Photography: Jovana Rikalo | Models: Mina Madžarević, Irina Ognenovska, Milica Simić, Sasha Lambon, Renata Beslać, Sonja Mišić | MUA: Biljana Velojić | Clothing: Edith Val, Margo Concept, Son de Flor Location: Fairy Oak


Jovana Rikalo has astonished us for years with her breathtaking, larger-than-life yet delicate photos that seem to have sprung from some sort of dream. In one, a white-haired, white-lashed woman holds a bright gold leaf; in another, a dark-skinned woman with pale green wings, her dress the color of mint, stands in the snow. Rikalo’s figures lie in fields of flowers or balloons or leaves, stand in front of castles and giant birdcages and old-fashioned bicycles draped in blooms. In our cover image, a woman lies sleeping in a bed of leaves—all beautifully formed and jewel-like, handpicked by Rikalo and a team of three others in a local park near her apartment in Novi Sad, Serbia. It took two hours, Rikalo says. Each leaf had to be perfect.

What does this image mean? The woman is sleeping in a bed of leaves, waiting for winter. She’s feeling cozy and comfortable. She is autumn, when the world retreats in on itself. Sometimes, Rikalo says, when we’re afraid to leave something behind and start a new chapter, we just want to curl up and rest. The leaves provide safety, comfort, and a rich, tremendous beauty. “With this image I wanted to show the beauty of the fall season,” she says. “I wanted to show how we are covered in fall colors and how we are fall, we are seasons. We also change emotions and moods and we grow, like the fall, winter, spring, and summer.”

In some images, the leaves become the woman’s hair too, and she holds up the leaves, like jewels, next to her ears, adorning herself with the season. In others, the woman’s house is covered in leaves. She’s “making her own leaf house,” Rikalo says, “as she sleeps.  The leaves cover her and spread to the house. She is at home in her soul there.”

Rikalo’s images are inspired by her life experiences, which she’s transformed into something more vivid, so the emotions come through even if the specific details are obscured. “If I want to make a set of photos to represent sadness,” she says, “I will tell a story with props and facial expressions, but I will use fairy dresses and colors to make it visually beautiful. I think it’s important to attract both views and emotion.” She’s happiest, she says, when people contact her to tell her how her images have helped them overcome hard times in their life or how they recognized themselves in her photos.

She was actually studying law when she happened upon photography and realized her true calling. “I can’t remember the exact moment when this happened but it happened,” she says. “Immediately I saw the world with different eyes.” She didn’t know where to start, how to find models or locations or make any of her visions come to life, but she pressed forward. Photography helped her overcome all her fears, she says. “My heart was full. I knew this was me. It was such a great feeling, to know how a big passion can change your life completely.”

See more of Rikalo’s work at and on Instagram @jovanarikalo.


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Carolyn Turgeon is the author of five novels, most of them fairy tales, and the editor-in-chief and co-owner of Enchanted Living. She also penned The Faerie Handbook, The Mermaid Handbook, and The Unicorn Handbook, all from HarperCollins.