Photo shoots are impossible to predict. There are too many variables-weather, models, equipment, locations, external factors, and even the sadistic strokes of grievous misfortune. Learn what you can and control what you will, but some shoots are destined to go wrong. Some shoots, however, go very right. They begin with that first perfect exposure and end with the great challenge of choosing which photos live and which rot in the far forsaken corners of your hard drive. My shoot with Veronica Cross was just that sort of right-and if you’re not jealous yet, you will be (or you’re lame, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt).
The theme was simple: gritty, urban, industrial. We decided on Lowell, MA as our location-but Lowell isn’t known for its hospitality. For this shoot, we would need some threat-deterring muscle. Starr Love’s brother, Ron, fit the bill, so we persuaded him to play bodyguard (aka: chain-wearing bandana’d Staff of Flash carrier). Add Lady Starr Love as videographer and I as the camera-wielding dude of awesome, and the crew was solid!
Ron arrived. Veronica arrived. I scrolled through GoogleMaps noting street names with a particularly depressing ring to them. After a quick pick through her wardrobe, we departed towards paradise.
As we approached, the city began deteriorating around us. The buildings fell into disrepair, garbage filled the spaces between, and the streets milled with the wandering weary. One building wasn’t like the others: a nondescript sheer-faced apartment with doors standing ten feet from the ground. Oddly enough, no steps led to its entrances. New homes now included drawbridges to keep “the wrong sort” out.
When we descended into the valley, we were met by an industrial wasteland. Factories and unmarked brick buildings rose amidst empty lots. Railroad tracks, rivers of toxic unknown, barbwire fences, and overpasses divided the area. Everywhere laid the rusting, gnarled corpses of discarded machinery. There was even a nuclear warhead-though I always imagined them being less adorable. Our paradise bore a striking resemblance to hell.
Photography began amongst a row of gutted sports cars. Veronica sat beside them, leaned against them, and even sprawled across them. Click! I shoved her behind a chain-link fence and yelled until she appropriately cowered. Click click! She was such a good sport.
While I had her clinging on for dear life, a voice called from the distance.
“You America’s next top model?”
Across the lot, staring from atop a crumpling stone terrace, was a gang of construction workers taking a convenient break from their labors.
Worker: “Would you pose with dirty roofers?”
Commentary was distracting. I also sensed the roofers would soon leap like lemmings in hopes of sucking down a juicy Veronica with their lunches. We moved elsewhere.
An abandoned railroad car, long stripped of its wheels, lay lonesome in the ragged garbage-strewn grass beside the railroad tracks. I peered inside. My nose was gradually overcome by the rank smell of wet sulfur. Trash and trinkets cluttered the area and a large plank stood against the far wall, the perfect size for a makeshift door. This was someone’s home.
Me: “Veronica! Come inside. Just don’t step in any hobo bits!”
Veronica reluctantly crept into the car, Starr and Ron behind with equal hesitation.
It was gross, but only those eerie copper walls and narrow beams of light lent to unique images. I set up my speedlight and began clicking away. While adjusting the setup, something banged on the ceiling above. We stopped to listen. Silence.
Veronica: “What was that?”
Ron: “Maybe we should get out of here.”
I gestured for everyone to hold still and fired a few more shots. Then, it sounded again. Footsteps. They slowly scuffled from the far end of the trailer to right above us. We grabbed the equipment and snuck toward the door, making a terrible ruckus along the way. Stealing a deep breath, we nodded to each other, and curtailed the hell out of there. The moment we were away, we spun back. The roof was clear. There was nowhere to hide. We would have heard anyone jump from the roof through the thin walls. It didn’t make sense. This left only one possibility:
We just had a close encounter with the ghost hobo.
Me: “Quick! Cover yourself in hobo urine so it can’t find you.”
We decided against it.
