In the short two years time as a photographer, I’ve scanned through dozens of modeling portfolios, but no portfolio has really grabbed me more then that of model Ashley Smith. The first images in her portfolio, were from Lexington photographer Alicia Calton and then good friend of mine Lana Wilson, both amazing and stunning. I knew I had to work with Ashley. Her look was original and her slight imperfections were the stars of the show, in turn making all of her images compelling in every way.
Near the end of my “Bond Girl - A Portrait Series” I had began networking with models for future concepts. In December of 2011 I reached out to Ashley and asked her to be apart of this concept; “GAGA - A Portrait Series”.
I began every “casting call” for GAGA the same way…Are you a fan of Lady Gaga? It was very important to me that every model involved had energy and an excitement for the project, otherwise we’d have 42 dead, lifeless images. I was lucky to have approached the right models and most responded with a resounding “YES”.
Our original song Micah and I chose for Ashley was “Monster”. We had the idea of using the death tunnel in the haunted and abandoned Waverly Hills Sanatorium. But after some brief tossing and turning, we met an agreement on Alejandro, which turned out to be more perfect and more fitting then I could have ever imagined.
It just so happened to work out that during my inquires for churches in the area for "Scheiße“, I made connections with Marjorie Dunn the event coordinator at a church-now-event-hall, The Marcus Lindsey. The place had some history and caused some local controversy by having a sign out front that read: "NOW LEASING - THE PREVIOUS OWNERS LET IT GO TO HELL”. Apparently a Louisville couple had bought the property, remodeled it into high-class contemporary lofts and turned the cathedral into an empty event hall. Sometime in February, I scheduled a meeting with Marjorie and took a tour of the event hall. The place was beautiful. Clean lines, newly furnished flooring and restored stained glass. I had to use this place, if it weren’t for GAGA, then something else down the road.
Time passed and we ran into some scheduling issues. But after some calendar “fine-tuning” we finally had our time and date for “Alejandro” locked in. After Waverly Hills Sanatorium had come to a dead end, I called up Marjorie at The Marcus Lindsey and we had our location. However, the question that perturbed me; could I pull 7 sets of photos out of this one confined event hall. The answer would prove to be yes and more.
Monday, March 26. I was completely thrilled to be working with Ashley and working in this ravishing location. The day was a beautiful 72 degrees and the sun was bright. I made a last minute decision to hit the local costume shop before the shoot with Micah as Ashley was making the 4 hour drive into Louisville. I’m a prop guy. I love props, some might think its cheesy or distracting, but I think they can sell a story, especially if your doing concept work. Fingernails, monocle, horse whip, eyelashes and a fog machine. The bill wasn't cheap, but I knew it would be worth it.
Marjorie met us at the church before her daily meetings and opened the doors, the place was ours. The hair/makeup transformation began and I started planning out sets with my assistant Kate Gregg with Pink Door Fine Arts & Portraits. I met Kate on a workshop several months back during my infancy as a photographer. Since we’ve became friends and I really admire her hard work and ideas she brings to the table. I think we have a like-mind and appreciate the same sort of lighting. She is a great assistant to have on board.
When hair and makeup had been complete and we finagled with the wardrobe, I was infatuated with the look. Big blonde hair, long black fingernails, bold lips and sharp eyebrows. This was it, this was GAGA. I could barley contain my excitement, but me being me, kept my professional composure and we jumped right into the first set.
80-200mm lens and a reflector; those simple tools really took this shoot to an entirely different level. The ambient light coming through the colored stained glass windows and the light fog from the machine was just too amazing to shut out with a small aperture. I really used ambient light to set the scene for my shots, whether that was shooting at 2 second exposures or just using a speedlight/softbox as fill.
As soon as we hopped into the sets, I knew Ashley had done this before. She wasn't rigid with her movement, but very calm and methodical with her posing. Her method is focused and smooth. She knows how little details can cut an edge between and good image and a great image. The turn in the hand or the slight squint in the eyes can make all the difference. Her initial poses were so GAGA, It felt like I was shooting the real deal.
“You know that I love you boy / Hot like Mexico Rejoice / At this point I’ve gotta choose / Nothing to lose”
My favorite image to come out of “Alejandro” was our third set and one of those “beautiful mistakes”. While I was struggling with light options, my assistant Kate Gregg was downstairs shooting some behind the scenes. At some point, she showed me a shot she had taken. I was blown away and had to capture it myself. So I got on the floor, setup a reflector and moved the composition a bit. 1/200, f/2.8 at 20mm, boom I had the shot in the first 30 seconds. The ambient light from the windows and the smog was just enough to give it a heavenly and ethereal feel. Was it really that easy? I’ve learned from some of the best photographers, that less, in many cases, can be more, much more. Thank you Kate for seeing something I couldn't see.
We were blazing through sets and when all was said an done, I had realized we had done not the planned 7 sets but rather 10! And I was worried about the amount of images?! Things had slowed down and energy was depleting, mine included. Ashley had just recovered from a bad ankle injury and there was no need to push it anymore. So we wrapped up the shoot and I headed back to my office to import what was to become some of my proudest work.
I couldn’t of been more happy with our team that day. Bravo.