On location! Sand, mutant bugs and turtles.

I have two mottos in life. 1. Do everything at least once. 2. If my idea seems crazy stupid then I should definitely do it!

I’ve been to every corner of this state. Explored the peaks, crawled between the cracks, and hiked the ridges and valleys. However, one place that I had always wanted to go but hadn’t gotten around to was the Hanford Reach National Monument. It’s a unique landscape of extremes. It’s can be very hot and very cold, there’s water where the Columbia flows freely and desert with large sand dunes. It can be a dangerous landscape, with heat stroke being a major concern but also rattlesnakes, scorpions and other desert buddies hiding in the sage brush. So, when my friend Jeanie serendipitously sends me a message that she wanted to go to the sand dunes at the Reach, my first question was how soon?

Jeanie and I share dumb ideas like coffee and milk go together. We love adventure and the crazier it sounds the more likely it is we’re going to try it. Of course, we can’t go anywhere without our voice of reason and Michelle is right on board. We plan for a desert photo shoot. It’ll require some hiking in with all our costumes and photography gear, large awkward metal stand and softbox (aka turtle) included!

People often ask about the photos Jeanie and I do. Where did we go, how did we do it, can I get cool photos like that too? The truth is there is a lot of planning and research. I had been mulling this idea of a desert photo shoot since Nov 2014 when I finally had a chance to visit the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay. I was inspired by the orientalism art of Étienne Dinet. His paintings depict desert scenes of people from Morocco. Another artist that inspired me was Adam Styka. His scenes were a bit more erotic with the focal point less so the environment and more so on the people. The women wear a lot of coin jewelry and not much else. However it was the aesthetic of the jewelry, the poses and the beauty in the art that I loved. Therefor being a bellydancer, I couldn’t just slap on any costume. I had to complete my desert concept and find a costume that would fit the overall desert theme. I was determined to have a coin costume, but it had to modern and usable as a cabaret performance piece. Jillian who owns the Verdant Muse was the perfect person to go to. She knows how to mix tribal and cabaret aesthetics and when I told her my idea I knew she would know exactly what to do.

Caffeinated, with my costume completed (I was sewing the skirt into the wee hours the day prior) and a car full of gear and gas we drive the 2 – 3 hours to the trail head. The trail isn’t marked but we can see a clear path going along the ridge line. I Google Earth every location prior to any shoot. Not just so that I know where I’m’ going, but also because it helps me plan how I want to use the landscape. I don’t see the landscape as simply a pretty backdrop, but I see it as an extension of my costume and I try to envision how it can help complete the overall look I’m going for.

We hit the trail and take lots of breaks. Eventually we reach the start of the dunes and begin hiking up. We have the whole place to ourselves because no one else is crazy enough to be hiking in this summer desert heat! Aside from the chirping of mutant crickets that are about the half the size of a hotdog, it’s very quiet. It’s very serene, so long as the crickets don’t cross my path!

Michelle and I dress up. We take varying poses with different perspectives and props. We’ve had quite a few photos shoots under our belts, so we know what facial expressions we want to make and we work fast. That’s really important when you’re outdoors because conditions change, even in the desert clouds roll in and out and we can see thunderclouds in the distance. There’s not a lot of time for pondering what we should do next. Preparation is not only having a completed theme/concept prior to an on location shoot, but also knowing your best angles, your facial expressions and poses.

We wrap up not long before dusk. We have just enough time to get one last shoot at a location on the way home. The Wildhorses Monument sits along the ridge of the Columbia River. I’ve driven by it many times and had been wanting to do some sunset shots there for quite a while. We arrive just as the sun is going down. We dress up quickly and scramble to the top of the ridge with our gear. It’s perfect timing! All the tourist are gone and we have the place to ourselves! It’s late now and our shots are getting really goofy and despite being tired and hungry we wrap up our day with a long drive home filled with memories of a fun trip and ideas for our next adventure!

For more info-

Photography: Jeanie Lewis

Gold Bedlah: Verdant Muse

Silver Coin Costume: Azya Michelle

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