This blog is the Mexico 2011 Zoe Fest blog preserving the history of our yearly retreats. This is also dedicated to Billy Sheehan – Sorry for the Instagram link but his website is no longer available. I feel happy that a small sample of his brilliant work may be archived here. Rest in peace Billy.
I just came across this article this morning. Not sure if the link will show up but look at the photo those are the “Cannery” buildings that many of us shot at in the foreground. Terrible impact on the local fishermen. Boo!
I’m a bit… sorry, a LOT slow. I wish I’d had Lightroom back in 2011. Soz… Samantha Grace at Casa Dracula.
After a very successful exhibition and book launch for my Naked In Baja limited edition printed book last month, I’ve been working hard to create an eBook version which represents the same high standard as the printed book. Of course you can never replace the tactile beauty of a high quality printed book but the images in this eBook do look quite stunning on an iPad.
Containing all the images of Samantha Grace, Carlotta Champagne, Ella Rose, Anne Duffy, Stephanie Anne, Anoush Anou, St Merrique, Sara Liz, Brooke Lynne and Meghan Claire that appear in the printed book, the eBook (iBook) version also contains an extra bonus of two small, behind-the-scenes videos from my shoot at Playa Las Cachora with Carlotta and Sara.
The book contains an introduction by Zoe Wiseman along with 8 chapters of artistic nude photography totalling over 110 pages. The eBook is now available through Blurb for immediate purchase and download.
This is part twenty-four in a series of blogs on my photography adventures at ZoeFest X, in Todos Santos, Mexico.
I got a lovely email from a lovely model called Candace Nirvana last week. She had been following my periodic blog posts about our time at ZoeFest in 2011 and was wondering why she had never seen an entry featuring my shoot with her.
It was a more than fair question. She has extraordinary patience. I photographed her there in some abandoned ruins more than 15 months ago.
I wrote her back a lengthy email explaining her absence from the blog because, as I told her, she deserved better than the usual photographer, “I’ve been busy,” crap. Yesterday, I actually found
the blog post dated late last summer in my drafts folder that I started writing about her shoot, but never finished. She had been the last of 15 model shoots I had in Todos Santos. I had been editing the thousands of photographs I made during that trip in the order that I shot them. Candace’s absence from my ZoeFest blog series was simply because I hadn’t finished editing her shoot.
Billy. Really though. 15 months?
I know. I’m usually much better than that.
The good news is that I did finally finish editing our shoot around the holidays last December. The only good thing I can say about it taking so long for a proper review, is the fresh-eyes thing I occasionally speak about. It’s a luxury to go back to a shoot, years later and discover all kinds of things that I didn’t see during the first hurried editing process.
Plus, my time with Zoe Wiseman (the generous organizer of ZoeFest), the other photographers and brilliant models of that trip was so extraordinary, you can’t blame me for wanting to milk every last memory about that experience for as long as possible. Every time I go back to any of those shoots, I find new previously overlooked gems. It’s an embarrassment of riches.
So, somewhat better late than never, I present the long lost Candace Nirvana ZoeFest blog.
“Oh, it’s so nice to finally meet you! I love your work,” I said to Candace when I found myself next to her at one of our ZoeFest parties.
She was one of the many models that I was aware of before our adventures began in Todos Santos, Mexico. Candace Nirvana was someone whose name and images had been on my radar for years. She was an incredible model and I was thrilled with the idea that we might get to finally collaborate together after years of distant appreciation.
“You know, I’ve met you before,” she offered.
She paused for a moment, with a slight look of disbelief. “In your studio.”
“In my studio?… Wait… You were in my studio?… When?!” I was dumbfounded.
She sighed. Sadly, it was a sigh that I had heard too many times before when I disappoint someone by not remembering them. Sometimes my memory bank has some serious deficiencies. Locked up somewhere in a dusty file cabinet in the back of my cranium apparently was the memory of first meeting Candace. In my own studio no less. But even with that clue, she could see by the puzzled look on my face that I was no nearer to remembering.
“Jillian Ann was staying with you….”
Wow. Still nothing.
“I came to visit her at your place…,” she trailed off, waiting for my silly head to catch up.
And finally, the file cabinet flew open, showering my nearby brain cells with a mixture of dust and cobwebs and disturbing hundreds of bats in my belfry that had been hanging there undisturbed for years. In an instant, they were all flying toward me as I ducked out of the way.
“Ohhhhhhhhhh! Yes! Now I remember!”
Suddenly I could see her sitting on my sofa next to Jillian, clear as day, having a brief conversation while Jillian and I were taking a break from a day of shooting.
