Bram Stoker's Dracula 1897 - Photography adaptation

November 04, 2015  •  Leave a Comment


When we started the idea for a project to adapt Bram Stoker's original Dracula story from 1897, the thought that we could bring to life a book that was written 118 years ago, filled with rich visual metaphors, was quite daunting. But through an extraordinary effort among a team of creative people, it came alive. 

Though I've seen the 1931 film with Bela Lugosi, I had not read the original book. But my husband, Bill, had recently completed it.  A much more literary mind than I, he dove into the interpretation of the book.  And over a discussion on a car ride about the story, we dissected how later adaptations of films, Halloween costumes, cereal boxes and cartoons had changed the themes from the original in so many ways. Since the turn of the century era has always fascinated me, I had an itch to photograph the scenes of this very interesting novel. So we put our minds together, and began designing a collaboration to bring the original Dracula back to life - this time through a photographic story.  We were concerned about keeping true to Bram Stoker's original novel in each photo, allowing for some small degree of flexibility to incorporate modern fashion or to add some creative interpretation and metaphor. I wanted to bring in a current fashion designer, who has a style that has elements of the 1900's mixed with a modern day look. So I chose Deborah Lindquist, a designer I have worked with several times.  Her designs for women boast a confident sexuality with twists on the older era, such as an empire waisted dress or a colorful bustier, which I anticipated would be perfect for this project. Our makeup direction was based on the descriptions of the characters in the book, which I was sure our makeup artist Jacki Demario would have no problem interpreting - she always nails the look each time I work with her. Bill and I collected as many antiques as we could that were close to the time frame it was written - 1897 - from several antique/vintage shops and dealers. Finally, we had to find the right models/actors. Van Helsing would need to be played by an actor who would be able to capture the character's experience & expertise that help him become the story's most expert vampire hunter. That dynamic was perfectly found in Mark Tierno, an actor from Pittsburgh that we have collaborated with on many occasion. For the two main female characters - Lucy and Mina - we decided to have them portrayed by the same woman. For this important role, we chose Kaylyn Farneth, an actor and recent graduate from Pitt's drama program. She was able to artistically capture the essence of both women - the sweet innocence of Lucy, the sophistication and intelligence of Mina, and the stark transformation to Lucy in vampire form. This Un-Dead version of Lucy appears after her death in the book, as she spends her evenings carrying out the wishes and dark desires of the mysterious Count. Once Kaylyn was on board, our choice for Count Dracula became clear - we knew that her fiance, Michael Trenski, would have no trouble tapping into their natural chemistry as a couple, but he also had the intensity in his face and mannerisms that the Count demands on camera. When I asked Michael to play the role, he was on board immediately, excited to put his own spin on the character.  

Our direction for the visual style of the shoot was influenced heavily by the many themes of the original novel. The nature of repression, cultural anxiety, fear of female sexuality, the impact and complexity of spiritual relationships, violent beauty, gender inequality, conflicting ideas between science and religion - these are all interesting topics that have their place in the original novel, and still dominate much of our philosophical discussions today. We wanted our shoot to cover some of these themes via the medium of creative visual metaphor, and ultimately to be a unique look at the complex web of nuanced emotion that makes us human. 

Throughout the photographic story you see below, we have inserted actual excerpts from the book that correlate to various themes that we tried to incorporate visually into each scene. One of the many interesting aspects of the original novel is the way it was written. Dracula is not a straightforward narrative, but a collection of documents that, taken together, tell the tale in it's entirety: journals, letters by the main characters, transcriptions of recordings on phonograph, newspaper clippings, even a ship's log. 

Although a bit longer in length than my typical blog entry, this serves as an attempt to capture the essence of a 400+ page novel into one photographic essay that can be read in a single sitting. As you will see, we attempted to keep true to the story in some literal ways, but in other sections decided to allow the visual metaphors to take center stage. From the bedroom scene, staged and photographed outdoors in the Pennsylvania wildnerness, to the canopy of vintage umbrellas shielding the Count from the sun, we hope you will enjoy this photographic journey of Dracula and some of it's main characters - Lucy Westenra, Professor Van Helsing, Mina Harker, and of course, the legendary Count Dracula. 



"Lucy is ill; that is, she has no special disease, but she looks awful, and is getting worse every day."
"I do not understand Lucy's fading away as she is doing. She eats well and sleeps well, and enjoys the fresh air; but all the time the roses in her cheeks are fading, and she gets weaker and more languid day by day; at night I hear her gasping as if for air."


"Four days and nights of peace. I am getting so strong again that I hardly know myself. It is as if I had passed through some long nightmare, and had just awakened to see the beautiful sunshine and feel the fresh air of the morning around me."



"I feel so happy tonight. I have been so miserably weak, that to be able to think and move about is like feeling sunshine after a long spell of east wind out of a steel sky."



"I have written to my old friend and master, Professor Van Helsing, of Amsterdam, who knows as much about obscure diseases as any one in the world."
"When I described Lucy's symptoms - the same as before, but infinitely more marked - he looked very grave, but said nothing. He took with him a bag in which there were many instruments and drugs, 'the ghastly paraphernalia of our beneficial trade', as he once called, in one of his lectures, the equipment of a professor of the healing craft."


“The arrival of Van Helsing's telegram filled me with dismay. A whole night lost, and I know by bitter experience what may happen in one night. Of course it is possible that all may be well, but what may have happened? Surely there is some horrible doom hanging over us that every possible accident should thwart us in all we try to do.”



"Do you know all the mystery of life and death? Do you know the altogether of comparitive anatomy, and can say wherefore the qualities of brutes are in some men, and not in others? Can you tell my why, when other spiders die small and soon, that one great spider lived for centuries in the tower of the old Spanish church and grew and grew, till, on descending, he could drink the oil of all the church lamps?"



"Just over the external jugular vein there were two punctures, not large, but not wholesome-looking. There was no sign of disease, but the edges were white and worn-looking, as if by some trituration. It at once occurred to me that this wound, or whatever it was, might be the means of that manifest loss of blood; but I abandoned the idea as soon as formed, for such a thing could not be. The whole bed would have been drenched to a scarlet with the blood which the girl must have lost to leave such a pallor she had before the transfusion."


dracula_skysight_photography_027dracula_skysight_photography_027 "All was dark and silent, the black shadows thrown by the moonlight seeming full of a silent mystery of their own. Not a thing seemed to be stirring, but all to be grim and fixed as death or fate; so that a thin streak of white mist, that crept with almost imperceptible slowness across the grass towards the house, seemed to have a sentience and a vitality of its own."



'Oh Professor, I believe you are only putting up a joke on me. Why, these flowers are only common garlic.'



"This is medicinal, but you do not know how. I put him in your window, I make pretty wreath, and hang him round your neck, so that you sleep well. Oh yes! They, like the lotus flower, make your trouble forgotten."



"Since, however, Dr Van Helsing has been with me, all this bad dreaming seems to have passed away; the noises that used to frighten me out of my wits - the flapping against the windows, the distant voices which seemed so close to me, the harsh sounds that came from I know not where and commanded me to do I know not what - have all ceased."


dracula_skysight_photography_038dracula_skysight_photography_038 "How good they all are to me. I quite love that dear Dr. Van Helsing. I wonder why he was so anxious about these flowers. He positively frightened me, he was so fierce. And yet he must have been right, for I feel comfort from them already. Somehow, I do not dread being alone tonight, and I can go to sleep without fear. I shall not mind any flapping outside the window."


dracula_skysight_photography_045dracula_skysight_photography_045  "It was brilliant moonlight, and the soft effect of the light over the sea and sky - merged together in one great, silent mystery - was beautiful beyond words. Between me and the moonlight flitted a great bat, coming and going in great, whirling circles."


dracula_skysight_photography_046dracula_skysight_photography_046 "...I did not fear to go to sleep again, although the boughs or bats or something flapped almost angrily against the window-panes."


dracula_skysight_photography_047dracula_skysight_photography_047 "I opened my door and called out: 'Is there anybody there?' There was no answer. I was afraid to wake mother, and so closed my door again. Then outside in the shrubbery I heard a sort of howl like a dog's, but more fierce and deeper. I went to the window and looked out, but could see nothing, except a big bat, which had evidently been buffeting it's wings against the window."



"Another quiet day, and to bed with the key on my wrist as before. Again I awoke in the night, and found Lucy sitting up in bed, still asleep, pointing to the window. I got up quietly, and pulling aside the blind, looked out."



"He came up to the window in the mist, as I had seen him often before; but he was solid then - not a ghost, and his eyes were fierce like a man's when angry. He was laughing, with his red mouth; the sharp white teeth glinted in the moonlight when he turned to look back over the belt of trees, to where the dogs were barking. I wouldn't ask him to come in at first, though I knew he wanted to - just as he had wanted all along. Then he began promising me things - not in words but by doing them."



"The mist grew thicker and thicker, and I could see now how it came in, for I could see it like smoke - or with the white energy of boiling water - pouring in, not through the window, but through the joinings of the door. It got thicker and thicker, till it seemed as if it became concentrated into a sort of pillar of cloud in the room, through the top of which I could see the light of the gas shining like a red eye."


dracula_skysight_photography_060dracula_skysight_photography_060 "My expectations were wrong, for twice during the night I was wakened by Lucy trying to get out. She seemed, even in her sleep, to be a little impatient at finding the door shut, and went back to bed under a sort of protest."


dracula_skysight_photography_063dracula_skysight_photography_063 "I didn't quite dream; but it all seemed to be real......I have a vague memory of something long and dark with red eyes, just as we saw in the sunset, and something very sweet and very bitter all around me at once.....and then everything seemed passing away from me; my soul seemed to go out from my body and float about the air....."


dracula_skysight_photography_066dracula_skysight_photography_066 "There was undoubtedly something, long and black, bending over the half-reclining white figure. I called in fright, 'Lucy! Lucy!' and something raised a head, and from where I was I could see a white face and red, gleaming eyes."


dracula_skysight_photography_068dracula_skysight_photography_068 "When I bent over her I could see that she was still asleep. Her lips were parted, and she was breathing - not softly, as usual with her, but in long, heavy gasps, as though striving to get her lungs full at every breath. As I came close, she put up her hand in her sleep and pulled the collar of her nightdress close round her throat. Whilst she did so there came a little shudder through her, as though she felt the cold."


dracula_skysight_photography_073dracula_skysight_photography_073 "I looked at her throat just now as she lays asleep, and the tiny wounds seem not to have healed. They are still open, and, if anything, larger than before, and the edges of them are faintly white. They are like little white dots with red centres. Unless they heal within a day or two, I shall insist on the doctor seeing about them."



“Then she went on in a half-dreaming kind of way, as if trying to recall it to herself...Then she began to laugh. It seemed a little uncanny to me, and I listened to her breathlessly. I did not quite like it, and thought it better not to keep her mind on the subject, so we drifted on to other subjects, and Lucy was like her old self again."


dracula_skysight_photography_076dracula_skysight_photography_076 "And then insensibly there came the strange change which I had noticed in the night. Her breathing grew stertorous, the mouth opened, and the pale gums, drawn back, made the teeth look longer and sharper than ever."



"There lay Lucy, seemingly just as we had seen her the night before her funeral. She was, if possible, more radiantly beautiful than ever; and I could not believe that she was dead. The lips were red, nay redder than before; and on the cheeks was a delicate bloom."



"Lucy Westenra, but yet how changed. The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness."



"When Lucy - I call the thing that was before us Lucy because it bore her shape - saw us she drew back with an angry snarl, such as a cat gives when taken unawares; then her eyes ranged over us. Lucy's eyes in form and colour; but Lucy's eyes unclean and full of hell-fire, instead of the pure, gentle orbs we knew. At that moment the remnant of my love passed into hate and loathing; had she then to be killed, I could have done it with savage delight."



“I started, for it amazed me that I had not seen him, since the reflection of the glass covered the whole room behind me.”



" strength became like water. He slipped through it, and when I tried to cling to Him, He raised me up and flung me down. There was a red cloud before me, and a noise like thunder, and the mist seemed to steal away under the door."



"And then a red cloud, like the colour of blood, seemed to close over my eyes; and before I knew what I was doing, I found myself opening the sash and saying to Him: "Come in, Lord and Master!"


dracula_skysight_photography_088dracula_skysight_photography_088 “The moonlight was so bright that through the thick yellow blind the room was light enough to see. On the bed beside the window lay Jonathan Harker, his face flushed and breathing heavily as though in a stupor. Kneeling on the near edge of the bed facing outwards was the white-clad figure of his wife. By her side stood a tall, thin man clad in black. His face was turned from us, but the instant we saw we all recognized the Count...”


dracula_skysight_photography_091dracula_skysight_photography_091 "....the whole carnal and unspiritual appearance, seeming like a devilish mockery of Lucy's sweet purity."


dracula_skysight_photography_095dracula_skysight_photography_095 "I can see the characteristics of the vampire coming in her face. It is now but very, very slight; but it is to be seen if we have eyes to notice without to prejudge."


dracula_skysight_photography_096dracula_skysight_photography_096 "I write this in case anything should happen. I go alone to watch in that churchyard. It pleases me that the Un-Dead, Miss Lucy, shall not leave tonight, that so on the morrow night she may be more eager. Therefore I shall fix some things she like not - garlic and a crucifix - and so seal up the door of the tomb."


dracula_skysight_photography_098dracula_skysight_photography_098 "She seemed like a nightmare of Lucy as she lay there; the pointed teeth, the bloodstained, voluptuous mouth - which it made one shudder to see..."


dracula_skysight_photography_100dracula_skysight_photography_100 "Van Helsing raised his lantern and drew the slide; by the concentrated light that fell on Lucy's face we could see that the lips were crimson with fresh blood, and that the stream had trickled over her chin and stained the purity of her lawn death-robe."



"I stood beside Van Helsing, and said -'Ah well, poor girl, there is peace for her at last. It is the end!'

He turned to me, and said with grave solemnity: -'Not so; alas! not so. It is only the beginning!'

When I asked him what he meant, he only shook his head and answered - 'We can do nothing as yet. Wait and see.'"



"....Lucy as we had seen her in her life, with her face of unequaled sweetness and purity."



"'Madam Mina, our poor, dear Madam Mina is changing' A cold shiver ran through me to find my worst fears thus endorsed....Mina opened her eyes; but she did not seem the same woman. There was a far-away look in her eyes, and her voice had a sad dreaminess which was new to me."


dracula_skysight_photography_107dracula_skysight_photography_107 "There was in the room the same thin white mist that I had before noticed."


dracula_skysight_photography_109dracula_skysight_photography_109 "Then indeed, my heart sank within me: beside the bed, as if he had stepped out of the mist - or rather as if the mist had turned into his figure, for it had entirely disappeared - stood a tall, thin man, all in black. I knew him at once from the description of the others."



"With a mocking smile, he placed one hand upon my shoulder and, holding me tight, bared my throat with the other, saying as he did so: 'First, a little refreshment to reward my exertions. You may as well be quiet; it is not the first time, or the second, that your veins have appeased my thirst!'...I felt my strength fading away, and I was in a half swoon."



"'That poor soul who has wrought all this misery is the saddest case of all. Just think what will be his joy when he too is destroyed in his worser part that his better part may have spiritual immortality. You must be pitiful to him too, though it may not hold your hands from his destruction.' As she spoke, I could see her husband's face darken and draw together, as though the passion in him were shrivelling his being to its core. Instinctively the clasp on his wife's hand grew closer, till his knuckles looked white.



"These occasions are becoming harrowing times for us all, for each sunrise and sunset opens up some new danger - some new pain, which however, may in God's will be means to a good end."


dracula_skysight_photography_115dracula_skysight_photography_115 "I know that when the Count wills me I must go. I know that if he tells me to come in secret, I must come by wile; by any device to hoodwink - even Jonathan."



"This then was the Un-Dead home of the King-Vampire, to whom so many more were due. Its emptiness spoke eloquent to make certain what I knew. Before I began to restore these women to their dead selves through my awful work, I laid in Dracula's tomb some of the Wafer, and so banished him from it, Un-Dead, for ever." 


dracula_skysight_photography_120dracula_skysight_photography_120 "Now let me guard yourself. On your forehead I touch this piece of Sacred Wafer in the name of the Father, the Son, and- .... As he placed the wafer on Mina's forehead, it had seared it - had burned into the flesh as though it had been a piece of white-hot metal."


dracula_skysight_photography_124dracula_skysight_photography_124 'Unclean! Unclean! Even the Almighty shuns my polluted flesh! I must bear this mark of shame upon my forehead until the Judgment Day.'


dracula_skysight_photography_127dracula_skysight_photography_127 "Even my own terrible experiences in Castle Dracula seem like a long-forgotten dream. Here in the crisp autumn air in the bright sunlight - Alas! how can I disbelieve! In the midst of my thought my eye fell on the red scar on my poor darling's white forehead. Whilst that lasts, there can be no disbelief. And afterwards the very memory of it will keep faith crystal clear....This I know: that if ever there was a woman who was all perfection, that one is my poor wronged darling....Surely God will not permit the world to be the poorer by the loss of such a creature. This is hope to me."


dracula_skysight_photography_128dracula_skysight_photography_128 "In the first house where we stopped, when the woman who served us saw the scar on my forehead, she crossed herself and put out two fingers towards me, to keep off the evil eye. I believe they went to the trouble of putting an extra amount of garlic into our food; and I can't abide garlic. Ever since then I have taken care not to take off my hat or veil, and so have escaped their suspicions."


dracula_skysight_photography_130dracula_skysight_photography_130 "So if it be that he come thither on this night he shall find me; but none other shall - until it be too late....Therefore I write this in case.....Take the papers that are with this, the diaries of Harker and the rest, and read them, and then find this great Un-Dead, and cut off his head and burn his heart or drive a stake through it, so that the world may rest from him. If it be so, farewell. - Van Helsing"


dracula_skysight_photography_131dracula_skysight_photography_131 "Then, with the fear on me of what might be, I drew a ring so big for her comfort, round where Madam Mina sat; and over the ring I passed some of the wafer, and I broke it fine so that all was well guarded. She sat still all the time - so still as one dead; and she grew whiter and ever whiter till the snow was not more pale; and no word she said."


dracula_skysight_photography_134dracula_skysight_photography_134 “Having answered the Count's salutation, I turned to the glass again to see how I had been mistaken. This time there could be no error, for the man was close to me, and I could see him over my shoulder But there was no reflection of him in the mirror!”


dracula_skysight_photography_138dracula_skysight_photography_138 "....he can, within limitations, appear at will when, and where, and in any of the forms that are to him; he can, within his range, direct the elements: the storm, the fog, the thunder; he can command all the meaner things: the rat, and the owl, and the bat - the moth, and the fox, and the wolf; he can grow and become small; and he can at times vanish and come unknown."


dracula_skysight_photography_142dracula_skysight_photography_142 "Nay more, in all probability, he does not know that such a power exists to us as can sterilize his lairs, so that he cannot use them as of old....All we knew was that one earth-box remained, and that the Count alone knew where it was. If he chooses to lie hidden, he may baffle us for years; and in the meantime! - the thought it too horrible, I dare not think of it even now."


dracula_skysight_photography_144dracula_skysight_photography_144 "The Count may have many houses which he has bought. Of them he will have deeds of purchase, keys and other things. He will have his paper that he write on; he will have his book of cheques."


dracula_skysight_photography_143dracula_skysight_photography_143 'You think to baffle me, you - with your pale faces all in a row, like sheep in a butcher's. You shall be sorry yet, each one of you! You think you have left me without a place to rest; but I have more. My revenge is just begun! I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side. Your girls that you love are all mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine - my creatures, to do my bidding and to be my jackals when I want to feed. Bah!'


dracula_skysight_photography_147dracula_skysight_photography_147 'Whilst they played wits against me - against me who commanded nations, and intrigued for them, and fought for them, hundreds of years before they were born - I was countermining them. And you, their best beloved one, and now to me, flesh of my flesh; blood of my blood; kin of my kin; my bountiful wine-press for a while; and shall be later on my companion and my helper.'


dracula_skysight_photography_148dracula_skysight_photography_148 "We were silent for a while, and suddenly Lucy murmured as if to herself - 'His red eyes again! They are just the same.' It was such an odd expression, coming apropos of nothing, that it quite startled me.....she was in a half-dreamy state, with an odd look on her face that I could not quite make out; so I said nothing, but followed her eyes. She appeared to be looking over at our own seat, whereon was a dark figure seated alone. I was a little startled myself, for it seemed for an instant as if the stranger had great eyes like burning flames; but a second look dispelled the illusion."


dracula_skysight_photography_150dracula_skysight_photography_150 “But my very feelings changed to repulsion and terror when I saw the whole man slowly emerge from the window and begin to crawl down the castle wall over that dreadful abyss, face down, with his cloak spreading out around him like great wings. At first I could not believe my eyes, I thought it was some trick of the moonlight, some weird effect of shadow; but I kept looking, and it could be no delusion.”



"But you must remember that I am not as you are. There is poison in my blood, in my soul, which may destroy me; which must destroy me, unless some relief comes to us."



Photographer: Autumn Stankay 

Videographer:  Bill Stankay  

Concept & Set design:  Autumn & Bill Stankay

Set design & photography assistant:  Lindsay Hill {Skysight Photography fall 2015 intern}

Makeup & hair:  Beautified Makeup by Jacqueline Demario

Dracula's cape, Lucy's two dresses, and crystal crucifix: Clothing designer, Deborah Lindquist Eco Couture 

Count Dracula: Michael Trenski

Lucy & Mina: Kaylyn Farneth 

Van Helsing: Mark Tierno 

Style assistant and behind the scenes shots:  Stacey Ross / Stacey Louise Photography 

Authentic antiques:  Anne Marie Welty 

Additonal props from:  Ann Vandall, The Velvet Big Top, SkySight Photography 





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