Dames of the dead

Local artists and performers peel off their skin for zombified pin-up calendar

Zombeauties: Suzanne Papini (above) and Samantha Deshler (below).

Zombeauties: Suzanne Papini (above) and Samantha Deshler (below).

Photo By Amy brown

Zombie vision:
Visit Amy Brown Photography at www.facebook.com/throughamyseyes and purchase
The Undead Beauties of Chico Calendar 2014 at www.pistolfireproductions.com for $15.

In late 2012, photographer Amy Brown and her friend Dani Kay decided to combine their shared loves of Audrey Hepburn, pin-up photography and zombies into a just-for-kicks, one-time art project.

“The day after Thanksgiving, we ended up doing a tour of Chico with Zombie Hepburn,” Brown said about making up Kay as a zombified version of the actress/fashion icon and taking photos of her around town. “It was thrown together last minute, but turned out looking pretty decent.”

More important, the undead pin-up lark inspired Brown to start thinking bigger. “I’ve always loved the idea of doing a calendar, and had never done a bigger project like that,” she recalled. “At first I just thought it would be something fun for me to do, but as I started planning and organizing—I’m a Virgo—I realized it could be worth doing for more than just myself.”

Brown contacted makeup artist Ann Fox, with whom she’d previously worked on the Reservoir Dolls production at the Blue Room Theatre, and by year’s end, the women were laying solid plans for The Undead Beauties of Chico 2014 Calendar, a 12-month collection of 13 local women (October includes a pair of trick-or-treating models) photographed all dolled up and undead.

The first shoot took place in late March and the last in early November. Fox and Brown explained that each session, which averaged about eight hours long, was the result of at least a month of planning—gathering and making props, blocking the shoot, coordinating with models, finding locations and other details. Models provided their own costumes, and elaborate characters, settings and original stories were created for each scene.

Photo By Amy brown

“The backstories were especially important, because we needed to know how each of them died to decide how to do their makeup,” Fox said.

Brown added that collaboration with the models was also integral to the project: “We could put them in the clothes we wanted to and just let the picture tell a story, but we wanted them to be really involved and let their personalities shine through. Why not let them be who they really are … except in zombie-pinup form?”

For models, the calendar’s planners chose a bevy of beauties active in the local theater, visual-arts and music communities. Many of the models are involved in more than one medium, Brown—herself an actress and singer, in addition to being a photographer—said. She cited Samantha Francis (now also known as Miss February)—an actress, painter and singer in the band Decades—as an example.

Brown and Fox also each took a turn in front of the camera, which presented unique challenges for both. Brown found herself frolicking among headstones in the Chico Cemetery on a blustery fall day, scantily clad in a retro sundress and sporting a prominent head wound as assistant photographer Jasmine Ingersoll took the shots. Fox’s challenges were even more difficult.

“I’d never done modeling or anything like that, because I’m always backstage. And for most of the shoot, I didn’t have any clothes on,” Fox said. “It was a crazy experience. You also have to learn to trust the photographer, to know that they see things differently than you do and trust what they say. But it was great for my confidence, and very liberating.”

Most of the photos were shot at models’ or friends’ homes, with Brown’s graveyard romp and local singer/songwriter Aubrey Debauchery’s Cohasset-location shoot being exceptions.

“It was fun to see people’s reactions as they were driving by, because we had her [Debauchery] hitchhiking on the side of the road looking like she’d just got run over, and wondered if someone was going to want to pick her up,” Fox said, adding that Debauchery’s shoot was also fun makeup-wise. “She was open to anything. She basically just said, ‘Do anything you want; go ahead and rip me apart.’”

The calendar’s makers and models celebrated its release with a wrap-and-release party at Duffy’s Tavern on Nov. 26. Fox and Brown said that, while they’re still busy promoting the new calendar (available at www.pistolfireproductions.com for $15), they’re already brainstorming ideas for 2015.