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Part 19 of 50: Staying Inn-side with Anoush Anou

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

Todos Santos Inn is a lovely place to live for a while. It’s a cozy, secluded and lush bit of paradise in the Baja Peninsula of Mexico. I had been staying there for almost a week as part of the artists retreat group of ZoeFest and was really beginning to feel at home. Waking up to the sounds of birds and wind whispering through the giant palm trees above as I walked down my little garden path from my apartment to the main house where a cup of delicious coffee was always waiting for me.

But with the exception of the pool and some of the garden, I hadn’t really done too much photography at the inn itself. Sometimes it takes me a while to find the handle on a location. Todos Santos Inn was such a place for me creatively. Many lovely areas, a little library off of the main office and a nice bar as well. But after walking around it all for nearly a week, I still hadn’t quite decided how to work with it photographically.

It was the lush leather chairs that finally began to strike my creative muse. Chairs in the library and chairs in the bar. There was definitely something there.

After my Saturday morning shoot with the lovely Stephanie Anne, it was time for my shoot with the first of two gorgeous Australian models that were along for the ZoeFest ride.

Anoush Anou is based in Melbourne and a woman whose work I was familiar with before our Mexican meeting. Like a few of the models I was working with, I had been aware of her for years. And since the fine art photography world can be a small one, it’s usually only a matter of time before we would end up working together.

Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn
Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn

Anoush has a striking physical beauty about her. But there is also a haunting mystery to her in photographs. She has a completely emotive face. Sometimes somber. Sometimes sophisticated and sensual. Yet always revealing a story unfolding in your mind as you ponder what she has created.

But she is also joyful in person. Silly fun and wonderful to hear laugh. A model with great positive energy even when her creations are slightly somber.

My mind was still a bit preoccupied with my mother at home in Chicago, still recovering in the hospital and I knew I was slightly less prepared that I would have preferred for my shooting time with Anoush. And once again, with a model of her caliber, she met me more than half way. It took me a while to find the correct angle and set up in the library where I wanted to begin photographing Anoush. She patiently waited until I had found it, giving me the extra mental space to figure it out.

That was the beauty of ZoeFest. We all wanted to create incredible art while we were there. And as artists, we all knew that creativity is not a switch you throw on when the clock strikes one. Sometimes the muse arrives fashionably late and as long as everyone involves respects it, something wonderful does eventually happen.

Not wanting to make her wait on set until I was happy with my vision, I began by photographing an empty chair in the library. There was wonderful indirect light coming in from a nearby balcony door. Soft and delicate. The library was a small room and even with a 50mm normal prime lens on my camera, I determined the best angle to photograph Anoush from, was actually for me to be outside of the room itself. I could use the doorway to the library as a bit of a framing device, which I like to do sometimes. It adds a slight distance in mental perspective from my subject. Not exactly voyeuristic, but not quite as intimate. Found beauty.

Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn
Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn

By the time I brought Anoush into the library, she needed very little direction from me to find the moment. Like the other models at our retreat, she has a complete sense of who she is from the first click of my shutter. And I found a familiar sensation wash over me as you have when you finally have physical proximity to someone you’ve long been aware of from a distance.

Just posing while seated in the chair, she was lovely. Every limb a coordinated effort of beautiful flowing lines and curves. Every purposeful point of a foot or toe completing a perfect composition.

And then she turned the world upside down. Literally.

“How about I try some like this?” she asked with her lovely Aussie accent, as she laid her back on the seat of the chair, her long hair cascading toward the floor.

As I continued to photograph her, she began to rotate herself until only the small of her back was on the seat, completely inverted as if her support was no longer the chair, but a trapeze, or maybe thin air for that matter. Creating the most interesting compositions in my frame.

Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn
Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn

One of the great things about our arrangement with the four boutique hotels we were all calling home during our time in Todos Santos was that if we saw a room or area that felt particularly inspiring we could secure it for private shooting very easily. I had my eye on the bar ever since we had arrived and now it was time to utilize that space in whatever way we felt like.

