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Part 11 of 50: St. Merrique, Made in the Shade

This is part eleven in a series of blogs on my recent artistic adventures in Mexico.

Ever been to a party where you don’t know anyone? Many people find that to be an uncomfortable situation.

St. Merrique at the Hotelito
St. Merrique at the Hotelito

Me? I don’t really mind it. I guess it depends on the people at the party, but I can usually get a conversation going with someone without too much effort. And if I’m at a gathering of artists, well that’s a piece of cake!

That’s good, except with all the evening socializing, great conversation and mingling going on at ZoeFest, it was a challenge to make it across the room to speak with someone you were hoping to have a conversation with because there were always a handful of great conversations to be had in the space between. Kinda like trying to get from the hotel entrance to the elevators in Las Vegas. A maze of shiny, blinking things to distract you on the way.

St. Merrique at the Hotelito
St. Merrique at the Hotelito

During the first few days, St. Merrique and I had managed to only have a few sentence fragments of communication in passing. Enough that I knew, yes, we both wanted to work together in Todos Santos and also that she would be departing from ZoeFest a few days earlier than the rest of us.

Yet we always seemed to be on opposite sides of the room at whatever social function we were attending. She finally resorted to sending me an email to try to schedule some shoot time. It worked.

Merrique is from my favorite city in the world, Paris, although she currently calls Los Angeles her home base. She has a quiet graceful quality about her, but you can also tell there is a powerful strength behind those eyes of hers. Beauty not to be trifled with.

This was the second of three shoots on my third day of ZoeFest. Again it was at the Hotelito where I had just photographed Claudine. Since my shoot with St. Merrique was scheduled right as the mid-day heat was about to make its entrance, we decided that perhaps shade should be the theme of the day. I found an interesting vibrant pink wall that would keep her out of the direct sun. Definitely a background she would stand out from, even in the shade.

I took one test exposure frame of her casually standing at rest against the wall and satisfied with my camera settings, I told her I was ready as I raised the viewfinder back to my eye.

And bang!

Before even clicking the shutter, just looking through the viewfinder, whoever it was that was in my first test frame was suddenly replaced by… well… St. Merrique!

St. Merrique at the Hotelito
St. Merrique at the Hotelito

One of the great thing about working with models who exude a great deal of professionalism is that there is so little direction needed. Merrique knew her environment, the light she was standing in and where I was in relation to it all. All I had to do was find the composition that worked with what she was giving me. Just her against a textured wall. A doorway to the left of the frame and a shaft of sunlight from behind the little building, sweeping past her feet.

Maybe I would have her move a bit closer or away from the wall or maybe a half a step to the left or right, but to be honest, there was very little I could say to improve upon what she was doing. Really perfect.

It was also one of those times when I was having a color or B&W argument in the back of my head while we were shooting. I’ll talk about this more a bit later, but I usually know whether an image is going to be color or B&W as I’m composing it, because I do compose differently depending on that choice. The decision is usually not made in post processing, but at the time of the shoot.

The wall was so vivid behind Merrique. I finally let myself off the hook by agreeing that I could later choose how light or dark the wall would be behind her in my B&W conversions and balance the composition accordingly whether I decided to go with B&W or color. Regardless, I had to stop the mental argument because St. Merrique was really doing some amazing things with her shape!

St. Merrique at the Hotelito
St. Merrique at the Hotelito

We decided to head over to the pool. Even though I had shot in that location just a few hours earlier, the light was completely different now and one half of the pool was now completely in the shade. Perfect.

I had Merrique move to the middle of one of the long sides of the pool and this time I moved close to the wall instead of shooting across the pool. It created a lot of negative space which I love to work with. All I had to do was to not fall in the water as I balanced precariously close to the edge!

She continued with lovely poses and this time I ignored the color or B&W argument that had started up in my head again. It was a lovely blue wall, but I was thinking B&W as I shot.

St. Merrique was a joy to work with. Lovely, graceful, intelligent. A wonderful collaborator in the hot sun. Except that we were smart enough to remember to work in the shade.

We wrapped the shoot, very happy with what we had created.

Oh, and I should mention that not only is she a stunning model, Merrique is also a musician and audio engineer! Crazy talented! You can hear some of her music here.

My next shoot with the spectacular Rebecca Lawrence would begin in an hour!

More to come!

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Meghan @ Casa Dracula

When the drawing took place for the free hour with a model I was fortunate in being paired up with Meghan.

We went to Casa Dracula for an hour of shooting

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Claudine and Rebecca

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Hotelito Studio – Outtakes – Anoush

Round three of outtakes from the Hotelito Studio series, this time with Anoush.

We shot these images around the Hotelito pool with the wonderful deep blue/ green tiles.

