly goose,” said the old woman. “The door is big enough; just look, I can get in myself!” and she crept up and thrust her head into the oven. Then Gretel gave her a push that drove her far into it, and shut the iron door, and fastened the bolt. Oh then she began to howl quite horribly, but Gretel ran away, and the godless witch was miserably burnt to death.”

I am interested in Gretel in the story of Hansel and Gretel. She ultimately ends up taking matters into her own hands, saving herself and her brother, while also “cooking” the witch. I focused on two elements of Gretel’s character, her strength and vindication, and also her remorse. Gretel ran away because she could not stand the witch’s screams. Whether witch or not, “cooking” someone alive is simply macabre. I continually notice these unexpected elements in Grimm’s fairy tales (among others), themes such as innocent children committing horrendous murder, because circumstances force them to, of course. It is the common motif of good versus evil, one that is so blatantly prevalent in Grimm’s fairy tales.

This shoot was rather challenging ( and unpleasant, for both the model and I). The “oven” is a fallen, rotted tree’s roots. Inside, the ground is sinking mud. Not just any mud, but the kind that you can sink into if you stand in one place for too long. In addition, there were hoards of bugs. I still have bug bites to show for it! To achieve the lighting, I had to use three strobes through a satin white umbrella (camera left) in order to bring the tree and the shadowy forest in balance with the ambient light streaming through the trees behind. For the “oven” I rented a fog machine (and a generator to power it). I hid the fog macine in the corner by the model and bounced a red gelled strobe off white garbage bags. I had to thread the cord of the fog machine through the side of the tree because the generator was too big to fit in that corner!

Below are a few of the outtakes, it was difficult to get the smoke and the models pose to come all together in one shot.

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