It was on a cold drizzly February morning and I had convinced Laura Gwendolyn Burch to attempt some artistic compositions at the Lookout Arts Quarry in Alger. The previous fall I had spent a couple of days at a Creative Live workshop with Brooke Shaden and was enthused with the idea of creating composites. I have always been drawn to the process, especially when I can create something that goes a little further than what is expected in the physical world.
There were to be two shots attempted. The first was to have Laura suspended from the zip line on silks over the quarry lake. The key shot was her in the splits and then series of shots whipping the silks in different directions. With the assistance of Claire Cassidy, Eric James and Greg Dotson, Laura was lowered half way down the zipline and I was on a floating dock below, camera on a tripod with an umbrella gaff taped to a light stand to keep the camera dry. While the dock was solid, it did move slightly which would add to the effort of matching backgrounds in the composite. We had a row boat ready in case Laura ended up in the water, her costume was one normally reserved for the heated indoors, not the 40 degree rainy February morning. The shot went off without a hitch and we got Laura pulled back up to the top without a trip into the lake. She was cold and we got her wrapped up and in the van to warm up while I set up the second shot.
The next shot was to be an artist portrait rather than a performance based one. I had had this image in my head for a while now and after my time with Brooke in Seattle I felt I could realistically make an attempt to pull it off. It would involve putting Laura wrapped in a black and gold piece of cloth (not a dress mind you, just a piece of cloth) on top of a ladder that was sunk in the quarry just below the surface of the water. I would get the key shot first and then have her flip out a piece of the cloth in different directions so there would be coverage completely around her that I would assemble into a billowing dress as she appeared to float on the surface of the water. I had bought about 30 lbs of dry ice to sink in the water around the ladder to produce smoke/fog on the water surface. There was enough dry ice to make one attempt of the dress composite so we got everything as squared away as much as possible. I was guessing I had about five minutes to pull off the shot after the dry ice went in.
With a pair of waders on I got the ladder positioned in the quarry and sunk the dry ice. I then put Laura on my shoulders and carried her out to the ladder. Without wasting any time, I made the key shot, then all the cloth pieces, maybe 80 shots in all. I went back out to get Laura off the ladder and we got her wrapped up and back in the running van to warm her up. She was extremely cold, her effort was tremendous.
I could have not pulled this off without the help Claire and Eric (and Greg for the first shot on the zipline). Of all the people that have assisted me on my shoots Claire was by far the best. It was always an extreme pleasure to have her on set. I rarely needed to make any detailed explanation of what I was thinking when she was assisting me, just a few words, an expression and a gesture or two and she was rearranging what ever needed to be changed, always helping the model. She is quite a remarkable human being.
While these are early attempts at making fine art composites they will always be the most rewarding to me. Especially the joy of working with such talented and wonderful people in conditions that were not for the faint of heart.