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Part 3 of 50: “Hi, I’m Billy”

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

My home base for ZoeFest X was a charming boutique hotel called, most appropriately, Todos Santos Inn. Like many historic buildings in town, it had once been the home of one of the local sugarcane barons in the 19th century. Now, it had been beautifully restored into a little paradise. I walked into the main airy foyer and then into the office to the left. It did almost feel like I was walking into 1850s Mexico. Beautiful, luxurious 1850s Mexico.

I was led back out through the foyer again, through a large beautiful brick arched patio area and down a few steps to a lush green garden with palms and huge elephant leaves reaching from the stone paths up to the blue sky. We walked past the curves of a beautiful little pool and down another path to my garden apartment.

I opened the door, stepped through and was stunned to see such a beautiful room. A roomy living room area and then three steps up to the bedroom with a beautifully appointed king-sized bed, with sheer white mosquito netting covering the large canopy above. Even if I never left this room, I could probably make some lovely photographs in here, I thought to myself.

I took a quick shower to wash two airports and the dusty drive off of me and headed back out to the patio where a few members of our group who had started to assemble there.

Carlotta Champagne in the Pool
Carlotta Champagne in the Pool

For our first night, Zoe had set up a welcome party at one of the other hotel locations, a huge 150-year-old house that was once the mansion of a wealthy sugarcane plantation owner in the 1800s. There was beginning to be a definite sugarcane theme here. The locals now called the mansion Casa Dracula. Rex, the proprietor, welcomed us all in and began to weave a tale about the origin of the mansion’s nickname having something to do with the plantation owner being bloodthirsty or the arches windows on the facade or something like that, I don’t really remember. Too much cerveza, vodka, tequila and meeting lovely people by then.

The party was a chance to officially meet each other and put names with faces. Over the course of the evening there were many, “Oh, you’re Billy!,” and other similar exclamations. Many in our group had worked together in the past either at previous ZoeFests or other shoots around the world, so it was a great reunion for them. And even though I was a ZoeFest rookie, we all knew each others’ work and I was welcomed in like family. Even though we had all been in contact with each other through email, it was great fun to meet all of these talented photographers and models whose work I had been studying since July.

After a few hours of discussions of art and life, we all began to pull out our calendars to start booking times and places to shoot for the ten days we would all be there. Some of the photographers had already planned shoots with a few of the models. I had planned to do the same, but my schedule right up to the trip was too full for me to do much more than make a few email introductions in advance.

Happily, it really didn’t seem to matter. I was not the only one whose goal was to just get to ZoeFest and sort out the details once I arrived.

I recognized a few of the faces from the photographs I had seen. I had actually known the work of some of the models for a few years, although this was my first time meeting them in person.

“Hi, I’m Billy.”

It was just that simple. There were fifteen incredibly smart, lovely and creative models that I could arrange to photograph during the course of ZoeFest. An embarrassment of riches, as I like to say. Many of them were familiar with my work as well, so it was great to discuss shooting with them. If I was going to make plans to shoot with all fifteen of them, it would mean multiple shoots on most of the days and location scouting to go with them all. I decided it would be best to just begin booking the time and sort out exactly where we would shoot a bit later. I had only been in Todos Santos for a few hours and not seen much of the town and other hotels yet. There would be time for that later.

Since Ella Rose and I had already gotten to know each other on the drive in, I decided it would be a good idea to book some time with her to start. I thought I would relax and maybe do a bit of exploring for my first full day there and start shooting on day two. We picked a time for early that second morning when the light would be lovely. Perfect. Now I could start thinking of some photographic ideas!

As the party progressed, I began to discuss photography with so many talented photographers and models. In short order I had shoots booked with Carlotta, Sara Liz and Rebecca.

If I may back up for a moment, there were actually three Chicagoans at Zoefest this year among the very international group. At one point during the flight to Cabo, the man sitting next to me got up to use the restroom and since I was in the window seat, it seemed like it would be a good time to do the same.

“Are you staying in Cabo?,” I asked him, as we waited in line.

“No, I’m actually headed up to a little town called Todos Santos,” was his reply.

I smiled. “Are you a photographer?”

He chuckled back, “Yes!”


“You too?!”

It was very funny. David had been sitting next to me for half of the flight. We had no idea we were on the same mission.

What we also didn’t know was that Claudine, another Chicagoan and one of the models we were now having tequila with at Casa Dracula, had also been on the same flight. The three of us had landed, got into three separate pre-arranged cars with other photographers and models and now found ourselves together once again. It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it, as Steven Wright used to say.

Claudine was, of course, added to my shooting calendar in short order. I was inadvertently starting to create an ambitious shooting schedule for myself. But really. How could I not? Anything less would have been very un-Billy.

A few local artists were on hand at the party as well and they supplied us with ideas for potential places to shoot outside of town near the ocean and various nearby ruins. Perfect!

As I mentioned a few paragraphs back, I had originally planned on taking the day off on my first full day in Todos Santos. It had been an extremely busy summer into fall for me and I was still not fully unwound from a day of international travel. However, Samantha Grace, also a ZoeFest first timer, and I had started taking about what we each might be doing for our first full day. I told her I was planning to just take it easy. She said she was thinking the same thing.

However, as the words were coming out of my mouth, a little voice inside me gave me a good slap and told me in a sarcastic tone that only your inner voice can truly pull off, “Yeah, great plan Billy. Fifteen models and you’re going to waste a day when you could be making art? Brilliant.”

The voice had a point. Another few sips of tequila and Samantha and I both convinced ourselves that we would probably regret not shooting together the first day. We would officially begin ZoeFest tomorrow. On day one. But at noon. At least we could sleep in a bit.

A few toasts, more laughs and we all headed back to our respective homes for the night.

Today’s photograph features the lovely Carlotta, who I photographed in the beautiful pool at Todos Santos Inn. As I was beginning to discover as the days progressed, shooting at mid-day in the Todos Santos heat was grueling. It’s true that her eyes had inspired me to make some photographs of her from water level. And the practical side of me decided that it might be good to shoot from in the pool to cool off a bit. I carefully brought my camera to within an inch of the surface of water as I happily bobbed closer to get the right composition. It turned out to be a very relaxing way to shoot.

As always, more to come.

7 replies on “Part 3 of 50: “Hi, I’m Billy””

So many lovely blog posts Billy. I’m still mostly at a loss to bring words to bear on this amazing experience. Such a pleasure, to meet you, too. And I’m in awe of the photos you’ve posted.

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