Unfinished Symphony

An Unfinished Symphony

model in mysterious by npn dress in front of abandoned grain silo
Brenna Smith poses in a red lace dress by Nick Nguyen in front of an abandoned grain silo.

History is littered with stories of unfinished art masterworks.  Symphony No. 8 by Franz Schubert is one of the most famous.  This is the story of another unfinished work.  And while I make no claim that it belongs in the same class as masterpieces like Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony,” I will claim that this was the start of the best work I have done, to date, and is the pinnacle of my collaboration with the beautiful and deeply talented Brenna Smith.  Circumstances out of our control forced us to cut this project short, but I am hopeful that — like Gen. MacArthur and unlike Schubert — we will return.

How It Got Started

Brenna and I have done a lot of work together. And I have called on her often enough to expect brilliance each time out.  I wrote about our earliest shoots in this article.  As far back as last November, we planned a shoot to help promote the “Master Piece” fashion show.  This would follow the approach chronicled in “In the Twilight Between Art and Life” (click here to read).  Unfortunately, the designer whose work we planned to promote, Cesar Galindo, delayed sending his pieces until it was too late to do anything other than fit the models and send them down the runway.

When the show promoter announced that his next show would have an industrial vibe and take place on the grounds of an abandoned grain silo complex, I suggested a theme of “Industrial Evolution.”  That theme would emphasize the evolution of the rural/industrial land use into a site for artistic creation, with a parallel evolutionary fashion theme.  The promoter agreed, and I began planning a promotional shoot to introduce the show and its theme. Unfortunately, the show, which just ran, does not appear to have had much in common with any sort of fashion evolution, and even included a line of swimsuits. Oh, well.

brenna smith seated pose on railroad tracks near abandoned grain silo
Brenna's original seated pose in the red lace dress by Nick Nguyen.

The Silo Shoot

Staying close to the theme in the original shoot, we borrowed dresses from Nicholas Nguyen, whose edgy designs are never predictable. Next, we enlisted the assistance of talented HMUA Chance Campbell, and set out to create editorial images that captured the elegance and sensuality of Nick’s designs in the dreary grunge of a rundown ag/industrial setting.

We started in as traditional a vein as you can with Nick Nguyen – a deep red dress of heavy lace. The dress featured bow and string embellishments reminiscent of a wrapped gift.  For this look, Brenna posed on the abandoned railroad siding, flanked by low concrete and steel buildings and industrial tanks.  In her first pose, Brenna sits on her heels between the tracks. This  pose beautifully emphasized her out-of-place elegance and created a sense of vulnerability.

Her second pose in the red dress is even stronger. Here, she rises above her vulnerability to dance between the railroad tracks. It is precisely the evolutionary sense I wanted – a clear ascendancy of creativity and beauty over the decaying relics of the past.

model dances on railroad track beside abandoned grain silo
Brenna poses in Nick Nguyen's red lace dress on abandoned railroad tracks in the yard of the abandoned grain silo. Final selective color version.

This pose seemed so strong, that I reworked it several times. You can see the various iterations below.

cyan treatment of image of Brenna Smith in Nick Nguyen red lace dress.
Cyan treatment of Brenna dancing on the rail tracks. Later replaced by the selective color image.
Brenna dancing in AAJ painting
Composite of Brenna's dancing form with fine art painting by Houston artist Austin Allen James. Made later for a different project, not the fashion show.

While the first look was somewhat serious and traditional, the second is edgy, sexy, and irreverent, i.e., pure Nick Nguyen. In this series, Brenna wears a mini-dress with a ballerina-style tulle skirt and a sheer bodice of tulle.  The dress is festooned with playful Parisian-themed “toys.”  Capitalizing on this mischievous vibe, Brenna, sat between the rails and stuck an impish pose that would be perfect for a magical character in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her pose and expression evoke the creature you would expect to inhabit the surreal realm where creativity and life defy decay and ruin.

fashion model in couture fantasy dress and makeup posing in inustrial setting
Wearing a Parisian fantasy dress by Mysterious by NPN, Brenna strikes an impish pose on the abandone rail road tracks beside the abandoned grain silo.

With the third look, we moved away from revival and toward the darker aspect of decay. Brenna wore a gown made of black tulle.  Iridescent feathers covered parts of the sheer bodice.  Chance Campbell darkened Brenna’s makeup, creating a mask of black, blue, and gold around her eyes.  I asked Brenna to pose against a corrugated steel door.  Dented and covered in peeling paint, the door bore a “No Parking” sign in black letters.  I positioned Brenna near a heavy lock and chain that secured the doors, and told her the only word that would show in the final was “No.”  She immediately understood my intent and with the first pose, captured a sense of care-worn rejection and defiance.  She carried that sense through the rest of the series, including images that did not rely on the “No” sign. While the images would be interesting, in my opinion, based only on the surroundings and Brenna’s poses, they have a far greater intensity because of the sensuality Brenna’s physical beauty makes possible.

fashion model poses beside word No at abandoned industrial building
Brenna captures the perfect sense of careworn rejection and defiance beside the word "NO" at the abandoned grain silo.
Fashion model posing in couture gown at industrial site.
Looking tired but still beautiful, Brenna poses by the peeling and dented corrugated door at the abandoned grain silo.
Closeup of Brenna posing by a disheveled corrugated door at the abandoned grain silo.

Unfinished Work

As the light began to fade, we halted the shoot.  It would have been fun to continue this project, but could we have made it better, or just longer?  Maybe we finished and didn’t really know it.

Please follow on Instagram these people who contributed to the works shown here:

Brenna Smith @brenna_nicole_10

Nicholas Nguyen @mysteriousbynpn

Chance Campbell @chancecharming


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About Gerard Harrison

With over 30 years' photography experience, Gerard is the owner and founder of Image Theory Photoworks, a fashion and fine art portrait studio.