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Part 13 of 50: Prohibido el Paso with Meghan Claire

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

On the fourth day of ZoeFest, my true love gave to me….

Sorry, my brain is saturated to the point of insanity with holiday music this week.

But yes, it was the fourth day of ZoeFest in Todos Santos, Mexico. With the slightly mad portion of my shooting schedule behind me, there was time to do a bit more thinking. And a bit more exploring.

Everyone had been sharing what they found and where they had been and what amazing spots they had heard might be somewhere. You see, with a group like this, all the photographers knew that even if they had “discovered” an amazing location, there was no need to keep the details to themselves for fear someone would go there and make a better photograph. Someone might go to the same location and make a different photograph, but this group of photographers had the experience and self confidence enough to not fear someone would steal their thunder. And so new locations were shared with little haggling… except maybe for the cost of a cerveza frío o dos in return.

I had heard some of the photographers talking about a dam outside of Todos Santos that might be an interesting location. Like most location finds during our stay in Todos Santos, exactly how to get to the dam was a series of vague directions involving many unmarked dirt roads.

Google Maps to the rescue! (What in the world did we do before Google Maps? As a kid I seem to remember an oversized dog-eared Rand McNally World Atlas. Now the entire universe fits in your iPhone in your pocket.)

Over morning coffee, hudled over a laptop under the veranda at Todos Santos Inn, we knew the dam was north of Todos Santos toward La Paz. Somewhere near the Santa Gertudis mountains perhaps. We began heading down virtual unnamed dirt roads on the satellite imagery until we saw a shape that looked a bit like a flattened grey football… or maybe a Brontosaurus. (My more scientific friends have informed me that the preferred nomenclature for Brontosaurus is now, Apatosaurus. I stand humbly corrected.)

“That could be a dam.”

“Can you zoom in more?”

“It’s getting pretty blurry.”

“Yeah, I think that’s a dam. That’s gotta be it.”

Satisfied that there was at least a 50-50 chance I could find the dam, I drove over to the Hotelito to pick up Meghan Claire for our photographic dam adventure.

Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam
Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam

Meghan has a very calming way about her. Completely lovely combined with intelligence that only comes from being extremely well traveled. This may sound a bit crazy, but whenever I spoke with Meghan I felt like I might be speaking to the Earth. She seems to be very in tune with her surroundings. And that’s only a few of the many reasons she’s an excellent artistic collaborator.

Meghan agreed that trying to find the dam might be a creative location idea and so we headed north on Federal Highway 19 toward La Paz, leaving Todos Santos behind us.

I had heard about the police roadblocks that were randomly placed on major roads and I was about to experience my first one. A large thick rope is placed across the road, a wee speed bump, if you will, indicating the need to slow down.

“Sometimes they’ll just wave you through,” Meghan offered as we approached.

Not this time. The militarily dressed man with the machine gun motioned for us to stop as he walked over to Meghan’s door. I was all ready to volunteer, “Tourista… La Paz… vacaciones…,” when Meghan began to have an actual conversation with our well armed interrogator. It was here that I learned how good Meghan’s spanish was. Very good.

“Estoy el vacaciones de Los Ángeles,” she offered.

“Sí… Chicago,” I added, as if I was comprehending more than the few words here and there that I understood.

So I just sat there with a goofy tourist smile on my face as Meghan tried to explain what we were up to without saying exactly what we were up to.

The trick to the roadside questioning is to give them just enough information for them to believe you’re not trafficking anything or coming or going somewhere you shouldn’t be. Anything more only opens the door to suspicion and more pointed questioning.

She was doing a great job and the officer began to lean back from the window to perhaps wave us on when I heard Meghan say, “Vamos al río.”

We’re going to the river.

He leaned back in the window, machine gun ever present, now with a raised eyebrow and slightly confused look.

“¿El río?”


Sure, we’re silly tourists trying to fish in a river bed that hasn’t seen a drop of water in years. Nothing suspicious about that!

Meghan quickly clarified her story to one where we were sightseeing on our way to La Paz.

Then, a pause that seemed like a minute but was probably only a second or two and we were waved through.

“I probably shouldn’t have said we were going to the river,” Meghan laughed as we drove off from the roadblock. “The river with no water in it!”

“Well, better than telling him we were going to shoot photographs at the dam. That would have been even more suspicious!”

We agreed to leave the going to the river part of the story out of our answers if we got stopped on the way back.

As usual, I only sped past the turnoff to the dirt road twice before we managed to make the turn and we headed roughly in the direction I thought the dam might be. We came to many forks in the dirt road and I decided to turn on the crazy-expensive-out-of-the-country-data on my iPhone so we could have some idea if we had made a wrong turn somewhere. That was if we could get service way out away from everything.

Amazingly, I got a few bars and between GPS and Google Maps, we had confirmation we were actually on the correct unmarked dirt road and were half way to the dam. Yay for us!

Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam
Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam


Finally we arrived at La Presa de Santa Inés, a huge majestic structure in the valley below us. We parked near a observation deck, I grabbed my camera gear out of the trunk and Meghan and I walked over to the edge of observation area to see what we could see.

The first thing we saw was a large sign near a service staircase that led down to the dam itself.

Prohibido el Paso in large lettering. No entry.

So we did what any other photographer and model would do in a situation like this. We took a quick look around to make sure we were alone, ignored the sign and started our descent to the dam.

Now that I could see the dam as an actual dam and less of a blurry dinosaur from 800 miles above in space, it was time to consider how to photograph Meghan on it. Should it be a model on a dam or more of a model on some interesting surface? I opted for the latter.

We climbed down as far as the service walk would go, basically right up to where the water would be pouring down if there had been any water there. It was still mid morning and the sun had not peeked over the top of the dam wall yet, so we could work in the shade for a bit. Always a plus in the Mexican heat!

Meghan reclined against the near vertical wall as I composed the my first frame. I looked through the lens and… wow…

Graceful, softness against a giant, stark, sterile, cold, immovable force. Yet all my eye was drawn to was the curves of her pose as if she were floating on air instead of pressed up against concrete. Two completely opposing concepts, hard and soft. And soft was winning.

Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam
Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam

As we continued, Meghan found tiny little ledges in the seams of the cement wall to stand on, moving up the side of the wall. One of the amazing things about Meghan was that even though she was supporting herself entirely with only her toes or a very small part of her foot, her expressions were always blissful. It made me forget in the moment that her poses and the shapes she was creating, balancing on a small cement lip, were most likely fairly difficult if not a bit painful. You would never be able to tell from the photographs. A very generous collaborator.

I was very happy with what we had created so far and was thinking about another section of the dam to explore as I began to put my camera in my bag, when once again, I heard the familiar sound of a model who has just noticed some amazing light before I had. It was becoming downright commonplace on this adventure.

“Oh, wait! Look at this!”

I turned to see what she was talking about as the sun had started to make it’s way over the top of the dam wall. (I know, it sounds funny to me too.)

I normally prefer not to shoot with such direct, harsh overhead light, even though my lovely fellow photographer colleague Zoe Wiseman has caused me to reconsider that stance after seeing some of her own noon sunlight work. But what Meghan had spotted was that the sun was almost in perfect alignment with the slant of the wall, amplifying the subtle textures that made every seam and rough surface so much more interesting. It was no longer just a flat cement wall.

Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam
Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam

Ah, intelligent models and their impeccable eyes for good light. I was getting spoiled by all of this top shelf collaboration.

We switched vantage points as I stayed near the bottom of the dam and Meghan began the climb up the cement stairs that too, had become so much more interesting in the current light.

“Yes, go up a few more. Perfect!”, I yelled, as Meghan moved into a spot high above me.

Once again the dichotomy of such a harsh surface and the opposing curves of Meghan were quite spectacular. As I was shooting, I noticed that there was really no reference point that might indicate which way was up. I made a mental note to remember to look at some of these compositions rotated 90 degrees during post processing. Might be interesting, I thought to myself.

Moving on, Meghan and I decided there might be something if I photographed her from the top of the dam wall with her remaining at the bottom. I find I have to be careful with that extreme point of view, as it can tend to condense a model’s body in unflattering ways if the pose isn’t exactly right. In short order we had something composed that was very pleasing and since there really was no up or down from my shooting straight down at her, again, I made a note to experiment with some post rotation on a few of the frames.

Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam
Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam

That’s one of my favorite little tricks when shooting nudes. Depending on the environment and the composition, rotating an abstract image can yield a completely different experience of the subject. If the image can sustain rotation, either 90 or 180 degrees without feeling obviously upside down, it pushes any subtle visual movement inherent in the frame in surprising directions. Sometimes I don’t even notice the subject pushing or pulling in one direction or another until I begin to rotate it from its original orientation.

I remember discussing image orientation at one of my gallery openings a few years ago. A would be buyer and I were looking at one of my large prints of a nude figure in water. She was close to buying, but was hesitating about something.

“What are you seeing?”, I asked her.

“I’m just wondering what it would look like… turned on its side,” as she gestured a 90 degrees clockwise motion.

I probably broke gallery protocol as I walked up to the huge mounted print in front of a gallery full of onlookers and pulled it off the wall and set it on the floor on its side.


A smile began to form on her face. “Yes. It’s perfect that way.”

And then she caught herself, “I mean, if that’s okay with you.”

Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam
Meghan Claire at Baja California Sur Dam

“Absolutely! If you buy it, it’s yours and  you can rotate it any way you wish. I think this photograph in particular lens itself to several orientations. It changes the feeling of the image, but not in a bad way. It’s just different. It works either way.”

I’ve always believed that art is a mirror. Every viewer looking at my work sees something different reflected back at themselves. It’s one of the things I love about showing in galleries. Seeing in person what people respond to, good or bad. I’ve always said, if 100 random people are in a gallery of my photography and all of them like my work, I probably haven’t gone far enough.

Meghan and I climbed the stairs out of the valley, walked back to the car, hydrated ourselves with one of the many bottles of water I was now always keeping in inventory back there and congratulated ourselves on a fun creating experience.

We headed back along the dirt roads to the main highway. We laughed about our first check point experience as we were waved through the second time.

“Never tell them you’re going to the river.”

Next up… the turtles!

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!

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Part 1 of 50: An Unexpected Email

Hello everyone! I’m writing a series of blogs about our recent wonderful ZoeFestX experience on my personal photography blog and Zoe said it would be okay for me to post them here as well. I really truly miss all of you wonderful humans already. Here’s the first entry:

A week ago today, I got on an airplane in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to fly home after one of the greatest artistic adventures of my life. It’s a long, long story. Certainly too much for one blog.

So this will be part 1 of 50. Here’s how it begins:

Keira at Casa Dracula
Keira at Casa Dracula

Last July, I got an email from a photographer whose work I really respected. Zoe Wiseman is a friend of a model friend of mine and was inviting me to her annual fine art photographers retreat. This year it would take place in Todos Santos, Mexico in October. I emailed her back asking her for more information.

“Drying my nails. Can’t type. Call me,” she wrote back.

I did and Zoe proceeded to enthusiastically tell me the incredible details. 15 international figure models. A group of photographers she personally respected. All of them hand picked by Zoe, who would spend 10 incredible days collaborating to create spectacular images in an amazing location.

“You really need to come to this,” she insisted.

“Give me 24 hours to think about it.”

An hour later I called Zoe back to tell her, of course, I’d love to be there.

The next few months were very busy and I had very little time to prepare as October raced toward me. A few last minute projects crept up and suddenly my departure date was here. I’d be flying into Cabo San Lucas, picking up a rental car and finding one of the other photographers and one of the models and driving the 120 miles up the Pacific coast to the little town of Todos Santos. The only problem was, none of us had ever met each other. Our flights had all landed within an hour of each other and somehow through a series of voice mail messages, texts and emails, Joris, Ella Rose and I all connected and headed off on Mexico Highway 1.

The photo above is one I made in Casa Dracula, a one hundred fifty year old mansion built as part of a Todos Santos sugarcane plantation in the 1850s. Keira was an amazing model to collaborate with. She had reviewed my previous work prior to our photoshoot and reminded me how I loved to create images with sheer fabric and long motion exposures. She had paid attention. This is one of the amazing images we made and I decided to start our story with this one because of it’s colorful nature and the fact that it’s been dreadfully dreary this week in Chicago.

So much more to come! Stay tuned.