Once Upon a Dream
Article by Vanelis Rivera and photos by Martin G Meyers and courtesy of Savannah Kate Morgan
Stepping into Savannah Kate Morgan’s office is like walking into a fairy queen’s throne room. From the gilded mermaid perched on her mer-inspired Christmas tree to her Baroque wood desk, her work space is a minimalist ode to the fantastical. Her desk chair, a gift from her father, is inarguably the perfect fit for this self-proclaimed Alice in Wonderland, a simple design of wood and gold metal with bunny ears rising from the back rest.
Savannah’s space is filled with intresting trinkets, but it’s the 24-year-old’s dreamy style and ethereal presnes that are most captivating. Dressed in a candy-apple red 60’s inspired dress and sequin sapphire ballet slippers, Savannah evokes a quaint elegance that is nostalgically attractive.
The 28,000 followers on her Facebook page “Savannah Kate Photography” and 10,000 followers on her Instagram page @savannah_kate_photography yearn for imagery that elicits magical escapism. Savannah’s photography and composites can be labeled as dreamscapes. They are amalgams of classic fairy tales, mythological creatures, nature, and‒most significantly‒magic. Last year Savannah published a book titled Once Upon a Dream, her own fairy tale that chronicles her artistic inspiration, most prominent images, photographic evolution, creative process, and even personal anecdotes. A worthwhile purchase for any dreamer.
Savannah inherited her left brain savvy from both her parents, Kayla and Shane Bridges. Her mother is a business owner and her father a banker. However, Savannah cites her dominant right brain sensibilities as coming from her mother’s mother, Darla Thames. “Nana” is the “creative artsy” figure who groomed Savannah’s explosive abilities.
It was at her Nana’s house that Savannah saw the film she says is responsible for 90 percent of her creativity, The Neverending Story. She reminisces about repeatedly watching this 1984 young adult favorite saying, “It made me believe in fairytales, in magic. It made me believe that it is okay to be different from society.”
Equipped with a penchant for the creative, Savannah delved into graphite drawing between middle school and high school, in Rayville, Louisiana, her hometown. Capitalizing on her unique talent, she began her own business at age 13 after a number of people requested portraits. She didn’t keep the business for long, but her skill with the pencil was award-winning. In 2011, Savannah’s entry to the George Rodrigue art scholarship contest was selected for first place from 424 entries across the state of Louisiana. Her $6,000 award allowed her to purchase her first professional camera.
She had already experimented with photography during middle school by using her father’s camcorder, and by high school she had “started playing around with subjects,” using a semi professional camera. Realizing she could make money off of her passion, she registered her photography business at age 16 and began her professional ventures. With her aims crystallizing, she enrolled in Louisiana Tech’s photography program. After a year, she switched to a degree in business marketing, which she completed in 2015.
A mixture of curiosity and pure bravado paved the way for one of her most alluring photographic ventures: the fairytale sessions.
It all began with a young boy born at 26 weeks and diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Haidyn’s mother contacted Savannah for a Peter Pan themed shoot explaining all Haidyn wanted to “fly like Peter Pan.” Heart-struck, Savannah devised a way to make his dream a reality.
With the help of her now husband, Wayland Morgan, she crafted a sailboat using a wood pallet. While Haidyn lay prone, clad in a red-striped shirt and a green Peter Pan hat, Wayland held the pallet off the ground. Savannah photoshopped Wayland out, leaving a star-gazing Haidyn adrift above the grass, following Peter Pan’s shadow to Neverland. Haidyn’s mom revealed that when he saw the finished product he started crying. “Mom,” he said, “I’m flying like Peter Pan.” Even after a number of successful fairytale sessions themed on characteres from Cinderella to Mary Antoinette, that photograph of Haidyn is one of her favorite pictures because it allowed her to realize that magic “can be translated to real life even if it’s photoshopped.”
Savannah’s Instagram account is a virtual expedition through Wonderland. Bursts of bright silky colors, elegant gowns, mermaid tails, fairy wings, curious backdrops, smiling faces. But scroll far enough and you’ll notice a few contrasting images laden with the reality that even in fairytales, hardship exists.
In October 2015, Savannah was faced with a metaphorical Jabberwocky that terrorized her Wonderland. Two days after a photoshoot in a Louisiana swamp, Savannah was rushed to the emergency room covered in about 200 mosquito bites. She was diagnosed with Spinal Viral Meningitis and hospitalized for two months. Thin, pale, and held captive in a tortured body, constantly being poked and prodded, she fell into depression.
“I felt like a pincushion,” she confessed as she showed me images of what she titled The Meningitis Series. The haunting and poetic black and white composites capture her pain and suffering during this period. They feature needle pins stuck to a much thinner Savannah. While she has shared this part of her life on social media, she is still apprehensive about showing off the images, noting that people react differently to them. Nevertheless, those images became her “vorpal sword,” a tool of healing that affirmed her belief that “part of fairytales is the conquering.”
Though she still suffers from residual migraines, Savannah had more wonder to explore, and so she charged on. A serendipitous conversation with a fellow photographer led to a rabbit hole of opportunities that would lead to travels in Mexico, Ireland and Iceland. Maureen Flynn, founder of The House of Flynn, a company that sells designer camera bags, invited Savannah to model a mermaid tail in Mexico. Savannah had already been experimenting with composite mermaid shoots with a tail she purchased post graduation, but her imagination was unleashed in Mexico.
There she experienced swimming and getting used to her fins in the underwater caves of Playa del Carmen. Any mer-girl’s reverie.
Savannah has continued collaborating with the House of Flynn by teaching at a workshop in Ireland this summer. Savannah says she was stunned when the workshop sold out 20 minutes after its announcement online in December 2016. Photographs from the workshop are posted in Savannah’s social media accounts. Not only a model for some of those shoots, she also styled a spellbinding elven-fairy session, aesthetically ‘Tolkien-esque’ in nature.
It seems that Savannah navigates her inventiveness unconditionally. Recently, she launched an Etsy shop called Paper Doll Vintage that stemmed from a subject of inspiration in her work: antiquing. Though the shop is “geared towards photographers for fantasy and fairytale session props” she encourages visits from “those that just have an all around whimsical personal style.”
Whether you are an interested client or an aspiring photographer, you are welcome to escape into Savannah’s realm via her website, www.savannahkatephotography.com. A booking link provides booking details and her available dates. Meanwhile, photographers can take advantage of her online mentoring sessions and/or purchasing dress or digital backdrop overlays.
Unlike her heroine Alice, Savannah didn’t fall into Wonderland, she created it out of sheer imagination and bravado. She admits, “I do have my head in the clouds, but I’m also not delusional.” She’s an enchantress, sculpting the mundane with her ingenuity. Savannah’s photography is for those who want to capture their own magic. It speaks to those who want to unlock their own greatness through her visionary spellwork, particularly children. She enjoys “making the impossible happen” and “making kids believe in magic,” allowing them to “see themselves in that fairytale.” It’s a feat she sees as empowering.
Savannah may say she believes in magic, but her story evokes a more provocative truth: Savannah Kate Morgan is magic!