One of the best parts of the holidays is tradition. Preparing a stuff recipe created by an aunt or grandmother decades earlier. Pulling an ornament out of the box that's been on your tree for as long as you can remember. I try to incorporate tradition into FH whenever I can. There's something comforting and familiar about certain songs, sounds and visual, especially around the holidays.
There's also something exciting. The challenge of reliving something, while at the same time, trying to find new and creative way to experience it. Over the last six years, it has become tradition at FH to join (virtually at least) Gordon Nebeker,Mike Tossy and StudioMGphotograhy on their annual trips to Lake Powell in Utah.
Although I usually post the series around time of US Thanksgiving, the shoot, and the planning, start much earlier. It was back in July, that Mike, Mark and Gordon began planning their trip, beginning the with the search for just the right models to join them. This year, the three photographers had over 50 models who applied for a spot. Choosing the right model can get complicated. Great looks of course are an important factor, but being able to fit the mulit-day trip and shoot into their schedule is also a must.
The three artists behind the camera also all have to agree. Ultimately, they're looking for models who are have their own unique look, yet also visually compliment each other in group shots. There also the need to have models who are at ease shooting with three other models, all who are strangers until the first day of shooting. Add on to that, living with each other, and Mark, Mike and Gordon on a crowed houseboat over the course of the shoot.
'It is never easy to come up with just four names but eventually we get there and notify the models we’ve selected. The first time we all meet up together is at the dock as we set out on the lake. I am leaving out a lot of the necessary preparations but suffice it to say that it is a lot like a duck: calm and efficient on the surface while paddling like hell underneath to make it all work.'
'Every year I am humbled, and floored, by the response to our casting calls. We get so many attractive men wanting to join us these days that the decisions about who to bring along get harder each year. I hate saying no, and especially to a handsome man!'
Although narrowing down their choice to just four wasn't easy, as you can see, Mark and Gordon clearly rose to the challenge. With the dates set, travel plans made, and Aaron, James, Mo and Steven on board, Lake Powell 2019 was officially a go!
Thanks again to Gordon, Mark and Mike for sharing the incredible visuals from this years trip. Be sure not to miss PAGE 2 (HERE:) for my FaVorite FiVE shots from each artist, and of course one of my part of each year's adventure, those behind the scenes pics!
Although most have to fly, given they live on the West Coat, Mark and Mike often take the scenic route, driving from their home in Northern California, West through Nevada, then on to Utah. Sometime, if there's a model along their route, they invite them along for the road trip. This year it was James. In addition to providing some company, Mark and Mike also put their passenger to work, including posing for a few 'preview' shots prior to arriving in Lake Powell.
'Mark and Mike book the boat we will be on for five days and I make the travel arrangements to get the models to the lake. If they are coming from great distances, we fly them into Salt Lake City and I drive them down to the lake (about a six hour drive). If a model is closer by, Mark and Mike may pick them in Vegas on their drive to the lake from California.'
'We picked up James en route to Utah, in Vegas. He'd agreed to drive in with us so that we'd have a third person for the grocery store run prior to boarding the houseboat the next day. Stocking up on food for 5 days, for 7 people, takes some serious planing, and three shopping carts.'
'It's about a 5 hour drive from Vegas to Page, Arizona, where the houseboat marina is (Lake Powell straddles the Utah/Arizona state line). We were making good time so decided to take a break and stretch our legs outside Paria, Utah. The old ghost town is long gone at this point, but the beautiful Paria Badlands did not disappoint! James took it wonderfully in stride when I suggested a short walk, and got my camera out.'
'I was determined to hang a rainbow flag on the houseboat this year. I obsessed over the project in advance. We got to the boat and there was absolute no way I could rig it or reach where I wanted it to go... thank heavens for tall models!'
I totally understand with the obsession to hang the rainbow flag, especially in today's toxic political climate. It's fascinating to me, that I only fully realized my connection to the rainbow this year. I've always loved the flag, and have one hung on my clothes line during Pride each year, but had forgotten an early experience with showing pride.
The pride wasn't exactly gay pride, at least not directly, but it was most certainly connected. When I was about 15, I was working as a Jr counsellor at a summer camp. There was a variety show, I chose to sing The Rainbow Connection, Kermit's big songfrom The Muppet Movie. I rehearsed walking through the woods, in my cabin, on the beach. I rehearsed so much, that I was given a hard time, and told to 'shut up' by many of my fellow counsellors.
The night of the talent show, those shut ups proved fatal, and I froze before I was up, and backed out of singing when it was my turn. I was gutted, but the camp cook, a wonderful woman I thought I was in love with at the time, gave me a pep talk, and encouraged (forced) me to get up and sing the damned song. I thought about that for the first time this past summer, and was grateful for the strength of that rainbow, many years before I was brave enough to come out of the closet. I was planning on posting about this next pride, but thought of that memory when seeing these images. I totally understood the need to sail down Lake Powell out and proud.
'I'm always surprised at the range of work we create, which is somehow different from each other. Our vision might be similar is some ways, yet we still see different qualities in the guys, or pull out different moments or interactions.'
I too am always surprised at the range of work and unique creativity captured each year at Lake Powell. Although the sky's remain an almost painfully striking blue, and the sand and rocks have stood the test of time, weather and man, the visuals captured are always different. In addition to the artistry and eye of the photographers, I'm also convinced the images are strongly impacted by the connection the location has on it's temporary visitors.
Although I've been featuring images from Lake Powell for over six years now, each of the three photographers have maintained their enthusiasm for their return each year. Mark, Mike and Gordon all expressed to me their excitement as the date to depart drew near. Like a child at Christmas, the lead up and anticipation seems a huge part of the fun.
Another huge aspect of the fun is being able to introduce a new group of models to the magic the location cascades over it's guests. This year was no exception. A quick glance at Steven, Mo, Aaron and James' Instagram, show four men hit with the powerful forces released from land, water and sky. Long after each returned home, the Lake Powell experience lingered in their emotions and thoughts.
I think it's the individual connections each model makes with their environment that makes the images from each year's shoot uniquely special These connections, both physical and spiritual, are visible in the images. From their physical contact with the land and rocks, from the heat from the sun and sand on their skin, each model gives off an rare energy, an energy not experienced in their day to day lives, one exclusive to their time in Lake Powell.
'Our model team for this year was wonderful but we have been very lucky every year to have great guys to work with. Aaron was probably our most experienced model and had worked in natural outdoor settings before. In addition to modeling, Aaron designs clothing and jewelry and is a trained dancer.'
'Mo' is also a professional dancer and a quick learner who can naturally fall into a good pose. James is newer to modeling than the others but is also a quick study and was eager to take on any challenging assignments. Steven knows how to “stand and model” and is very aware of how to display his considerable talents. Although each model is unique, we were pleased at how well they worked together and how they bonded as friends as the week progressed.'
'Once again we were lucky with our guys; Aaron, James, Mo and Steven. They got along famously. All four had dance experience - and I do love working with dancers - ranging from gogo dancing to formal training. They each brought something different, and wonderful, to the collaboration.'
The vastness of the area, is one of the reasons the trio of photographers are able to always find new locations, rock formations, and visually stunning nooks and crannies to shoot. Mike shared previously, that for each location, even down to each shot, he, Mark and Gordon try to position themselves to catch three unique perspectives.
If Gordon is directing and shooting the models at eye level, Mark will crouch or lay on the ground, or climb on a rock, to shoot up or down at them. Mike will then position himself to the far right or left, catching the models almost 90 degrees off the directed pose. That, in addition to their different post processing styles, ensure that rarely do they capture the same shot. These different shooting positions, also support capturing some great behind the scenes action shots of the photographers at work.
In addition to their different shooting styles and positions, each of the three artists capture images with a nexus to their own perspective and vision. Lake Powell is all about connection, and Mike's images personify this so beautifully. In each of Mike's images you can feel a depth of connections between the models, the model and artist, and the model and artist with their surroundings. I think the shot below is one of my favorites from this year's trip, and beautifully illustrates the theme and feel of connection.
'Everyone was quick to volunteer for any ideas we tossed out. Occasionally it seemed like a race to see who could jump out of the speedboat and get ashore first if we only wanted one or two guys in the shot!'
One of the reasons Mark, Mike and Gordon make such excellent shooting partner's is what similarities and differences they bring to their work. Obviously each share a passion for shooting the male form, but it goes beyond just that. Working with each photographer over the years, they have both a shared vision and a combined respect for both the artists they shoot, and the process and artistry involved.
Although their styles are different, they also beautifully complimentary. It's difficult to choose just one word to describe a style, but there is something about each that stands out whenever I see their Utah imagery. Although each adjective can apply to all three of the photographers, there is one aspect I feel radiates from their work.
I'm always blown away by Gordon's ability to capture the beauty of his subjects, both their physical form, and piece of their core beauty as well. With Mike's imagery, I always sense the joy. I always get the feeling that Mike truly enjoys being behind the camera, and it radiates through his images. With Mark, it's most definitely the drama. Mark seems to have a flair for capturing breathtaking moments, full of powerful emotion. Through touch, movement and pose Mark's images have an erotically charged energy that is both visible and felt by the viewer.
'The weather was perfect - high 80’s, low 90’s and we had no rain to speak of. I guess you could say that after our fourth trip there, we have it down pat! The lake is so large that we have yet to repeat a photo shoot site on the lake. The water level affects shoot locations and the water was up 20 feet higher than last year.'
FH may remember that I wrote about my (failed) attempt at photography when I was in high school and at University. Although I shot a few weddings, and a few golden retrievers, I ended up giving it up. Gordon Nebekeris one of those artists who consistently inspires me to pick it back up again. So many artists impress me with their work, but Gordon's always inspires. From the first images of his that I saw over a decade ago, and every shoot since. Gordon's work captures what I feel is the essence of what I love so much about images of the male form.
So many photographers can capture a hot naked men, but Gordon's work is so much more systemic. No matter the model, whether it be a thirty-something year old professional, or a nineteen year old newbie, I can always feel history. Gordon encapsulates so beautifully so many classic elements of photographing the male form, but with his own unique vision and style. Although beauty is at it's core, Gordon's focus feels bigger than any one body, or any particular body part... Gordon 's images project the majesty of the male form, and an absolute respect for his subjects and the art form that he loves.
This absoluteness is most intensely seen and experienced through Gordon's time in Lake Powell. Gordon's passion comes through, not only in his incredible images, but in his passion, and the work he puts into the yearly shoot. Gordon is the heart of the Lake Powell adventures, and he always plays a lead role in helping me organize, and put together the pieces for FH each year.
For the last several years, Gordon has chronicled his passion project into a book, and this years edition is now available. The incredible visual scrapbook is available in a large print edition, as well as an affordable e-book edition ready to download. Check Muscles and Mountains: Lake Powell IV on Blurb HERE:
'The 4 guys were always joking around. I ended up with lots of "blooper" shots where they are talking or laughing and not exactly projecting that stoic model vibe. Occasionally the outtakes were too good to not toss!'
Notwithstanding the breathtaking location, some of the hottest views from each Lake Powell shoot come from the behind the scenes moments. I've always loved 'process' shots, but the process of executing the Lake Powell trip is beyond a regular run of the mill photo shoot. Taking three talented artists, along with four hot, and usually naked models, on a cramped houseboat always produces a stimulating inside look at how the many pieces all manage to fit together.
There are so many opportunities for great behind the scenes moments, and these visuals often tell the stories better than words. Mark shooting Mike shooting James. Gordon shooting Mark shooting Mo. Models prepping and undressing for a shot or climbing rocks to get in the just the right position along the side of the cliff.
Each year, some of my favorite Behind the scenes shots come the deck of the houseboat. Not only is it the perfect place to work on that all over tan, it also has the famous outdoor shower, the setting of many great BTS moments from over the years.
'James was first awake every day, showering under the outdoor shower before sunrise. All the guys were early risers making it easy for us to start shooting during the wonderful early morning light.'
'I miss waking up early to shower outside on the house boat. Those sunrises on the lake were so peaceful. Lake Powell was more than I had expected. I'm grateful to have been a part of this photoshoot with such a beautiful landscape. I'm glad for working with the photographers and fellow models, such good energy here.'