Photographs of models, either in a burned-out forest or on site at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, in custom clothes based on a new novel popped up on the Internet last week.
It turned out that it wasn't an unconventional promotional vehicle, but an organic, art-for-art's sake project involving Missoula residents and a Chicago-based professional photographer.
The novel is "The Cassandra," by Sharma Shields, a Spokane author and University of Montana creative writing graduate. How did it end up in photos?
The project started when her friend Richard Fifield, a Missoula novelist, and Nina Alviar, a makeup artist and stylist, bonded via Facebook over a particular style of 1990s look. Alviar's friend Greg Hanrahan, a Chicago photographer who's worked for Elle and Architectural Digest, was coming to Montana, and she asked Fifield if he could make enough clothes for a shoot.
Fifield, the author of "The Flood Girls," said that he only recently began sewing and altering clothes.
"My mom died in August and everybody handles grief differently, and for me I had to get really, really small and I have always done arts and crafts," he said. He began obsessively applying Rhinestones to everything in his house, until he had to move into something else, like clothing. (He jokingly describes some of what he makes as impractical or an art project, basically "destroying" vintage clothes, and doesn't want to compare himself to local professional designers.)
He also just happened to have just read "The Cassandra," and thought it was not only convenient for providing a storyline and characters, but was prescient.
"It's essentially a book about standing up for the truth and standing up for the environment ... and it couldn't be more timely of a book," he said.
Shields' novel centers on protagonist Mildred Graves, a young woman in 1940s Washington. According to a Missoulian book review, Graves experiences prophetic visions, just like the Cassandra in Greek myth, and likewise is doubted by those around her. Graves then gets a job at government site in Hanford, where plutonium was produced.
Alviar works in makeup and styling for television and movies (including Montana-shot features like "The Ballad of Lefty Brown" and "Robert the Bruce").
"I've been doing makeup for 14 years, I've never done anything like that where we based it off a book and those characters and created this story in this way," she said.
In continuity with the story, she decided on a 1940s look, particularly for the pictures taken at the fort. For the forest shoots, the look had to reflect the character's fraying mental state: black lipstick, gold that matches the clothing, but "still couture, very elegant, nothing cartoonish."
Field said he loves the 1940s secretary look, which he's "always been drawn to, and I wanted to take that style and make it kind of as goth and new wave and weird as possible."
Hanrahan said Fifield was "able to describe each character that we shot, who they were, and that really allowed me to pick locations for them."
They found a site south of Fort Fizzle where a forest fire had burned out, which was fitting for the nuclear-war theme. Hanrahan had the idea of using colored smoke to "give it pop and liveliness."
They all helped with the organization and planning until they got to set, and then handed the reins to Hanrahan.
"What you see in the result is Greg's talent and Greg's prowess and his professionalism, and his ability to direct the models and make them feel comfortable," she said.
The models were all friends of Alviar's and Hanrahan said they gave it their all. He also said that there's "a big push right now in the commercial world for real talent: real, everyday people to get in front of the lens."
"It was a completely phenomenal shoot and everybody was so happy and trusting and we all just got along really well on the shoot, which is not always the case. Shoots can be very difficult, they can be very tiring and everybody was just so happy to give their all. It was a blast. We were like a family at the end," he said.