While innocently posing the conservatively dressed Veronica, movement caught our eyes. This time, we had a corporeal observer. Like a lion hunting gazelle, it hunched not fifty feet away, peeking over the roof of a red sedan. Its eyes locked unerringly onto Veronica. It was the legendary Cambodian Creeper! He seemed convinced we would only see him if he moved. So, he remained absolutely still despite us staring directly at him. We finished photographing before departing. He skittered away in our wake.
Something was wrong with Ron. While Starr, myself, and Veronica explored with abandon, pausing only long enough to collect ourselves between bursts of chronic laughter, Ron just seemed paranoid. He cautioned that the railroad tracks might be electrified. He warned we might injure ourselves on scrap metal. He declared that potential danger lurked all around us. We laughed, but he kept his eyes always behind him.
Ron: “Hey, you sure this is safe?”
Me: “Yup.” (As I viewed my camera settings)
Ron: “Is it legal for us to be here?”
Me: “Nope.” (And I snapped more photos)
I had hoped the adventure would help him let go and enjoy himself, but hope does not equate to expectation. Some traits are not easily changed.
Contrary to legend, I’m reasonably afraid of heights. I simply enjoy taunting this fear at every opportunity. When my luck is so inclined, however, I’m liable to smash one lamp while fixing another and bleed profusely across the floor in search of aid. This is simply my way. Therefore, I was duly cautious when we began shooting on the railway bridge.I say this in my defense, for watching myself in Starr’s video step between supports like a senior citizen confronting a curb was downright embarrassing. I resolve that next time I will approach stunts with cool in place of care. In case this update is my last: Starr, I want you to know that whatever’s in the bureau drawer isn’t mine. A man in a purple robe left it there, and I never had the heart to burn it. I’m sorry.
The true gem of our shoot was unquestioningly the wayward weighstation and the burnt-down house beside it. More photo-related havoc took place there than anywhere else. The weighstation featured odd devices and pits of carnivorous leaves. The house’s remains promised limitless possibility for urban decay. Both itched our itch for the abandoned location for my “where he takes us” photo series. This was also where we discovered that Veronica is absolutely, definitely, without a doubt not a shemale-because she told us so. There would be no logical basis to believe such a rumor. Then again, you’ve never heard her angry voice…
We finally returned to the condo with a sense of accomplishment. Ron departed, and Starr and I bid Veronica a safe three-hour trip home.
That evening, a very exhausted Starr Love and I arrived at Jaded. My buddy and fellow photographer Travis Mayhem greeted me. I noticed his chest was an angry red. My Starr Love, the ex-Floridian, also glowed with a fresh sunburn. Gesturing between them, I commented:
“Ironic how you both burned, yet the pasty Irish photographer with a propensity toward sunlight-induced combustion emerged unscathed!”
Travis laughed. Starr was less amused.
Veronica Cross was fantastic. Her adorable, energetic personality was well matched by her sightly features. Indeed, endless teasing (“gimpy little ‘wawa’), gritty environments, and awkward positions failed to reveal a bad angle to her or her personality. When many models would have quit, she was determined to stay until we gleaned every opportunity from our shoot. Veronica and I will be shooting again soon. This is fact.
After years of envying photographers with their “secret sites”, I finally had one of my own. I foresaw an intimate relationship between this corner of Lowell and I. The shoot itself went beautifully and the groove never ceased. We laughed more than we spoke, and Starr’s resulting video was as fun as it was funny. There was nothing more to ask for. I could not have hoped for a better outcome.
Even so, Ron troubled my mind. His mood during and after the shoot concerned me. He didn’t speak negatively about his experiences (replying “Good” when asked about them), yet he obviously didn’t enjoy himself. Initially, I pondered what we could have done differently-until I realized: he just was bored. What some consider adventurous, others consider boring. Photography, photo shoots, and modeling are not for everyone. For those who enjoy them, though, there is nothing more thrilling than a photo shoot such as this.
Watch Lady Starr Love’s hilarious video of the Veronica Cross shoot below:
And, of course, enjoy some of the excellent photos from our shoot: