Adversity and Good Fortune
Things went wrong on a variety of scale, from the mildly frustrating through to the near catastrophic. Everything from a mild bee sting on my leg (my first!) through losing 6 models in one day (five were supposed to be backups), to finding all our potential shoot locations off limits. I've never seen a more secured wasteland than the scrub-land of Albuquerque. Everything is fenced off and posted "No Trespassing" even when there isn't much more than random tumbleweed to secure.
It wasn't till the day of the eclipse that we finally got a go-ahead from the owner of our prime location and the last linchpin of our shoot fell into place, only hours before the eclipse. It was a moment of great relief for me -- that everything that was conceived was going to happen. Considering the adversity we faced, sudden success seemed hard to believe, like a first draft script of a bad reality TV show.
Yet not all went badly. Weather had been a threat clouding my mind for a long time, and yet it was a nearly perfectly clear sky. My estimate for a clear sky in May in Albuquerque was accurate, though perhaps this was more luck than anything else. I transferred through Denver to get to Albuquerque, and it was cloudy and rainy there, only one hour's flight time away.
Another recurring nightmare was the thought of thousands of eclipse groupies wrecking the solemn solitude of my shot. In fact, Albuquerque as a region was besieged by enthusiasts from everywhere and in some noted places, quite crowded. As it turns out, even on the very cattle ranch we set up shop, there were thousands of cars parked in a carnival atmosphere, only just past the sand dune we occupied with a satisfied serenity as we found out afterwards.
Knowledge of making Women look Beautiful comes in Handy
Perhaps the most revealing part of this experience was that we successfully recruited a traveler from an adjacent hotel suite as a stand in for the AWOL models. Just a woman who flew in just to take photos like everyone else, and bless her heart she had the faith and presence of mind to accept an invitation from three strange men to come out to a desolate desert and be our model. When you think about it, its pretty crazy. But this whole project was nuts to begin with. Our good fortune was to find a free spirit whose greatest concern was whether she was "model material".
And I didn't want to laugh outright because that would have been impolite and would have conceivably risked losing our last option to capture these unique images. But of all the potential pitfalls to be concerned about on this project, whether I could make an ordinary woman look beautiful was not even remotely on that list. I assured her that I would make her look beautiful. I just needed her to be willing, and leave the rest to me. And indeed, following a quick "how to look super-sexy" training session in the hotel parking lot, it was so.
What we Learned
Perhaps victory in something grand is not meant to come easily. I didn't set out for an "adventure", or for "challenges". I'm well past the age for that kind of youthful character building exercise. I just wanted to get some beautiful and unique images. Adventurous challenges were a frustrating obstacle in my path towards getting them, at times engendering a feeling of humiliation and impending defeat. Somehow we managed to make it work. And for that, I am grateful. Grateful that the circumstances came together to allow it, grateful to my assistants for backing me up and brainstorming solutions with me, and grateful for a young lady from New Jersey who had enough faith in three strangers to join our intrepid team and be the centerpiece of our project.
We learned that there is no "I" in team. We learned to trust ourselves and others who share our passions. We learned that photographing an eclipse without a filter on your camera will not set it on fire or damage your sensor. We learned that if we were really determined, we could be responsible and not look directly at an eclipse.
Photo by Steve Griffey (right)
You can view slides of the experience here.
And you can purchase some of the images here.
SolArt Project 2012