This is part eighteen in a series of blogs on my recent artistic adventures in Mexico.
Sorry it’s been a while since the last ZoeFest update. I bet some of you thought I gave up after 17 entries. Not so!
I’m used to being busy but the last few months have been even moreso here at Billy Sheahan Photography. Finding a few hours to compose new ZoeFest entries has been a rare occurrence.
So where were we? Ah yes. Stephanie Anne!
It was Saturday morning in Todos Santos, Mexico. Not that Saturday really feels much different than any other day in paradise. Hell, even Monday feels like Saturday here.
I had two photoshoots scheduled that day, first with the lovely Stephanie Anne and later with the beautiful Anoush Anou.
I was looking forward to yet another day of working with incredibly creative humans. Unfortunately I was a bit distracted at the same time. You see, a couple of days earlier, I had gotten a call from my sister back in the States that my mom suffered what seemed to be a small stroke. A few years earlier she had a major stroke and it severely incapacitated her, taking over a year for her to get back a fair amount of mobility and that was only after which we could breathe a sigh of relief that she was going to live through it at all.
News was slow in getting to me in my cocoon of paradise and I had been weighing whether I should even stay or cut my adventure short and fly back to see my mom. We had decided to wait a few days to see how serious it was. There was a lot of family looking in on her, so while my mom was constantly on my mind, my absence was less noticeable than it might have been otherwise. But I was still unsure that staying thousands of miles away was the correct decision.
A small group of family members finally convinced me that considering my penchant for overworking myself during the year, it might be a good idea for me to stay put in paradise and try to enjoy myself unless things took a turn for the worse.
Still, since telephone service was spotty, I was spending a lot of time looking for signal bars on my phone so as not to miss an urgent call. It was tricky to fully relax and concentrate on shooting.
By the time I met Stephanie Anne at another of our artist hotels, the lush Casa Bentley, I wasn’t nearly as prepared as I wanted to be for her. I wandered around the grounds looking for inspiration. Some unusual spot to allow her to find something special and inspire her as well. By the time she was ready to go, I had found very little that spoke to me. Or perhaps it actually was speaking to me, but I was having difficulty hearing it over all of my mental chatter.
Luckily, Stephanie is a joyful soul. Her energy and spirit can lift the volume of any gathering, and I mean that in a good way. I apologized for my being a bit distracted and Stephanie immediately took over the load of creating the inspiration. She carried me that morning. No question about it.
I remember starting at the base of a beautiful wide Hule tree that anchored the grounds of Casa Bentley. I was still trying to decide which lens I was going to start with and when I looked up for a moment, I could see that she had already found a place among the intertwined roots and vines and was handing it to me on a platter. I really hadn’t imagined that. But she did and that was enough to kick start our shoot.
I stepped behind a low branch, putting a series of long slender leaves between Stephanie and myself, defocused enough so that it created an almost there set of diagonal lines across the frame that played with her poses and the strong lines of the tree’s root structure. My head was beginning to find some focus at last.
It was wonderful to feed off of Stephanie’s energy. I was still struggling more than usual. But I knew the pictures were beginning to work. She was brilliant and beautiful and as I sometimes have to do when my mind is preoccupied with events away from the photo shoot, I just tried to not over think anything. I’ve found that emptying my head in these situations is the best way for me to go. It results in less direction to my subject as to what vision I’m seeing, which is a bit more challenging for my model, most of whom are accustomed to more feedback from me. Instead I find myself switching to a more documentary photographic style where I’m just looking through the viewfinder and composing what feels right at the moment.
Just letting go.
We walked along the grounds of the lovely Casa Bentley, the design inspired by the castles of Portugal. The owner, Bob Bentley is a geologist and used his collection of rocks and gemstones, acquired during years of world travels, to adorn the walls and surfaces of the lavish grounds when he designed and built the hotel beginning in 1985.
Stephanie and I stopped along the garden path and I began to compose photographs of her along the walls and ledges of our idyllic environment. She stretched and curved and evoked and I began to see a character emerge. I was watching a story unfold. Sometimes joyful, sometimes somber. A fitting mirror to my own thoughts at the moment.
I was enjoying the dapples of light cascading down through the leaves creating additional patterns to compose with in addition to the decorative rocks and gemstones. As hard as the surfaces were that we were creating in, Stephanie managed to add a softness that made the rocky nature feel more like a living organism rather than a immovable force.
We continued through to the back of the hotel grounds and found a shady, more natural area. Again, she played among the trees and a large stump in the center of it all. At this point I was simply happy to observe her explore and play. Creating human shapes among the existing elements of nature.
Nearby, we noticed a small little canal perhaps for water runoff from the rest of the grounds. In a rare bit of direction on this shoot, I had Stephanie pose near one end of the small waterway while I planked across the other end, trying to line up her reflection in an interesting manner.
While water is something I always enjoy working with as an element in photograph, since we didn’t know exactly where the water was coming from, we decided it would probably be best to be close to the water without actually touching the water. I felt a bit like a human teeter-totter balancing precariously above while trying to focus and compose. But it worked.
The day was getting hot by this point and I thought we might try to find something interesting in the Casa Bentley pool. Whenever possible, I like to compose pool images without any of the obvious pool tile decorations and as Stephanie and I got our bearings, I found an interesting look when I stood right at the pool’s edge, leaning as far over the water as possible without falling in and shooting straight down into the water with a wide lens.
I told Stephanie to submerge a few feet below the surface and try to pose as she would out of the water. It’s actually a challenging thing to do because bodies tend to want to float to the surface, but Stephanie did an amazing job of swim posing as I followed her along the edge.
The resulting photographs are very unusual for me with their bold color and loveliness. The combination of the intense sunlight overhead created interesting patterns and water reflections and gave Stephanie a nice glow. her hair picked up the highlights from the sun resulting an an unearthly splash of red color. Something unexpected when I got back to my studio to review everything. A very happy surprise.
I was so pleased with how the shoot turned out, especially since I was not at my best that day. It proves again what I’ve been saying all along. Stephanie and the other Zoefest models were such intelligent, lovely and creative collaborators. My shoot that morning could have been much less than it turned out to be without Stephanie’s positivity and her love for creating beautiful art.
Thank you Stephanie Anne. You can put me down now.