“I’m so sorry. Of course I’ve met you.” Not my best first impression that was really a second impression.
I felt awful. It’s hard to recover with a believable statement about wanting to photograph someone after you’ve just admitted, seconds earlier, that you couldn’t remember meeting them. But I had to try.
“We should try to find some time to shoot in the next few days,” I sheepishly offered.
“Sure,” she said, as she casually turned to walk away. “Just let me know when,” she added, over her shoulder.
Like I said. Not my most smooth moment as a photographer.
Eventually, nearing the end of ZoeFest we did manage to align our schedules on the last day most of us would be at our lovely artists retreat. Candace would be my 15th ZoeFest photoshoot. And my last with the all of the lovely international models of ZoeFest.
I was a bit intimidated by this point. Even before the forgetting-I-met-her mishap, I had been previously aware of her catalog of beautiful modeling images and I felt under a little more pressure than usual to deliver something equally artistic with our work. And after more than a week of location scouting at the four charming boutique hotels we had taken over for the duration of our stay, drives down countless dusty roads outside of town and hunting for hidden beach locations, I really wanted to find somewhere particularly inspiring for Candace.
In the end, I stole a location that I had been hearing about from Malcom Grant and Cam Attree, two of my brilliant photographer colleagues there, but one I hadn’t been to yet myself. It was an old abandoned cannery complex off in the direction of the lovely Playa las Palmas secluded beach cove.
Let me take a moment to veer off on a slight tangent here as a thanks to Cam for sharing directions to the location by letting you know about a book project he just completed called, Naked in Baja Mexico. Here’s a link to a video about his book and another about how you can get your own copy. It’s just stunning work.
Back to our story. There are a lot of well hidden dirt roads off of Federal Highway 19 as your drive south out of the small town of Todos Santos. I had spent a lot of time punishing my poor rental car, driving down quite a few of them in the last week or so. The roads actually become small narrow rivers when the rains come down from the hills. Even after they dry out like at that time of year, they’re full of interesting obstacles, ruts and ridges to navigate around.
Once again, Google Maps came to the rescue. The little dirt road Candace and I guessed might be the way to the abandoned cannery was full of those familiar challenges. The trick is to drive cautiously enough to be able to find the smoothest bit of road as you proceed, without driving so slowly that you get stuck in the sand. Cam had told me just a few days earlier he had to enlist the assistance of some locals to push his car out of a dune in the same area. It’s a tricky needle to thread.
And of course, nothing was marked. Every time we came to a fork in the road, which was often, we would slow down and make a quick survey of which choice seemed to be the most vehicle worthy and in the general direction of where our iPhone’s maps told us we should be heading. When in doubt, we chose the path in the direction of the ocean.
Amazingly, it worked. We eventually came upon a large single story crumbling building. The cannery!
I made a quick look around to make sure we were alone as I unpacked the camera gear from the car and followed Candace inside. Immediately we noticed something unusual in the first room we entered. The floor was literally covered with broken… um… shells?
Shells, right? Not skulls… or bones?!
No. Definitely shells. I was happy there was so much light pouring in through the windows. In the dark, it would have been difficult to otherwise make that distinction. There were thousands of them. Everywhere.
It wouldn’t be the only time we’d stumble across something a little unnerving at the cannery. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Candace tossed her thin white slip of a sundress aside and found a place in one of the corners that looked like a good place to start as I began finding my first composition. It was incredible how her poses provided me with such interesting contrasts of her curves to the hard lines of the building. I used the windows and shadows to frame her shape in visually pleasing ways. A few exposures in and I could already tell that collaborating with Candace was going to be exceptional.
As is often the case when shooting figure models on location, it was clear that models are at a disadvantage when exploring a space such as this. The fact that I had shoes on and Candace did not was brought into stark relief as she tried to avoid cutting her feet open on the sharp edges of the shells, rocks and stones on the ground. She’s a pro, however and I was seemingly more concerned about it than she was as she gracefully danced from pose to pose in our strange environment.
There were a few smaller abandoned nearby buildings as part of the complex, some no bigger than a tiny room or two and we began to explore those as well. Candace crawled up into one of the window openings of one that had a shape like a baseball home plate. Once again she found interested ways to fill the space with her body with poses that suggested both strength and gracefulness.
We headed back into the main building at an end we hadn’t explored yet. Most of the roof had collapsed years earlier allowing for the most gorgeous light to pour in from above. I stood away from her shooting down a long corridor as she used her sundress as a prop. First wearing the dress normally, spinning and dancing and then using it as a headpiece. As I continued to make photos, I knew I was going to have a challenge picking only one from this series.
