Photographer Danil Golovkin was inspired by the progress of Ophelia throughout the play’s narrative. She begins as a blooming virgin, enamoured with her courtly love, only to become so distressed by Hamlet’s treatment of her and the corruption and bitterness that pervades the Danish court that she is driven to madness and her eventual death. As a visual metaphor for this erosion of Ophelia’s naivety, Golovkin and stylist Kseniya Berezovskaya painted fake tattoos onto model Julia’s face, which were then steadily washed off over the course of the shoot.
Ophelia’s tragic death in Act Four, Scene 7 of Shakespeare’s brooding tale of angst, is adorned with flowers. Following her father Polonius’ murder at the hands of Hamlet, Ophelia appears at court in a state of apparent madness, distributing flowers to the crowd according to their symbolic meanings. Each gift that the distressed Ophelia makes, whether conscious or not, equates to an accusation of its recipient.
To Laertes, her brother, Ophelia gives the herb rosemary and some soft pansies, which are associated with remembrance and thoughts. Perhaps knowing that she is not long for this world, in giving these plants to her brother she tacitly reminds him to preserve her in his thoughts.
To the usurping King, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, Ophelia makes a gift of fennel and columbine. This combination of fennel, the plant of flatterers, and columbine, considered to be the flower for “deceived lovers”, a symbol of male adultery and faithlessness, condemns Claudius for marrying his brother’s wife.
Rue, which Ophelia hands to Queen Gertrude, are the symbol of bitterness and are thought to have been used for performing abortions, associating the plant with adultery. Interestingly, after Ophelia has given some rue to Hamlet’s mother she keeps the rest for herself.
One flower, the daisy, Ophelia picks up and sets back down without giving to any of the assembled group. A symbol of innocence and gentleness, the daisy doesn’t seem an appropriate gift for any one member of the Danish court, all of whom have sinned in some way or another. The only suitable recipient would be Ophelia herself, however her affected mind seems to veil this fact from herself and she believes herself worthy only of rue.
Ophelia concludes her tragic interlude with reference to violets, symbols of fidelity and faithfulness, explaining that she would have included them in her bouquet however all the blooms have withered since the moment of her father’s death and so she could not. The significance of this announcement is very poignant, as Hamlet’s accidental slaying of Polonius as he stood concealed behind a curtain, is the catalyst for the troubled Prince’s own descent into bitterness.