Korean Artist Transforms Her Small Studio Into Dreamlike Worlds Without Photoshop

Korean artist Jee Young Lee’s beautiful dreamscapes are living proof that you don’t need Photoshop or even a large studio space to create amazing surreal images. She creates all of these scenes by hand in a room that is only 3.6 x 4.1 x 2.4 meters and then inserts herself into the pictures. Some of these self portraits represent her own experiences, dreams and memories, while others represent traditional Korean folk tales and legends.

Source: opiomgallery.com

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These are amazing


For an awesomely imaginative photo series entitled Russ Land, Russian photographer Uldus Bakhtiozina explores the folklore and fairytales of her native land. From magical shapeshifters to the Soul of the Forest, heroines and heroes, maidens and fools, and many more besides, each photo depicts a stunning modern interpretation of ancient pagan archetypes and characters from pre-Christian Russian fairy tales and folklore. In addition to staging and photographing these magical scenes, Uldus makes many of the elaborate costumes herself, including the hand-embroidered, bejeweled kokoshniks, traditional Russian headdresses.

Head over to Ideas.Ted.Com for Uldus’ description of each of the photos seen here and more.

Visit Uldus Bakhtiozina’s website to check out more of her extraordinary photography projects.

[via Ideas.Ted.Com]

You know what’s great about fairy tales that haven’t been made into Disney movies?  How completely bullshit they are.  Like, if it’s a popular enough fairy tale that it’s gotten its own movie, a lot of the completely random-seeming shit has probably been excised from that version.  If it’s just been left to molder since people stopped drinking beer for breakfast, started being able to read on a massive scale, and learned how not to give themselves ergot poisoning every winter…well, it might just sound like something a sleep-deprived kindergartener made up.

“Here, dearest sister, take this vial of water.  If it turns cloudy, you’ll know I’m sick.  If it turns red as blood, you’ll know I’m dead.”

“This is a very useful thing, dearest brother, as reliable post hasn’t been invented yet, and you’re going to just wander around until you make your fortune.  I have only one question.”


“Where the hell did you get this?”


“Where did you get a vial of water that magically knows if you’re sick or dead?  Like, did you just pick it up at the market?  Did you have to go see a witch?  How much did you pay for this?  The whole reason you’re leaving is that we’re fucking broke.”

“I just…it was just lying around.”

“What, in the attic?”

“I guess?”

“Why would we have a vial of water that can tell if you’re sick or dead just lying around in the attic?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe we can ask those animals that tricked the robbers out of their cabin in the woods.  They seem to know what they’re doing.”

“The animals…that tricked the robbers…out of their cabin.”


“I hate this town.”

“Young man, if you let me sit by your fire, I’ll give you a sack of gold that can never be emptied.”

“Why would you be just wandering around alone dressed like a beggar if you have a sack of gold that can never be emptied?”

“I just…am.  Fuck you.  You want the sack or not?  Because I am dog tired, and freezing cold, and offering you a magic money-sack if I can just take a load off.”

“This is the sort of magic sack that’s going to make me really happy for like six weeks and then I’m going to get murdered in my sleep by trolls, isn’t it?”

“…yes.  Do you want it or not?”

“What the hell, with plague going around again, I’m probably not going to live more than another few months, anyway.”

“That’s the sort of can-do spirit murder-trolls love to see!”



“Young lady, I’m very hungry, won’t you please share your bread with me?”

“Shit.  Are you the sort of stray dwarf I’m supposed to help, or are you going to murder me unless I start hitting you with a stick right now?”


“Those are my two options, right?  I mean, I can’t just say nah, I only have enough for me, and keep on walking.  I have to either feed you or beat the hell out of you.  So which is it?  I don’t want to get magic-murdered for picking wrong.  The last person you turned into a stone or a goat or whatever, what’d they do?”

Why is every traveler on this road so fucking weird?  I just want a hunk of bread, lady.“

“So you’re not magic?”

“Oh, well.  Yeah, of course I’m magic.”

“But you’re not going to do anything magic right now.”

“Are you on some bizarre quest to marry a prince even though you have absolutely no idea how to run a kingdom?”

“No, of course not.  Jesus.”


“I’m trying to figure out how to turn my seven brothers from dead swans back into humans permanently.”

“Your brothers were turned into dead swans.”

“I mean, I don’t really mind, because they transform back into men at night, but my fiance won’t get married until the mill’s courtyard isn’t full of dead swans all day.  He thinks it’s gruesome.”

“Why would anyone turn your brothers into dead swans?”

“We think the local witch was just trying to turn them into swans.  Or maybe kill them.  She was on a bender, so she can’t really remember.”

“Okay, but why?”

“My brothers were kind of dicks, before they got stuck as dead swans all day.“

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if you give me half your bread, I’ll tell you how to turn them back into people full-time.”

“Why are you being so nice all the sudden?”

“Because I now really need a beer, and I hate drinking on an empty stomach.”

“Young woman, who is coincidentally very beautiful and very virtuous even though you grew up very poor in a time when that very well may have meant chronic malnutrition and seeing family members literally die of hunger, you may have the hand of the prince in marriage if you can lift his curse.”

“Okay, yeah, I’m pretty sure I can do that.  I’ve got some good fairies backing me up, and also half the animal kingdom.”

“That’s very impressive.”

“Yeah, I did a lot of really random stuff and went vegan for a while, and now apparently everything under the sun owes me.“

“Well, you’ll enjoy your time as a princess, then!”

“Well, before we do that, I thought maybe we should talk about why the curse was put on him in the first place.  Maybe you could tell me who did it, and why, and if we know where they are now.  Maybe we could sort of come up with a plan for dealing with them.  You know, after I break the curse.”

“Why would we do that?”

“Well, somebody sort of turned the prince into a giant fish and made it so fishermen can’t stop trying to catch him, so it seems like they might just try something else if we undo that.  I want to be ready.”

“Nonsense.  This curse was a one-time thing.”

“The witch still lives like right next door, yes?”

“Yes, but she’s calmed down a lot since she did this.”

“She just turned a guy into a newt last week.”

“But she likes us now.”

“Not enough to undo the curse, though.”

“Well, no.”

“So, we should probably have a plan, right?”


“Okay, I’m going to keep walking until I find an enchanted prince with more sensible parents.  Peace out, your majesties.”

Why Wait For Prince Charming, When You Can Become Him

Earlier, friends got into an argument about shipping (specifically, Finn/Poe, but it doesn’t really matter). It devolved into the usual “why must you take our nice hetero friendships and make them gross” vs “because nobody gives us nice gay relationships” arguments and then everybody just stopped hearing each other.

I’m too goddamn tired right now to go on a polemic about all this. Instead, let’s talk about fairy tales. Specifically, let’s talk about Romanian fairy tales, which I grew up on, and which are the best fairy tales in the whole world. (I will fight anyone who thinks different. Proper, round the back of the Wetherspoons after closing time, might bring a blade, fight.)

I’m not Romanian. But my dad hung out with Communists a lot*, and spent a good chunk of time in the early 1980s in a pretty riverside town called Curtea de Argeş. After his first long stay in Romania, my father brought back gifts for me. You will be unsurprised to learn that dolls were never a go. Seeing the dog-eared state of my copy of D'Aulaires, Dad figured that more books of fairy tales was a good idea. He was right. I received two books of Romanian fairy tales in English translation, from the foreigners’ hard currency store in Bucharest. They soon became my all-time favourite books. I have one to this day, and occasionally comb used-book sites to try to find the other, though I only dimly remember its cover.

*There’s much more to this story, but you’ll not get it unless I’m in a bar, and you buy me decent whisky for the telling.

Folks, I will reiterate: Romanian fairy tales are the best. Especially coming off D'Aulaires, which was a sort of Ovid for the short-pants set. Let’s briefly refresh things that happen to female characters in Ovid: Europa, raped by a bull. Leda, raped by a swan. Syrinx, turned into reeds because she wouldn’t put out. Daphne, turned into a tree for same. Echo, wasted away after falling in love with a boy who never texted back. Eurydice, trod on a plot point and sent to the underworld. Persephone, abducted to the underworld for more rapey-tiems. Semele, turned to ash for demanding a paternity test, and her fetal child sewn into Zeus’ thigh to be taken to term. Yeah, Cronenburgh doesn’t have shit on the ancient Greeks.

Then we come to Ileana Simziana, a Romanian story about an unnamed female heroine who dresses up as a boy, obtains a magic horse because she is clever and kind, fights giants because she is brave, wins both the freedom and the love of a badass fairy queen (the titular Ileana Simziana) via a mix of cunning and force, and finally swaps genders after being hit by a stray curse while she was stealing some holy water. That’s right, girls: why wait for Prince Charming, when you can become him?

(Illustrations by Maria Surducan for a different tale, Youth Without Age)

I originally found it curious that the heroine was never named. She is referred to throughout as “the emperor’s daughter”. In the rest of the stories in that particular book, the (male) heroes are all named. Although there are almost no decent resources in English for Romanian tales, I did find several references to the Ileana Simziana story where the emperor’s daughter simply took on the generic Romanian hero name of Fet-Frumos, aka Prince Charming. Perhaps the translator of my book chose not to name her, since there were a couple of Fet-Frumos stories in the collection as well and she was afraid lest we foreigners become confused. (She was probably right.)

I need to track down a copy of the other book I had, as I remember it had even more stories where a lot of queer longing was neatly sidestepped by princes magically becoming princesses and vice versa. It was to the point that I became uncomfortable reading the book, because that sort of thing never happened in the stories I had access to. Women in the King Arthur tales were either virgins moping wetly in castles, or evil temptresses. I could be… something other than that?

Not that there weren’t women in castles in Romanian tales. But they were all fairy queens who took precisely zero shit and were busy making the lives of everyone around them miserable, including their captors’. Often they simply existed as formidable figures with no male antagonist / imprisoner: women like Inia Dinia or the other Ileana (Cosinzinea) who took off in annoyance after the hero did something stupid (divulged her name to a stranger; slept through a booty call), went to the ends of the earth, and made the hero go through years of hell to win them back. The hero almost always accomplishes this via something he’s baked, too. It wasn’t all chucking hairbrushes at giants. Women in these tales had more heroic agency than anything else I had read at the time, and possibly to this day.

And not that girls aren’t perfectly able to read the Arthurian stories and just, fuck it, imagine themselves as a knight. It’s what most of us have been doing our entire lives: reading stories in which we have no agency, no significant function, and then creating a new character for that story in our heads. Sometimes that character is female, and sometimes it’s not.

This is how we come back around to fan and slashfiction, and why it has (to a white, cis, male audience) such bewildering popularity: we are so unaccustomed to seeing our gender / sexuality in roles of power that the most comfortable way we can express a romantic relationship of equals using the pre-existing figures of mainstream fiction is via the interactions of two straight males.

Yeah, just stay with that for a moment. That really sucks, doesn’t it? Where are the female characters with equal screen time and power/agency to the (white) male heroes? Where are the queer ones? Where are the heroes of colour? It’s fine to deny us the ability to be leads, but don’t then get mad when we do aftermarket adaptations of the ones that you give us.

It’s slowly getting better. People are a lot more conscious now about representation, and the messages we send to young girls about what it is acceptable for them to become, encased in the sugary wrappings of fiction. 

That’s fantastic, of course. But there is an overwhelming resonance, a sense of place, that occurs when you find something very old, something that’s been around a long time, that whispers to you it’s always been okay to be like thisYou have always belonged here.

Click here to download a pdf of Ileana Simziana. (from Romanian Folk Tales, ed. Minerva, trans Ana Cartianu, 1979, Bucharest. My own dog-eared copy).


Seeing as people want to learn of mythical creatures other than anglo-saxon, lemme introduce you guys to my favourite.

Południca, which roughly means “she of the noon,” is a figure in Slavic mythology that can best  be described, in our rational times, as a personification of the sunstroke. She usually appeared in the summer months, at noon or in otherwise high sun, to workers who were exhausted by the harvest, especially those who fell asleep in the high sun. Phenomena such as overheating, dehydration and general exhaustion, together with the fact that the people most likely to exert themselves were able-bodied men, can easily account for frequent sightings of this beautiful female spirit, clad in - at most - simple white undergarments, and usually with long, golden-blonde hair. Sometimes she was said to be actually hideous and more like a walking corpse, but always with the long hair evocative of ripe crops.

The Noonspirit was deadly, most often carrying the man away to his death, sometimes through mere sight of her, sometimes through lulling him off into sleep in the high sun, sometimes through tickling him to death, or forcing him to dance till he died (a technique she shares with English Fey, apparently), and in the most explicit versions, through having sex with him until he dropped dead from exhaustion. She was also said to abduct children, and so dangerous was she that over time she became almost synonymous with Death herself, as in this song which speaks of a man waiting for her and for his demise.
It was said that women who died during or shortly after their wedding became Noonspirits, which could account for their beauty, their desire to abduct children, and especially their fatal interest in strong farmhands.

Fabulous image by Michał Dziekan.

Nia Ngao Zhua Pa: Paragon of Hmong Femininity

The legend of Nia Ngao Zhua Pa is supposed to serve as a code of conduct for Hmong girls, providing a story of a “good girl” versus a “bad girl.”

The end result, at least to non-Hmong ears, is a lot stranger than that.

The core story across all variations of the NNZP story (and there are many – the book I found spent 100 pages on just NNZP stories) is one of those “I’ve made a huge mistake” stories. In all versions, it starts with the male lead, Orphan Boy (who is not the world’s worst Mega Man villain, but instead the anonymous protagonist of many Hmong stories) meeting and romancing the titular Nia Ngao Zhua Pa. In each version, she demonstrates that she’s awesome in a way befitting traditional Hmong femininity:

  • Most often, she makes food and a house virtually out of thin air.
  • In one, she proves she can find clean water in the Orphan’s filthy hovel by following a duck.
  • In another, she teaches the Orphan how to transform into a 12-horned buffalo in order to wrestle with her father, who is a dragon.

You may notice that one of these things is not like the other. That’s Version 3. Version 3 is special.

Inevitably, after showing that she’s awesome, she settles down with the Orphan – who, by this point, has only shown his character by either helping an old lady, startling NNZP’s horse, or burning down a village (hello, Version 3!). They live a pretty nice and comfortable life, until a fly in the ointment appears. This is Nia Ngao Kou Kaw (NNKK).

NNKK is the classic pretty girl. She’s thin, wears fancy clothes, and has soft skin, while NNZP’s somewhat more muscular and has rougher hands from all her hard work. NNKK, seeing the Orphan’s now-baller house, worms her way in by telling the Orphan that NNZP secretly drinks sheep blood. Like, a lot of it. Nine bowls, in fact. In some versions, NNKK even smears her own menstrual blood on NNZP’s sleeping face in order to frame her. Eugh.

The Orphan – who, it must be mentioned, is never mentioned to be a smart man – immediately kicks out the otherwise angelic NNZP. This is not a quick process. You know how fairy tales like to repeat things three times? Cue NNZP telling the Orphan, at length, in triplicate, that he’s a god damned idiot and will regret his actions. Good ol’ Orphan Boy replies, “get out of here, I’m banging a new chick now!” three times, until she’s gone, like an inverse Beetlejuice.

Oh, and in about half the stories, she has a baby at this point. Nice going, Orphan.

