A Day at the “Dry” Lake Bed

Ragen recounts a particularly challenging and beautiful recent project with photographer Joe McNally.

 

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Having seen the amazing works of internationally recognized photographer, Joe McNally, I was thrilled to be given an opportunity to collaborate. Even more so, the concept for the project spoke to me artistically. It interested my fascination for using the human body as a canvas to celebrate the beauty of nature.


The heart of Las Vegas beats with a vibrant energy, alive with the excitement of thousands of eager visitors, but a short drive south of the glistening Vegas strip, lies a serene and beautiful desert. The dry lake bed in Jean, Nevada offers a striking contrast to the clamor and industry of the city.


Our model, Sophie, a lovely ballerina, was to be painted from head to toe with the textures and colors of the earth… the dry, cracked edges, and rough geometry of the dusty lake bed floor. Beyond the grace of her form and the physical expression of her dance, the paint would transform her into an element of the landscape.


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Our transformation began in the clean, air conditioned comfort of a hotel room. We spread out our drop-cloths and set up our equipment. Everything was going as planned when I received a call from Joe, who was already on location at the dry lake bed. There was a slight problem… Today, our dry lake bed was actually a sloppy mud hole. “Only I could bring rain to the desert!”, he joked. I struggled to adjust the light sandy desert taupe color of the paint I had mixed, imagining all shades of mud and chocolate. There was no way to tell the exact tone we needed without seeing the site… I would just have to guess.


My assistant and I worked steadily to cover every inch of Sophie’s skin. I felt a little guilty as we slathered mud toned paint all over her lovely satin pink pointe shoes. “They’re actually made to be painted”, she commented, making me feel only slightly better. It was an important element of the design so that she would be camouflaged into her surroundings.


After three and a half hours of carefully applied deterioration, our beautiful ballerina looked like some sort of filthy swamp creature in a sweatshirt and running pants. We only got a few strange looks as we exited the lobby of the hotel, which was surprising!


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At the lake bed, the crew was already set up. The RV had been carefully situated on solid ground, while a monster truck shuttled us out through the sludge to a patch of dry ground where Joe and his assistants had their lighting equipment positioned under an enormous portable shade canopy. Fortunately, the shade of paint on Sophie’s skin nicely complemented the wet earth. There were a few small touch ups and then Sophie donned her slippers and began to make amazing shapes with her body as Joe snapped a few practice shots.


Fingers were crossed at the sight of a large storm cloud tumbling in over the horizon. We were closing in on the “magic hour” at sunset when the lighting and color would be perfect – hopefully, it would stay dry. Joe decided we would move closer to the water’s edge where he could take advantage of the reflections in the pool’s surface. The sun settled into the crevice of the distant mountains, casting a gorgeous glow of orange pink and purple across the desert stage. The effect was absolutely stunning.


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At the end of the day, I was very proud to have contributed to this exciting project!

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