After a very successful exhibition and book launch for my Naked In Baja limited edition printed book last month, I’ve been working hard to create an eBook version which represents the same high standard as the printed book. Of course you can never replace the tactile beauty of a high quality printed book but the images in this eBook do look quite stunning on an iPad.
Containing all the images of Samantha Grace, Carlotta Champagne, Ella Rose, Anne Duffy, Stephanie Anne, Anoush Anou, St Merrique, Sara Liz, Brooke Lynne and Meghan Claire that appear in the printed book, the eBook (iBook) version also contains an extra bonus of two small, behind-the-scenes videos from my shoot at Playa Las Cachora with Carlotta and Sara.
The book contains an introduction by Zoe Wiseman along with 8 chapters of artistic nude photography totalling over 110 pages. The eBook is now available through Blurb for immediate purchase and download.
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.
“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!
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 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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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 billysheahan.com/blog, 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.”
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!