On the morning of January 9th, 2017, My dear friend Jude Ann and I set off to Le Salle, IL to shoot a few images in the incredible Hegeler Carus Mansion. Built in 1876, only two families have ever called the mansion home, and it was lived in until the death of Alwin Carus in 2004. The home now serves as a historic house museum, its history preserved and cared for by the Hegeler Carus Foundation. See their website.
The inside of the Hegeler Carus is beautifully haunting and incredibly stunning. Both preserved in time and weathered by it, the walls and woodwork in the home are in deep teals, blues, golds and blacks. In fact, the dining room of the home, what was once covered in an elaborate gold leaf wallpaper, had been painted jet black by the family to mark a grieving moment in history.
As a past employee of history house museums, I visited the Hegeler Carus on a staff field trip. Walking through the home, it was impossible to take in everything all at once. It requires multiple tours to really take it all in, and even then, I'm sure there are countless treasures and histories that will be missed.
A year later, I reached out to the staff of the Hegeler Carus and asked if I could do a photoshoot inside of the house. The house felt close to my heart, as was the staff that I was blessed to have gotten to know through history museum conferences. Thankfully, my request was met with approval, and I began planning immediately.
When the morning of the photoshoot came, my friend and model Jude Ann and I packed bags of dresses, props, lighting equipment, tripods, and my camera bag into my car and took the drive down to La Salle. The house is tucked behind a little neighborhood, hidden from view, but the moment my car took the turn towards the driveway, the house loomed ahead surrounded by naked winter trees and an enormous yard (in spring, the yard becomes covered in tiny purple flowers. Absolutely magical.) We both gasped, and my heart pounded. What an incredible sight! My body filled with adrenaline and nerves... hopefully my skills were good enough to bring this home justice.
Using historic house museums in photoshoots is a very rewarding and tricky thing. Due to the fragile nature of the artifacts in the home and of parts of the home itself, access to certain rooms can be limited and the handling of items in the home usually forbidden. Victorian homes in particular are also often tall and narrow, or long and narrow, so carting around giant lamps and tripods and bags and costumes is a challenge.
My entire reasoning for wanting to go to the Hegeler Carus was in order to capture one concept in particular. I am usually inspired to create a concept after listening to music, and one song had me daydreaming about a scene in an old home that was both beautiful and haunting. My mind took me from an overgrown and melancholy front porch into a decrepit ruin of a mansion and down the hallway until I saw a ghost, beautiful and miraculous in her melancholy state.
I began building the scene in my mind, trying to pinpoint what colors I wanted to use, what tones would be required... and finally, where the shoot could actually take place. Additionally, since I was allowed to use the home, I wanted to also make sure my concept was not offensive to the integrity of the site. My image had to get the feeling across that I wanted, but it had to still hold the home in the highest regard- that was my rule, not one imposed on me from anyone else. The home belonged to someone once, and it is deeply loved by those who care for it now. I wanted my image to be loved by them as well, and for them to think that I did the house justice.
"Forever Home" Meghan Walker Photography
After capturing some beautiful images of Jude in her white gown, I changed into an old wedding dress that I had dyed for the image. I set my camera up on my tripod and held my shutter remote in my hands and took my place in the hallway, as both model and photographer.
When the photoshoot was complete and we packed our things and returned home to Wisconsin, I went through the images that I had taken. As sometimes happens, the focus on myself in the hallway of the house simply wasn't as sharp as I wanted it to me. There was originally a large chandelier behind my head in the image, and my focus had a hard time finding a good place to hold onto as a result. So, I took the dress and went to my friend's studio (Eric Sympson from Symplistic Imagery) and we played with his flashes and lights in his studio so I could composite my upper body into the image.
"Forever Home" was on display at the International Photo Expo in Paris, France in May of 2018.
The images from the shoot (hover over to see arrows):