At some point early in December on a crisp Saturday afternoon Josh Eskridge, my assistant Chris Miske and I set out on an journey to find a trashy motel for Josh’s documentary “Exposure” and his “Evolution of Style” concept. We had met beforehand for some lunch to discuss initial plans for the documentary, but decided that a nice Saturday scouting wouldn’t be a bad idea. After driving over to Indiana and all the way over to Dixie Highway we settled on a small motel named Biff’s. The shoot can be seen in the documentary HERE.
During that scout we ended up passing a mysterious and large house, completely abandoned off the side of the road, well within viewing distance from the highway. We decided to take a gander. We rummaged through the house and took a stroll across the several acre plot of land with shacks and garages. At that moment we knew we had to take full advantage of this location and setup something. Something big.
The house was wrapped in vines and looked as if it had been flooded hundreds of times over. From the top floor you could see the Ohio river bank. On this plot of land laid the remnants of a shipping yard or place of business. A large concrete flood wall ran the course of several hundred feet and rusty oil tanks sat decaying. This place was a photographers dream.
A month passed and we had finally wrapped up the “Exposure” documentary, my “GAGA - A Portrait Series” was getting started and things were hectic, but we knew we had to get this shoot on the map. We told no one of our elementary plans and kept everything under wraps, even when casting the models.
Long before this shoot even came into the picture, I wanted to do a shoot inspired by an image from Joe McNally. A woman in a swamp holding a lantern, her mysterious expression told a thousand words and gave the impression that she was searching for something and something was missing. Influenced from that image I began brainstorming concept ideas, but kept it to myself until I could formulate a plan.
TALENT AND TEAM
Becky Patterson, a stunning tall brunette from northern Kentucky was first to join the team. Josh had done some fitness stuff with her before that I claim are some of his best pieces, so when her name was brought up, I was 100% game. I couldn’t of been more happy to have Becky on board and was excited to work with her. She was immediately in-tune with the project and really got things kicked off for us.
Conveniently enough, Sarah Terry had moved from overseas(Wales, UK) to Louisville, KY because of her husbands work, who happens to be Rob Terry, a wrestler in the TNA. She had sent Josh and I a simultaneous message on Model Mayhem inquiring for a photoshoot. When Josh and I discussed this, we decided she would be a perfect fit for this shoot. Browsing through her portfolio we noticed she exalted an elegance and boldness that we needed.
In late January I worked with Katie Justis on a cinematography project for Scooter Ray. An incredible redhead who has one of those “all eyes turn when she walks in a room” type energies. Josh happened to be on the set and I seem to think that a decision was made right then and there, her poise and charm was the final piece of the puzzle.
The models had signed on and everything came full circle when we rounded up our fashion team of Isidro Valencia and Liz Lane. I had worked with Isidro on the “Exposure” documentary so I was stoked that I finally had the opportunity to shoot images for his fiercely creative makeup. Isidro not only brings original and striking makeup to the table, but also a lovable humor that can raise morale in seconds. Liz is just a blast, I also worked with her at the “Evolution of style” shoot for “Exposure” and her work speaks for itself. She could turn a horses mane into a Diana Ross curls, color it silver and style it for Vouge. That woman knows her hair. Both artists were ecstatic to be apart of the project.
February 11, 2012 we created a secret group on Facebook and set a date of March 31, 2012, right around the time my GAGA series would be coming to a close(or so I thought at the time). The ideas started flowing and I really like what I was seeing. Our original thought was to put the models in some elegant and outlandish outfits and counterbalance them with the broken down aura of the location. The closer the date became the more I began to think of the story.
It wasn't until March 17th, that Josh and I discussed plans for the “Searcher/Specter” concept for entire back story. I always wanted to the “searcher” theme, but never had the right resources, insert the group “Epic Abandoned House Shoot”. This was the ticket. Once I brought up plans for my concept, the ideas snowballed. Josh had been wanting to do some “levitation” images, where models, through camera composting, are perceived to be floating in mid-air and he showed me several examples, perfection. Why don’t you be the what my “characters” are searching for? Souls, ghosts, etc.
I would be representing the “light” or “searcher” side, a more natural beautiful look, warm colors and graceful posing. While Josh would be the “dark” or “specter” side, a more edgy, contrasted counterpoise with restless lines.
Not only would it be a great narrative through imagery, but also a great way to cross promote each others work. An 100% team collaborative effort and something that Louisville fashion industry had never seen. Many photographers and models in this industry are out to get each other and knock people down to get to the top. What I’ve learned from my days in music is that only team work and keeping solid relationships alive and rich can get you where you need to go. This was a true example of how professionals working together can create a wonderful body of work.
My style is dark, I like shooting in the dark and creating a very dramatic ambiance. So this was the perfect excuse to really challenge myself and forget the 2 light setup and settle for the reflector.
I pretty much packed up every single prop and piece of gear I owned. Hair and makeup started at 10am, the energy in the air was alive. It was beaming with excitement and I think everyone could feel it. It was something we had worked hard on for months and the time was now. When Liz whipped out a wal-mart bag and started making a wig on site, I was like, here we go! Then Isidro takes out a sheet of paper that had been cut up to look like Swiss cheese and started applying black makeup on top of the paper over Sarah’s face, I was floored.
We were joined by Kate Gregg from Pink Door Fine Arts & Portraits and Max Sharp from Louisville Sharp Photography as photography assistants for the shoot, they would also be providing all the behind the scenes images for the day.
We met our goal of heading out by 3pm and we packed in 4 cars and trekked out to the abandoned house. Our sets would begin by trading off models, I would begin with Katie and Josh would begin with Becky and Sarah, once Josh closed up his sets, I would begin with Becky and Sarah.
After un-loading all of our gear and getting a big stretch in, I whisked Kate and Katie away to the far end of the grounds where my infamous “concentration camp” wall gleamed. We setup shop on the outer side of the wall in a set of chest high weeds, placed one light with a diffused beauty dish, 45 degrees camera high right and popped off a few shots. Made some adjustments and ended up at 1/125, f/13, ISO 100 for the perfectly balanced shot. We borrowed a Vagabond-Mini from Josh for the flood light prop which Katie would be handling to “search” for her “specter”. We actually tried to use a fog machine but the Vagabond just didn’t have enough juice to power it. Working with Katie is always a pleasure, her posing is aesthetic and queen-like. She had a scorching hot flood light in her hand and steamrolled through it like it was no big deal. We did 5 sets with Katie in that look, mostly natural light and a reflector. After about an hour with Katie, I browsed through the images and knew I had what I needed, Katie went right into hair/makeup to prepare her “Specter” look.
There was some downtime to change up looks which gave me the opportunity to scout around for Becky’s “Searcher” shots. At this point we had company; two teenage fellows had come around curious. They seemed almost starstruck that all this was going on in there usual hangout spot, where I’m sure they get away, drink alcohol and cause a ruckus. I think everyone was like “who are these kids”. Instead of kicking them off set or ignoring them, I ended up chatting with them and Josh put them to work! One of them had a point and shoot camera and started snapping away. It was fun to have our own little paparazzi that day.
We started Becky’s sets, like Katie, on the far end of the grounds near a broken down garage and two decrepit shacks. I gave Becky a small LED light, I needed the prop to be different from the others and but still poignant. Her posing would be the thing that made or break the imagery, so it needed to stand out. As soon as I laid out my vision, Becky was on it. Boom, Boom, Boom. Her posing was technically unique and to the point, which made for some excellent shots. Because of her fitness background and stature, she pulled off moves that many models couldn’t fathom doing. It took some time to lock in the light, I had a hard sun to work with, but I played that to my advantage using it as a kicker light. After we nailed a few small sets with Becky on the grounds, we moved into the house and concluded her session with a dramatic one light set, which I ended up scraping in post.
We stuck to a schedule and knocked it out of the park. I had a few sets to wrap up with Sarah and we were done! By this time Isidro and Kate had to say their goodbyes and hit the road for previous engagements, but the rest of the team pushed through to the end.
Once I started with Sarah Terry, I really didn’t know what all Josh had shot, all I knew that it was going to be good. I had to bring my A game with these images. We we’re losing light fast, so things we’re rushed at that point. Josh had finished up with Katie and all eyes were on me to wrap the entire shoot. We started on the top floor of the house, I had Sarah hold a $20 fake battery operated lantern I had bought from Amazon.com for a previous shoot, but had never used. The lantern was clunky and almost distracting, so the composition would have to be just right or the shot was a waste. I decided even in low light to shoot mostly all natural with no artificial flash. It went against my better judgement and did what I try to usually avoid, that is, cranking my ISO above 800. Fortunately, my camera and a decent handle on noise and we nailed some solid ambient light shots. Sarah had done this before… her portfolio had been impressive and I was sort of nervous to be shooting her. But, once we got into the groove, every shot was my favorite! She had a class and rhythm to her posing almost like a ballerina.
We moved at a fast pace and 30 minutes later we were outside setting up my last shot, at this point the sun had set, so I setup one speedlight on 1/64 power and used the little natural light I had left to score a beautiful pose which was to become my final shot of “Searcher/Specter - A Portrait Set”.
Throughout the entire evening my phone was buzzing off the hook from people partying/watching the UK vs. UL Final Four basketball game and here we are in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t care, I was high on the success of the day and couldn’t wait to roll out the images. After a quick group shot, we packed our gear back in, threw on a quick change of clothes and headed down to Wicks for some beer and pizza.
Two weeks later Josh and I met and coordinated the simultaneous image upload and rolled out the coolest collaboration I had ever done. I was very proud of what we accomplished and what I gained. I reached outside of the box and challenged myself on location and in my office to develop some outstanding work that every member of the team can be spirited about.
Thank you to the entire team for an experience I shall surely not forget.