trash the dress

I had a vision, and even though I knew it was going to be a serious undertaking, I was determined to make it happen. I envisioned Sheree, with long red hair, floating on her back in the river, a creature of beauty that Alfred Lord Tennyson would have written about. God’s Bath, a beautiful swimming hole 45 minutes up the hill from Tuolumne, was a challenging location, but I had my heart set on it. Shooting only film, I was going to capture the beauty of the surroundings, the blue-green depths of the water, the details in the mid-tones, the flare from the sun. Mark said we could do it, but we needed to go that weekend, because it was October, and it was going to start snowing up there pretty soon. “I can make that happen.”

Sheree was game, because Sheree is pretty much game for anything, and made herself available for that Friday, giving me permission to style her as I wish. I rubbed my hands together, much like a villain in a 1940’s movie, ideas running through my head. Then it was time to plan, and plan fast. I had just a few days, and I wanted to turn Sheree’s red bob into a long, curly mane, so I took a trip to Got Hair (yes, that’s really what the shop is called), and discovered they didn’t have red in stock because it was a special order item, so I purchased blonde, took it home, and colored it myself. In times like these, my training and cosmetology license come in VERY handy.

Mark came home from work and I had hair everywhere. The dining room table and kitchen counters were lined with garbage bags and covered in wefts of hair soaked in red color. I had one day to prepare the hair, and I still needed to complete the color process (three different shades), and sew the clips onto the wefts. I was moving like the Tasmanian Devil in a Looney Tunes cartoon. I stopped, color brush and bowl in my gloved hands, and said, “This looks like a serial killer’s place, like he collected hair from each girl he killed.”

“You’re so weird.”

“Yeah, I know.” Then I went back to feverishly coloring.

The morning of the shoot, I arrived at Sheree’s house at 9am, planning on 3 hours of styling. I wanted her makeup to be very natural and nymph-like, with long lashes I applied one-at-a-time. Once the hair extensions were added and all the hair was curled, I added a gold headband, giving her the look of a Greek goddess. Perfection. Phase one of my vision had come together. Mark arrived, having taken the afternoon off work, because there was no way I was going to be able to pull this off without him.

We packed up the gear and everything we needed, because we were going to be hiking in to God’s Bath. That’s right, my model with her long tresses and false lashes had agreed to hike 40 minutes up the Clavey River to be part of this shoot. She wore her shorts and tee shirt, her backpack holding her gown and towels. My backpack held my makeup touchup kit, hair products, and a blanket, because it wasn’t exactly warm outside, and Sheree was going to be freezing by the time we were done. Mark packed up the camera gear in our small, rolling bag/backpack. We drove the two hours to the river, got out of the car, donned our backpacks, and stood at the bridge over the river as I whined about how I hate this part of the hike, because we had to belay down the mountainside and I always slip and hurt myself. Mark gave his usual response, “Oh, you’ll be fine,” and went first down the hill. I followed, and of course, slipped, swinging and banging my hip against the rocks. That was gonna leave a mark. Sheree came down that incline like Spiderwoman, swift and without a hitch. Then we were off, hiking up river toward the prize.

Let me insert some pertinent information here: I don’t like hiking. At all. And I especially dislike the hike up to God’s Bath. Every time Mark suggests we go back, I whine, “I hate that hike….. I really really hate itttt….. It’s haaarrddd….” and he says, “Oh, it’s not that bad.”

Being the klutz that I am, this hike is difficult for me, because it’s full of rocks and intricate, strange moves around boulders. And of course, I slipped and smacked my head on a boulder. That was DEFINITELY gonna leave a mark.

Every time we hike to God’s Bath, it’s the same emotional experience for me: we reach it, and all the frustrations about the hike fall away. In the sound of the waterfall rushing and the birds chirping and the river flowing, a feeling of being one with nature overcomes me, and I feel only peace. My vision was close to coming to fruition, and I smiled, knowing this could be some of my most brilliant work yet.

trash the dress

Being that it was a Friday, we were the only ones there, so Mark stepped away and I held up the blanket so Sheree could change into the simple gown. The makeup and hair were still in perfect tact, due to my mad styling skills, and all I had to do was break up some curls and spray a little hair spray. Then it was time to start shooting.

The first time Sheree stepped into the water, she squealed, and I said, “Is it cold?” and she replied, “Yeah, it’s cold.” She sat down in the water and I started to shoot, then I stepped in the water so get closer to her. I immediately jumped back out, shouting, “Dang, that’s COLD!! OWE!” It literally hurt my bones. I had no idea how she was able to bear it without even a shiver. (Of course, we were just beginning.) From that point on, I shot with my zoom lens and stayed dry.

We began with poses that were somewhat dry – Sheree sunning on a rock – then moved on to more wet poses – Sheree wading through the water, waist high.

trash the dress

trash the dress

trash the dress

trash the dress

trash the dress

trash the dress

trash the dress

Then it was time for my vision to come to fruition… “Okay,” I said, “I want you to float on your back in the water. Can you do that?”

“Yeah, I can do it.”

I counted my blessings that I had such an amazing and resilient model, and started shooting the image that I had envisioned from the very beginning – Sheree floating like the Lady of Chalot, red hair around her face. “Keep floating… Keep floating… Keep floating… Think warm thoughts… Keep floating…” As Sheree floated for about three minutes, I shot off around twenty frames, then let her come up from the water.

“I was thinking about being in Hawaii,” she said. Whatever she was thinking about, it was affective. She looked so calm and serene, I had no idea her body was going numb from the cold.

trash the dress

Then it was time for the money shot – Sheree diving off the rock into the swimming hole. And I was going to capture it in two takes, shooting only film. So beautiful, shivering Sheree perched on the rock, ready to dive. I was in position, ready to shoot, and nervous for her. I’ve never had the nerve to jump off that rock, much less dive in. I don’t even know HOW to dive.

Mark stood near Sheree so I could signal him and he could shout, “GO!” because she couldn’t hear me over the rushing of the waterfall behind her. She dove as I released the shutter, fairly sure I got the shot, but just for good measure, we needed to do it again. Mark helped our brave, frozen model out of the water, and I said, “Okay, we need to do that one more time. Can you do that?” All she could do was nod because her teeth were chattering and she was shivering so hard. “You can do it,” I said. “Just one more time, then we’re done, okay?” She nodded again and Mark escorted her back to the lip of the hole.

Mark was shouting something to me that I couldn’t hear, and Sheree was making some sort of weird pantomime with her body that looked like an interpretive dance. “WHAT???,” I shouted. “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”



Sheree prepared herself, much like you see great runners do before a race, stretching her neck, arms and back. She plunged it, and that time, I was sure I got the shot.

trash the dress

Exhausted, Sheree swam out of the water, climbed on the rock, and we surrounded her with towels. I helped her out of her soaked gown, shoved it into a garbage bag, and she dried off and dressed, then wrapped herself in the blanket. We had done it! Now all we had to do was hike back out…

I was dizzy from what turned out to be a mild concussion I had obtained by hitting my head on that boulder on the way in, and I was tired and shivering from the flu I was on the brink of coming down with. I didn’t yet know that I would get the film back from the lab and be thrilled that we’d gone to the trouble, because the final product made it all worth it.


To see video from this shoot, click here (Editor’s note: I’ve lost a lot of weight since this video was taken):

And here: