A hint of soft light illuminates the dewy leaves and petals of flowers, while darkness creeps in through the spaces between shadowy forms. Under the name Forest Noir, Alyssa Thorne creates stunning floral still-life photographs that seem to exist somewhere between the classical and modern, the dark and the light. Alyssa's photographs are available as fine-art prints, as well as on a variety of products including postcards, phone-cases, and scarves. We had the chance to learn about Alyssa's process and inspirations, and are delighted to share an exclusive preview of a new piece in the interview below!
What made you start creating and photographing still-life arrangements?
I picked up photography around the age of 15 (18 years ago!) after falling in love with using a disposable film camera on one of my trips to San Francisco. I went nearly every year to California to visit my beloved aunt, who is the reason I fell in love with art in the first place. Her house was, and still is, full of a collection of diverse, incredible artwork. She encouraged my artistic endeavors all my life and was the motivator I needed to pursue art college.
In art college, I studied art history alongside photography and became enamored with the works of the old masters. I am a lover of secret things, and still lifes have so many symbols and layers to uncover. I was instantly hooked and began creating my own. I made a career doing mostly portrait work after college. I kept photographing still lifes for my own enjoyment, but didn’t show them to anybody until the past few years, when I started to feel like it was all I wanted to do.
Once I started to post my still lifes, my art took off on social media more than it ever had before. At this point I absolutely do not see myself doing anything else photographically for a long time, if ever. My creativity is now deeply rooted in the very hands-on process of shaping and making the arrangements themselves. The thought of making photographs without that process feels very empty to me. Which is not to say that I don’t like making other types of photographs alongside the still lifes, it is just the core of my practice now to work this way.
Above is an exclusive first look at a new piece by Forest Noir, featuring a Moth and Myth paper spiderweb and spider. To read what Alyssa has to say about this brand new seasonal image, please visit Instagram!
Do you have a favorite part of your creative process?
Yes! I love creating the actual compositions that I photograph. Shooting is very technical and can be stressful because I have perishable sets that start to wilt if I don’t get it right within a certain time frame. I always say that my camera is just a conduit, not the entire process. Plotting the course for each unique piece and shaping the items with my hands is self-therapy and very enjoyable. Making still life* is such a reverent and cathartic act for me. I also do enjoy editing – I relax with music and edit with a tablet and pen so that I can paint in the dark and the light in the precise way I want.
While your arrangements appear deliberate and posed, they also feel organic and effortless. How do you achieve that balance?
They are definitely both of those things. Even with my extensive planning, in the moment of creation, the piece takes on a life of its own and morphs before my eyes. In my head something might work perfectly, but then I take that idea to work with, and know that I cannot be married to it. It will never end up the way it is in my head, but usually ends up better anyway. I let the materials guide me, I let my hands just sort of figure it out. It is a fairly chaotic process to have a grand plan and be prepared to abandon half of it, and that disorder manifests itself visually. What you refer here to as “organic and effortless” - to me is just beautiful, organized chaos. I think since my process is half plan, half seat of my pants holding flowers, it ends up at a wonderful crossroads where my personal, recognizable style sits.
Do you set out with a plan or mental image you try to recreate, or are you inspired by the flowers and materials you find?
All my creations are tied in incredibly personal ways to my thoughts, experiences, grief, hopes, fears, inspirations, and beyond. As such, they take a long time to plan, and most have complex backstories which I reveal in the captions of my Instagram posts. I do have a few “spur of the moment” pieces, but in general they are in the works months before anyone sees them. I sketch my compositions, scout out and buy props, then sometimes shoot trial versions. I decide for, or against certain flowers. In some cases, the piece has been reshot 3 times before the public sees it. I currently have a handmade, prop intensive self-portrait that I have been working on for over a year!
While all the flowers you use are organic, you work with our vegan paper moths and butterflies! What inspired you to use these over real specimens?
I have been an animal lover since childhood. I make as much effort as I can to eliminate and reduce harm to animals in my everyday life choices. I also love to volunteer with them, and I run regular fundraisers for animal rescues and charities. My shop mascot and beloved companion is my rescue bunny, Laszlo. In lieu of real specimens, I can use Moth and Myth’s incredibly realistic paper creations and not harm any animals in the process! I can’t be 100% sure any real specimen is truly “cruelty-free” and it feels more respectful to use paper. Plus, they are gorgeous and the possibilities are never ending. I love seeing other artists use them in so many ways!
How would you say darkness and light factor into your work?
Chiaroscuro is at the core of my photographic style, and subject matter. There is extreme dark and bright light in my work, both visually and thematically. I do pieces with harsh lines, enveloped in shadow, followed directly by whimsical pastels the next day. Although I am never completely either, I think that stylistically I do err on the side of darkness. Darkness interests me because in shadow is where all the good secrets of the world lie, and as I mentioned before, I am a lover of secrets. I need the light to unearth those hidden meanings, and more often than not, the subjects of my work ring of light, beauty, truth, hope, and love. These things exist within, and sometimes parallel to, darkness. Two necessary and symbiotic sides of the same coin. I enjoy walking the line.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
If you are interested in learning more about my life and process, I have a special FB group, called The Forest Noir Social Club, where I share behind the scenes information and photos, answer questions, and give away things like phone backgrounds.
Also - I will be vending Darksome Craft Market the 3rd of December and it’s an online market!
* Social links/Website: