'We all came at it from a similar perspective, yet saw things wonderfully differently quite often.'
Photographers Mark Grantham and Mike Tossy both made their first appearance on FH back in May of 2009 with a New Face of the Day piece on model J Phoenix. Gordon Nebeker, I had struggled to find contact information for, but we finally connected for our first of many collaborations in 2011.
All three artists remain favorites to feature, not only because of how their imagery inspires, but because of there generosity, caring, and their immense respect and support for the models they work with. Last year, I was thrilled when Gordon brought Tom Clark into a series of pieces featuring their incredible work with Aaron last summer in Utah. I had been a fan of Tom's work for years and was honoured to officially be able to feature his artistry, and welcomed the chance to feature his work.
One of the most fascinating things about the visual arts is perspective. With FH, and it's focus on the male form, it is always interesting to see how different artists see, uses and eventually captures a specific model. Not all of the collaborations create magic, some images catch fire, while others fail to light even a tiny spark. The work of each of these four artists consistently leads to imagery that visually stimulates and emotionally communicates with me. This is the reason, I continually but them to feature their work, as often as I possibly can!
'Photographers are known to have flights of fancy and thus was born the idea of four photographers who know each other to do a joint photo shoot in Southern Utah. In late June of this year, Mark Grantham and Mike Tossy drove from their home in California to meet up with Tom Clark of Salt Lake City and Gordon Nebeker from Boston for a two day shoot. Three Utah models, Aaron, John, and Jed were recruited for the occasion and at the appointed hour we all met at a remote parking lot to begin our trek through the wilds of the San Rafael Swell country.'
Above: Tom Clark levitating with (l-r) Aaron, John and Jed
'We traveled on bumpy dirt roads to abandoned mines, narrow slot canyons, and picturesque rivers flowing at the bottom of tall rock formations, stopping along the way whenever one of us saw photographic opportunities. The weather was hot but not oppressively so, though risk of sunburn and insect attacks were a reality. Kudos to our excellent models for whom nothing was too much to ask for and all of us were asking and directing, often at the same time! “Can you look this way?”, “Can you climb that rock over there?”. “Look pensive”, “Look at peace”, “don’t look at the camera” and on it went. Amazingly, the models all smiled and did what was asked of them and the photographers patiently waited their turns to direct the scene.'
Below: Mike hard at work on his next set-up
'Perhaps the greatest ’take-away’ was what we all learned from each other by observing how each photographer works. And most importantly, we were glad to have worked together and gotten to know each other better. There were challenges to be sure; running out of gas in the middle of no-where and a health crisis about as far away from medical attention as is possible to get, to name but two. But everybody lived and none of us regret being in the magnificent wilds of Southern Utah doing what we enjoy the most: taking and making photographs. Hope you enjoy! '
The words above from Gordon Nebeker beautifully give an overview of the photographic journey, and touches on some of the joys and challenges of the Utah experience. I could not help but feel however, there was more.... Not necessarily something more I needed to know, the images tell an incredible story all on their own, and Gordon's words give wonderful perspective and background.
I still however, annoyingly wanted the other side of the story. I was originally going to write commentary comparing images, themes, and locations. Taking specific images from each artist and putting them side by side for discussion. That would have been fairly easy. You can see from the images above, with each set-up, there were different angles and perspectives captured. You can see the different vantages points that Gordon and Mike each captured Aaron within the slots of the cavern, both angles beautifully capturing Aaron's incredible form and all that surrounds him.
There are clearly similarities in some shots, such as in the image above from Mark, and the image below from Tom, featuring Aaron and John. Yet, they completely blow the theory of 'capturing a moment' out of the water. Each of the two images was captured virtually at the exact same second of time, yet as alike as they are at first glance, the slightest difference in angle, space and artist perspective can change how that moment is frozen, interpreted and remembered. Even captured moments in time, are at the mercy, or skill of the artist who captures them.
I am not sure it is because of my familiarity with each of the artists work, but aspects of what I see, what I love most, is in many cases what first drew me to their work to begin with. Gordon's ability to capture incredible shots of skin, movement and flow and specific body positioning. Mike's skill at capturing dramatic moments and the essence or a personality trait of each of the models in front of his lens. Mark's excellence at freezing both beautiful body lines and energy. Toms way of interconnecting the bodies of the models he shoots, and the almost magical way he channels pieces of the history and culture of the location which surrounds his subjects. Each if the four brilliantly synthesis model and form with location. Aaron, Jed and John don't look as if they were brought here to pose, but appear as if their naked bodies were born from the land, predestined to live and love within the creeks and canyons.
Although my words above are sincere, I know too, they only tell one side of the story. The story of finish, that end result after the photos are taken and edited. That is why, I decided my words had to stop at this point, and Tom, Gordon, Mike and Mark's must be the only words that follow. I was or course interested in their thoughts on their work and images, but I was most fascinated in what occurred before and after each click. With 4 talented artists, 3 incredible models, journeying through Utah together, you know there there must be stories... The location, the obstacles, the unexpected surprises and gifts they encountered along the way.
When one takes a road trip, one must start with a mode of transportation, a vehicle. So lets begin at the beginning. This particular vehicle became one of my personal favorite locations from the shoot. Although not drivable, with four visual artists along for the ride, there were more than a few miles left to ride.
'Four photographers "of a certain age," and three younger and striking models would all be descending on the crossroads hamlet of Hanksville, Utah (population 214), for the night. There’s actually a perfectly nice family-run motel in town, plus a couple of okay restaurants, and two gas station/mini-marts. It’s all surrounded by miles of summer-sun baked prairie and, at first glance, little else. Mike and I, driving out from California, were arriving a day early. Tom had been concerned with us finding the group if we met in the field (with no local cell service) and logistically it made sense for us to arrive early and be rested for the big shoot days.'
'The rest of the group, Tom & Jed, and Gordon, John, and Aaron, were all driving down from SLC. Because of schedules the 7 of us would have 4 SUV’s between us, and be sharing 3 hotel rooms. Over the years I think Hanksville has seen it all – the motel certainly didn’t bat an eye at our group of 7. The other guests our first night were a Scandanavian biker group on a Harley tour across the state, so we were the quiet ones…'
Jed, Aaron & John by Tom Clark
'The old car. What a fun prop! Before long the models were engaged in a playful pantomimed driving trip. Then the car became a stage for yoga moves. And, finally a back drop for some goofing around with a car grill. Not the car's grill - that was long gone - but some car grill left nearby.'
'Our models, Aaron, John, and Jed, were all real troopers! When we got to the abandoned car, nobody said, “Its too dirty" or “it looks unsafe” or the ultimate, “you are joking, right?”. They all just stripped down, jumped in, and had fun with it. The photos are evidence of their talent and sense of adventure.'
'The cost of Mike and Mark's rookie mistake of not filling the gas tank, became apparent as the gas mileage plummeted once off the highway and on dirt roads. By the car photo spot, it was clear that their SUV had only enough gas to return; not enough to continue out and return. So we left their vehicle there and consolidated into the three remaining SUVs. We would later return, after sunset, to drive out on fumes in the dark. '
'Despite my obvious love of tarnished locations and setting man against that sort of backdrop usually, I was so overwhelmed with the beauty surrounding. The guys were absolutely great, and even this early in our shoot really threw themselves at the prop/set with abandon. I did love their 3 related, but very different, yoga poses here.'
''I had photographed Aaron and John together twice before and worked many times with each of them individually. But this time we were adding a wild card to the mix with Jed whose look and style is completely different than theirs. Rather than being a distraction to the trio he added a counterpoint of visual interest and flowed seamlessly with whatever John and Aaron were doing. Each of the models is an athlete and skilled in his own particular discipline; Aaron is an aerialist and acrobat, John is a yogi and Jed is a martial artist and weaponist. The combination of their strengths, styles and disciplines made for some compelling moments as each of them infused the trio with their own creativity and athleticism. '
Embrace: -press to the bosom; hug.
-to take in with the eye or the mind.
-to encircle; surround, enclose
-to include or contain
Jed by Gordon Nebeker
'We initially met up at a local state park. It was really hot, so we gathered under the only available shade, a large communal structure. I have no doubt the sight of four older men ( the photographers ) and three hot young guys ( the models ) caused a few comments amongst families sharing the rest area; especially when Gordon started collecting the modeling fees from the photographers and counting them out and distributing them to the models.'
'Next day we headed for one of the slot canyons for which this area is famous. Dry most of the time, slot canyons are subjected to flash floods that scour and shape the rock. In the narrows there a sections where to avoid scraping shoulders on both sides of the slot, the models needed to walk sideways. Privacy was ensured by sending a photographer ahead of the group to act as lookout and having a second lookout lag behind. A signal word was suppose to be used to tell the models to put on shorts. For reasons i never understood, our signal word was "pineapple". Pineapple is an exceptionally hard word to work into a natural sounding sentence in southern Utah. So the absurd shout of "pineapple" did nothing to mask what was going on from other hikers; but, at least, none of the models were caught with their, umm, pineapples hanging out.'
'Choosing remote locations is important, given the work we all do with nude models, and with only a few exceptions where “pineapple” had to be yelled out (which meant someone was coming), we were left to our work without interruptions.'
'The natural beauty of Utah wowed me again this year. I’d been amazed last year when we’d driven to Salt Lake City for another of Tom’s photo workshops on the Great Salt Lake. This year the scenery was completely different, and once again wondrous. Mountains rising straight out of the plains, striated buttes in reds and golds and greys and every color in between. Narrow bands of greenery cut through the valleys following streams while undulating grasses swept across the plains. All of this under vibrant blue skies and the occasional fluffy white cloud. The journey being part of the fun, our route had taken us through the Mojave Desert, Las Vegas, more desert, and finally Capitol Reef National Park. The hot spot was the Mojave at 110, but probably the lowest daytime temperature we’d seen anywhere was 90. The southwest was hot this summer!
