This is another image where I’m fairly sure I can’t say I came up with the concept. Tara Tree and I were scouting locations in Kauai when we decided to explore a cave. We were taking phone photos of various places we visited and I believe it was Tara who snapped a photo of me standing with the wide entrance of the cave behind me. An almost alien silhouette.
I say I believe it was Tara who took the photo that inspired this one, because going back through my iPhone photos from that day, I don’t see the image I remember us both being excited about. In other words, not on my phone, so I didn’t make it. It was Tara. Definitely Tara.
I kept that happy snapshot discovery in the back of my head when Tara and I returned on our actual shoot morning. And we began deep inside the cave with the light coming in from the entrance, our only light source, directly at Tara with me in between. After about an hour of making beautiful photographs of Tara from that vantage point, I remembered the alien silhouette snapshot. And we traded places.
Tara began a series of dances and poses that were all quite lovely, but it was one that we made at the beginning that caught my eye weeks later. And I’m fairly sure it’s one of Tara moving between poses actually. But I love the simplicity of her near genuflect in that light. Almost as if she’s emerging from a cocoon of darkness into this dazzling light.
It just feels like a new beginning to me. Which is what I was truly feeling on this subterranean day of discovery. Thank you, Tara Tree!
“I said, that’s good! Lean forward like that again!”
I held my index finger up to Jessamyne in the international gesture of, “Hold on a sec.”
You see, she was outside on the deck of our Hawaiian oceanfront villa and I was inside, photographing her through a window. And that pesky relentless ocean roar, was making communication beyond hand signals more or less impossible. Such are the hazards of beach living.
We had a quick conference out on the desk and I ran back inside. This was our 12th setup of the day. We needed few words anymore at that point to communicate. We were in a groove.
A few days earlier we had gone through her luggage and picked out several beautiful things to photograph her in. Beautiful lace, sheer and vintage fabrics, so even though Jessa is gorgeous in nothing at all, it would have been a missed opportunity to not photograph her wearing a few of these one of a kind designs.
This day was my first time photographing Jessa, although I had been an admirer of her work for some time. She’s originally from Perth, Australia, but happily, we have both ended up in Los Angeles at the present time. And we’re already planning more collaborations, which I couldn’t be more excited about. Thank you, Jessamyne!
“Aw, we lost the sun,” Meluxine said, as she noticed the gorgeous shafts of sunlight that until very recently had been beautifully falling on her through the window, had faded away. I pulled the camera away from my eye and walked over to the window. I had noticed it too, but I was wondering if the sun had dipped behind the clouds for a few seconds or whether it was going to be gone for a bit longer.
That’s the thing about Kauai. It can be sunny one minute, cloudy the next, and then rainy-sunny somehow, or any combination in a period of 20 minutes. But even the cloudiness or the rain is quite lovely. By the end of our 10 days on our island paradise, even we were starting to say, “Look. Another rainbow,” more matter of factly and with a slightly lower amount of surprised enthusiasm than when we first arrived. Funny how you can begin to take even double rainbows for granted on this island. There are just so many! Every day!
Anyway, it was Meluxine who suggested maybe we head out to the beach and just see what we could make in the overcast for a bit. “Just until the sun comes back.”
But as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, even the, this probably won’t work but let’s try it anyway, setups, were turning into magic. And we hadn’t been down there on the beach shooting for more than a few minutes when we both started to feel like the overcast was working like crazy. Beautiful non-directional light. The sky was a giant softbox above.
I had turned the color off on the display of my camera, so we were looking at B&W images when we stopped to review. And what we were seeing was reminding me of images you might see in those great British mod fashion shoots from the 60s. I don’t know if it was the light or what. More likely Meluxine channeling something wonderful in that lovely striped dress we had been shooting inside with a few minutes earlier. She was so on.
And as it always did, after about 20 minutes, the sun began to peek out from the clouds again. But since the clouds were moving in a direction from over my head towards Meluxine, we started to get some great light on her, but with the still brooding clouds behind her along the beach.
And so we had a dilemma. A good dilemma. As we began to review the photos weeks later remotely, me back on the mainland in Los Angeles and she in Sydney, Australia, I had processed this particular image two ways. First in b&w as we had originally intended, but also in color. And there were good qualities about both of them. We really couldn’t decide.
But for me, even though I’m really an artist who loves b&w, I think the color one edges out the b&w in this case. But only very slightly. I think the photos from a few minutes earlier than this one will still look best in b&w. But this particular image, with the sun juuuuuuust starting to peek out, color wins.
What do you think, Gentle Readers? Color or b&w? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
You know when you’re having one of those days when everything you touch turns to gold? They don’t happen often, but when they do, the feeling is extraordinary. Meluxine and I were definitely having one of those days the first time we ever shot together. Even the, this probably won’t work but let’s try it anyway, setups turned out to be magical. Which leads me to the distinct possibility.
Meluxine might well indeed be magic.
I mean, I don’t know that for certain. Just throwing the possibility out there.
Meluxine was one of my beautiful housemates on the island of Kauai. I met her and Anne, who was also staying with me, at the Lihue airport, when I arrived from Los Angeles and they from Australia, to drive us to our lovely resort suite. So even before photographing her, I had a lot of time to get to know her.
I find that always helps when photographing someone for the first time. Because I’m not only learning the physical characteristics of any new model I’m collaborating with, but also learning her point of view. What’s on her mind. What she’s about. Having a head start on knowing those latter things, always makes for better photographs. Because then I’m not just photographing what she looks like, I’m really photographing her.
But whatever the reason, as Meluxine and I have discussed since then, what we did that day was some of the best most personally satisfying work either of had done in a while. We’ve really enjoyed going over the images since then. Picking out favorites. And there are a lot!
And I’ve queued up another beautiful photo of her for tomorrow. So stay tuned, Gentle Readers!
Anne has one of the most beautiful faces I have ever come to know. I’ve felt that way since before I actually got to work with her years ago. Her portfolio is full of some of the most striking images I’ve ever seen.
All week we’d been talking about shooting her in a specific lingerie set she had brought to Kauai with her. The mood of the shoot. Where it would be. How it would look. And sadly we just ran out of time to do it the way we imagined. But I did have a lighting setup in place for the equally lovely Meluxine who I had just finished shooting, when Anne and I realized we both had a free hour. I made a few adjustments and Anne and I decided to use the small time we had. Better something than not, you know?
But the glorious part of it is, we created some beautiful images, regardless of our original idea. Anne knows light so well that without even looking she was able to create wonderful shadows with her body and limbs. She always looks so effortless with her poses, even though there’s nothing effortless about them.
The lingerie she’s wearing is actually Victoria’s Secret, which came as a surprise to me, because I haven’t been wowed by anything from that brand in over ten years. But this piece was beautiful. Something I’d expect to see from La Perla or Agent Provocateur, honestly. And it worked so well with Anne’s porcelain skin and dark brunette hair.
Sometimes an hour with Anne is all you need to make something incredible.
Claudine is simply wonderful to work with. Beautiful, with complete excitement and joyful enthusiasm. Claudine is 100-percent all in when it comes to creating something interesting. I’ve never seen her in a bad mood. I mean, I’m sure she has them. We all do. But I’ve never witnessed her in one. Claudine is positivity.
She arrived in Hawaii at Zoefest XIII a few days after most of us, and even though we had all been filling up our schedules with shoots all over Kauai, I knew I had to sneak in at least a little time with her. I had two other bookings the day I photographed Claudine, so I proposed something simple for her. And I couldn’t be more happy with the results.
As I’ve mentioned before, Gentle Readers, I’ve been looking to create art that’s a little different from the work I’m most known for. It’s not that I’ve grown bored with what I’ve been creating, but I’ve been finding I’ve been wanting to inject my work with something a little more personal as of late. Something a little more about my humanity, warts and all. And having the opportunity to channel that through a beautiful collaborator like Claudine, is very special to me.
And of course, Claudine was up for going on my little adventure. As she always is.
In one part of our suite in Kauai, was a little room with sliding slatted doors. And I found when I temporarily removed the tourist room art from the walls, it created a nice empty space. It had two lounges that could be turned into beds, and I removed all the bedding from one except for the simple white sheets. This would be a starting point.
