One rainy morning, on impulse, I texted one of my models, Jessica Graham* and asked her if she’d be up for shooting in the rain with me. Jessica is possibly the most fearless woman I know. She has this amazing confidence and adventurous approach that make you feel like you could say, “Hey, my concept is that we roll you in Cheetos and then run, barefoot, through the snow”. Jessica is an author, actor, and teacher. She is also a woman who at 38, I feel very comfortable asking to do certain things I wouldn’t ask another model to do. Such as taking off her dress.
But I digress.
Basically, my original concept pretty much fell apart the moment Jess pulled up to my house. The steady rain we’d been having all morning stopped. The clouds opened, revealing a bright, sunny sky. Still trying to save my original concept, I asked Jessica to hop into my shower while wearing the dress I’d selected for our shoot. I figured it was likely that it would start to rain again, or at the minimum, the clouds would roll back in as we were predicted to have rain until the next day. Didn’t happen. Instead got brighter and warmer and everything dried up. Including her dress, which apparently was created with some sort of space-age 60’s fabric designed to dry instantaneously. As we hiked up to the location, I thought: “Well, at least we have wind”. Hearing my thoughts, God promptly calmed the wind. Now, I might have mentioned somewhere that I have not yet gotten to goal number 11 of getting in better shape. As we trudged up the muddy hill, I may have started shedding props and wardrobe. Things were getting brighter and lighter by the moment. We scrambled up part of the trail and I slid back down. While I was muddy from the waist down, I didn’t let the camera or lens slip, so I mentally high-fived myself. But the tumble made me decide to leave all but my Tamron 24-70mm 2.8 in my bag, safely at the bottom of the trail with all my props, all the wardrobe, all basically, all my former concepts for this shoot.
We got to the top of the hill and I asked Jessica spin herself. Sometimes I had her do it slowly, sometimes I asked her to speed up. I found myself liking the movements she made when off-balanced. I asked her to keep repeating, and she would plant her feet to try to steady herself. At some point, I felt like she and I merged. Her movements started telling MY story. She was expressing my week, my month, my struggle to maintain equilibrium, to stay composed under changing skies, both literally and figuratively. I think it’s important to say here that I don’t equate being off-balance with anything bad. On the contrary, I find challenges, changes, shake-ups are often inspiring. I have been struggling with being too “safe” — not wanting to experiment for fear of failing, alienating my audience or my model, falling short of expectations. In this non-ideal scenario, I found some courage. I played with light I wasn’t used to shooting in. We played with different, off-balance poses. My original idea was about transparency, a second skin. As the shoot progressed, I decided that Jessica, with her confidence, maturity and philosophy towards life, would be the ideal model to ask to shed this second skin: the dress. Now, just as additional background, I went to art school. I am very comfortable with the naked human body. Models should always make an informed consent when taking on these sorts of artistic projects, otherwise these projects can quickly become exploitative, no matter how artistic the intention.
“Heroes are never born fearless. They become heroes by facing their fears, by meeting them head on and saying, ‘You do not control me, or own me anymore.”
“You are damaged and broken and unhinged. But so are shooting stars and comets.”
“I hope you never doubt again that even when you are in pain, that you are a miracle, that every part of you is incredible.”
I also made a simpler series with no overlays, just stripped down black and white imagery. As this series includes artistic nudity, you might want to stop scrolling now if you are not someone who likes nudity.