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!
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.
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.
This is part twenty-one in a series of blogs on my photographic adventures in Todos Santos, Mexico.
It was almost exactly a year ago as I write this that my ZoeFest X adventure began. You’ll recall I received several emails from the incredibly talented photographer, Zoe Wiseman, about her annual artists retreat that would be taking place in Todos Santos, Mexico in the Fall.. After agreeing to her invitation, I clicked over to one of Zoe’s websites, ARTnudes network and began to investigate the portfolios of some of the international models who were also invited. I had some research to do and names to learn.
One of the first portfolios that jumped out at me was the work of Australian model Anne Duffy. It’s not exactly that I have a type of model I prefer to work with, but one look at my own portfolio reveals that I do have a penchant for photographing brunettes. Something about the contrast of hair and skin that rings my bells. And Anne is the brunette-iest of brunettes. With lovely porcelain skin. She immediately went to the top of my wish list months before I would arrive at ZoeFest.
When we all arrived in Baja six months later, I’ve mentioned that we all got a chance to meet and re-meet for those ZoeFest veterans, but the Aussies were delayed a bit coming from the other side of the planet. So late in fact that I was walking out of the party, just as they were all walking in. But a flood of mental snapshots flooded to the front of my brain as soon as I picked Anne out from within her group. Every bit as lovely as I imagined. Even for being jet-lagged.
A few days later, we caught up under less noisy circumstances and firmed up our plans to shoot together. Anne and Anoush, who I had photographed a few days earlier, were staying at Casa Bentley, another of the boutique hotels in Todos Santos that our group had taken over for the duration of ZoeFest. It was a lovely paradise, just down the road from where I was staying at Todos Santos Inn.
Driving to meet Anne at her hotel, I realized I had lingered a bit longer than I probably should have with Brooke after our tremendous shoot earlier in the day and arrived a few minutes late for my shoot with Anne. Luckily, she was also running a bit behind and I had a few minutes to catch my breath and collect my thoughts before we would begin. We were all of us, slowly melting into Baja-time. Always a few minutes late, but arriving in a delirious state of peace and relaxation.
Anne invited me into her beautiful little room snuggled under a huge shady tree. When I walked through the door, I had to laugh. After shooting with nude models all week, I was surprised to see what looked like a collision between two wardrobe trucks spread out from wall to wall. Anne caught my amusement and reminded me that she and many of the other models had arrived at ZoeFest, mid-world-tour, and they basically had to bring everything they owned to be ready for anything that might transpire at their gigs before and after ZoeFest.
Ah yes. I stood corrected.
And since I was standing ankle deep in some lovely couture, it seemed like a good idea to deviate from the literal meaning of an art nude shoot and consider accessorizing for a something different. So Anne and I started hunting through everything, looking for things that I thought might be interesting to work with. It was difficult only in that Anne has excellent taste and my sorted “good pile” was quickly becoming more of a mountain than we could possibly shoot in one afternoon.
Eventually we narrowed it down to a more reasonable collection. Now, what to start with?
I had planned to take Anne back to Casa Dracula to photograph her there, but since I had barely scratched the surface of Casa Bentley as a location during my shoots, I wanted to find something there before we moved up the road to Casa Dracula.
I started to focus in on a vintage black lingerie set that we had put aside. Then I noticed a period lounge sofa near one of her windows. Anne was reading my thoughts as she pulled a string of pearls out of one of her cases. And there it was. Our first set up.
I took a few meter readings and adjusted the blinds a bit to even out the light. I switched to a shorter lens that had been giving me some trouble a few days earlier on the trip, but was the right focal length for the size of the room. I decided to fight through it’s ill-tempered nature and try to make the best of it.
Anne reclined on the lounge and suddenly I was in 1940. She was stunning. I framed up a composition of her looking up and back over her shoulder… and… click…
A quick review of the first frame was perfect except for the fact that it was completely out of focus. I was shooting wide open with a small depth of field, but literally nothing was in focus in the entire frame. Another frame was the same. Hmmmm. It was going to be a battle I could tell. Perhaps it was the sand or the heat from a week of shooting Mexico, but this lens was not cooperating.
However, sometimes you can take a bad situation and turn it into a good one. I flipped off the autofocus, which clearly wasn’t communicating with the focus point I was selecting in the viewfinder and switched to manual.
You may be saying, “But Billy, why don’t you shoot in manual focus all the time? Isn’t that a more professional thing to do?”
Well, yes, I guess. But there are a lot of things to delegate in my head when I’m shooting. I’m looking for lines and angles and how they flow together in the composition. I’m watching my model’s face, getting into a rhythm with her as she poses and adjusts and gives me another. I’m absorbing the feeling she is emoting, making sure the photograph I’m making is capturing that essence.
I’m watching to see if the light is changing if I’m relying on the sun for illumination. Has it just gone behind a cloud? Do I need to slow my shutter speed to compensate? In fact, with the exception of focus, my camera is already set for completely manual operation. The ƒstop, shutter speed, ISO, color temperature and other camera settings are all set by me manually before I click the shutter.
Even the exact focus point in my viewfinder is something I’m choosing. When everything is working properly, I usually let the camera and lens do the math and make sure that exact point is in focus for me, so I can concentrate on everything else. Except when it doesn’t.
Years ago, when I was learning how to be a photographer, none of my cameras or lenses had autofocus. Some of those old film friends that I still occasionally use to this day are completely manual cameras. Shooting with them requires a slightly different rhythm. An extra beat to rotate the lens focus ring back and forth between each shot to confirm focus. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a different pace.
So, since I was already standing in the 1940s world that Anne and I had created, I took a breath and slowed down. Anne adjusted to my extra beat and slowed her movement down as well. We were settling in at last. And the images were in focus.
About a dozen shots into the set, I was sure I had the photograph I was imagining and I shot another dozen or so, just to see if I had missed anything, but they really weren’t necessary. Anne was perfect and we had nailed it.
We packed up the rest of the couture pile and headed off up the hill to Casa Dracula. I had spent so much time there in the last week that I had already picked out a few places where I wanted to work with Anne. We headed upstairs to the survey the large and small bedrooms. The afternoon light was coming in the windows in a very inspiring way. Bright, but not direct, so the shadows would be subtle.
One of the pieces Anne had brought along was a vintage jacket with beautiful decorative fringe. It had a decidedly Mexican feel. Staying with the accessorizing theme, we decided to have her wear that instead of being completely nude. I could tell she really liked the jacket and I did as well. It just added a little something.
I had her sit on one of the beds in the large room, close to one of the open windows. I really love the flavor of light coming from a window like that. Directional, without being too harsh.
While setting up, I had misjudged my light reading and made a test exposure two ƒstops darker than I had originally wanted. Anne was almost invisible in the frame as I reviewed it, just a suggestion of light here and there to fill in her outline. A happy accident and I decided to keep the underexposed look for this setup, knowing I could most likely open it up a bit later in post if I changed my mind.
After the less than stellar performance of my uncooperative 50mm lens back at Casa Bently, I switched to my go-to lens for making beautiful portraits, a 100mm lens. I had much more space to work with now and could use something longer. Zoom with your feet, is one of my mottoes, and it was quite easy to find just the right composition by simply changing my distance from Anne in the large room.
After only about ten photographs, I once again felt we had the shot, but decided to continue a bit longer, making a dozen or so more photographs to give Anne a little time to explore before abruptly moving on. Always good to leave a little room for creative discovery when collaborating.
For the next set up, we continued with the jacket as Anne moved into one of the balcony doorways that overlooked the rear grounds. Still using my longer 100mm lens, I stepped into one of the adjacent bedrooms and photographed Anne through another doorway to give my compositions a little extra natural framing, which I like to do from time to time. I find it can give an image depth and it creates an interesting perspective for the viewer.
Anne continued to be wonderful. She gave me a series of natural poses that enhanced her smoldering beauty. I was having a difficult time deciding whether I preferred her looking directly at the camera or averting her gaze to something outside of the frame. Both options were gorgeous. Looking directly is always a more intimate relationship with the viewer, sometimes more than what I’m looking for, but her stare is so arresting that it just pulls you into the image in a very powerful way. I decided to shoot both and decide later.
We moved to another of the bedrooms where I had mentally reserved a smallish round chair near one of Casa Dracula’s front arched balcony doorways near a very plain wall. Beautiful soft light was entering the room once again and I told Anne I wanted her to try coming up with something acrobatic on this particular chair.
She looked at the chair, thought for a moment and figured it out in short order. As she inverted herself, carefully balancing on the none to stable chair, she beautifully arranged her limbs in a complementary direction that only a model of Anne’s caliber can do without looking, and upside down to boot. Making it all feel effortless.
After a few minutes of the blood rushing to her head, I had her return to vertical again and she found more lovely subtle poses as I made another dozen or so photographs. Another success.
We moved into yet another of the second floor bedrooms near where I had photographed Keira in the red mosquito netting. One of the beds in that room was against a slightly distressed wall painted in a very dark green. I thought Anne’s beautiful pale skin would be a strong contrast for the dark wall and she continued to find exquisite positions to stand and lean as I balanced my compositions with her inspiring movement.
I was feeling very satisfied with what we had done and asked Anne if she was ready to call it a day. It was a hot afternoon as usual and I try to avoid melting the models whenever possible.
“Really?”, she asked, surprised that I was considering stopping. “I have this other piece you might find interesting.”
She pulled out what I can only describe as a inventively knitted spiderweb and held it up in front of her. No, we were suddenly definitely not done shooting for the day.
“Ooh. Let’s head back outside for this one,” I suggested.
We returned to a location I had now photographed several times already on the grounds of Casa Dracula, but as is the case in Todos Santos at these magnificent locations, the light at different times of day reveal entirely different looks depending on where the sun is in the sky. Now nearing late afternoon, the wall was completely in the shade and where Anne was beginning to get set up, a sublime soft overhead light was doing wonders for the glow of her skin. Splendid soft illumination.
Anne against the gray wall was almost already monochromatic in its look even with my own eyes. Where some of the photographs of Anne in the bedroom I definitely knew would be color images, these I knew would be B&W.
Anne continued to find lovely poses in the empty environment. Sometimes balancing on one leg in the same effortless way I had grown used to seeing. We continued to work as I changed my distance from her a few times, experimenting by adding some natural elements into the composition besides the wall. But it was clear Anne needed nothing else to create a compelling image. Once more, beauty in simplicity.
Finally, we did call it a day and I was thrilled that I finally had a chance to collaborate with the first model whose portfolio had jumped out at me six months earlier. Anne was incredible to work with. A captivating beauty with a strong sense of who she is. I was very pleased we had decided to explore her traveling wardrobe. Something different for one of my final shoots at ZoeFest.
Thank you Anne for dragging so many suitcases so many miles. It was worth it.
Next, a slight detour from shooting as I accidentally damage the rental car.
This is part twenty in a series of blogs on my artistic adventures in Todos Santos, Mexico late last year.
Sorry it’s been a while. Alright. Where were we?
I had been photographing the lovely models of ZoeFest X for almost a week and somehow I had managed to photograph all but three in a fairly short amount of time. Sometimes three shoots a day in the hot Todos Santos sun. No complaints from me, however. Every shoot was unique and special in its own way. Creatively very rewarding.
Now it was time for my collaboration with Brooke Lynne . I first spoke with Brooke about shooting at the getting-to-know-you party at Casa Dracula the night we all arrived. Brooke has a reserved quiet quality about her. She’s also got a wicked fun side and she’s a self admitted nerd of the best kind, but if you want to experience it, you have to put your time in and be patient. It’s worth the wait.
I can’t say exactly what caused me to hone in on her that very first night. I’m usually pretty good a sizing people up, especially the ones that aren’t the life of the party. I know there’s something special there. They’re not in the spotlight… yet. But I got a feeling that when it would be her turn in front of my camera, I would experience something unlike I had experienced with other model shoots in my career. I can’t explain why. I don’t understand it myself. I just seem to be good at knowing these things.
I’ve had a long standing rule about shoots. If it’s a commercial shoot, everyone has to show up and put on their game face. Whether they’re under the weather, relationship unpleasantness or other personal mishaps, we’re all professionals and everyone puts aside any issues and we get the job done.
However, when we’re creating art, taking something in our imaginations and turning it into a photograph, there is a certain level of being in the right creative space that is very necessary to make something extraordinary. Creativity is not something you turn on like a light switch. It takes a bit of nurturing. If either my model or I happen to be having a bad day, I can see it in the photos. They’re not bad, especially if I’m working with a model at the level of everyone at ZoeFest, but it’s harder to go from great to amazing if we’re not both in the zone.
Brooke and I had originally scheduled our shoot for a few days earlier, after I photographed Meghan at the dam. But when I returned to the Hotelito to drop Meghan off and get ready for Brooke, I found her in the living room, curled up in a chair, looking lovely as always, but I could see in her face she wasn’t feeling it.
So I called an audible. “Hey Brooke, how are you doing?”
“I’m okay,” she softly replied.
I thought for a moment.
“Tell you what,” I said, “Sometimes today isn’t the day, you know? And I know everyone is going to see the baby turtles tonight right around the time we were planning to shoot. Do you want to maybe postpone our shoot for another day and just enjoy the baby turtles?”
Immediately her face lit up. “Really?”
“Sure. I have some time open on Sunday if you want to move our shoot.”
She checked her schedule and she had time on Sunday as well. Done.
It turned out to be a great decision. We all got to enjoy the turtles and it gave me a little more time to prepare something Brooke had suggested a few days earlier.
As I’ve mentioned before, my room at Todos Santos Inn was in the middle of a lush garden. Palm trees stretching up toward the sky with huge slender leaves that provided such welcome shade on hot days. Brooke had asked me if we might try something with one of the giant banana leaves.
“Do you thing you can get one?”, she wondered.
I was pretty sure I could. I had become friendly with one of the gardeners at the inn and I went about asking him how I might get a big leaf without causing undo damage to the lovely garden. I didn’t think it would be right to cut off a perfectly good leaf on my own. Perhaps he could find me a leaf that was in need of trimming.
My Spanish was pretty basic and certainly lacking in gardening vocabulary, so I had to resort to broken Spanish and a lot of hand gesturing.
I raised both of my arms in front of me and made a kind of giant scissors pantomime and said, “Uno palm, por favor?” I didn’t know the word for leaf. I then made the universal taking a photo pantomime of holding both of my hands up to may face in a box shape and clicking the imaginary shutter.
“Oh, sí, sí, señor. Uno momento,” he replied and walked off toward the garden. He returned with a large menacing pair of gardening shears.
I laughed, “No, no, señior. The leaf. Uno leaf.” I grabbed the edge of one of the giant banana leaves, trying desperately to make up for my language inadequacy.
He smiled. “Ah, sí.” And he grabbed the leaf as well.
“Mañana?”, I asked, thinking it might take him a bit of time to find me a leaf that was out of sight or nearing the end of it’s life. I really didn’t want to deforest the lovely garden.
He nodded. “Mañana.”
Sure enough, when I woke up the next morning, right outside my door was a giant seven foot tall single banana leaf. Perfecto!
I barely managed to get the enormous thing in my rental car without bending it, but I did. It basically was my passenger for the short drive over to the Hotelito to see Brooke.
I knocked on the main door. “Brooke? I have a surprise for you!”
She opened the door and I walked in with the massive leaf.
“Oh! This is wonderful!”, she exclaimed. “Where did you get it?”
I explained my little story with the gardener and we agreed we were going to have fun with this.
“How about we find a bit of shade to shoot in. Brooke was completely on the same page. “Yes, shade would be excellent.”
We found a wall in the outdoor courtyard that the sun hadn’t reached yet and decided it would be perfect. A simple little texture, but Brooke and her new leaf friend would be the focus. Nothing else would be needed. Simplicity in composition.
I should mention at this point that Brooke is a bit of a pretzel. In the best way. She really folds herself into whatever environment she happened to be working in. Boxes, ledges, railings. She becomes part of the scene like a gorgeous chameleon.
As I began to take my light readings and select a lens to begin with, Brooke investigated the leaf like it was a piece of haute couture. If there had been a three-way department store mirror, I could have imagined her holding it up in front of her like a designer dress. She rehearsed standing in front of it. Behind it. Wrapping herself up in it. She was playing and it was incredible to watch her figure it out.
We were both in the zone. Well worth the slight postponement from the other day.
We began the shoot working vertically, with the banana leaf and Brooke both standing as she evoked a bit of a fan dance. Limbs springing forth from behind the leaf in surprising ways as I composed my photographs. We were off to a great start.
We took a moment to review of a few of the frames and both wildly happy with our beginnings, we decided to change it up a bit.
“Let’s try some with you on the ground with the leaf,” I suggested. I got on the ground with her, shooting along the cement patio floor at the same level as Brooke and watched her continue to experiment, this time horizontally. Even though she couldn’t see what I was seeing, it was amazing how she was able to contort her body to follow the lines of the leaf with very little direction from me. Occasionally I would tell her to arch or stretch to get her body and the leaf lined up, but only occasionally. She’s just that good.
Finally I moved a bit closer and made tighter compositions. And Brooke found more interesting ways to work with her new green friend. All the while balancing on one foot while holding the leaf in position. Not as easy as it looks, I can tell you.
I hadn’t yet exactly given Brooke the opportunity to do her pretzel thing, which she’s so good at. But towards the end of the shoot we decided to have her work in front of the leaf and bend herself forward in her trademark style. She has such beautiful balance and symmetry when she does that. A real joy to see as a photographer.
After a few hours we both knew what we had accomplished what we had set out to do. It’s such a great feeling when you see an idea make its way from a fuzzy vague vision in your head to a photograph. We reviewed a few more images from our collaboration and then took some time to unwind in the beautiful Mexican sun.
We talked about art and life and travel. All of those wonderful things I love to discuss with anyone I’m working with. Brooke has such a soulful quality about her. Sometimes quiet, always observing. Really taking in her world at any given moment.
She told me she was preparing for a two month stay in Paris for a few months, working as an art model. I was at the same time both jealous and thrilled for her. She’d be perfect in Paris. Finding inspiration in a city full of inspiration.
Our post shoot conversation was a wonderful afterglow to an inspiring shoot. I always find my photographs of people who I have spent some time with always have a little extra special sauce in them. It’s not that I can’t simply appreciate the external beauty of my subjects, because I do, certainly with all of the ZoeFest models I had the pleasure of photographing. But I really believe that if I understand a model’s point of view, where she’s coming from, what she’s about, that always helps me capture a more meaningful representation of who she is.
I packed up my camera gear, wished Brooke a pleasant day and walked out of the Hotelito courtyard with the biggest smile on my face. My collaboration with Brooke and the Big Leaf was so well worth the brief wait. It certainly was better than showing up with a large pair of garden shears, although I’m sure she would have found something creative to do with those as well!
My next shoot was scheduled in a few hours with the lovely Anne Duffy and I was in the perfect creative space and looking forward to finding another round of inspiration with her. I drove off down the dusty road toward Casa Bentley.
I haven’t had money to shoot much since October. It was a conscious choice for me to make attending FestX a priority. The orchard shot that I posted way back when was my goal for the session, but I have to say in revisiting the magical 2 hours Stephanie Anne and I worked at Casa Dracula, I’m still finding amazing things … now that I have some distance from the overload.
I’ve been more active on Flickr than here and I decided to add two images from my postings this week.
Thanks again Stephanie Anne. And thanks again Zoe.
With Keira, Candace and Rebecca, shot with the hand made bendy lens.