Fairytale photos with an edge let you take a walk on wild side

LORNA FREYTAG is used to getting funny looks from those around her as she carries out her work.

Firstly from her husband, Daniel. “Although he has got used to bizarre costumes hanging in the wardrobe and cluttering up our flat, from little girls’ Cinderella and Red Riding Hood dresses to furs, skulls and broken teapots,” the photographer explains.

Then there’s her parents, Margaret and Derek Siegel, who live in Morningside.

“We were staying with my parents when we first arrived back from Australia a few years ago. I was working on my ‘feral’ series – fine art pictures featuring a tribe of ‘wild’ children living in the wilderness. To my mum’s horror a dead rabbit and pheasant were delivered to the house and I had them hanging up in the conservatory to photograph them in the right light for my images. We ate them in a lovely stew afterwards,” she says cheerfully.

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    And there were her neighbours when she lived in London. “I had my studio set up at home and I was asked to do a shoot for Uglies model agency to show the breadth of their character models. I chose a Victorian circus ‘freak show’. I had some very strange-looking people turning up at my flat; dwarves, tall skinny women, a punk biker – who was to be my strongman and actually arrived wearing his own thick chain necklace – a man who looked like Shakespeare and a man who was covered from head to toe in tattoos. The neighbours were giving me very strange looks!”

    And even the local butcher. “I’d been following this rooster around a farm trying unsuccessfully to photograph its feet, while being attacked by geese from behind. I decided it might be easier to shoot chicken feet which I requested from a butcher – who thought I was very odd – but they didn’t look quite right, so it was back to the farm to pester the rooster again!”

    But the 34-year-old’s years of work with rather odd props and her passion for fantastical photographs have now paid off. Her first children’s book, Wild Child, has just been published by Walker Books, telling the tale of an impish girl who lives in the wilderness with the bears, flowers and fishes and featuring Lorna’s trademark photography style, which manages to be both fairytale and hyper-real at the same time.

    It’s a style she’s developed since she first picked up a camera at Boroughmuir High School under the direction of her art teacher, Mr Campbell. “He was inspirational,” she says. From there, she studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, where she met her future husband. His job as a graphic designer has taken the couple around the world, firstly to Dubai where she worked as a photographer’s assistant, learning the nuts and bolts of the job and helping set up shoots of everything from “tubes of toothpaste to Arabs in cars”, then New York where she worked in fashion photography and discovered it wasn’t for her. “It was very fake,” she says. By the time the couple reached Sydney in Australia, she had more or less given up on photography jobs. But she did begin to work with digital photographs, developing her style of layering pictures to create dream-like images, influenced by the likes of Tim Burton and Roald Dahl, as well as classical children’s stories. “I shoot all the different layers against a white background, then put them together. It’s like painting with Photoshop,” she explains.

    When the couple arrived in London in 2005, Lorna approached an agent and the work began pouring in – although mainly commercial shoots for clients such as Harrods, Harpers Bazaar, Ben Sherman and Collezioni Bambini, and private commissions, creating portraits with a difference for families. But she held on to her dream of becoming a book illustrator. “I always kept notes of ideas for children’s books,” she says. “But it’s so difficult to get noticed by publishers.”

    In the end, Walker Books came to her after one of her private commissions was spotted and she was asked to put some ideas together for a traditional fairytale. Lorna, who currently lives in Glasgow, also suggested her ideas for Wild Child – and the book was commissioned. Now she has several other publishers interested in future books and with the arrival of baby Juno in October, she has her hands full – but says she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’m trying to work while she [the baby] is sleeping but it’s great to have all this happening, it’s been my dream.”

    • Wild Child by Jeanne Willis and Lorna Freytag is published by Walker Books, priced £11.99. www.lorna freytag.com