Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles’

Malibu w stevechen

Click here to access all entries in Douglas Simonson’s “On the Road” Series


MALIBU PHOTO SHOOT: STEVE CHEN



As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’ve just embarked on a year-long journey.

I left Hawaii July 10 for Los Angeles, the first stop. I’ve been here for a little over 2 weeks, and I’ve just completed the first male-nude photo shoot of my trip so far.

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Steve Chen in a photograph by David Smith

I met Steve Chen through fellow photographers David Smith (Hawaii) and Kurt Brown (California). I’d seen some of the photographs and thought he looked great! On top of that, both David and Kurt said Steve was a sweetheart, easy to work with and just a really nice guy. I like to hear reports like that. So I was eager to meet him.

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Some of the test shots I took of Steve when we first met.

Steve came to meet me where I was staying, at my friend Gina’s Brentwood apartment. I liked him right away. He’s a very friendly, open, charming guy, and of course he’s handsome and has an amazing body! We talked a bit about the shoot, and other things, and set a date and time.

Two days later we drove to Malibu’s Point Dume State Park. Kurt Brown had recommended this spot, saying it wouldn’t be too difficult to find a nice beach with no one else around. That didn’t turn out to be quite accurate. Maybe it was because it was just getting into the really nice summer weather and Kurt was used to going there in the winter…or maybe we were just unlucky…but we hiked, and hiked, and hiked, and found beach after beach that was beautiful and would have made a great location–but had picnickers and sunbathers already on them.

We were both getting pretty frustrated, but we kept hiking and hiking–I know we covered several miles and I am not a very enthusiastic hiker!–until finally, at a point very far from where we’d begun, we found a spot with no one else around.

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That’s where I was finally able to start shooting in earnest. The sun cooperated by coming out in full force at just about that time, too, so from being very frustrated and tired, I went to being very excited and energized within a few minutes. I ultimately shot over 2000 images of Steve and was very happy with the results.

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Just a few of the over 2000 images I shot of Steve at Point Dume.

We drove back to L.A. late that afternoon, both feeling tired but content: Steve because he felt he’d done a good job (he did) and me because I had so much great new material to work from!

I wasted no time, and within 3 days I had several new rough sketches of Steve, in both pencil and colored pencil. There will be many more! (Click on the sketches to see them on my website.)

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And the first Steve Chen photo shoot gallery went up on the Simonson On Location on July 28. Again, there will be many more!


The next morning I woke up early (it was about 6:30) and looked outside. The morning air was crisp and chilly, no one was around the pool, and the place looked beautiful. I put on my swimsuit (not that I needed to), stepped outside and dove into the heated pool. It felt wonderful. I had a great swim, then got into the hot tub, which as usual was the perfect temperature. Refreshed and invigorated, I went back to my room.

What a great way to start the day!

I’d been planning to let the models sleep in because I didn’t want to get up early myself. But since I was already up, I decided to drag them out of bed and get some shots in that great early-morning light. I went to their room and knocked. And waited. Knocked again, and waited some more. Finally Jonny cracked the door, squinted at me, and let me in.

Rob hadn’t even peeked out from under his covers. It looked like he was going to be the immovable object. So because Jonny had already crawled out of bed, he became my victim. He wasn’t happy to leave his warm bed and come out into the cold morning air so I could photograph him, but he reluctantly said okay, I’ll do it. Is an hour from now okay? (Jonny needs 30 minutes just for his hair.)

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Jonny gets up!

I told him NO! It’s gotta be RIGHT NOW. Every minute and we lose more of this gorgeous morning light! He moaned, but he was a sport–he was out by the pool about 3 minutes later.

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Jonny was not excited about getting naked in 50-degree weather, but he was a trooper--and I was thrilled with the beautiful light and the sparkling early-morning desert air

When he got into the pool, he relaxed a bit, because it was nice and warm. Not hot, just but the right temperature. I had him paddle around a bit and when he got to the other end of the pool I told him to get out of the pool and go get into the hot tub. He moved so fast I almost didn’t get a shot of it.