A quick check in with the bartender and the bar was “temporarily closed” while the lovely and undressed Anoush followed me into the room. I knew I wanted to do something with the chairs that were group along a windowed wall of the bar. I quickly began redecorating by rearranging the chairs in a way that made no sense for would be bar patrons, but made so much sense from a visual photographic point of view. I also tried to remember I would need to reassemble everything the way I found it when we were done.

I only made a few dozen photographs in the bar because Anoush and I were on a roll and she quickly interpreted what I was looking for. The light coming in through the sheer curtains was perfect and in short order we had created what I was hoping for.

We thanked the barkeep and allowed the bar to reopen once again to the public and walked out back to the veranda, another area I had been looking at every day while having my morning coffee and daily photographic editing sessions one one of the many tables we would all congregate at during the day.

The brick arches of the veranda were visually interesting to me, although the low afternoon sunlight was creating a fairly severe contrast with the shade Anoush was posing in. We had to be careful to keep the harsh shadows off of her an that location and we found a spot for her in the first arch that had a bit less direct light.

Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn
Anoush Anou at Todos Santos Inn

We began with her standing and using her strong fingertips to hold difficult balancing poses that looked more effortless than they certainly must have been. I was still fighting the contrast of the bright arches behind her, not really satisfied with my composition even though Anoush was holding up her end of the collaboration bargain spectacularly.

We changed to her sitting instead of standing and it created a slightly more relaxed feel. Her compacted shape also allowed me to compose a bit tighter which helped my slightly too bright sunlight issue with my composition. She began to emote something a little more somber as well in her facial character, which I really liked.

When our time was up, I felt very good about what we had created. One of those shoots where you can’t wait to get back to the computer to see what you have. Working with the various chairs at the inn and the natural light really was all I was hoping it would be and more with Anoush’s beautiful collaboration. She really brought what I felt was a classic beauty to the images and we had a great time while creating them.

A perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon in paradise.

As always, more to come.

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Part 17 of 50: Tara Translates Our Way Out of a Jam

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

The secluded beach cove at Playas Las Palmas had become quite the popular shooting location as ZoeFest progressed during the week. That was both good and bad. It was good because it’s always fascinating to see what other photographers and models do with the same location. Quite varied and everyone had their own styles they brought to the party. Bad because, as the week went on, we were no longer under the radar.

Todos Santos, Mexico is a very traditional kind of place. It had seen it’s influx of non-natives from all parts of the world in the last couple of decades which had brought about some changes, hopefully not affecting the tranquil beauty or culture in a negative way. But impacting it nonetheless. And when a group of artists sets up camp in an environment such as this as we did during ZoeFest, we were very aware to try not to impact both the environment and culture in a way that would be undesirable to the locals. The old photographers adage of,

“Leave no trace. Leave what you find.”

Tara at Playa las Palmas
Tara at Playa las Palmas

It probably applies to many other activities that involve exploring anywhere that you’re not a local, but we photographers have adopted it as our own.

Playas Las Palmas presented a tricky dilemma. While the beach itself was not private property, getting to the beach from land did involve crossing through what was private property. Something none of us knew when we arrived. When I had photographed Ella Rose on one of the first days, we were literally the only ones there. Not a person to be seen along the coastline as far as you could see.

But by the time the lovely Tara Tree and I decided to return there, days later, we had started to hear stories from others in the group of, while not exactly what could be termed shakedowns to continue shooting there, but definitely encounters that made it a little uncertain whether it would be possible to continue to shoot there.

We decided to go anyway and see what happened. When we arrived at the end of the dirt road, as close as we could drive to the beach, we spotted Robert and Ella Rose already heading down the path ahead of us. The cove was a fairly large area and I wasn’t concerned we’d be tripping over each other or in each other’s shots.

Tara at Playa las Palmas
Tara at Playa las Palmas

Tara and I walked through the little tropical forest path before reaching the beach and the glorious late afternoon sun that would be setting in a few hours. I had photographed Ella Rose at the same place in the morning light, completely different from the light now.

This time, as we approached the beach area, Tara and I spotted a couple of official looking men a couple of hundred meters away. It appeared they were inspecting something, pointing and walking a few meters, then pointing away and walking off in that direction. While Robert and Ella were off beginning to shoot in a much more secluded rocky area away from where the men were looking, Tara and I were much more in the open.

We decided to sit and wait and enjoy the ocean view for a while. We talked about our art and our travels and although we were both anxious to begin making photographs, the inspector men continued to do whatever it was they were doing for nearly another hour. Finally they got into their truck and headed off out of sight. And the sun was really getting good by that point. Perfect!

Tara at Playa las Palmas
Tara at Playa las Palmas

I did really enjoy the brief downtime with Tara. It seemed like I was doing so much rushing around from place to place that even though I was really enjoying myself, it was nice to just stop for a while and relax with such a lovely human as Tara is. She has a wonderful heart. I certainly felt like a better person after our little break.

We began to get ready as Tara laid down in a little stream that had formed over a little sandbar near the mouth of the cove. This time I remembered Ella’s suggestion for me to make sure I didn’t leave any of my own footprints near the delicate sand ripple patterns formed by the waves over the last few hours. It looked like it could be rock with the sun reflecting off of it, but it was definitely sand. Gorgeous with Tara in the middle of it all.

It was really a beautiful time of day. Perfect light.

Tara and I spotted some interesting divots in the sand off to the side of the stream where the tide had been higher earlier in the day and we thought it might be an interesting thing to put Tara in them, her beautiful curves mirroring the curves of the sand. We tried a few different ones until it was difficult to find Tara at all in them, blending in like a chameleon.

I suppose if the Pope was looking to hang one of my nude photographs in his Vatican dining room, one of these would be the least likely of all of my work to raise a holy eyebrow. I’ll have to ask him the next time I see him on Facebook chat.

Tara at Playa las Palmas
Tara at Playa las Palmas

Meanwhile, back at Playa Las Palmas, the sun was just about ready to hide behind one of the two cliffs that bookended the cove. Tara moved back into the stream and started to pose. She heard some splashing and turned to see me running back and forth in the stream.

“What are you doing?!”, she laughed in her beautiful Irish brogue.

Whah tahr yah doe ehn?!

I stopped in mid gazelle leap and laughed along with her.

“Um… I’m trying to find where the beam of sunlight is best behind you,” I sheepishly said. “You know… because I know you’re holding your pose and I don’t want  to have you hold it too long.”

“Alright,” she laughed again, that beautiful laugh. “Just checking.”

Ohl-rate. Joost chay-kehn. (or something like that.)

She posed, I scampered and splashed back and forth. The hardest part was focusing looking straight into the sun, but I got it eventually.

Tara at Playa las Palmas
Tara at Playa las Palmas

Out of breath and a wee bit tired of looking so silly, we moved over to an area of sand I had noticed the last time I was here at the beach. There were these dark dramatic lines of sand that had washed up along a slightly drier area of the beach. Not a footprint to be found and quite striking.

I had Tara lay down in between a few of them and made of few more photographs of her as the shadows grew in the setting sun. If you look closely, you can see one of my errant footprints as I got a bit too close when directing Tara on which way to lay. We’ll call it a bit of a self-portrait, that one.

I moved around her to compose the length of long shadow her curves were now creating in the sand. Beautiful.

Done with that set, I wanted to try to incorporate the beautiful stream carving in the sand again from a slightly different vantage point. I had been shooting with my short 50mm prime lens up to this point and decided to switch to my longer 100mm prime for a different look. It meant Tara was further away from me, but I really loved how it compressed the sunlight shining off of the sand as the stream had carved through it.

Tara at Playa las Palmas
Tara at Playa las Palmas

Due to the distance, Tara was a bit confused. “What do you want me to do?”, she yelled to me over the sounds of the crashing waves.

“Something like this,” as I pantomimed stretching my arms out one way and the other.

Happily, she understood my silly posing reference and improved upon it greatly. Another model who can take questionable direction and make it into something wonderful.

I was really happy with what we were doing when Tara suddenly stopped and began walking toward me.

“There’s a man coming toward us,” she stage whispered.

“Is he close?”, I said without turning.

“Getting closer.”

With my back toward the unknown man, trying to keep myself between him and Tara who was trying as casually as possible to put her dress wrap back on, we tried to look as normal as possible. I began to take photographs of the rest of beach area, in an effort to look like a pair of normal tourists out for a walk on the beach.

“Where is he now?”, I quietly asked.

“Right behind you.”

Oh. Damn.

I turned to the man, and said the only appropriate thing I could think of at the moment.

“Hola, señor.”

“Hola,” he said back.

He wasn’t very menacing or anything like that. Just standing there within a few feet of us as I snapped a few more tourista photos of the ocean.

In my head, I was asking all the things I wished I could confer with Tara on. Does he want money? Has he called the authorities? Is he the authorities?

Before I could figure out what to do, I heard Tara begin speaking to him in Spanish. A few questions and he began to give a few answers.

I forgot how fluent in Spanish Tara was. After the translation with las tortugas (the turtles) just the day before.

As with my brush with Los Federales with Meghan yesterday morning, I really tried to follow the conversation as best I could with my limited Spanish. The good thing was, this conversation Tara was having with the man sounded casual, not argumentative in any way.

And then I felt this wash of regret start to fill me. Not about perhaps being in some kind of trouble, but forgetting my first rule when traveling abroad. It was rude of me to wait so long to address him. A far too common American thing. I was in his country and now Tara was making it right.

“Yo soy de Chicago,” I offered at one point. It helped.

Tara would speak a few sentences to him and he would respond and Tara would fill in the blanks to me as I nodded.

He was in charge of watching the property we had crossed to get to the beach and he was checking up on us. He waved his arm over the area between the beach and where we had parked our car. All of that land was owned by a man he worked for. It was okay that we were here, but he wanted us to be aware that he was letting us be here for the moment. More than fair enough.

Tara at Playa las Palmas
Tara at Playa las Palmas

We asked him if we should leave and he told us we didn’t have to this time. He continued to tell us the story of his family and the family he worked for and how sometimes people would pay them to hold lavish weddings here. I could see how that would be an amazing setting.

I could see three dogs waiting on the other side of the ocean stream.

“¿Sus tres perros?”, I asked. Your three dogs?

Sí, mis perros,” he smiled. And then he said something about the dogs I didn’t quite understand, but I nodded anyway.

This was better. This is how I should have handled our meeting from the beginning.

We talked a bit more and said our goodbyes. He walked away and I turned to thank Tara for being such an amazing translator. Without her, her warm spirit and excellent communication skills, our interaction wouldn’t have gone nearly as well. I really don’t think he wanted money in the end, just a bit of respect that perhaps other touristas hadn’t given him. Just to let us know we were on someone else’s property when we came here.

We collected our things and started to head back toward the palm forest path, when I saw a sign near the edge of the beach that had been confusing me all week. It basically translated to Private Property. No Entry. What I couldn’t figure out until now was why it was facing the beach. In other words, you wouldn’t see the front of it until you were on the beach, after you had crossed through the private property. Perhaps there needed to be another sign closer to where we parked the cars. Then again, perhaps it really wasn’t a big deal, until people started to take advantage of it.

My shoot with Tara ended up being a bit shorter than some of the others, but it was a great experience and we did collaborate to make some incredible photographs. Plus it was nice to spend a bit of time with her just getting to know her a little better. One of my favorite moments in Todos Santos.

And it reminded me to be a better visitor next time.

More to come.

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Part 15 of 50: Keira Pays Attention

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

Keira Grant pays attention.

Keira Grant at Casa Dracula
Keira Grant at Casa Dracula

There were so many highlights from this year’s ZoeFest in Todos Santos, Mexico. For a first timer like me, getting invited to this exclusive artists retreat meant I had a lot of catching up to do.

One of the brilliant ideas, aside from the incredible photo shoots, was that photographers Zoe Wiseman and Michael Marlborough had planned a series of open air slide shows on several evenings at Casa Dracula where everyone was invited to submit a five-minute presentation of their work, both photographers and models. It was a great way for me, someone never good with names, to get a crash course in who was who.

Plus, seeing all the tremendous work was really a treat.

Days later, when talking with Keira about our upcoming shoot on day five of ZoeFest, she reminded me of a style of photography that I used to experiment with quite a bit, but for no reason in particular, had put away a few years ago. She had seen one of those images in my slide show and suggested we should revisit it.

Very impressive, her recalling a single image of mine during an evening where cerveza, tequila and vodka were in great supply. Here was another model that was doing as much creative thinking about our shoot as I was. Whatever the opposite of phoning-it-in is. I really was getting spoiled with the caliber of models at ZoeFest.

Keira Grant at Casa Dracula
Keira Grant at Casa Dracula

I picked up Keira early the morning of our shoot and we headed off to Casa Dracula. I had photographed Samantha there at the beginning of the week in afternoon light, so I was curious to see what morning light looked like there. It was gorgeous.

While Keira got ready, I climbed over a decaying wall that I had been eyeballing all week to see what was on the other side. Ruins of some kind. I had learned that Casa Dracula was home to one of the town’s sugarcane barons 150 years ago and it looked like not much had been touched since then. A good place to start.

We started with Keira in a very small roofless building. Well, building is probably more grandiose than it really was. It was really just a room of some kind with tall weeds growing inside. I stood a bit outside and used the open doorway as a framing device as Keira found a patch of good light. Good models always find the good light.

We shot for a bit there and then turned our attention to a corner of the decomposing wall.

“That looks pretty crumbly,” I said, as Keira was already half way up. “Careful.”

Another thing to mention is that it’s very easy for a photographer to spot an interesting shooting location before realizing someone is going to be crawling, climbing or laying on it with no clothing to protect them from any number of sharp edges or other skin damaging hazards.

Keira Grant at Casa Dracula
Keira Grant at Casa Dracula

“That looks like might hurt,” I grimaced, as Keira neared the top and began to find a way to balance for her first pose.

“No, it’s okay. I’m distributing my weight.”

And there she was. Perfect. All I could do was to make sure I composed quickly as she shifted through a series of poses I knew I would have been in a great deal of pain trying myself. But she was lovely and made it all look effortless.

We moved on, with Keira swinging from a tree branch against a beautifully chipped wall. Her fun and enthusiastic energy was really making for a wonderfully creative morning and we had barely started.

We headed back over the crumbly wall and inside the house, stopping for a moment at one of the many doorways that made the ground floor as much outside as in. Rather than working too close to Keira, I decided to use a longer lens and step back into another room, again shooting through one doorway toward the doorway Keira was standing in. I like working with negative space. I knew there would be a lot of darkness in the frame, but I was in the mood to compose something that was just the opposite of what we had been previously been doing in the bright daylight.

At one point Keira grabbed an old cowboy hat from nearby (there were always an odd selection of things nearby to grab as a bit of an accent at Casa Dracula), and before I could wonder aloud whether the hat might be a bit cheesy, she somehow made it anything but. In an instant, she was emoting another kind of character. Where there was strength and beauty before, now there was strength and a simmering coolness. Wonderful.

Keira Grant at Casa Dracula
Keira Grant at Casa Dracula

We headed upstairs to explore the rooms there and decided to start in the white room. Stark and almost devoid of anything except a bed with a large mosquito net hanging over it.

If you’re asking yourself, Hey Billy, you were going on and on at the top talking about how Keira had paid attention to something. When are we going to get to that?

Well, it was here in the white room that Keira reminded me again how she had liked one of my images where I was using long exposures to create wisps and blurs. It was true. When I was shooting in Paris a few years earlier I created a series of images with long exposures that created a very minimalist and soft white impressionistic photographs. Lots of negative white space that created almost brush-like strokes of a model I was traveling with at the time.

Keira Grant at Casa Dracula
Keira Grant at Casa Dracula

The light was different in the room we were working in now than the apartment I was living in back in Paris, but I thought it might be interesting to see what we could come up with here. And much like my Paris shoot, there was a lot of finding the rhythm of Keira’s movement and my camera movement to create those brush strokes again. Eventually we began to find the groove.

I was happy that I wasn’t copying exactly what I did before. These would be different. Not as pure white as my previous series, but with very pleasing tones all the same.

We decided to move to another room and continue, when Keira spotted a red mosquito net near one of the arched doorways leading to a small balcony on the front of the house.

Keira Grant at Casa Dracula
Keira Grant at Casa Dracula

I was still taking light readings when I looked up to see that Keira had draped the netting over the doorway creating a red filter of sorts that moved with the breeze passing through. Excellent. Another instance of my model getting me halfway there before I had a chance to put my eye to the viewfinder.

And these would be color photographs. It was just too amazing, although of course I knew I would later play with B&W conversions just to see. I can’t help myself. But as I was composing, I was thinking, color all the way. Compose for the red.

I moved to the back of the room, opposite the doorway as Keira moved and danced while I moved and danced with my camera. We were completely in sync by now. Beautiful wisps of movement, parts of her form disappearing in the strong backlighting as she moved through the long exposures.

After a bit of it, I moved just to the side of the doorway and continued to shoot as she moved, this time with the light reflecting off of the netting as Keira twisted and turned and used the breeze to let the random movement of netting between us make her appear and disappear in my frame as the long exposures softened the movement in another wonderful way. Really stunning.

We finished off in yet another room, with Keira on a bed near an open window. But by that time, I knew we already had some incredible images. If we got anything here, it would just be gravy.

Keira Grant at Casa Dracula
Keira Grant at Casa Dracula

Keira was amazing to work with. She’s one of those models that can hang with the boys until you forget she’s a woman and then when she gets in front of your camera, she reminds you in short order that she indeed, is.

And of course, she pays attention.

More to come.

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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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Part 8 of 50: The Photographers of ZoeFest

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

I thought I would take a moment from the BillyShow here to give some well deserved attention to my photographer colleagues at this year’s ZoeFest. As I mentioned before, Zoe Wiseman, the incredible photographer behind the Fest that bears her name, along with the world class list of international figure models, she also hand picks the group of talented international photographers who attend each year. I was lucky enough to get my first invitation this year.

To see the other photographers’ incredible work, there are links below to see some of their images.

So let’s start with Zoe herself.

Carlotta Champagne in the Pool
Carlotta Champagne in the Pool

Zoe is a busy human. In addition to being a brilliant Los Angeles based photographer, she runs the ARTnudes Network site that focuses exclusively on fine art nude photography. Its roots go back to 1997. It is a place for fine art models and photographers to find each other for symbiotic creative relationships and share their work. It also features articles and blogs, just like this one, discussing the work and various workshops related to Figure Photography. Check out the official ZoeFext X blog to see more work and the stories of the other photographers and models who were part of our incredible artist retreat in Mexico this year.

Out of that also sprang Community Zoe, another Fine Art Nude Photography site, launched in 2002. Community Zoe, allows members to upload their photographs for critiques by the rest of the community. It’s also a resource for sellers and buyers of  photography prints, books and articles about the genre.

So clearly, she knows what she’s doing on the computer machine.

Oh, and she puts together this world class international Fine Art Nude Photography artist retreat in some far flung corner of the world. ZoeFest. Every. Damn. Year.

Zoe has mad super powers. And she’s a very generous and nice person. And she shot on film. It’s been lovely to see what she has managed to process so far.

I will admit that myself being a ZoeFest newbie this year, my first task was to meet and coordinate shooting schedules with all of the models, so it took me a few days to really meet and learn the names of all the photographers at ZoeFest. I would hear back from the models about the great shoots they had been having with Ron, Cam, Carlos, Malcolm, Gerry and many others. I had some catching up to do!

First a little blog note: If you’re reading this at, you may have to join the ARTnudes network to see some of the photographers’ links. Worth it if you’ve been following along on the adventure. If you’re reading this at the ZoeFest X Baja Sur Blog, well then, you’re already here and in! A gold star for you!

First, the Aussies! Why the Aussies first? Well, because they were incredibly fun to meet and second, because… well… A comes first.

Cam Attree hails from Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. For those Yanks who always tend to be geographically challenged, yes, Australia has states like we do in the U.S.. Australia is also not to be confused with Austria. If you call an Australian an Austrian, you’ll be lucky if all they do is roll their eyes at you and slap their own forehead. Completely different continents. Completely different in many, many critical ways.