I began by having Claudine sit on the edge of the bed. I explained the feeling I wanted to express with her that day.
“I’m looking for something that tells a bit of a story. And this story is more about being alone than anything else. Isolation. I want to use you in this very empty simple space to create something that makes you seem very small in this environment.”
It wasn’t that I wanted her to represent her feeling isolated or alone. I wanted her to express something I had been feeling from time to time recently. I wanted her to be my stand-in for that feeling.
She immediately got it. Because she’s just that good that way.
Claudine is a beautiful woman. A real, beautiful, woman. And the reason I wanted to work with her on this idea, is that in the past she’s been able to create characters that wonderfully express an idea or concept I have. A few years ago, back in Chicago, I shot a short film with her called, “Hello??” It involved a situation that I’m afraid far too many women are familiar with, and if you haven’t seen it yet, go ahead and click on it now and come back so I don’t ruin the ending for you. I’ll wait.
Okay. You’re back.
Yeah, every time I show it to a woman friend of mine, they always say the same thing.
“Auuugh. No. No! I hate that!”
Claudine, without saying a word, spoke volumes with her face and body language. The hurt. The resolve to just move forward.
And I knew, here in our little resort room, she’d be able to help me express another very common feeling. That feeling of being alone. Being isolated.
I made dozens of photos of her sitting on the edge of the bed. Then sitting back against the wall. And then I suggested something new.
“There’s no earthly practical reason why you would stand in the corner in the space between the bed and the wall, but let’s try something with that,” I suggested.
I had been careful up until that point with my framing, not to include much of anything else in the room besides the bed and the wall behind it, keeping it a very clean and simple composition. But this time I composed the shot to include the bathroom door and some of the interior. Suddenly I had some extra context for the story.
The photo above is the last frame I shot during our session. I felt that we didn’t need to go any further. That was it. Perfect.
Thanks Claudine for helping me express something a little unexpected on our island paradise. Because even with the beautiful ocean lapping up to the front of our little home, with incredibly unimaginable scenery all around us, I needed this that day. Something, not the usual.
I really didn’t understand until the midway point of my shoot with Christian, but it was to become one of the more profound shoots I experienced in some time. As my alert Gentle Readers will have noted, I photograph a lot of women. Not exclusively, but pretty damn near. Before Christian, it had been over 20 years since I had made any male nude photographs. So I was looking forward to shaking things up a bit.
In fact, that was one of my goals at Zoefest XIII this year. Come back with something unexpected. Come back with, not the usual.
I had a great long talk with Christian the day before we shot. Immediately I could tell we were on the same page, not only in our appreciation for the art we created, but as fellow human travelers. Lots of shared philosophies and beliefs.
Christian and I agreed it might be nice to go back to the cave where I photographed Tara to see what else we could artistically mine in there. I try not to reuse very distinct locations, but I felt what Christian and I would create in there would likely be very different from what Tara and I had done.
We headed out at first light to get to the cave before the tourists were even thinking about their first cup of coffee. I’d be making long exposures on a tripod again in the dim subterranean light. And we’d need more time to work than quickly getting in, shooting, and getting out before being surprised with cave wanderers.
A little back story for a moment. In the late 90s, I spent three truly wonderful years working with a therapist called Charlie. And during that time, he helped me to come up with a way to visualize the idea of my art. My art center. Where it came from, deep inside me. Taking a vague concept and making it something a little more real.
I’d imagine a huge cave-like space. With walls that looked like the roof of your mouth more than anything else. Definitely an organic space. Dark. And in the center of this cavernous room, was small stump-like thing. Almost like a nub. And that was my art core. The center of me. And I could visit this place from time to time.
As long as my art was working, as long as I was creating, as long as I was making art that inspired me, I could manage any challenges in any other areas of my life. Because my art center was thriving.
However, much like the canary in the coal mine, if for whatever reason I wasn’t creating work that moved me, or that I had gone too long between personal art projects, the light in that subterranean space would dim. And it would become very difficult to see my art center in the darkness. If my art wasn’t working, it would be difficult to face whatever else life might be throwing at me during that time. If my art wasn’t working, I would begin to feel broken.
And what I realized halfway through photographing Christian in that Kauai cave, is that I wasn’t making images of Christian as much as I was making images of myself. Of my cavernous art center. My art nub. The truest me that I could express.
Christian was giving me so many pieces of myself through what he was emoting. Things that cycle through the state of who I am from day-to-day. Strength. Focus. Determination. Positivity. But just as often, isolation. Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. And sometimes the need to hide when I wasn’t feeling at my best. All of these things.
You’ll be seeing examples of these emotions being expressed from other images with Christian in the coming months.
After we finished about an hour and a half of shooting, we packed up and headed back to our temporary ocean-side home, Christian asked me an interesting question.
“What were you thinking about while you were shooting?”
And I had to laugh, because I knew I was going to have to explain my little art nub visualization to him. It does sound a little weird when I say it out loud to people. But as I mentioned before, Christian and I had found ourselves to be on similar artistic frequencies. He found it more interesting than odd. And I think it’s because he also has a similar sensitivity to the world as I do.
I mentioned before that it had been over 20 years since I had done any nude photography with men. And I remember one of the reasons I decided to experiment with it all those years ago was because I wanted to make sure I was photographing nude women for the right reasons. That there was something more to the art than simply having women take off their clothes in front of my camera. And me. That is wasn’t a creepy thing. I couldn’t exactly explain at the time why I found it so important to make art with these generous women. Just that it was.
And I photographed a few men during that time of artistic introspection. The first two were body builders. Certainly powerful masculine figures. But with a tone of aggression that I didn’t feel I had in me. I tried to find the beauty in their form that was perhaps like a panther or some other top-of-the-food-chain animal. But what was missing was the sense of awe that I experienced when I photographed women.
The third man I photographed was an art school friend of a friend. Just a normal guy. And the poses he was giving me, what he was emoting, was 180-degrees away from the body builders. Quieter. Almost vulnerable. Wrapping his arms loosely around himself, as if for protection. This. This was more of something I could relate to. Something I had felt before. And I realized that I was photographing women because they better helped me express something perhaps more prominent in myself than the first two men did. The need to feel wonder. Awe. Getting lost in feminine curves cascading into curves. A sense of empathy and nurturing. Something that is more prominent in the many layers of beauty that a woman possesses. What is profound inspiration to me. That’s the art I wanted to create. And still do.
Yet now with Christian, that same feeling again of a subject channeling something very personal to me, was a very welcome outlier. A surprise discovery and realization.
A few days after the Christian shoot, I was having another conversation with Zoe Wiseman, the namesake of Zoefest. I mentioned that in photographing another man in Christian, it was really the first time in a long time that I could remember feeling like I was photographing myself. Photographing women certainly contains pieces of myself projected along with who they are. But I wouldn’t say when I photograph a woman, it truly feels like I’m photographing myself. Although that’s something I may explore in the future. Food for thought.
“Oh, I always feel like I’m photographing myself when I photograph women,” Zoe quickly responded.
Happily, Christian also lives in California, so the chances of our paths crossing again more art creation are quite good. He certainly helped me create something unexpected. Not the usual.
And as a very good artistic friend of mine said when I gave her a preview of today’s photograph, something raw, honest and inspiring.
Carlotta has the most infectious enthusiasm. About whatever she happens to be doing at the moment. She’s good energy.
Carlotta was tagging along the morning Anne and I were discovering the magical tree overlook. Every once in a while, when Anne needed a short breather from climbing all over that tree, I’d turn my camera to Carlotta, who was already mid-pose by the time I got my camera up to my eye. She was in the mood to play, which honestly, is her natural demeanor.
I first met her at the previous Zoefest I was invited to in Todos Santos, Mexico about five years ago. And I photographed her in my old studio in Chicago, before moving to LA. So yeah, we’ve had lots of fun over the years.
Since the island of Kauai was formed by volcanic activity about a thousand years ago, the beaches there are covered with large black lava rocks. A beautiful contrast to Carlotta’s skin. And even though I had rubbery flexible deck shoes on while I was photographing her, I could still feel the sharp edges of the rocks pushing through my soles. I try to always keep sensations like that in mind while I’m shooting models who are experiencing the same sharp edges, except on their bare skin, and often very sensitive areas of bare skin.