Next two images from Mark Grantham
'With four photographers, it was a challenge to not appear in each other’s photographs, especially when we got to the stone pedestal since one could move 360 degrees around the pedestal and in the slot canyons where one had to walk single file to pass through. In the slot canyon, Mark and I ended up with almost the identical photograph of Aaron as he had to shoot over my shoulder while I was shooting because there simply was no room for either of us to step to the side. Fortunately, it was a good photograph for both of us!'
'With four of us photographers all focused on the same three guys in the same settings one would think that the images would be overlapping and perhaps even repetitive. But each of us sees things differently and our resulting images from two days of shooting clearly indicate a unique and personal style no matter the sameness of what was going on in front of us.'
Letting go of ego when tandem shooting with other photographers is something I learned to enjoy a few years back because it's so satisfying to watch them work and interact with these models that I've had so much experience with on my own. There is always enough of what the models are doing for each of us photographers to get what we want and come home sated and thrilled. Stepping back often throughout the shoot and letting the other photographers take charge is a lot more gratifying than one would imagine and on this shoot perhaps more than ever before I really enjoyed doing it.'
'I have always loved pinion pines that were large, knurled, and dead and when we passed some on our way to “the creek”, I suggested we stop and take some photographs. It was about the worst condition you can imagine for photographers: dry, a bit dusty, full sun and it was about one o’clock so the sun was beating down on top of us. And yet, I was amazed to see what wonderful photographs my fellow photographers were able to capture under those difficult conditions. It was a great warm-up for the rest of the day for all of us.'
'It was here, against this backdrop of beauty (Southern Utah) that we had come to create...'
Aaron, Jed & John by Gordon Nebeker
'At, “the creek”, it was with some nervousness that the model's undressed, not knowing when, or from where, members of the horde might appear. This being Utah, I think “the Creek” was officially a river. Either way the water was briny enough to leave a salt encrusted "bath tub ring" when river floods recede. The red rock was spectacular. Up one of the side canyons was private enough for lots of photography, at least numerically our most successful spot. Here also was “the podium”, potentially a very public spot, but miraculously, the hordes did not appear.'
'Our first stop was seemingly nowhere special. Just some gnarled old Piñon trees with far distant mountains in the background. The harsh lighting yielded some of my favorite Black and White images of the trip. A red filter gave them an almost infrared look.'
'We had arbitrarily hiked upriver trying to avoid the crowd. This turned out to be a lucky guess. One of us ( a bearish photographer - not a hot model ) was wearing a Hula's ( the Honolulu gar bar ) t-shirt and was cruised in the horde’s camp that evening. A lucky choice indeed! According to this informant, the the horde was all downstream! They were a TV crew filming a nature documentary for, I think perhaps, the Discovery Channel. The scenery is that amazing!'
Jed by Mike Tossy
'The first night of our shoot (Sunday), we all got back very late to the motel where we were staying in Hanksville, owing to a side trip to get gas for two of our three cars that had run out. I know there are some out there who would like to think that on a photo road trip like this, the ‘over nights’ are an occasion to party hearty and with abandon. Had we been so inclined (which we were not!) I am not sure anyone of us could have kept our eyes open more than five minutes after we got back to the motel. Tromping through the desert on a warm day is hard work and we were all exhausted!'
'I was having some health issues before the trip which were exacerbated by the failure of my mail order pharmacy to deliver my prescriptions before I left for the trip. I thought I could push through for the two days and not be too worse for the wear but on the second day in the afternoon in the middle of the slot canyon, I hit the proverbial brick wall. I had become dehydrated and nauseated and my vision became quite blurry. With the help of my shoot-mates, I managed to hike back to the cars but I realized there was no way I could drive the four and a half hours back to Salt Lake City.'
'Fortunately, one of the models (Aaron) rode down from Salt Lake with me for the shoot and was planning on riding back with me as well. Bless his heart, I just handed him my car keys and told him he was going to have to get us home because i was in no condition to drive. I will be eternally grateful he got us back (I remember almost none of the trip back) and then the emergency room was the next stop for me which led to a two day stay in the hospital. All is well now and in spite of the ending, I do not regret making the trip. We all had a great time together doing what we love to do (making photographs) and I have heard talk of another photographic outing in 2015. Stay tuned!'
John, Jed & Aaron by Mark Grantham
'Photographers Mike, Mark and Gordon are all friends both personally and professionally and I've done tandem shoots with all of them before. Ditto for our three models who are all close to my heart and mainstays in my work. This was a bigger adventure than our other shoots together though and even with the challenges that we faced we had a great time together. Our yearly outings into the wildlands of Utah for pictures are proving to be highly anticipated and productive and the wheels are already turning for the summer of 2015.'
'My experience with models like Aaron, John and Jed is that if I give them a context and then turn them loose they will gift me with ideas and poses that I would have never come up with on my own. Watching the three of them work and play together was as entertaining as it was productive and I spent a lot of the time we were shooting smiling and giggling at their antics. With experienced models like this the trick is to not get too involved in posing them but rather fine-tuning things once they had nailed what they were after; a foot turned slightly inwards here, a hand lower on the thigh there or a head thrown back on occasion. But by and large letting them do their thing and being ready to trip the shutter when the moment was right. '