The police pulled over and said ‘Everything okay here?’
I said ‘Just taking some portraits – nothing to see here!’. Billy didn’t miss a beat and said ‘Just taking some anniversary pictures with my wife!’ and we all laughed. The policeman hung around with a few others on the beach to watch the show we were putting on.
A few days before, while still living on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, I spotted Billy and Ornela in line with me at the Post Office. I all of the sudden knew that they would be perfect for a concept that had been spinning in my brain.
I already knew the title ‘Self-Made Widow’. No, nothing to do with my own marriage though Mike has definitely wondered why this concept was in my head. Haha.
My original vision was a little more static. The concept was inspired by the iconic painting American Gothic by Grant Wood…..ya know….the farmer holding a pitchfork next to his wife in front of the farmhouse? I always interpreted the pitchfork as kind of ominous with the stern looking man in charge, potential domestic violence and power represented by that pitchfork. I wanted a turn of the tables with the woman and man standing next to each other in the ocean, the woman in charge of the situation.
Ornela is strong and beautiful with a feisty spirit to match. I spotted her in line and caught my breath. Billy is the kind of guy that would do anything for anyone. Strong and kind and ever the peace maker…..a smile for everyone he comes across. I ran over to them and said ‘I have kind of a weird idea for an art concept!’. As I explained the idea, they were nodding and laughing and said they’d do it!
Addison was back on college break and thought it sounded just wacky enough to be fun to assist. She has been a lighting assistant (and model) on many occasions for me and it was fun to be back out there together!
But the best part is that when we got to the beach and started to play with the concept, Billy and Ornela started acting out a more intense scene with Billy grasping and attempting to save himself. Ornela pulled fabric around his face and pushed him under. A few times I had to ask ‘Billy – still doing okay?’ and he would laugh and say ‘Definitely, let’s do more!’. They were laughing in between shots and having fun. We had a bit of an audience build on the beach to watch and even a run in with the friendliest police on Earth from the KPD. See some of the raw shots as we tried different ideas, different lighting angles, and different perspectives. We started at sundown.
Ultimately the shot I loved best had the horizon line going right through Billy’s neck. I knew the judges might pick on that so I brought the water horizon up behind them. Then lots of playing in photoshop until it felt angry, dark, and troubled.
I knew it might be a risk for merit. The concept is pretty out there and disturbing. But I just love what Billy and Ornela gave to this project and I worked really hard to get it to what I thought was the right place. It’s not easy to merit in the Master Artist category and I’m thrilled that this image merited during Western Districts in April!
This merit contributes towards my goal of PPA Master Artist degree. This is my second year entering images into the art category. It’s a massive honor to merit an image in this very difficult category.
Thank you to Dwight Okumoto and Thom Rouse for critiquing and appreciating my wacky visions!