Don’t injure the models. A good practice to live by.
Carlotta and I continued to shoot around the beach area, which you Gentle Readers will see more of in the future. But we also had scheduled some additional shoot time the next day and I returned to the same cave with her that I photographed Tara in a few days earlier. Those have a different look, but equally beautiful.
Stay tuned! And thank you as always for your wonderful support!
I’d love to take credit for it, but Anne Duffy is the one who spotted the tree first. A beautiful tree. And like so many trees on the island of Kauai, the erosion from years of the ocean doing what oceans do, left a stunning series of twisted roots in a way that made any onlooker feel they had x-ray vision and could see through the ground. Quite a place to make a photograph of the equally stunning Anne.
Anne and I spent several hours there one morning, and I made so many photographs of her, climbing, posing, arching, contorting, along those roots. It sparked a very interesting conversation.
Anne asked the question, why did I make so many photographs, while other photographers such as Zoe Wiseman, made far fewer exposures of her when they would shoot. Zoe is a brilliant photographer and the reason we were all here in this Hawaiian island paradise to begin with, as part of her nearly annual Zoefest.
I thought about Anne’s question for a moment. Many reasons came to mind. First, the ocean is loud. Communication can be a little difficult trying to shout over the sound of waves. I’m fairly sure my only direction to Anne that morning was the occasional, “Beautiful!”, or, “Yes, that’s perfect! Hold there!”
But as I thought more about it, even without the ocean roar, I do tend to make a lot of photographs during a shoot. So the environment being too loud to direct Anne, wasn’t quite the correct answer, I concluded.
I thought a little more and said, “I don’t know. Maybe Zoe is simply a better photographer than I am.” A little self-deprecating certainly, but I’ve always admired photographers who shoot a very limited number of frames during a shoot. I’ve never been that kind of photographer, even back in the days of shooting film. Even then, I shot many many rolls of film during a shoot.
Anne graciously countered, “I don’t think she’s a better photographer than you because she shoots fewer frames. You just have different styles of shooting.”
Which was true. But I still wanted to come up with a better answer to her question. It was one I had thought about for decades, actually. Why so many images?
I even sat down with Zoe a day later to talk more about it. Zoe likes to work the model’s pose for a while until it’s just what she has in mind before clicking her camera shutter. And Zoe has something else that I don’t have, which is that Zoe used to model herself. So she has a perspective on posing that I’ll very likely never have.
Myself, when I’m photographing a model of the caliber that Anne is, I first like to leave a little room for discovery. Because I trust her to be thinking as much about what the photograph is going to look like as much as I am. And she knows what she’s doing. All of the models at Zoefest do. They know light. They know angles. They know composition. They are equal collaborators during any shoot, and I’ve come to believe that if I’ve chosen to work with them, I’d be silly to over-direct them. Let them do their thing.
Which explains why my direction during a shoot is fairly basic. Give them a place to start, tell them what my angle of view is, so they can picture where they are in the frame or how much of them I’m photographing, and just begin exploring what happens. I do like to tell them what I’m seeing or if I really like something that’s happening so they are getting feedback throughout the shoot. They always appreciate that and it helps to build the connection and collaborative nature of the shoot. I may have them adjust an arm or a leg if I see a line that needs just a little tweaking, but like I said, when working with models like Anne, she doesn’t need much direction from me to make a beautiful image.
But that’s still not really an answer to Anne’s original question. It wasn’t until I returned to California, that I had an epiphany and finally the answer to my question.
Why do I shoot so many images during a shoot?
For example, on the shoot with Anne pictured above, I made over 1,500 photographs of her up in, below and around that tree. I’m just looking for maybe five or ten really. The few that really stand out. And if any of them look too much like another I’ve picked as a final, then I usually send them into a sort of photographic cage match. Two photos enter. One photo leaves. Gotta pick one of the two.
But the reason, I’ve come to conclude, of why I make so many photographs in a shoot, is because not only am I a photographer and director, but I’m also a film editor. I’ve spent over 25 years in dark little editing suites, pouring over raw footage from too many directors to remember. Looking for moments. The one take that really hits home. The performance that works best in serving the story. The best of the best. Making order from chaos.