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Jonny moves fast to get to the hot tub

We did that a few more times before I just let him relax in the hot tub for a few minutes. I think he was finally agreeing with me that this is a nice way to begin the day. (Although after I told him okay, we’re done for now, he went right back to bed.)

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Mmmm...not so bad after all.

By now it was still early. I think it was 7:30 or so. So I let the boys sleep some more and I went back to my room and caught up on some work I’d brought with me. (After first getting some breakfast from the Santiago Resort’s breakfast room, which had a nice selection of fruits, cereal, pastries, toast, etc., and great coffee.)

By noon I had caught up on the work I was doing and I was getting impatient to get started shooting again. I went to the boys’ room and they were STILL in bed. They let me in and I proceeded to hassle Rob, who was trying to ignore me. I told him that since he was not willing to get out of bed, we would do the next portion of the photo shoot with him IN bed. He kind of liked that idea. I did, too. So I shot for about a half hour, in low light with no flash because I wanted the natural light. That meant a lot of the photographs were a bit blurry but somehow that kind of fit the moment…

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A few shots from the Rob-in-bed morning shoot

Shooting Rob and Jonny Together

After that we had some lunch and hung out for a while before starting to shoot again in the early afternoon. I asked Rob and Jonny if they’d be willing to do some shots together, and now that they knew each other and were comfortable with each other–and with me–they said sure, let’s try it.

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We weren’t sure what we were going to do so just played it by ear. So what happened was, the boys did a push-up competition on the grass. (Jonny won.) Next it was walk-on-your-hands time. Then try-to-push-the-other-guy-out-of-the-hammock time. All this was exactly the kind of stuff I had been hoping for, and it got even better when I had them get in the pool and start splashing each other. I love the moments that got captured in this part of the shoot.

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When I started to run out of ideas, the two of them came up with something. I’m still not sure what exactly what it was…Jonny really wanted to smoke a cigarette, so Rob went back to the rooms and got robes and they laid themselves down on a pair of the beach chairs and we created something that looked a bit like a gay naked cigarette commercial. Then Rob got mischievous and it turned into something else, still not sure what, but the whole thing was fun and funny and the kind of unpredictable I like about photo shoots where you just let things happen.

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By this time the light was starting to get really nice again and I had Jonny relax because I wanted to focus on Rob for this. I did what turned out to be our final images of the photo shoot, with Rob in and out of his robe in the beautiful late-afternoon light. Great stuff!

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By the time I finished shooting the last images of Rob, it was late afternoon and it felt like it was time to head back to LA. So we packed up and said goodbye to the Santiago Resort. As we drove out of Palm Springs, I felt tired but happy. The photo shoot and the road trip had been fun and successful.

I also felt really good about the experience we’d all shared. I’d brought together 3 strangers and we’d had a wonderful time working together, laughing, and bonding. Each of us had two new friends and some great stories to share.

And as always, I couldn’t wait to get back home and get started creating art inspired by these two beautiful new men I’d brought into my life.

One final note: If you haven’t already become a Simonson On Location subscriber, perhaps you’ll want to join Rob and Jonny there. Their first photographs have already begun appearing on my subscription site.


Now that we were all settled in and had had our lunch, it was time to get to work.

I didn’t know if I’d be photographing Rob and Jonny together–after all, they hadn’t even met before this. The plan was to photograph them separately, and just see how it went. It’s always a matter of chemistry and just seeing how things feel. So I left that to the fates. My priority at the moment was simply to do my best to capture each of them individually.

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Jonny does some exercises before starting to pose

I began that afternoon by photographing Jonny around the pool. I had already discovered that Jonny was definitely the quieter and more reserved of the two, and would probably take more drawing out, so I thought it would be better to start with him.

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Jonny’s reserved nature is not at all a negative; with those beautiful soulful eyes and his quiet manner, the overall effect is to draw you to him. There’s mystery and allure in his quietness. So photographing him for the first hour or so of our stay at the Santiago Resort was a nice measured way to begin the photo shoot. And as the afternoon shadows lengthened, the light got better and more interesting, Jonny got more relaxed, and I began to get to know what his best angles were.

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It was already late afternoon when I let Jonny go and began shooting Rob. Rob is a very different personality. He’s energetic and outgoing, and when he enters the room, you know it. Where Jonny is quiet and draws you to him, Rob is high-energy and fills up the space with his big personality.

That kind of personality can be difficult if there’s nothing but ego. But as I mentioned earlier, that’s not the case with Rob. He’s sensitive to those around him and he knows how to listen, which is not something you always get with models. He has a lot of modeling experience, so he has a whole repertoire of attitudes and poses. And they’re great, but they weren’t what I was looking for. So early on I told him no, I don’t want those model poses, I want more of you. I’m looking for natural, unguarded moments. And unlike some experienced models I’ve worked with, Rob got it right away. He wasn’t afraid to let me see more of his real self. Plus his real self is funny and quick, which of course gives the pictures a bright, appealing energy.

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The weather was clear and sunny, but it wasn’t all that warm, especially now that the shadows were getting long. The temperature in the sun was just about 70 degrees, and as soon as you went in the shade, it got chilly. In fact when I called Rob to come out so we could start shooting, he was wearing a hoodie.

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The air was a bit chilly but we had the luxury of a heated pool AND a hot tub. (Yet another thing I like about the Santiago Resort: the pool was just the temperature a heated pool should be, and the hot tub was just the temperature a hot tub should be.)

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I figured we had another 45 minutes or so before the sun dropped behind the mountains just west of us and we lost the light. But that 45 minutes would give me the best light of the day. So as the shadows lengthened and the air chilled, the light got more and more amazing and the images got better and better. I don’t know how the light, the model and the setting could have combined more beautifully than they did during the last few minutes of this part of the shoot.

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Just as the sun dropped behind the mountains and the temperature plunged, I told Rob, okay, we’re done for today, and he headed straight for the hot tub, still naked, which some of the other Resort guests seemed to enjoy.

I went back to my room and started uploading the images to the computer, and taking a look at what I’d gotten. I was really happy with the results. We’d only been in Palm Springs a few hours and I already had some great images of both Jonny and Rob. Which was good, because the it was already getting dark and the temperature had gone from the high 60’s down to the low 50’s. We all retreated to our rooms for a nap and then congregated in my room later where we ordered pizza and watched the Oscars on TV. Then about 10 we went out to sample Palm Springs’ nightlife.

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At the Karaoke bar; Rob in the Gaymart dressing room

We wound up in a fun karaoke bar where Rob showed us what a great singer and performer he is. We didn’t stay out too late–we had work to do the next day. Before we headed home, though, we went across the street to Gaymart, where Rob got a very sexy new black swimsuit. He was a sport when I asked him to open the dressing-room curtains so I could capture the moment.

NEXT: Palm Springs Road Trip, Part 4


With two models on board, the Santiago Resort lined up, and a big ugly (but comfortable) Mercury from Avis, we were ready to go. Bright and early on a Sunday morning, I drove to Santa Monica to pick up Jonny. It was a little chilly in LA but we were hoping it’d be warmer in Palm Springs.

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Jonny ready to go on a road trip

From Santa Monica we headed down Wilshire to the place where Rob was staying, on the eastern edge of Beverly Hills. We found it easily and there was Rob, ready to go. I introduced Jonny and Rob and they shook hands and said hello. This is always kind of a nerve-wracking moment for me, when I’ve set up an excursion or road trip with people who have never met before. I trust my instincts to choose people I’ll get along with, and who’ll get along with each other, and I seem to be good at it—it almost always works out well. As we got in the car and headed down La Cienega to get on the 10 going east for the long drive to Palm Springs, the energy felt good. I was confident that I could set the tone and put everyone at ease and the three of us would have a good time together. That’s important. If the models aren’t having fun, and the photographer’s not having fun, the pictures aren’t gonna be fun either!

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Rob ready to go; Jonny and Rob meet for the first time

This was an adventure for me, too, because I’d never driven from LA to the desert, and I was looking forward to it. The first hour and a half of the drive was boring in terms of the scenery, but interesting because we were all getting to know each other. We got hungry about the time we got to Baldwin Park, so we took an off-ramp at random and wound up near an IHOP, which sounded good to us.

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Ready to eat at the IHOP in Baldwin Park

Breakfast was delicious and the 3 of us were already laughing and having fun together. Jonny’s kind of quiet but holds his own in a conversation, and Rob is Mr. Personality, full of energy and always ready to take center stage, but still sensitive to those around him. I was already liking both of them a lot.

From Baldwin Park we got back on the freeway and before long the city was starting to turn into desert, and the mountains got closer and closer. It was a beautiful morning and there wasn’t much traffic, and I was enjoying the adventure.

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Leaving LA and entering the desert

Even though we’d left over 3 hours earlier, it seemed like we got to Palm Springs quickly. Before I knew it, we were pulling into the Palm Springs Visitor Center to use the bathrooms and check my iPhone GPS for the location of the Santiago Resort. And to take pictures, of course.

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The crew at the Palm Springs Visitors Center

From there it was about 10 minutes to the Santiago Resort, which we found easily, thanks to Rob’s navigation. Seriously, he did a great job keeping me from turning the wrong way into one-way streets, etc.

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Rob busts a hammock

We pulled the big grey boat into a parking space at the Santiago Resort and invaded. And I do mean invaded. The first thing Rob did was take a flying leap at one of the hammocks strung between palm trees–and broke it! This is typical of Rob’s take-a-flying-leap-at-it approach to life, and despite the damage, one of the things I like about him. After apologizing to the manager, we got settled into our rooms.

And beautiful rooms they were. From the moment I arrived at the Santiago, I was impressed with it. The staff were friendly and helpful and the rooms were beautiful! (I’m not just saying that because each room was graced by a framed Simonson, either.) Everything was new and spotless, yet warm and comfortable. And the setting was just as beautiful as I’d hoped.

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My room at the Santiago Resort

After we settled in a bit, it was time to go out for lunch—and to explore Palm Springs a bit. We wound up at a place called Bongo Johnny’s, and the food was great (great food seemed to be one of the themes of this trip). Across the street, we found a store called Gaymart (we went in) and another called Bear Wear (we didn’t). Then we went back to the resort. It was time to get those boys naked and get to work!

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NEXT: Palm Springs Road Trip, Part 3 – Getting to Work


A couple of years ago I started an e-mail correspondence with a new potential model, a Vietnamese guy from Vancouver named Rob. We got connected via the Bay Area photographer Steven Underhill. Rob wanted to model for me, and I wanted him to model for me, but he was in Canada and I was in Hawaii.

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Rob

I knew sooner or later we’d get together. Then last year he moved to Los Angeles. I’d been thinking about where to do my next photo shoot, and Palm Springs kept coming up. I’d never been there and had wanted to go for a long time. Adding interest to the idea was my connection with a place there called the Santiago Resort.

A few years ago the Santiago’s owner had purchased several pieces of my art for the place, which meant there was a Simonson in almost every room. I’d never been there, but I’d seen photographs of the Santiago Resort online, and it looked beautiful. And a nude photo shoot would not be out of place since the resort is clothing-optional.

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The Santiago Resort in Palm Springs

So I called the owner and told him my idea of bringing a model there and doing a photo shoot. In return I’d be happy to gift him a piece of my art he didn’t already have. He was very open to the idea.

With that piece of the puzzle in place, I called Rob and told him my idea: I would fly up to LA, and he and I would drive to Palm Springs for a weekend at the Santiago Resort, where I would photograph him in that beautiful setting.

Rob loved the idea and he was available when I needed him to be. Great! Everything was falling into place and I was getting excited. Now that I had a location and dates, it occurred to me that I could have an even more fun-filled weekend with TWO models instead of just one–and there was one I had in mind.

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Jonny

As you know if you’ve visited my website, I not only sell my own photographs, I offer the work of Kurt R. Brown as well. A model I’d seen in his photographs, a guy named Jonny, really appealed to me and I wanted to work with him. So with Kurt’s help, I contacted Jonny (he lives in LA) and told him about the Palm Springs adventure I was planning, and asked him if he would be interested in being part of it.

He was. And he was available for that weekend. Again, things were falling into place.

I didn’t know where I was going to stay in LA until my friend Gina told me she was going to be in town and I could stay with her! (Gina is not only a long-time close friend, she has found many models for me and has traveled with me to Brazil many times to assist with photo shoots.) This was great news. Now I had a place to stay in LA before heading for Palm Springs. Another piece of the puzzle in place. This trip was obviously meant to happen.

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Jonny and Gina at Gina's apartment

So at the end of February 2011 I found myself in Brentwood, staying at Gina’s beautiful new apartment. The day after I arrived, Jonny took the bus to our part of LA so I could interview him in person. We picked him up and took him to the apartment, where he and Gina bonded over wine and I shot test photos.

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Jonny was much quieter than I expected (well, I don’t really know what I expected) and had a nice easy-going personality. I’m not real easy-going myself so this was good news. Anyway, he passed the interview with flying colors, so I had my second model.

NEXT: Palm Springs Road Trip Part 2 — On the Road


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Kurt and Chadwick on our arrival in Simi Valley.

The third and final day of our LA photo shoots dawned bright and clear, thank goodness. Another beautiful clear day! Kurt showed up at 8 to pick me up and I met Chadwick, who was sitting in the back seat. We drove north to Simi Valley where Kurt had a spot in mind that he thought would work well with Chadwick’s look. On the way we all talked and Chadwick seemed very pleasant. But I was looking forward to getting a better look at him.

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Chadwick getting oiled up by Kurt.

On our way to the location we stopped at a shopping center to pick up some supplies and when we got out of the car I saw just how big, beautiful and perfectly proportioned Chadwick was. He was wearing jeans and a tank top and as we walked through the store, he was literally stopping traffic. Heads were turning and people were actually saying “wow” as he walked by. Chadwick seemed to take it in stride. He seems to know how gorgeous he is, yet apparently has no attitude about it. Needless to say, I found this a very attractive quality and promising in terms of our working together.

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One of the first of many incredible photographs.

We hiked into a beautiful area, full of huge rocks and dramatic settings. I could see why Kurt thought it would be a great setting for shooting Chadwick. We hiked for about 15 minutes and it was as if we were in the middle of the wilds, with no signs of civilization anywhere around. We stopped in the middle of an immense slab of rock next to a huge date palm, and while I got my photo equipment ready, Kurt applied oil to Chadwick. I’m glad Kurt was there to do that part. I think that might’ve been a little too intense for me. I was still a little stunned by Chadwick’s gorgeousness.

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I haven't had a setting and model fit together this beautifully since my last time in Brazil...

Thus we began the actual photo shoot. I’m glad this was the third and final shoot because as much as I liked Marcelino and Anthony, Chadwick is pretty close to my personal dream of perfect male beauty. His amazing body gleaming in the hot California sun against those beautiful rocks was definitely a highlight of my career so far. The more I shot, the more I realized that Chadwick didn’t have a bad angle. It was almost too much beauty to be crammed into one human being.

My initial impression of Chadwick from watching him in the shopping center seemed to be accurate. Here was an amazingly gorgeous guy without a lot of attitude. Working with him was a total pleasure because he was a regular, down-to-earth guy, originally from a small town in Georgia, who was totally willing to do what it took to make sure both Kurt and I got the shots we wanted.

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The three of us traipsed up and down huge hills, through cactus and scrub brush, climbed up and over huge rocks, and sweated in the hot desert sun, and it was all worth it. Every time I changed angle or we put Chadwick in another setting, it was another great shot. Both Kurt and I were getting some amazing shots.

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We made Chadwick work hard but he seemed to love it! Look closely and you can see Kurt on the right here, getting the shot.

As we continued to work together smoothly, I realized something about Kurt’s and my chemistry: we were actually getting more and better shots working together than we usually get working alone. There was a nice dynamic happening. Usually a photo shoot wears me out because I’m carrying all the weight myself. It’s my job to manage everything, including thinking of what I want the model to do next while I’m also caught up in the intensity of trying to get the best shot possible in the moment. There’s just too much to think about, and it can be exhausting. I found when working with Kurt that when I ran out of ideas for the model, or just needed to rest for a moment, I could turn things over to him. He was able to do the same, which meant that we were using the model much more efficiently. And the fact that neither of us had to carry the whole load of responsibility made it that much easier to focus on getting the shot. By this third photo shoot it was becoming clear that we actually were more effective as a team than we were working alone! That doesn’t mean either of us really wants to stop working as a free agent—but it was a great thing to discover and something we may do again in the future.

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A great model and a total sweetheart!

This was a great way to finish up the LA photo shoots, with one of the best models I’ve worked with in my career so far. And the other two photo shoots gave me a huge amount of wonderful new material as well. Working with Kurt was a pleasure and we both derived unexpected benefits from working together. (Thanks, Kurt, for waking me up to the advantages of Camera Raw!) Overall, a wonderful and profitable experience, and I’m very excited about beginning to produce art from all these beautiful new images!


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Kurt and Anthony getting ready to hike into the woods.

The next morning was our second photo shoot. This was with a guy named Anthony P. which Kurt located through a site called Model Mayhem (that’s not his name on the site). Kurt picked me up at the San Vicente at 8am and I met Anthony, whom I had seen pictures of, but hadn’t met in person before. He was very handsome, very pleasant, and I was looking forward to shooting photos of him. We drove north to the same general area as the previous day, and again, hiked a while to find a photogenic area.

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We did find some fairly nice locations.

The area we were in was not as attractive as the one the previous day. Kurt told me that every time he visits one of these locations in and around the LA area, he never knows what to expect, because there’s so much change with the time of year, and sometimes wildfires will burn off all the vegetation in an area that was previously a great location. So the settings were not ideal, but we had driven all that way, so we decided to make the best of it. And we did get some nice shots.

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At two with nature...

Unfortunately our model was not a nature boy. I was reminded, over and over again, of Woody Allen’s comment, “I am at two with nature.” That was Anthony. He was a trooper, though. He got himself wet in cold, not-very-clean water for us. He let himself be eaten up by ants (well, for a minute anyway). He got muddy. But it was clear he was not happy in the environment. Of course, Kurt and I weren’t that happy with the environment, either. I had an idea. I called my hotel and talked to the day manager and asked him if we could use the area around the pool to shoot some nudes. Since that part of the hotel is clothing-optional anyway, he was pretty agreeable as long as our shoot wasn’t too lengthy. So we hiked back to the car and got on the freeway and headed back down to West Hollywood.

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Anthony was much happier in a hotel pool than in a creek in the woods.

This turned out to be a wonderful idea. When we walked in to the pool area of the San Vicente, I could tell Anthony was much happier. This was an environment he could enjoy working in. Both Kurt and I were much happier with it, too. The San Vicente has been used for a lot of photo and video shoots and it’s actually a great backdrop for this kind of thing. And it was very convenient for me, of course.

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This is me and Anthony by the San Vicente pool.

The weather was perfect and the setting was perfect. And it was late morning so there was hardly anyone around, so we were able to shoot undisturbed. This was one of those things that so often happens with photo shoots. You plan for one situation and it doesn’t work out and you play it by ear, and you end up in a completely different setting than you planned, but somehow it all works out.

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Again, Kurt and I worked really smoothly together, and it was a nice change from a “wilderness” setting where everything is improvised. Nice to have a bathroom handy, access to food and water, etc. Plus the comfort of being able to jump in the pool whenever you get hot—and it was turning into a hot day. Again, we shot for about two hours total and got a lot of great stuff. Another successful photo shoot, and I felt a sense of accomplishment. And I found I was really looking forward to the next morning and our third and final photo shoot with Chadwick. If Chadwick was anything like the photos I’d seen of him, this was going to be exciting!