Part 2 of 50: The “Highway” to Todos Santos

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

Mexico Highway 1 turns into Federal Highway 19 in Cabo at the very Southern tip of the Baja Peninsula and heads North along the Pacific Ocean towards Todos Santos. In about five or ten years, it will be a breathtakingly lovely drive. Now however, Highway 19 is under construction and barely a road for much of the drive, let alone an actual highway. It’s definitely not a drive you want to make after dark. So as tempted as we were to stop and grab a bite in Cabo in the late afternoon, Joris, Ella Rose and I decided to keep moving to make it to Todos Santos while it was still light out.

It turned out to be an excellent decision. Baja is very dry. A passing vehicle can kick up a sandstorm that reduces visibility to the dial on your radio. Unless you have your windows open, then you may not even be able to make that out. I felt a great responsibility to deliver my new friends unscathed to our destination and so I was very focused as we navigated the hilly blind curves and occasional dog or cow crossing in front of us.

It will be a quick drive up to Todos Santos once Federal Highway 19 is no longer a dirt road, however the drive from the airport ended up taking about two hours. The good news was that it gave the three of us plenty of time to get to know each other. Joris had arrived from Pennsylvania but was originally from Belgium. Great guy and an extremely talented photographer. Ella Rose was a brilliant model from the U.K. who had flown in to Cabo after a brief trip around Mexico City before joining up with our group. Her work was equally stunning.

Ella Rose at Playa Las Palmas

It was the perfect way to begin the adventure, we three well traveled artists with ten days of creating in front of us. We discussed where we had been, life, art and the travel time actually seemed shorter than it was.

I should stop and explain that this photography artist retreat that Zoe Wiseman had created is actually an annual event, aptly called ZoeFest. This would be the tenth annual get together and therefore had the important moniker of ZoeFest X. It’s invitation only and I was already thrilled to be a part of such a group of amazing photographers and models. Past ZoeFests have taken place in Mission Beach, QLD, Australia, Flagstaff, Arizona, Three Rivers, California, Joshua Tree, California, Twenty Nine Palms, California and Woodstock, New York.

This year, our little group would take over four of the boutique hotels in Todos Santos. We had the run of all of them for shooting, discussing, sharing our work in nightly slide shows and of course enjoying the local food and drink. It really was an amazing set up.

Finally we reached the outskirts of Todos Santos and navigated through the streets as we approached the tiny downtown area. I had studied the town before I left thanks to Google Maps and even though many streets were unmarked, we managed to find the hotel where Ella Rose was staying, help her in with her backpack and make sure she was settled in.

Models have the most fascinating travel and packing habits. For many of them on this trip, Zoefest was only one of several shooting destinations that month. Even though ZoeFest was a fine art nude figure photography creation that didn’t require the models to bring much of anything in the way of clothes or shoes, some were loaded down with a suitcase or two of whatever they might need for their recent past and future modeling projects outside of our get together. All, however packed extremely efficiently. This was literally not their first time around the world for all of them.

The photographers as well were very frugal in their equipment packing. Back in Chicago, before I headed out my own door to the airport, I ended up with a pile of camera, lenses, film, support and lighting that didn’t make the final cut. Partly because what you pack you have to carry and partly because Mexico does have some pretty strict rules when it comes to what you can bring into the country before you get hit with all sorts of commercial taxes, fees and general shakedowns for tips to avoid any unpleasantness on your way in and out.

Discarded from my bag was my beautiful 1968 Hasselblad medium format camera and its accompanying lenses and film. Ditto for a small tripod and monopod as well as some small strobe lighting gear I sometimes use when shooting on location. I was incredibly tempted to bring some camera support that would allow me to move the camera if I decided to shoot motion with some of the models, but that would have really complicated my gear list and besides, I really wanted to get back to my still roots on this trip and concentrate on making beautiful single frames rather than motion photography. It would turn out to be the correct decision once again. Motion really wouldn’t have fit in with the spirit of the trip. Another time perhaps.

Instead, I ended up with an extremely small camera package that included the very bare minimum I thought I would need: My Canon 5D Mark II, 100mm and 50mm prime lenses and one 16-35mm zoom lens I almost left behind, but was so glad I brought. I threw my small Leica X1 in as well as a backup camera and my memory cards and that was it. For me, that’s less than I leave the studio with on most days.

Joris and I drove a few blocks to our own hotel and checked in. We had a couple of hours to unwind before the meeting party where the whole group would get together for the first time.

ZoeFest X was underway!

And speaking of the 16-35mm lens I almost left behind, the photograph above is of my car mate, the incredibly gifted Ella Rose, with whom I had the profoundly wondeful collaboration at a stunningly beautiful beach cove called Playa Las Palmas, a few miles outside of Todos Santos on the Pacific Ocean. Amazingly, completely deserted but for us. It was odd for me to photograph her with such a wide lens, but we decided to experiment with it, like she was on the edge of the world. A beautiful world we would all call home for an all too brief time.

More to come.

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