The selected image for the series is in the top left corner …

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One day. Five and a Half Models. Dozens of Locations. 1,184 Images. One Happy Photographer

Call it a rookie move. Call it a last minute rush. Call it inspired genius. Whatever label you call it, my last full day in Mexico was very long and full of amazing photography, great people, and really good food.

Friday, October 28th.

I am picking this one day to do a more detailed post because it was so crazy and so full of wonderful creative adventures. Now… first off, let me freely admit that a) I’m not the most organized person in the world, and b) I do tend to leave things for the last minute. I fully understand that this day was borne of those realities. That said, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Samantha Grace at Hotelito 6:45 a.m.

I had been lucky enough to draw Samantha’s name from the hat as it was passed around earlier in the week at the Hotel California dinner party. I had already booked everything I had planned on shooting so this was a really nice surprise. We eventually decided (maybe on Wednesday?) that we would shoot on Friday at sunrise. What a great way to begin what was to become an 18 hour photography adventure.

Emma at the Todos Santos Inn 10:45 a.m.

Emma was one of the wonderful people staying with us at the Casa Bentley. We had shared meals, stories, and adventures throughout the week but we hadn’t yet had a chance to work together. I had worked out a plan so that I could have at least one shoot in each of the amazing hotels. I knew I wanted to shoot Emma the Todos Santo Inn and I had all kinds of ideas about the images I wanted to create with her there. She is such an amazing person and the location provided so many different opportunities… we decided on the bar area partly because I was interested in finding ways to tell a story and partly because I thought it was an area that had been less used by the other amazing photographers. A chance to get a unique view of the space.

Emma at the Casa Bentley historic adobe 12:30 p.m.

Beatrice was so wonderful to show us into her home and to offer it to us as a location for a photo shoot… I couldn’t pass on such a generous offer. Her home is in one of the first adobe homes in Todos Santos and dates back to the 1800’s. Combine the wonderful architecture with the antiques and decor that are in her home and you have a recipe for amazing photos. I think Emma was the perfect model to bring out the peaceful and timeless feel of the space.

Build the set for the underwater shoot with Tara. 1:30 – 2:30 p.m.

Tara had been asking to shoot underwater even before we got to Mexico… the problem for me was how to put my creative twist on it. Earlier in the week I had done my first (ever) underwater shoot. Anna was so patient with me as I stumbled my through the unique challenges of shooting in the pool. While I had gotten some images from that shoot that I was happy with (Anna is so beautiful it’s hard not to), I could also see that I wanted something more unique when I shot in the pool again. Inspired by the drapes in my room and armed with Tara’s advice about using a snorkel mask, I got to work. Beatrice was my hero! She found everything I needed… mask, drapes, rope, 15′ bamboo pole… and I got busy putting it all together.

Bob Bentley Portrait 3:00 p.m.

And now for something completely different! (My 1/2 Model) Bob has such a great spirit and wonderful Hemingway-esque face. I knew I had to photograph him before I went home. Well… I was going home in the morning and I still hadn’t made the time to get his portrait done. It was now or never. He was both excited and shy about being photographed. He asked about trimming his beard (please don’t), clothes to wear (a dark shirt would be great), and found lots of hats to chose from (I had wanted him to wear a hat). It was a quick shoot but I got the shot I was hoping for. (see my earlier blog post) Joel was kind enough to assist me on the shoot. Thanks!

Tara interior shoot – Casa Bentley 3:45 p.m.

Another wonderful model staying at the Casa Bentley! I had worked with Tara the day before out in the cactus and on the playa de las palmas. I was really looking forward to working with her again. The set was ready for our underwater shoot but I wanted to get some indoor shots first. I was in my room downloading and archiving images from the shoots earlier in the day when Tara came in for our shoot and sat down across from me. “Notice anything different?” she said. Now, I don’t know about you but when a woman asks me that kind of question it scares the shit out of me! Of course I froze. She let me off the hook quickly and gracefully by pointing out that her eyes were now blue. An interesting and unexpected surprise. She had brought along several things to use for props and I really liked the circle necklace and earrings. As we did our shoot I continued to try to explore the idea of having the image try to evoke a story.

Tara underwater shoot – Casa Bentley 4:30 p.m.

After finishing our indoor shoot it was time to get in the pool. I had my snorkel mask and trusty point and shoot underwater camera… hopefully I could get something that Tara would be happy with. Right away I could tell that the mask was going to be a HUGE help. I could actually see the camera as I was working and compose the shots. On my earlier shoot with Anna I had been shooting blind and then bringing the camera out of the water to see if I got anything. It worked but it felt like luck was more important than skill. Being able to compose the shots brought back the feeling of artistry. As we worked in the pool, Tara and I got more and more chilled and then we started to get powerful muscle cramps! I’m still not sure what that is all about but Tara took it all in stride and assured me that it was just a part of working under water. Luckily we have some good images to show for all the chills and pain!