Candace and I took a break to catch our breath and take a few sips from our water bottles as we considered our next set up. We noticed a small building a short walk off in the distance and decided to see what that was about. As we approached the stairs leading up to the front door, it appeared to be equally as deserted as the cannery building.
We carefully stepped inside and found walls covered with colorful graffiti. But yes, it seemed like no one had been here in a while.
Candace asked if I had any music with me. It made me realize that I rarely shoot models without music of some kind, but the past week I’d been shooting in outdoor locations, some far away from electrical outlets for a boom box or other music source. However, the space we were in was small enough that I wondered if the little speaker on my iPhone might be loud enough to add a little atmosphere to the emptiness.
I clicked through my music before settling on Sirens of the Sea by Oceanlab and suddenly the space was filled with wonderful music. Perfect.
While Candace was selecting another piece of clothing to use for our next round, I set off to explore the other rooms. I turned a corner and stared into a darker corridor and stopped as I heard a strange movement ahead and above me. Above me? Hmmmm.
My eyes started to adjust to the darkness just as something suddenly fluttered past my head.
Bats. Dozens of them, all hanging from the porous ceiling.
More momentarily startled than afraid, I just did what came naturally and raised my camera to my eye. I made a couple of quiet exposures and was surprised when a few more of them flew past my head. I was being really quiet and not moving a muscle. What was spooking them?
Ohhhhhh, maybe my autofocus. I don’t know the exact science of how my camera gauges distance, but at that moment I was pretty sure it was sending something out that was inaudible to my ears, but probably nothing short of yelling to my new winged companions.
Okay then. I took a deep breath and braced myself for what was to come next. I composed my frame on the ceiling, now moving quite a bit more than when I first entered and squeezed the shutter, firing off frames in rapid succession.
You know that scene in The Dark Knight when all the bats fly past a young Bruce Wayne? Yeah. Exactly.
Amazingly, none of them actually touched me. And I was hoping the small window at the end of the corridor would be enough backlight to create a good image. When I got back to my hotel room a few hours later, I had my answer. Perfect.
Oh, and I should mention the irony of my shoot with Candace was that it was taking place on October 31st. Halloween. All kinds of interesting going on that day.
Meanwhile, I walked back out to where Candace was wondering where I’d gone off to and told her we’d probably want to stay away from that part of the building.
“Bats,” I announced.
Candace had put on a beautiful mesh skirt that looked almost like chainmail. Gorgeous. She moved into one of the doorways and continued to give me the most exquisite poses and then she moved near one of the walls. The graffiti just added another layer to my compositions. Wonderful.
After a few hours of work, we decided to call it a day and we drove down yet another dusty sandy road to the Pacific Ocean. There was a beautiful beach cove nearby and we silently walked along the water just relaxing and enjoying the paradise for a while. I had managed to complete my self challenge of individually photographing every one of the models who had come on the trip. It meant for as many as three shoots a day and lots of location scouting when I wasn’t shooting, but I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Well maybe except crashing the model taxi rental car.
No, it was one of the most artistically rewarding things I’ve ever been a part of. Like I said before, with thousands of photographs, it hasn’t been difficult to milk the memories since then. That walk along the beach with Candace was the first time I wasn’t thinking ahead to the next shoot. I was done. I could simply enjoy the moment.
Candace was incredible to work with. I do now have a faint memory of our first meeting at my studio all those years ago. After she left, I do recall Jillian saying something like, “You should really photograph her.”
I continued to hear that same suggestion before and during ZoeFest. So I’m glad I managed to overcome my social ineptness with Candace, enough that she agreed to work with this strange man who couldn’t seem to remember meeting her.
Thank you, Candace for the collaboration and more patience than a model should have to endure to see the results of our day in Todos Santos, playing in the abandoned cannery.
You can see Candace’s beautiful photography work on her own websites. Sometimes great models also become great photographers. Her wonderful fine art nude photography is here and her commercial portrait work can be found here and even more photos and thoughts on her blog here.
And you can see more photographs from our collaboration in Todos Santos at the new Billy Sheahan Photography Archive. Just search for “Candace” in the image search box. I’ll be adding even more in the weeks to come.
Thanks, as always for continuing to follow my ZoeFest adventures. Believe it or not, there is still more to come!
Yes. There’s always more.
I can’t believe it’s been just over a year since we were all basking in the Mexican sun, eating tacos, drinking margaritas an oh, taking lots of beautiful art nude photographs of course! It took my reminiscing about Mexico and missing everyone at Fest XI in Palm Springs while I was stuck at work back here in Brisbane to prompt me to finally do something serious with all of my art nude images.
So the Naked In… projects were born and I decided the first in the series should be Naked In… Baja Mexico. Each project will consist of a fine-art limited edition book, an eBook, a limited set of postcards and a series of signed prints. To help raise funds for the design and production of the limited edition book from this first project, I have started a community funding campaign which, much to my amazement, managed to raise the initial funds needed to cover the basic costs in only 3 days. There is also a website / blog to support this and the future Naked In… projects so make sure you check it out and keep visiting to see the latest updates – www.naked-in.com
Of course it would be great to see the support for this project continue so if you are interested in supporting it, click on the photo and head to the Pozible campaign and have a look at what’s on offer.
ZoeFest 10 in Baja this past October was my first ZoeFest. ZoeFest is something I always have been meaning to attend. In the past I always contacted Zoe a little to late and missed the sign up boat. But in 2011, I finally jumped on the boat at the right time. After all, 90% of fine art nude modeling is timing.
It’s been hard for me to actually put in words what the experience of ZoeFest is like. It’s a pretty amazing experience. The most talented models and photographers in one place, making amazing friendship and creating even more amazing art. It’s purely the best modeling experience I may have had. I also, think the setting in Baja couldn’t have been better. ZoeFest and the laid back vibe of Baja just go hand and hand.
The best photo’s I have model in, in my career come from ZoeFest. I mean, these are memories I will cherish for life. I also, cannot believe the friendships I have made. Zoe really has a talent for bringing people together. People that mesh well. Maybe it’s because she is cat like in nature and reads people pretty well?
I’ve been able to recover some of my Baja images. Most of them are candid moments of fun. The photographers I have worked with have shown off the amazing art we created. But my job as the subject is to report the emotional and the experience. The photographer captures the emotion as a wizard in technology. A model, is the vessel of emotion. So, as a vessel, here are some of my fun moments when I wasn’t being a fancy pants art model. 🙂
I took a lot of shots of the sights. I tend to do that. Also, the picture of the trucks on the dirt road. That was the highway under-construction to get to Todos Santos. It was let’s say, not as safe as we are use to in the USA. Baja, is neat because it is kind of a like an island and I find it even to be different then the other parts of Mexico. This was the first highway in Mexican that was under-construction, I have driven on. Or road, because I was a passenger.
We did a lot of fun things, such as group dinners. Zoe brought in a fancy chef to cook us some of the best Mexican food I have had. That’s saying a lot since, I live in Los Angeles. The Mexican food is endless here. We celebrated Halloween and dressed up. I referred Halloween as, confusing the Australians since, they do not have Halloween there. I did the sea turtle rescue twice. Just because I loved the sea turtles so much and found them so cute.
On my last day in Baja Mark and I took a tour of the local cemeteries. Probably a highlight for me. Just because I enjoyed seeing the locals prepare the graves and make repairs for the dead. The fact we visited so close to the day of the dead made it interesting. I love the respect and love the Mexicans show for their ancestry. It’s nice that as a culture they take time to take care of family plots and think about those who have passed. I took many photo’s of the graves and some photo’s of the families cleaning up and repairing them.
This was a great experience for sure. I cannot wait for the next Zoefest!
This is part twenty-two in a series of blogs on my photography adventures at ZoeFest X, in Todos Santos, Mexico.
You’ll recall that my decision to rent a car for the duration of ZoeFest X was turning out to be a fine choice. Before leaving Chicago, I had imagined that I might have only used it for driving the two hours from the airport at Los Cabos up Federal Highway 19 to our temporary home in Todos Santos, and then back again at the end of the trip.
However, it was really handy to be able to explore Todos Santos when scouting locations and picking up and driving models to our shoots. The added bonus was that no matter where I was headed, there was usually a model or two or five who needed a lift to the same place. Sometimes we just ran errands. For someone experiencing his first ZoeFest, it was also the perfect way to get to know everyone in the short time we were together.
I really do find that my photos of anyone are usually better the more I know them as a person. I always try to find something interesting about anyone I’m photographing beyond their obvious physical beauty. That little added connection really does make all the difference when capturing the essence of someone.
One day, near the end of our ZoeFest adventure, I was relaxing between shoots at the Hotelito when Rebecca, Ella Rose and Candace Nirvana (whose blog entry is coming very soon – promise!), asked me if I wanted to explore a little vintage shop up the dusty road between the Hotelito and Casa Dracula. It sounded like fun so we piled into my rental car and set out to find it.
Rebecca said she was pretty sure she knew where it was. And soon enough we spotted a little unmarked driveway that was near to where she thought it might be. We had found it, although you’d really have to know it was there to find it. I had driven past it nearly a hundred times during the week and never noticed it. If there was a sign, it was very bashful.
We parked and walked into the slightly organized main room piled high with used clothing and discarded flea market fair as only a shop like this can accomplish. The trio set about rummaging though racks and racks of clothing looking for those finds that can only be uncovered by picking through everything. One by one they brought out armfuls of potential finds to where I happened to be standing, near the only semi-full length mirror in the place. And of course, the mirror was for sale as well.
The parade of first holding up the potential find in front of the mirror and then quickly trying it on if it made the first cut proceeded as I stood by, offering my best honest opinion to the, “What do you think,” stream of questioning.
I have a long history of rather enjoying clothes shopping with women. I’d have to admit I’d rather find myself in a small upscale boutique than a sports bar. It’s one of the few quirks in my man wiring that makes me more comfortable in the Chanel store on rue Cambon in Paris over the ESPN Zone. I know. I don’t know why either, except I’d rather be looking at a pair of strappy Guiseppe Zanottis than looking under the hood of… well… any car, I guess. I’ve stopped asking myself.
I have a good reputation for actually helping with my point of view when asked. I remember a few years ago when a friend of mine was in the very early stages of a new relationship and it had escalated to a weekend getaway that required swimwear. She was panicking. After a desperate phone call, I found myself in the women’s dressing room of Marshall Field’s as my friend auditioned many swimwear options.
When she walked out in a particularly flattering deep blue one piece, my natural reaction of, “Wow!”, resulted in several heads popping out of the doors of other nearby changing rooms. The women all wanted to see what would hereafter be referred to as “The Wow Suit.”
Back in Todos Santos, it was more miss than hit. Sometimes the find you’re hoping is in this rack somewhere, simply isn’t.
I took a short break from being mirror attendant to take a phone call from a friend of mine who was inviting me to dinner without realizing I was 2,500 miles away until we were a few minutes into our conversation. When I gave him a brief report on my photographic adventure in Baja, he laughed. “Of course you are!”
My friends are hard to surprise anymore.
After about 20 more minutes, Rebecca, Ella and Candace felt satisfied they had not overlooked the find of the century. They had found a few things. Worth the trip, but not quite the treasure trove we were perhaps hoping for. We piled back into the car for the short drive back to the Hotelito.
I’m sure I looked. I would never back up without looking first. Perhaps I was distracted. All I know is that I hadn’t moved the car ten feet before I heard a sickening crunch.
I pulled forward and got out of the car, angry with myself for not being more careful.
Wow. I really had crushed my back bumper. The trunk was also pushed up a inch or two.
Luckily, the van… yes, it was a great big giant blue van I backed into, was pretty much undamaged. Although my relief only lasted a few moments before the owner of the vintage shop, having heard the crunch, ran out to the parking lot waving her hands above her head in great distress. Her level of upset was a little out of proportion to the actual damage to her van, but I find it’s best to let people get it out at full volume before we can bring it down a few notches to calm and reasonable.
Eventually she realized my car was in much worse shape than hers was and the little mishap was relegated to just being one of those things. She walked back inside the shop and we drove away, a bit more cautiously this time.
Our car ride was a little on the quiet side for a minute, until I revealed my philosophy on things like my little accident.
“Whenever something like that happens, something involving a thing, be it a car or a camera or a some other thing, I always imagine, what if it hadn’t been a thing? What if it hadn’t been a stationary van I backed into? What if it had been a child playing behind the car? Or one of them? I would be so wishing it was just a fender bender. I would be wishing I could give anything to turn back time. A thing can be fixed. Replaced.”
I’ve had a few camera mishaps in the course of my career. My beautiful Hasselblad dropped into 12 feet of water during a pool shoot. (It lived after a trip to Hasselblad repair.)
A $3,500 lens slipping out of the backpack of one of my assistants on location and crashing four feet to the ground onto pavement. (It also lived but the protective UV filter did it’s job and was sacrificed.)
I’ve always reacted the same way. I imagine that it always could have been much worse. Something living and irreplaceable. We agree to have learned a lesson and to be more careful next time. And we move on.
Besides. I had purchased the maximum amount of insurance the rental car company offered.
Always buy the insurance. Always.
Then you simply hand the rental car agent your keys, apologize and take the airport shuttle to your gate.
Next time: Models with Cameras and why that’s perfectly okay with me.