Sunday, April 10, 2011

Uncharted Destination

Sometimes having to feel our way along the path leads us toward an opportunity to discover something new, spurring our creativity in unforeseen ways.  Like many aspects of my work, it's this adventure that's one of the most rewarding dividends.

Just came back from doing a shoot yesterday.  It had been a fairly prolonged interchange of emails and endless text messages, working out a date and time for the shoot with Pang so I was glad to finally have it all set.  We were hoping to shoot at my studio (well, I was), or near my home where I have many spots eyed out for location shoots, but in the end she could not get the car to drive down to my area.  She lives about two hours drive from me, and in a an area I had not rightly explored - in fact, I'd never been to that city.  It was a question of going to her location, or not working together this weekend.

I wasn't completely enthused about the idea of going up there for the shoot initially.  I have such a backlog of locations and studio ideas I want to do around home, and I'd really hoped to check a few of those off with Pang.  Also, we had no indoor locations available to us, and the weather is not all that predictable this time of year.  A few days before the shoot, Pang told me about an abandoned house one of her photographer friends had mentioned, and she planned to get the details from him, if possible (that idea had me pretty stoked).  In the end, and of little surprise, the photog friend was not forthcoming with any information on the abandoned house, so I was pretty much left to my own devices.

However, I know from past experience that heading off for the "uncharted destination" does hold the promise of adventure and surprises - hopefully pleasant surprises.  This turned out to be that kind of day.

A first I thought of renting a hotel room and doing at least some of the shots from there.  Once I looked online, however, all I could find were things like Motel 6, Marriott Courtyard, Hampton Inns, ... whatever.  Pretty much the same old boring hotel stuff.  Not my cup of tea.  If I could have found some old relic of an inn from days gone by, I'd be all over it.  But those are pretty hard to find in California.  So more creativity was called into duty.  I did some virtual "driving around" on Google Maps, taking in some of the rural roads and mapping out some potential spots, including an old cemetery, a somewhat famous bridge in the area, and various farms that had interesting looking barns and outbuildings.  I printed out a few maps the day before, with "X-marks-the-spot" notes of sights to scout out.

We weren't scheduled to meet up until 2:00 PM, so I'd planned to get an early start and do some reconnaissance for a few hours before we'd meet.  That didn't quite work out, though, as my Saturday morning was quite hectic getting all my gear squared away (prepare for anything), and lining up the wardrobe.  I assembled nearly all of the wardrobe for this shoot, as I'm inclined to do for most shoots these days.  In the end, I didn't get to her area until about one hour before the shoot.

I took the first exit to check one of the country roads I'd spotted just before getting to town, and visited the old graveyard.  It looked pretty cool, but I was feeling a little bit ambivalent about doing a photo shoot in the cemetery.  Made some quick mental notes and drove on down the road.  I saw a few cool looking farms, and stopped at a few of them to inquire if I could shoot.  Nobody was home at two of them (one was very spooky looking - "Texas Chainsaw Massacre?"), but the third spot was the jackpot.  A woman answered the door, and when I explained I was looking for a loc for a fashion model photo shoot, her pre-teen daughter (listening at her side) exclaimed, "Mom, that is so cool!!!"  I think that was the clincher.  The woman was so kind, she walked me around the grounds and showed me the various barns and whatnot that we could use.  I was so pleased!  I gave her my card and told her we'd be back in the late afternoon, to catch the sweet light.

I was running low on time, so made my way toward town.  I spotted a few possibilities along the way, including a seasonal creek, a railroad track, various mental notes made.  Then I made a wrong turn (wrong turns are a key ingredient for adventure and happy accidents) and found myself on the grounds of the local college campus.  Made a few more mental snapshots of the structures here, then found my way back to the road I was supposed to be on, and went on to meet Pang - I even got there on time.

Pang and I had a fairly long day of it, but I don't think either of us wanted to stop.  By the end of the shoot we'd picked off six locations, including the college campus, a dormant vineyard, a grassy creekside setting, a grafitti coverd bridge tressel, a railroad track, and a farm - replete with old tractors and implements, cattle fencing, and musty old barns.  I'll be posting a of the shots over the next few months, but for now I'm keen on sharing the experience in itself.

Reflecting on the day, I can say that it's doubtful I could have "designed" as diverse and rich a setting as we serendipitously happened across.  At the same time, I can say that it often turns out this way.  I was explaining to Pang, as we drove from one site to the next, that the photographer's eye is tuned in to look at the surroundings differently that a casual observer.  I find that I'm typically blocking out the panorama, and cropping everything out to find that little nook, that special corner, that sculpture, or fountain, or sheet of glass that can make a potentially great backdrop for a takeaway shot.

I would be remiss if failing to mention the added bonus of connecting with other people along the way.  I've mentioned this in other blogs - the hotel staff, the manager of the coffee shop, this time the woman and her young daughter at the farm - it's really enriching to make these even brief acquaintances that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been on this quest.  How lucky am I!

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