I’m a bit… sorry, a LOT slow. I wish I’d had Lightroom back in 2011. Soz… Samantha Grace at Casa Dracula.
I’m a bit… sorry, a LOT slow. I wish I’d had Lightroom back in 2011. Soz… Samantha Grace at Casa Dracula.
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 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.
Some shots of international super model Paco, accompanied by Candace Nirvana.
A few extras I’ve processed recently.
Finally… going to the beach!!
As stated in previous posts, I had limited my shoots to the Hotelito corridors, for the most part. Finally the thought to take to nature and take advantage of the spectacular surroundings of the beach was eminent. Meghan and I were to collaborate there.
As for the title, ‘A Lesson Learned’, is a two part ordeal. First lesson, and it is one I am familiar with, is crowd control. The concept to capture there was to shoot waves coming in in various states of shutter speed. We were able to do so, but only one roll, as I hoped to take advantage of more. We were there before sunrise and all was good, but there were early morning beach walkers about which hindered the process. Enough so as to change the scene and game plan .
The second lesson with that roll happened once I got home and started developing film. The developing tank I had used, has a tendency to hang spools up on the shaft out of the fluid height. That said, the one roll taken on the beach had full development on 2/3rds of every image and partial on the remainder. With those, I played farmer and cropped 🙁 (thanks JR for the great quote). They do still display evidence of negative damage. Here are examples…
From that point on we went to a different location made took advantage of the natural shrubbery. I am so used to rainforest that this different look was a blessing. 🙂
Back to the Hotelito for one last hurrah, and have a tea party. Set the table and chairs but something was missing… a secondary participant. Just so happened that Brooke was walking to Mick’s suite to do a session with him, but was a bit early. She had time to help out and all of us made tea party magic. 🙂 Again, this will become a series look so a couple of examples in the individual form. That said… Enjoy the tea!! 🙂
With Keira, Candace and Rebecca, shot with the hand made bendy lens.
Once again I decided to get out of the confines of the Hotelito and experience the rustic glory that is the Casa Dracula. Such a great space full of character and spirit. I could have spent much more time there.
Claudine and I took advantage to work there. Prior to shooting Claudine showed me some things she brought and one of them was a roll of cheesecloth. Immediately I had a vision to capture with it, so was very excited to execute this.
Along with the majority of the shoot at ZfestX, the visions will eventually end up in series but for now I am displaying individual posts.
The first series explores void and a time past. When life seems empty, we move on.
The second series I set the camera up to view straight through a bunch of rooms. The camera stayed on one spot throughout and shot in the various locations.
The third series was utilizing the cheesecloth. Its properties and uses were endless. ‘Cocoon’ was a vision I had when seeing the material and I was extremely happy with what was created. Claudine, as most know, is awesome and she worked wonders with all the themes.