By now it's no secret that Aaron and I work well together with the resulting images often reaching deep into my classical sense of aesthetics. Aaron's natural athleticism coupled with his innate sense of himself and his body are a rich source of raw material from which to work. The painterly feel to some of my images of him are a result of many years of experimenting to move the flattened and saturated feel of digital into something more closely resembling film. The surprise to me was that this process sometimes led to the images also looking like paintings rather than photographs. There is no template to the process - sometimes it happens rather quickly and other times it can go on for what seems like forever to get exactly where I want to be. I don't start with the end in mind - I just keep going till something in me is satisfied and says yes, that works.
There have been times when I've had to abandon a particular image because it just wasn't working. What I've learned from that is that it's the raw image itself that needs to be strong in order for me to build upon it. Trial & error is the only way to know and I'm comfortable with letting an image go, no matter the time invested, if it becomes clear that I'm not getting anywhere with it. The images of Aaron, like all of the images of other models that I work with, are carefully chosen after countless hours of pouring over the raw proofs. It can be an arduous process of slimming the choices down to just a few so I've learned to go with my first instincts and then go back, sometimes months later, to look at everything with fresh eyes. These two images of Aaron are a result of looking back with fresh eyes at a shoot we did last summer.
One of my more fascinating discoveries of the past several years is Dan Hancock who I happened to meet quite by chance at a gathering of creatives here in Utah. Instantly intrigued by his energy, his enthusiasm and his looks I had the chance to take some quick pictures of Dan that evening but knew that those few pictures would never be enough. Our first official shoot took place in my backyard on a windy evening after dark when Dan fired danced for me. I had never photographed anyone working with fire so there were a lot of hits and misses when it came to getting it right. Sitting at my laptop reviewing the images though I knew I'd stumbled onto someone who was fully capable of bringing my artistry to life in a way that no one ever had before. All I could think about was how soon I could get him out onto the Great Salt Lake to do some more work together.
Our shoot out on the big salty lake in late fall was amazing; we worked for many hours waiting for it to get dark so we could do some fire dancing pictures on the water. This time I got it right even though by the time we were done my feet were aching and numb from standing in the cold water. Never mind that Dan was out there in the water completely naked with his double-ended torch. I was so cold and miserable all I could think about was how quickly we could get this over with so I could get back to the car and thaw my feet out. We got some memorable shots so in the end it was worth it. Dan never complained once and completely blew me away with his skills, his wild abandon and his beautiful, primal presence in front of the camera. The above image of Dan just at the moment the sun was slipping behind the distant mountains is one of those rare moments when everything comes together so perfectly that I just have to stand back and go wow! How did that happen?
Dan is a complex man with deep rivers of passion and lofty ideals that underwrite his extraordinary physicality. He doesn't need to be coached as much as just given a context and allowed to run free within it. His powerful, unadorned maleness leaped into being that day with one beautiful and powerful image after another. If Dan were just a list of parts, his wild mane of hair, his beautiful body, his ruggedly handsome face and his mad skills with fire we wouldn't have these pictures. It's what comes from within Dan that sets him apart and brings all of the disparate parts of him into a oneness in front of the camera that we can almost reach out and touch. Effortlessly, he draws a thread between the primitive and contemporary; a thread that likely resides in all of us at some level.
More pictures of Dan after the jump...
One of the most fascinating people I worked with in California was a retired ballet dancer named Ric. He'd injured one of his legs dancing and had to stop performing but his love of dance was too deep to just walk away. So he began working as a masseur and physical therapist for the troupe he used to dance with. When I met Ric he was doing bodywork for some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry; he was just that good. I was introduced to Ric by a mutual friend asked me if I'd ever had a massage to which I had to honestly answer no. She gave me Ric's phone number and said she was treating me to something really wonderful by buying me a session with him. I was reluctant, to say the least, but I called Ric and set up an appointment. I cried most of the way through that first massage; probably because I was releasing a lot of anxiety and fear that had been trapped in my body for a long long time. I had no idea that having my body touched in that way could be so powerful and healing.
It was during that first session that Ric told me a little bit of his story and how he got to be one of Hollywood's most in-demand bodyworkers. It was an interesting story but the first thing that came into my mind was how amazing it would be to photograph him. He jumped at the chance to dance for my camera and though clothed for most of the first session the clothes quickly gave way to the magnificence of his nude body. I had done a lot of nudes by that time but this was something very different; a dancer in motion, wildly free and challenging me to keep up in a way that I was wholly unaccustomed to.
Our first session together as photographer and dancer took place in my studio; most of the work being done in B&W film with beautiful results that I never could have imagined. We became friends and continued to work together many times over the next few years, opting out of the studio and into the deserts and wildlands of the Mojave Desert in southern California. Sadly, the negatives from our work in the studio mysteriously disappeared and all I have left are a couple of prints which are too large to scan; they're framed and hang in my home. The transparencies and negs of the work we did in the Mojave Desert remain safe in my posession though and continue to inspire me more than twenty years after their creation. I've scanned some of them but the better part lie waiting patiently and beguilingly for me to invest the time it takes to find them and work with them.
I'm working on an eBook version of Mysteries with original score composed especially for this project by my friend and gifted musician Nicholas Rivera. There is still a lot of work to be done on this project but with Nick's music in hand now I'm able to better structure the images for the book. The online version will have the music embedded while the hard copy of the book will include a CD containing the score. Enjoy!
My love affair with film has never waned in 50 years. Digital may be a lot of things but it will never be film. So in a nostalgic paean to my first and greatest love this upcoming season of shooting will find me returning to B&W film for some of my work out in the wildlands. I'll be shooting with my Nikon F3 and my precious 105mm Nikkor lens. Speed the warm weather and let the magic begin.
Steve Sandvoss photographed by Tom Clark in Desert Hot Springs using PlusX B&W film
In the winter of 2009 I purchased a white angora blanket at a thrift shop to keep one of my models warm during a shoot we'd be doing in the snow. The blanket took on a life of its own at that point and has since been wrapped around dozens of beautiful nude bodies. The series is open to everyone with the only stipulation being that you have to be completely nude under the blanket for the pictures. How much of your body you choose to share is up to you. Getting things started for the season are Rainey, Ben and Katie who braved our exceptionally cold temperatures this year to slip out of their clothes and into the warmth of the blanket.
Utah has provided me with some of the finest models I've worked with over the 30+ years of my career. These images, taken on the north end of the Great Salt Lake help illustrate why that is so. It's one thing to be able to do good work by yourself in front of a camera or an artist's canvas but melding seamlessly with other models is a skill all unto itself. Alone or with each other, Heather, Aaron and John are among the best of the best.
My good friend and fellow photographer Gordon Nebeker invited me along on a shoot that he was doing with Aaron and I jumped at the chance to work with them. Gordon styled the shoot and I stepped in to give Aaron some directions and take some pictures when it felt appropriate to do so. I have worked continuously with Aaron for a year and a half now since I first discovered him; he's as much my friend as he is my muse and it's always a deeply satisfying experience working with him and being with him. I think these images clearly reflect the understanding we have of each other now and how well we intuit each other's artistic inspirations.
More of Aaron after the jump
In the distance beyond the Spiral Jetty on the northeast shores of The Great Salt Lake is an area that I had often longed to visit when I was up in the area shooting. I knew there was an adventure waiting for me there but was so focused on working around the Jetty and Rozel Point that I never seemed to allow enough time to go there before the sun went down. On one particular shoot one summer I took a picture of the area and in my mind made plans to go there one day.
My first adventure in this area was with a guy named Matt who'd flown in from Dallas to have me do some pictures of him. As we hiked out towards the beach from the end of the road at the Jetty I noticed something big and white up on the hill to our right. It seemed completely out of character with the black volcanic basalt stones that dot the area amidst the sage and low-growing desert plants. I wanted to shoot in the water but in the back of my thoughts was an itch to go see what that big white formation on the hillside was all about. So after a few minutes in the water we hiked up to the big white boulder on the hill. And that's where we got the pictures we'd come for that day.
Imagine my surprise when we found not one, but two giant white sandstone formations that had been worn by the eons of time, towering majestically above the landscape and reminding me of the Stonehenge monoliths in England. As I looked down over the epic view of the Great Salt Lake below it seemed only fitting to call this area Stonehenge Beach. I had looked for it on several maps and found nothing, so I figured it was mine to name.