End of World Geography lesson.

But back to Cam. Cam is a genius photographer. He’s been shooting for 20 years and has an incredible body of work to show for it. He also has a great blog where you can hear the voice behind the photos.

Malcolm Grant joined us from Sydney in New South Wales, Australia. Yes, the one with the Opera House. Malcolm originally came from a music background (music and photography never seem to be too far apart, it seems) and discovered his love for photography while at university. A familiar tale, not unlike my own. To me, his brilliant work does have a lyrical quality about it. Must be that music thing. Mal’s blog has more incredible images.

Both Malcolm and Cam could often be seen under the veranda at Todos Santos Inn, editing their photos almost as soon as their shoots were completed. I would glance at their computer screens as I was running off to one of my shoots, stopping only to let my jaw hang there for a bit. Both incredibly disciplined by day, and then off to equally disciplined (although that may not be quite the correct word) nights of serious social enjoyment. Gotta love the Aussies.

Michael Marlborough joined us from Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. Michael, in addition to being an extremely talented Fine Art photographer, was also one of the behind the scenes heros at ZoeFest. Michael rounded up the photographs that would be part of the nightly evening slideshows of work, past and present. And when I say rounded up, I really truly mean that it was like he was a cowboy on a horse with a lasso, reining in a group of well meaning but incredibly late and disorganized artist types (myself, fully included in that list), so that we wouldn’t all be staring at a blank white wall come slideshow time. I’ve been that guy in the past. It’s not a pretty job.

I’m really at a loss to imagine how he found time to put everything together by the time the projector was fired up each night. A special tip of my hat to Michael. Well done, my friend.

And then there was Mel Brackstone. I’ve mentioned her in earlier blogs, but she deserves to be repeated. Mel is also from Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. Mel and her husband Scott and I spent hours talking about photography, life and our adventures. Mel is a brilliant storyteller with her photography. She really is telling stories with her work. Unlike some of the photography crew, she hasn’t been shooting for decades, but her fresh approach to her nude work, both male and female nudes is an experience in joyfulness that often comes when an artist blooms after living a bit doing other things.

Now let’s follow the sun over to India.

The story of Sukumar is one of my favorites. He’s a scientist! Yeah, I know! Super cool. Born and raised in India and now living in New York, he has been making photographs since his teenaged years, but science was his training and eventually his profession before embarking on his journey as a Fine Art Nude photographer in the late 1990s. I have two distinct memories of Sukumar from ZoeFest. The first being when I nearly tripped over his shoot one of my first early mornings at Todos Santos Inn while sleepily moving through the veranda with my first cup of coffee.

“Oh, hello. Pardon me.”

Carlotta Champagne in the Pool
Carlotta Champagne in the Pool

The second when was I was picking up one of the models on another early morning from Hotelito and there was Sukumar, lying on the steps of the main house with a sombrero over his face, waiting for another model. I was getting better at not tripping over Sukumar by this point. His work is beautiful, abstract, blurred, spinning, twisting in very compelling ways.

Carlos David, an impressive photographer born in Portugal, now living in Canada in the city of Kirkland in Quebec, just outside of Montreal. Carlos made me jealous every time I saw his camera pack. Unlike me, he did not leave his beautiful Hasselblad camera at home. He also brought lights and lighting accessories. And of course, film! Ah, film. And with those things, he made stunning photographs. Until he manages to find a moment to process his glorious film, we’ll all have to enjoy his past work.

Zvaal is another amazing photographer originally from Belgium, now working in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States. Zvaal was my car mate up from the airport at Cabo to Todos Santos and was very helpful in locating Ella Rose on foot at the terminal while I drove in circles around the airport trying not to get a parking ticket from the Federales. He was also a Zoefest rookie, so by the time we arrived at Todos Santos and headed off to one of the many parties of the adventure, it was good to see a face I knew.

Well that’s the first half of the photographers group, so many more in the next entry.

Today’s photos are two I made of the lovely Carlotta in the pool at Todos Santos Inn. I love working with models and water. Carlotta stretched and floated and danced on the surface of the water. So beautiful!

More to come!