This is part fifteen in a series of blogs on my recent artistic adventures in Mexico.
Keira Grant pays attention.
There were so many highlights from this year’s ZoeFest in Todos Santos, Mexico. For a first timer like me, getting invited to this exclusive artists retreat meant I had a lot of catching up to do.
One of the brilliant ideas, aside from the incredible photo shoots, was that photographers Zoe Wiseman and Michael Marlborough had planned a series of open air slide shows on several evenings at Casa Dracula where everyone was invited to submit a five-minute presentation of their work, both photographers and models. It was a great way for me, someone never good with names, to get a crash course in who was who.
Plus, seeing all the tremendous work was really a treat.
Days later, when talking with Keira about our upcoming shoot on day five of ZoeFest, she reminded me of a style of photography that I used to experiment with quite a bit, but for no reason in particular, had put away a few years ago. She had seen one of those images in my slide show and suggested we should revisit it.
Very impressive, her recalling a single image of mine during an evening where cerveza, tequila and vodka were in great supply. Here was another model that was doing as much creative thinking about our shoot as I was. Whatever the opposite of phoning-it-in is. I really was getting spoiled with the caliber of models at ZoeFest.
I picked up Keira early the morning of our shoot and we headed off to Casa Dracula. I had photographed Samantha there at the beginning of the week in afternoon light, so I was curious to see what morning light looked like there. It was gorgeous.
While Keira got ready, I climbed over a decaying wall that I had been eyeballing all week to see what was on the other side. Ruins of some kind. I had learned that Casa Dracula was home to one of the town’s sugarcane barons 150 years ago and it looked like not much had been touched since then. A good place to start.
We started with Keira in a very small roofless building. Well, building is probably more grandiose than it really was. It was really just a room of some kind with tall weeds growing inside. I stood a bit outside and used the open doorway as a framing device as Keira found a patch of good light. Good models always find the good light.
We shot for a bit there and then turned our attention to a corner of the decomposing wall.
“That looks pretty crumbly,” I said, as Keira was already half way up. “Careful.”
Another thing to mention is that it’s very easy for a photographer to spot an interesting shooting location before realizing someone is going to be crawling, climbing or laying on it with no clothing to protect them from any number of sharp edges or other skin damaging hazards.
“That looks like might hurt,” I grimaced, as Keira neared the top and began to find a way to balance for her first pose.
“No, it’s okay. I’m distributing my weight.”
And there she was. Perfect. All I could do was to make sure I composed quickly as she shifted through a series of poses I knew I would have been in a great deal of pain trying myself. But she was lovely and made it all look effortless.
We moved on, with Keira swinging from a tree branch against a beautifully chipped wall. Her fun and enthusiastic energy was really making for a wonderfully creative morning and we had barely started.
We headed back over the crumbly wall and inside the house, stopping for a moment at one of the many doorways that made the ground floor as much outside as in. Rather than working too close to Keira, I decided to use a longer lens and step back into another room, again shooting through one doorway toward the doorway Keira was standing in. I like working with negative space. I knew there would be a lot of darkness in the frame, but I was in the mood to compose something that was just the opposite of what we had been previously been doing in the bright daylight.
At one point Keira grabbed an old cowboy hat from nearby (there were always an odd selection of things nearby to grab as a bit of an accent at Casa Dracula), and before I could wonder aloud whether the hat might be a bit cheesy, she somehow made it anything but. In an instant, she was emoting another kind of character. Where there was strength and beauty before, now there was strength and a simmering coolness. Wonderful.
We headed upstairs to explore the rooms there and decided to start in the white room. Stark and almost devoid of anything except a bed with a large mosquito net hanging over it.
If you’re asking yourself, Hey Billy, you were going on and on at the top talking about how Keira had paid attention to something. When are we going to get to that?
Well, it was here in the white room that Keira reminded me again how she had liked one of my images where I was using long exposures to create wisps and blurs. It was true. When I was shooting in Paris a few years earlier I created a series of images with long exposures that created a very minimalist and soft white impressionistic photographs. Lots of negative white space that created almost brush-like strokes of a model I was traveling with at the time.
The light was different in the room we were working in now than the apartment I was living in back in Paris, but I thought it might be interesting to see what we could come up with here. And much like my Paris shoot, there was a lot of finding the rhythm of Keira’s movement and my camera movement to create those brush strokes again. Eventually we began to find the groove.
I was happy that I wasn’t copying exactly what I did before. These would be different. Not as pure white as my previous series, but with very pleasing tones all the same.
We decided to move to another room and continue, when Keira spotted a red mosquito net near one of the arched doorways leading to a small balcony on the front of the house.
I was still taking light readings when I looked up to see that Keira had draped the netting over the doorway creating a red filter of sorts that moved with the breeze passing through. Excellent. Another instance of my model getting me halfway there before I had a chance to put my eye to the viewfinder.
And these would be color photographs. It was just too amazing, although of course I knew I would later play with B&W conversions just to see. I can’t help myself. But as I was composing, I was thinking, color all the way. Compose for the red.
I moved to the back of the room, opposite the doorway as Keira moved and danced while I moved and danced with my camera. We were completely in sync by now. Beautiful wisps of movement, parts of her form disappearing in the strong backlighting as she moved through the long exposures.
After a bit of it, I moved just to the side of the doorway and continued to shoot as she moved, this time with the light reflecting off of the netting as Keira twisted and turned and used the breeze to let the random movement of netting between us make her appear and disappear in my frame as the long exposures softened the movement in another wonderful way. Really stunning.
We finished off in yet another room, with Keira on a bed near an open window. But by that time, I knew we already had some incredible images. If we got anything here, it would just be gravy.
Keira was amazing to work with. She’s one of those models that can hang with the boys until you forget she’s a woman and then when she gets in front of your camera, she reminds you in short order that she indeed, is.
And of course, she pays attention.
More to come.