My concept with the drapes was that Tara would be moving through them from one space in the water to another. The drapes would be both a barrier and a passage way. While I did get several shots that expressed this idea, I found as I was looking at the images that I was drawn to those that used the drapes as a simple backdrop. I may post some of the images that show the transition through space in another post.

Carlotta at Hotelito 5:45 p.m.

I am embarrassed to admit that this is a shoot that I had only a fuzzy memory of booking. Carly and I had been in contact via email before getting to Mexico and had set Friday as the day for working together. I got so caught up in everything that was going on (and didn’t have things written down) that I might have missed an amazing shoot. Thankfully, Carly pulled me aside on Thursday night and said “We have a shoot together tomorrow, right?”. I may have said something like “Yes, We do.” and hopefully I didn’t have a dazed look on my face. We arranged that I would pick her up from the TSI at 5 p.m. and do our shoot at Hotelito. Well, at 5:00 I was still in the pool. I got to TSI as soon as I could and thankfully Carly hadn’t given up on me (although I would’t blame her for thinking I was a flaky ass****). Carly was amazing to work with! Pose after pose she found ways to express herself and move her body… I found myself just waiting for the next fantastic shot. If you have any skill at all as a photographer, it would be seriously hard to f***-up a shoot with Carly. It was hard to choose just a couple of shots to represent this shoot.

Amazing dinner with everyone at Hotelito.

You were all there… you know how good it was! I got there late but had a great time talking with everyone and enjoying the fantastic food. I drank lots of water to try to recover a bit from the stress and heat of the day. I definitely needed the food and rest! After the swag drawing and group photo was done Keira and I made our way back to Casa Bentley for the last shoot of the day.

Keira midnight shoot – Casa Bentley 11:30 p.m. till the wee hours of Saturday

Keira was my first shoot of the trip and now she was going to be that last on this amazing day. Our first shoot at Casa Dracula had been such an great way to start. Keira was gracious with my lack of experience and so incredibly skilled at finding amazing ways to pose. She has a wonderful spirit and humor. Now, almost a week later, I couldn’t wait for our midnight shoot!

We drove back to Casa Bentley from Hotelito so we could shoot in my room. It was a space I knew well and there was a floor lamp that I thought would have just the light I was looking for. One thing that I had yet to do on this trip was to work on more abstract “bodyscape” style images. I thought that would be my plan for this shoot. As often happens… things went another direction. I did get a couple of abstract shots that I am very happy with but as we were shooting I found that there was a magic in the way Keira was reflected in the window. I had fun playing with different angles and got some images that I love. Talking with Keira during the shoot was a huge part of what made it so fun. She is so bright and warm that I could have easily talked all night. As our shoot ended we decided to check out where the rocking music that filled the air was coming from. We walked up to the public square across from the church and listened to the band for a bit before walking back to TSI. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end an amazing day.

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I started a new “tradition” last year in Australia. It seemed only fitting that I do it again.

There will be video soon…

Every model who was at the festival!

Claudine, Ella Rose, Anoush Anou, Meghan, Stephanie Anne, Kiera Grant, Rebecca Lawrence, St. Merrique, Candace Nirvana, Brooke Lynne, Carlotta Champagne, Samantha Grace, Anne Duffy, Tara Tree and Sara Liz. Thank you, Ladies! Stay tuned for the video!

15 © 2011 Zoe Wiseman
15 © 2011 Zoe Wiseman
15 © 2011 Zoe Wiseman
15 © 2011 Zoe Wiseman
15 © 2011 Zoe Wiseman
15 © 2011 Zoe Wiseman
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Part 10 of 50: 2,500 Miles to Chicago

This is part ten in a series of blogs on my recent artistic adventures in Mexico.

People have been asking me:

“So, Billy. How do you know this blog is going to be 50 parts?”


“So, Billy. Are you really going to write 50 entries about your trip?”

Claudine at the Hotelito
Claudine at the Hotelito

Both fair questions. I originally figured the blog about ZoeFest was going to be one or two entries. After I drove to the Cabo San Lucas Airport for my flight back to Chicago, I had plenty of time to kill both at the airport and on the flight and I wrote what turned out to be the the first half dozen or so entries before I landed. It was then I realized I had way more than a blog entry or two.

About how I came up with the 50 number? I really just pulled it out of the air. In my very brief editing sessions while still in Todos Santos, I quickly found 50 photographs that seemed to have promise. And that was only after a very quick glance. I will most certainly find images I like better than those first 50 that caught my eye once I have a chance to sit down for an extended period of time and really get critical. I thought I could write one entry for each of the 50 first-round-of-editing photographs. That was how I came up with the number.

Of course, it also became impossible to talk about each shoot without showing several images to illustrate what I’m talking about. It’s only fair to you lovely readers.

Claudine at the Hotelito
Claudine at the Hotelito

As for the second question, I really have no idea if I’ll hit 50 different entries that all pertain to the wonderfully artistic ZoeFest Mexican Adventure. I would do neither I, nor you, kind readers, any favors by stretching this out with filler, just to reach a number.

And now since this is starting to feel a bit like the filler I want to avoid, let’s continue with the adventure, shall we?

I woke up on day three, had the usual early morning coffee chat with Mel and Scott and headed off to Hotelito for my first of three shoots that day. By the end of the third day, I would complete no less than seven shoots. Thankfully, for the remainder of the adventure, I would book a maximum of two shoots per day.

I was starting the day with Claudine, who was based out of Chicago like I was, although amazingly, we had never worked together before. Instead, we would fly 2,500 miles to get to our first shoot.

Claudine at the Hotelito
Claudine at the Hotelito

Claudine is a very happy person. A deep infectious laugh that I had been hearing for days whenever I was in her proximity. Maybe it’s a Chicago thing. We both laugh big.

I was anxious to shoot at Hotelito. A very different shooting environment than anywhere I had shot up until then. It was modern, colorful, geometric. Claudine was curvy and it seemed to be a good juxtaposition to photograph her there among the straight lines and geometry.

Since it was morning, the heat of the day was still a few hours off, so we headed outside to look for interesting places to begin. There were many interesting chairs and lounges around the grounds. One made up of white circular padded cylindars caught my eye, but I wasn’t quite sure the light was quite right where it was sitting on one of the porches. I’d have to think about that one for a bit.

The first thing I saw as we approached the pool area was a wall with rows of square cutouts in it. The sun was still low enough in the sky that the wall threw a perfect pattern of squares on the ground. Claudine stretched out and I walked around her, looking for the best angles of her within the shadows and how they passed over her. Sometimes you have to look at something from multiple vantage points to find the best one.

Claudine at the Hotelito
Claudine at the Hotelito

Then we headed off to the pool to play with reflections and shadows she could cast on the wall. By then the sun was getting close to being 45 degrees up from the horizon, probably about the maximum height I consider to be good light before the shadows start to become unflattering on faces. We worked, reviewed a bit and continued to work around the pool looking for the best angles from a reflection standpoint.

We moved to one of the short ends of the long pool and Claudine posed against a wooden wall at one end. The reflections were good. What I was curious about was how the tone of the wood and her skin tone seemed to be very similar. I usually prefer there to be more contrast between my  subject and the background. It was one of those times when I wasn’t exactly sure if my B&W conversion would work the way I was imagining in my head. Hopefully the knots in the wood would be enough of a difference. I wouldn’t know until I could process the images.

After the pool we decided to explore some of the geometry of the Hotelito. There was a beautiful staircase leading up to the one of the rooftops and we found ourselves being pulled toward it. I had her move up the stairs, experimenting with various positions, some sitting, some standing. There were so many intersecting squares and rectangles to compose with. Many textures and varying tones with slices of sunlight cutting through them. Quite amazing really and we laughed as we reviewed a couple of the images. Those bigs laughs again.

Claudine at the Hotelito
Claudine at the Hotelito

Finally we headed back to one of the porch areas and the tubular lounge. We had initially discussed moving it to another location, but when we returned the light had changed and the shade of the porch became a bit of a frame. I just hoped the lounge was not 120 degrees as it baked in the sun. Happily not.

Claudine once again gave me many great poses as we tried to find interesting ways to oppose the square shapes and straight lines with her form and the arc of the lounge. Perfect!

The sun was starting to get high in the sky as noon approached and we decided to stop for the morning. Claudine had great energy and was a valued collaborator, helping me to explore this new location.

It was a great way to end the first shoot of the day. Two Chicagoans playing thousands of miles from home.

Time to take a break and get ready for my second shoot with the lovely St. Merrique.

As always, more to come.

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Carlotta at Casa D.

In between marathon scanning sessions I remembered that I actually had another camera with me, and I’d actually used it. So here are some digital photographs of the stunning Carlotta Champagne, all made at Casa Dracula.

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Hotelito Studio – Outtakes – Candace

Round two of outtakes from the Hotelito Studio series, this time with Candace.

This is the same location as the session with Carly …

Again it was quite a task to choose the hero here with more close seconds. The selected image is in the top left corner …

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Samantha and Casa Dracula….loving the light.

I loved the sunlight streaming into this room at Casa Dracula