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The Shakespeare Photo Project. Friendship and Discovering Our Passions In Tandem

Vulnerability and hope all wrapped up in a heart project

We all know that friends are supposed to encourage you and support you in achieving your dreams. There is a certain significance in female friendships, one that is familiarly empowering and uplifting. This is certainly true of my friendship with Madison Natoli. Maddie and I met four years ago in high school, when we discovered we both have the same rare disease.

Our friendship has conquered new doctors, new drugs, hospital stays, and even her recovery. Much like any other classic girls’ friendship, we have gone through everything together. Both of us having gone through near-death experiences, traumatic family events, and other tribulations, we have always thought we were destined to have a friendship.

In Maddie’s own words, we are soul sisters, fated to cross paths and come together for the rest of our lives.

In addition to our health conditions, we have much in common.

Maddie and I both have a passion for the theatrical arts, and even after I left the school due to my disability I was sure to attend all the shows she was in and she supported all of my work with a local theater. We both seem to think that both our love for theater and literature, as well as our similarities, have a sort of gravitational pull. This pull, or magnetism, started us down a path that we have aptly named The Shakespeare Photo Project. Maddie dreams of becoming a model, and I dream of being a professional photographer. Like all other things in our adjoined lives, we drew together to make our dreams a reality.

The Shakespeare Photo Project is a project we started together around the central idea that “a picture says a thousand words”— we intend on using photosets to tell the stories of Shakespearean characters. This project brings together both of our dreams, as well as theater, literature, and most of all, the bond of friendship.

The first story we told was that of the death of Ophelia.

If you are unfamiliar with the play “Hamlet,” Ophelia is a main character and her father is murdered by Hamlet. Subsequently, she drowns herself in a pond. Ophelia was a strong and powerful woman who was also beautiful and soft, a tragic story but still a role model for strong women.

It wasn’t any surprise to me that Ophelia was Maddie’s favorite character, and that she desired to recreate her death scene. We set out to our local Goodwill to find the perfect costume. Two stores later, we came back to my house; we had purchased a flowy white dress, a velvet maroon gown, and a loose-fitting black dress. Each dress was symbolic of the emotions and sequence of events in the original scene. With garments in hand, we set out to the pool in my backyard, our makeshift pond for the afternoon.

Shakespeare photo project

We started with the white dress, it billowed and swept as Maddie slowly descended into the water, a tragic vision. Her dancer background clearly showed as she struck poses and her body drifted across the water’s surface. The white symbolized Ophelia being at peace with her decision and enjoying her last few moments of life despite being in mourning.

shakespeare photo project

Next came the red velvet gown. Its fabric, heavy and dark in the water, symbolized blood and the weight of dying, drowning.

shakespeare photo project

Lastly, she donned the black dress, representing death, the afterlife, and the mourning of her tragedy.

Throughout the whole process we encouraged each other on our individual skills, and learned together. Both of us laughing and screaming in joy as we went through the pictures; she kept exclaiming, “We got the shot!”

The most delightful surprise of the evening was that the string lights hanging above the pool reflected on the moving water. This, along with using a shutter speed too slow for nighttime, created a blurring effect that was almost supernatural. The light reflecting on the water looked like fire in the black dress scenes. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime shot, and we have decided to leave them completely unedited.

I’m writing this as we plan for our next shoot, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Bringing our art forms together and accomplishing our dreams has really brought me a sense of joy and comfort.

It’s incredible to learn and grow with your best friend, encouraging each other every step of the way.

With every new idea and plan we make, I am reminded that this is what a true female friendship is supposed to be like. I feel grateful to have found it so young, as well as having the opportunity to work on my dreams and passions in such a loving environment.

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Also published on Medium.

Presley Nassise is an 18 year old gay and disabled woman....