The majority of images you see in my portfolio are projects that have taken time, a lot of it. It’s a true rarity that I stumble into a project that is pure gold and it happens with a flash of light. Before you know it, you're writing a novel of a blog about the lasting impact… this is one of those projects.
On January 28th, 2013 I received a Facebook message from friend and photographer Steve Squall. He mentioned something about a massive collaboration. I immediately responded with interest. An hour later I received a message from L.A. fashion photographer and Black & Grey Magazine Editor-in-chief Bil Brown. 3 other photographers were also included in the message; Josh Eskridge, Antonio Pantoja and Steve Squall. Bil would be returning to Louisville(his hometown) for a week and wanted to setup a shoot. But this shoot would be unlike anything else, it would be a full collaboration of art. After messages back and forth through the day we had our concept in place and date set.
The concept would be simple. Each photographer chooses one model. Each photographer then chooses their own stylist. Each photographer is then able to collaborate with any makeup artist or hair stylist. One look per model and every photographer shoots every model. We then share all the images and create a collage which displays some form of each photographers image for their own model. Make sense? Well, it did to us.
Unfortunately, Josh Eskridge had booked a previous shoot and had to bow out as a photographer for the project. Nevertheless, we pushed forward and ended up meeting for a quick discussion at a dinner the next evening.
Naturally, I called upon my first choice as stylist Project Runway’s and Louisville’s own Gunnar Deatherage, whom I had worked with a lot recently for NFocus Magazine. Fortunately for everyone involved he was available and on board. I then inquired with makeup artist Micah Severo Ruelas and luckily he jumped on it immediately. Last but not least, I called upon one of my very favorite models, Casey Neel (COSMO) to rock my look. She also jumped at the chance to be involved. The final addition to the team was assistant Shanna Simpson, who had been helping out on several of my shoots. Now, things were heating up and the stylists were pulling their wardrobe looks. My team was on complete lock.
It was Wednesday and the shoot was set for Saturday. We didn’t have much time and we didn’t have a location. My mind was racing and I wanted to make this project the absolute best it could be. I went through my phone and rolodex of business cards… who would be open to bringing on this huge collaboration of artists at such short notice? I suddenly remembered that I work at Outdoor Photo Gear with the son of the owner of a massive venue and old building called “The Ice House”. I immediately inquired and Deron did the same. Then next day I was put in touch with Derek, his older brother who runs all the events at The Ice House. Two phone calls and 48 hours later, we had our location set in stone and it all came down to the wire… literally the day before the shoot was planned to take place. The only stipulation, we had to be out before 4. Call time was set early.
It seemed like a miracle, would this really be happening? Did we just plan a major project in less then a week? An astounding, yes.
Saturday came early. Unfortunately, mother nature decided to drop about an inch of snow on the ground during the night. The roads were pretty bad and it caused delays. I was one of the first to arrive and everyone seemed to trickle in at their own pace. Nevertheless soon enough, there was a herd of photographers, models, stylists, artists and assistants all ready to rock.
Because of the snow, Josh Eskridge had his shoot re-scheduled, so he decided to pick up his camera and shoot the behind the scenes video. Friend and photographer Will Cravens would be on all the behind the scenes images. It seemed like every creative artist involved in the fashion world was in attendance and the game was on.
Upon arrival of my team, I sent Casey into hair and makeup with Micah. I made a few quick calls and then scouted the building. I knew the place fairly well as I had shot video in the building on a previous shoot. It was still a labyrinth of floors and a lot of stairs. Just as I predicted, I was in for a workout and we all would be fighting the cold. Everyone would start with their own model then move onto the next model.
I decided to start on the upper floors and work my way down. The first set included a massive opening in the wall overlooking a the river and a high-rise apartment building. Right in front of the opening was a huge pile of concrete and ruble. Lucky for me, Casey was willing to climb up on top of the ruble.
It took sometime to lock in the lighting. It was a matter of balancing natural and artificial lighting which is not an easy feat and in many cases, will push your camera to the limits. We really played with different expressions and also pushed Casey out of her box. We explored with throwing rocks and yelling out obscenities among other things. We were obviously having a blast. Not too mention Casey was setting the camera on fire.
After wrapping that set, I needed to squeeze in one more set so I hauled up one light to one of the three roofs I would be shooting on that day. Fighting the extreme cold, we trekked to the far corner in which, I wanted to move into a motion set. Casey is tall and can work in heels, so I asked her to do lunges and jump. 20 to 25 frames in, I knew we had it. I was confident in the shots and told Casey to get warm. Around that time one of Louisville’s best makeup artist Isidro Valencia showed up, just to hang out! As always, I was happy to see him!
I headed down the long flights of stairs to the main center of the building to fetch the next model Kayla Tarter, who was on Antonio’s team. We started in the same room as I just shot Casey, back up the stairs. We shot on a black wall where her styling would really pop through. Simple setup, one light. We snapped a few shots then headed back down and to a terrace rooftop on the opposite side of the building. Kayla was styled in a white sheer cocktail dress and had deer antlers connected to her head. I wanted to totally exploit that and have the “deer in headlights” and somehow awkwardly pose in the same realm. Kayla was cold and I had trouble locking in her expressions and left the set un-satisfied. My lighting was boring and I knew the post process would have to be the shining star that could save the images. Nevertheless, I knew something magical was in the air and I praise Kayla for stepping out on the rooftop wearing what she did, I give her all the props in the world.
Within 5 minutes I had another model, Katrina Fitzpatrick, on deck. Steve Squall and Bil Brown were blowing through sets and had some downtime. On the other hand, Antonio and I had large setups and I was spending most of my time climbing stairs. Once Katrina completed her set with Antonio, just like a baton, we passed models. I headed directly up the steps to the very top roof. The roof was slick. I definitely fell and Katrina almost fell on several occasions. Looking back, I should have been more cautious and went for another area, but I’m one to not settle for less and I tend to push my models to the max. We setup on the outer rim of the roof with a large zone of electrical towers and dangerous looking metal blocks that warned us from being on the roof. The snow was coming down and I was slipping all over the place. I corrected composition and blasted the shutter, upon review I was content. We moved towards the back side of the roof and proceeded to defy logic. I had Katrina pose on a green metal panel and in what looked like some quarantined military base. At the point we had locked in it, she was killing her expressions and completely ignoring the cold. You could tell Katrina had some experience in NYC and much like Casey, she set the camera ablaze.
After our set with Katrina I knew I had one final set with Megan Martin and we would wrap the day. But to be honest, by that time I was nearly spent. My time was coming down to the wire, I knew had to knock it out. My team and I grabbed all my gear and venture back down to the main level where we would stay and I would finish out the day. As predicted, Megan was ready to rock. We began in the basement.
Our first set was on a few old cars that I happened to find in a small room on the back side of the dark and decrepit basement. I knew Megan was tired, but I had to make the best of it. I did some extreme dramatic lighting on top and to the side of the cars, I was happy with it on set, but in the end I wasn't happy with the composition. Quickly we hauled everything into a middle room where it seemed as if everyone photographer wanted to finish their last set. We were all setup in different corners of the room and it seemed as if this was meant to be. I popped off a few shots with Megan in front of a cool green door, she posed with elegance, I got the shot and I called it a day. My mind was burned and I was freezing.
We wrapped right at 4:00pm and I diligently packed up my gear. Everyone quietly discussed the day as we all exited on our own terms. We discussed plans for the evening and decided to meet for drinks and dinner at the Silver Dollar. Once I arrived my mind settled and I scanned through all the images, I realized I had actually nailed some really epic stuff. After we dinner, we said our goodbyes. Excitement was in the air, I returned to my office to immediately edit with Casey Neel who wanted to watch the process.
Everything moved quickly. Within hours Bil and Steve were uploading images. But, I wanted to be more calculated and hit it on high engagement times. My first image came out the following Monday, with a bang. The response was incredible and the out reach of people regarding the concept was amazing in itself. Several edits later, I had completed the project and finalized with the collage. Call me a nerd, but I haven’t had fun in Adobe Phototshop like that for sometime There was a freedom there, that I don't experience a lot.
The world of photography is so competitive and there can be so much drama surrounding it. That day we told the world, you can do it. You can work together to achieve something great.
“Unite, friends. You have the potential, the talent, and the fortitude to take EVERYTHING to the next level. It doesn’t matter who is on top now - fame is fleeting - what matters is, that you are consistently driving yourselves to be OPEN, to MAINTAIN your VALUES and above all…
Do it TOGETHER. Don’t go BACK to the way it was. Ever.
Take yesterday as a new beginning of creative collaboration. Understanding. Those that want to stay the same, fight with each other over the smallest piece of pie, over dollars and cents… let them fight. Let them choke on it.” - Bil Brown
PHOTOGRAPHERS: CLAY COOK, STEVE SQUALL, BIL BROWN, ANTONIO PANTOJA
STYLING: GUNNAR DEATHERAGE, COURTNEY BLANTON, CHINA RAE SOPER, HEATHER LACE PRICE
MAKEUP: MICAH SEVERO RUELAS, MORGAN ELIZABETH
HAIR: MICAH SEVERO RUELAS, RIAN MILLER
ASSISTANCE: SHANNA SIMPSON, JOEY GOLDSMITH, JESSICA CARMEN
BEHIND THE SCENES(PHOTO): DEUCE LEADER, WILL CRAVENS
BEHIND THE SCENES(VIDEO): JOSH ESKRIDGE
Special thanks to Deron and Derek Stienbrecher with The Ice House, Dillard’s and B Chic Louisville. The project came full circle with our individual collages of images. There has been and will be nothing like it for sometime to come.