A large part of my editing skill set happens after the shooting is done. After the production is completed. And then away from the mayhem and distractions that are part of any healthy shoot, I can take the time in a more chill environment to really look at what we have. Hopefully the director, if it’s not me, has given me lots of coverage. Lots of options to choose from. And then I can look at what we really have. I can forget how difficult it was to get a certain shot. Put away that the client really didn’t like the female actor. All of that on-set noise. Just look at what we have captured with fresh eyes.
What’s on the screen. Is it working. If not, why not. Let’s find something else.
And in combining these roles that I might have in any given project, I’ve learned to take the advantages of them all and sort of cross-pollinate them into my own Billy method of workflow.
And that means taking advantage of whatever role I happen to have. If I’m shooting or directing, it’s making sure I have lots of choices for the editor, whether it’s me or someone else. I’m not a spray-and-pray photographer, but there are times when nature is being random with wind-blown hair, waves and what not. And then yes, I’ll shoot rapid fire, hoping to catch the right combination of everything being in place. But mostly the reason that I shoot as many images as I do is because the editor in me craves coverage. Give me as much to work with as possible.
And when everything aligns in the most wonderful, inspiring, breathtaking way, such as with Anne, overlooking the edge of the world here, it’s a truly wonderful moment to realize.
“Is it too dark to shoot in here?”, asked Tara Tree, as we were exploring one of the Kauai caves during a location scout one afternoon.
“No, I think there’s enough light. If I bring a tripod and do longer exposures,” I said, as my eyes began to slowly adjust to the darkness.
I was looking to create something a little unusual. Actually that was my internal theme during the entire 10 days of shooting at Zoefest XIII this year. Come back with things not expected.
I had scheduled Tara for my first shoot on the island. Which was wonderful, because we’d be talking about wanting to make art together since the first time we collaborated nearly five years before. And finally, we were in the same place at the same time. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on an island created by volcanic eruptions about a thousand years ago. And here we were, inside one of those volcanic creations.
The entrance to the cave was a very wide shallow opening, probably 25 meters across and maybe 3 meters tall. There was a line of trees across the road from the entrance that limited the daylight coming into the cave for three-quarters of the entrance, leaving a slightly harder light source coming in from one end of the opening. This odd happenstance of light was really quite spectacular in that it was both hard and soft at the same time. It created fairly strong shadows, but there was a soft diffusion about it at the same time.
The only challenge was, that you couldn’t really see the shadows very well with only your eyes. It was just too dark. So occasionally, as long as I didn’t turn around and look at the brighter light coming in from the entrance, or look at the display on the back of my camera, my eyes would stay dilated enough that I could see my own shadow falling on Tara, or on some other unwanted place. Whoops. Stay off to the side, Billy. The light was better on Tara if I photographed her from a three-quarters angle anyway.
It was a fairly deep cave, the back wall of it maybe 100 meters from the entrance. And even though we were shooting shortly after first light, we still had to keep an eye out for the odd tourist out for a ridiculously early walk. The good thing was, we were far enough into the cave that we’d see them long before they would see us, and certainly it would take a minute or so for their would-be surprised eyes to adjust to the darkness anyway. It’s an occupational hazard we always face when creating fine art nude photography out in public. We’re all used to it.
Tara was brilliant. She immediately dialed into the vibe of this environment. Wonderful poses that were all at once feminine, animalistic, defiant, and the suddenly peaceful. We’d shoot a bit and then take a minute to review what we were getting on the back of my camera, since it truly was a challenge to actually see what we were doing with our eyes while shooting. We’d scroll through the images, see what was working and what needed a little adjustment, and then make those for the next series of images.
We even shot some motion footage once we felt we had what we needed as far as still images went. I knew we were pushing our luck a bit as far as being tourist free as the morning progressed, but it was too good of an opportunity not to roll the dice. I’m anxious to begin editing that footage together. It’s going to be strangely beautiful.
And as we packed up our gear and began to walk out of the cave after about an hour and a half shooting, we passed a couple of tourists wandering in through the cave entrance. Couldn’t have timed it better. Nothing like making photographs under the cover of darkness.