NNKK, of course, turns out to be terrible. She’s lazy, burns rice, and lies around like an opium addict (a fact which the narrator harps on a *lot*). In Version 3, she is so lazy that, while chopping a tree, she actually climbs inside of the part she’s chopped up, so she can take a nap – and lays there so long that the tree grows around her and swallows her whole. This woman is Garfield’s god.

By this point, the Orphan has realized he done goofed, and sets out to win back NNZP. Except by this point, NNZP is in the clutches of a dragon, at the bottom of a lake, in a baller house. In most versions, she met and married the dragon after being dismissed by the Orphan. And because she is better off by virtually every conceivable metric, the Orphan sets out to liberate her from her life of peace and tranquility.

The Orphan, being unable to breath underwater, enlists the help of some nearby frogs to drain the lake. They promise to do so if he doesn’t laugh at them as they swell up to gargantuan sizes from swallowing water. The Orphan laughs anyways, because he is kind of a jerk, and causes the frogs’ bellies to burst open repeatedly. Eventually they get it done, but the Orphan is not very helpful in this regard. Or almost any other.

After he meets NNZP on bent knee and begs for her to take him back, she tasks him with a secret mission. He’s to make 9 tubs of water, whose reflection he can use to see her flying around in the sky at night with her dragon beau. If it’s meant to be, she says, he can reach up and grab her from her flying horse, and she’ll be his forever.

So what does the Orphan do? Makes the tubs, sees her flying, and starts grabbing at the god damned water. Yes – this is a person so stupid that he cannot grasp the concept of reflections, and instead of looking up, just keeps confusedly hitting the water with his fists. In several versions, NNZP says “peace out,” drops their baby’s cap, and that’s the end of the story.

Version 3 is a bit more awesome, though. In that one, the Orphan, after far longer than necessary, realizes his stupidity, and manages to grab onto the tails of NNZP’s apron. This leads to the dragon-folk chasing them through the sky as the Orphan hangs on helplessly. NNZP fixes this scenario by using her weaving shuttle to shoot lightning at the dragons. This has led to some Hmong to say, upon seeing lightning, that “Nia Ngao Zhua Pa is weaving.”


My roommates can attest that this one was more difficult for me to draw than most. Given the huge number of things going on in this story, paring it down and making a single image – and figuring out how to portray NNZP – proved really difficult. I created a ton of different concepts and none really spoke to me. But I had a deadline, and several folk kept asking for a Hmong princess, so here you go.

  • NNZP is seen here frustrated as hell at the Orphan’s rampant idiocy. She is so exasperated that she’s crushing the hand of her new beau, the dragon (whose hand is coming out of the water - in Hmong mythology, dragons can easily change form to humans).
  • The Orphan is, of course, slapping a tub full of water, next to some overly-full frogs. The hut in the background is not a traditional Hmong structure, but gets at just how run-down his filthy hovel was before NNZP showed up.
  • NNKK is reclining like an opium addict, wiping off some blood in the lake. Doing anything in rural lakes like this is a huge no-no to traditional Hmong, as they believe dragons live in said lakes. So she’s being pretty dang stupid here.
  • The duck that helped NNZP find water is here also helping her find a good man.
  • There’s a bunch of dragons in the sky around the bolt of lightning.
  • This isn’t even nearly a comprehensive overview of all the variations. I’ve left out subplots involving the Orphan being a messenger for a dragon; said dragon’s son accidentally killing a baby and starting a riot; the Orphan asking for a dead burnt cat from NNZP’s dragon parents (hello Version 3!); parables about how various animals got twisted or curved horns; the Orphan getting a mouse and a snake to kill NNZP’s new husband; and significant amounts of arson. Suffice to say, it’s a pretty wide-ranging folk tale.


Dab Neeg Hmoob: Myths, Legends, and Folk Tales from the Hmong of Laos by Charles Johnson and Se Yang (thanks to my brother for getting this for me – it was hard to find!)


Taking a week to patch things up on the website and introduce a couple features, not the least of which is bringing back the “next week” guesses. Will put out a hint next week and have a new entry up in two weeks!