‘ I Always Wanted To Be .. ‘

Details from Princess Ballet book 5.
Original photos by Mike Davis.


More ballerina shots from inside the music boxes. Thanks to photographer, John McCormick. August 2016.



Three more …

Here are images of the three remaining music boxes from the seven that I selected for the making of a short film, ‘I Always Wanted To Be …’  The film is currently in the process of being made as part of a collaborative project between myself and film maker, Henrietta Thomas.

‘I Always Wanted To Be …’  will focus on seven vintage music boxes – the melodies they play, the movement of the clockwork ballerinas inside each of them. I am hoping that as part of the soundtrack, it will include various narratives associated with what it means to be a ballerina. The challenge of course, will be how to condense 45 minutes of film footage and over 40 minutes of interviews to a short film of 5-7 minute’s duration. I am looking forward to working with Henrietta once we are able to set aside time for editing at a later date.


Seven. Lucky seven. Seven sisters. Seven wonders of the world.


Like the young ballerinas competing for their place, here are images of four of the seven music boxes that made the grade and have been selected for the ‘I Always Wanted To Be…’ short film.

I took these photos in the studio when first sorting through my collection of music boxes just over a week ago, relying on natural day light. In just a short time, I’ve learned how much room there is for improvement in the photos I take – better lighting is a definite starting point, and that reflection in the fourth box down would I know, be a complete no-no to John (McCormick)’s professional photographer eye. It goes without saying, that there is no comparison with the shots photographer John took a few days ago, some of which I’ve posted on this blog. I’m so grateful to John for sharing his expertise with me.

Photo: John McCormick


Thanks are also due to the a-n Artist Information Company for financially supporting this project and for making this ongoing collaborative body of work with film maker, Henrietta Thomas possible. Putting aside my anxieties about how it will all turn out – 45 minutes of film footage condensed to 5-7 minutes – really?! – the two days of filming have so far proved to be a really positive, enriching experience. I’ve invested my faith in Henrietta who assures me that we have some very sound film footage in the bag. I can’t wait t see it, even in its most raw state …



I went into the studio to do a last minute check on the music boxes on Thursday evening, in preparation for Friday’s filming with film maker, Henrietta Thomas. I noticed that some looked more robust than others when I was with John taking photos of them last week and I didn’t want to waste valuable filming time on Friday worrying about which ones worked sufficiently enough to stand up to strenuous use – especially the clockwork mechanisms which were to be wound and rewound.

There are imperfections throughout – scuffs on the exterior of many of the boxes, rickety, temperamental winders and some of the dancers themselves demonstrate real signs of wear and tear. That’s their appeal, of course and it felt good to have conversations with Henrietta about how it was the various quirks and idiosyncrasies which appealed to both of us. I’ve since thought about how difficult it would be for me to work with someone who didn’t truly appreciate the charm of well-used, well worn-down objects. I’d been half tempted on Thursday evening to put a cloth to a couple of mirrors which were particularly grubby, but experience has taught me to leave well alone – a few smudges on a mirror won’t harm and if anything, might even add something unique.

Henrietta and I had agreed a plan of action before we met on Friday, but were equally prepared to be flexible. Our pre-planning meeting, plus knowing more accurately what materials we had to work with gave us a very positive start to the day’s filming – took the pressure off and freed up time for us to play around a bit, to see what transpired.

Friday’s filming day was a really positive experience for me. I acquired new skills, learning about positioning and different lighting effects and the use of various filters, amidst other things. Seeing the impact of proper lighting alone has convinced me of the importance of having the skills of an experienced film maker such as Henrietta on board. Like John’s photography skills, Henrietta’s technical and creative input demonstrates the way in which the appearance of objects can be completely transformed – from the ordinary, to something quite extra-ordinary. It is good to have witnessed these transformations with my own eyes – confirming my suspicions that the photos and short pieces of film footage I’ve taken of my work over the years could (and should!) be so much better.

Henrietta’s calm, professional manner throughout the day put me totally at ease and I came away exhausted, but buzzing with excitement. I’m confident that together, we have already gathered some really interesting footage. There is a lot to process, of course and I’m already looking forward to our next day together which will focus on background sound and interviewing a once aspiring ballet dancer to whom the phrase ‘I Always Wanted To Be …’ runs deep.

Photo: John McCormick

As from today, I’m taking a bit of time off. I’m looking forward to being back in the studio with Henrietta again next Friday, 26th and will be back here to continue the documentation of the ongoing process shortly after that. It feels important to reiterate my grateful thanks to the a-n Artist Information Company at this point – for helping me on the path to learning new skills and techniques through their generous professional development award. I’ve wanted to make this piece of work for years now and I am so excited about finally being able to do it.

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