The blackened dirt and scrub had cooled since the fire despite the heat from the sun. We hoped for clouds, but there was not a wisp in the sky. The shoot didn’t look one bit like I had originally planned it, but that old Rolling Stones song is true – you can’t get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. It took only a few frames for me to realize that this 700-acre brushfire had happened at exactly the right time. The desert didn’t just look desolate – it looked positively otherworldly.
The styling really fell together for this shoot, thanks to Erika’s fabulous taste and my mother’s careful keeping of family heirlooms. I wanted the styling to have an old-fashioned flavor, but without falling into any overused vintage cliches. (“Vintage” is beautiful when done well, but it’s done so often that it’s hard to do uniquely.) I chose the desert for our landscape because I wanted the shoot to feel a little bit desolate, a little bit melancholy, and full of mystery. I wanted people to see the photos and wonder – what was she doing there, with those book pages, wearing that? The best photos are when you get to make up your own story.
The inspiration for Erika’s outfit started when I saw her fitted yet flowing black dress. It had potential to be dramatic and mysterious, and it managed to be both timeless and modern at the same time. We pulled our great-grandmother’s birdcage veil hat out of a lovingly-packed box in our mother’s closet, and later stumbled upon a set of beautiful rhinestone earrings. It seemed too much for Erika to wear them as earrings, so we clipped one onto a band around her finger for an oversized “ring.”
Because she’s Erika, she already owned elbow-length black satin gloves. I was concerned that the overall look still needed a modern twist, and Erika saved the day again when she pulled out her irresistible, lace-up stiletto boots. No way they wore those in the roaring twenties, but they fit the outfit perfectly. I asked if she had any dramatic red lipstick and of course she had a tube of Christian Dior’s Iconic Red on hand. I think the overall combination was magic. In the end, her outfit melted into the background, her hair and skin matched the tones of the brush, and I LOVE that in some of the photos the only standout color was her red, red lips.
Not knowing quite how I was going to use them, I took a discarded book and tore out about a hundred pages. After soaking them in water, I laid them to dry in the sun to give them a weathered, uneven look. Then we hauled a car full of equipment, props, and gear out into the desert.
This is what we came up with: