Mermaid Shoot with Neil

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In the spirit of doing crazy photoshoots for fun, I did a thing with my friend, Neil, from New York the other day. You might know him from Citizen of the Month or Neilochka on Instagram. He’s an amazing artist who shoots street photography and really interesting portraits of friends. I was super excited to be on his list.

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When he proposed sitting on a chair in the ocean of course I said yes. What could be more perfect for me? I love the ocean! It’s been a huge part of my life living here by the beach. But I’m not your average beach-going bikini-wearing girl. Nah. I’m more like a business woman wearing a red dress, sitting on a bar stool while the rush of waves washes around me in foggy grays and greens. It could be a metaphor for so many things. Of course we didn’t really flesh out what it could mean. It’s left up for interpretation of course.

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First we met for coffee to catch up and hash out our ideas.  I tried to shoot some photos of Neil with some bags for my Love Your Baggage client. (I’m shooting everyone with these bags if you are interested. Gotta get the word out about how great jute bags are!) And then we headed off to the beach, bar stool in tow.

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We set the barstool as far out into the waves as we could go without getting wet and then I sat. It was a bit exciting as the pointy legs of the stool sunk into the wet sand unevenly and the waves washed all around me. I tilted this way and that, leaning forward and backward to keep my balance and desperately trying to suck in my belly fat at the same time.

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It was exhilarating! I love the waves. Sand and sea don’t bother me. I didn’t care if I got wet. I expected it.

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This is my favorite shot by far.

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This one seemed way cooler in my head.

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Poor Neil though. He got soaked. As is typical for a photographer, he sacrificed his shoes trying to get the shot. He was squatting down to get just the right angle and a big wave came up and soaked him. Thankfully this time of year the water is pretty nice. But sadly he had to walk around the rest of the day wet and sandy.

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Then since he was already wet I made him switch places with me so I could get a shot too.

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I think this would be a great avatar for him, don’t you?

So I had a crazy idea.

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I don’t know what came over me. I was walking my dogs over the footbridge that I always do on my way to the fake lake and I suddenly came up with a thought: What if I had a dance party on the footbridge? I know this is a crazy idea because what if we caused an accident on the freeway below when all the cars were distracted by a bunch of weirdos dancing above them. But I didn’t think about that until later when I ran my crazy idea by Payam and he pointed out the danger. So I moved my idea to the beginning of the footbridge where some trees overgrow and the bridge is hidden from the cars below. But still, what a crazy idea, right? The more I thought about it, the more I was in love with it.

I’ve had a few setbacks lately with my creative ideas and I just wanted to do something really fun and cheap. That narrows your options by a lot but photography and dancing are FREE! I was supposed to throw a make-up party at our local hoity-toity mall and it fell through when I realized it would cost me more than it was worth. And the management at the mall kept making me jump through more and more hoops. It just turned into a headache and I had to cancel it even though a lot of people were excited about coming. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses. It still might happen but if I’ve learned anything this tax season it’s that I need to stop spending money I don’t have. I always put myself in these ridiculous situations and I need to get better at saying no.

Long story short I had a vision in my mind. We have this portable boombox amp thing that can play music really loud AND it’s cordless. It’s really cool.  It’s made quite a difference in the ambiance of our parties. Why not cart that thing out to the middle of the bridge, I thought? We can bring the dance party with us!

I’ve always loved the footbridge. It’s kind of my own slice of urbanity in the middle of boring snoresville suburbia. I always love walking over the ocean of traffic on my way to a peaceful lake on the other side.  It’s just a really unique spot. When the sun shines across the horizon at sunset it can turn magical. So I strung up some battery operated lights, emailed all my close crazy friends who do silly things like this for me and we set out.

Only problem was I was the only one who could really make this work and that meant I had to be model AND photographer. I wanted to be behind the camera, capturing my vision but nobody was really into dancing like a crazy fool like I was. So I set up my tripod, asked Payam to take a few pictures and then danced my head off. I waved and shouted and kicked my furry unicorn leg warmers (that I borrowed from Joon) in the air and everybody thought I was a big fool.

And I was. I was a big fat sweaty dancing fool. But thankfully the ones who are near and dear to me love me for being a big fool. Even though Bug was probably the most embarrassed of me (purely because of her age and not because we are not kindred spirits in weirdness) she danced with me too. She kept trying to pull me to the side when people walked by, like it pained her to have the general public see me acting this way. I know it was hard for her with her friends being there too. But at the same time who’s going to make her crazy memories if not me? I think kids need to be embarrassed of their parents once in a while. It makes for good stories.

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It IS a good story. But mostly it was a good lesson for me. I did a hard thing and I learned a ton. I organized a spontaneous dance party and really put myself out there. It wasn’t a complete win. I see lots of failure when I look at the photos (the 200 I am not sharing with you.) I see awkwardness. I see myself being vulnerable. I see parts of myself I don’t like seeing. I see others looking at me.

My energy was at a 200 while theirs is barely getting up to 80 which in itself is really cool because they are there and not sitting at home on their couches. I see love. I see my close friends putting themselves out there for me because they love me even when I am silly and weird. I see the light. I see how I didn’t have my camera set properly to catch the light… I have so much to learn. I would love to do it again and apply what I have learned but I’m not sure I could wrangle another crowd together. It’s hard to get people to dance in public!

One of the coolest things that happened was when a woman walked by and started dancing with us. That warmed my heart and made me so happy. A lot of people walked by us and smiled. Some people bobbed their shoulders but this woman woman raised her arms and sashayed in a circle as she walked by us. She even came back for another round and told us that our party made her feel like she was in New Orleans! golden-hour-dance-party-5We were a small bunch. But what a bunch! These are the people who will probably come visit me when I am dying in the hospital. (Well maybe not Bug’s friends but who knows!) These are the people who would come rescue me if I had a flat tire on the side of the road in a rainstorm. These are the people who wear unicorn suits and totally understand me when I have panic attacks.sandra-at-the-golden-hour-dance-party-photographerThese are the people I met when I moved to the apartment complex. That apartment complex is kind of known for being a transitional place where people move to when they are in between stage in their life. Lots of single moms. Lots of divorcees. Lots of people who couldn’t afford to live in big houses but it was the nicest place they could afford near a really good school. My heart runs deep for these friends.

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And Neilochka! Neil isn’t from my apartment complex but he was in town and as a fellow photographer (who’s work I adore) I knew he’d be down.

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Bug and her crew of school friends. They think I’m nuts but not too nuts to completely shun. I think they reluctantly admit I have a good idea or two when nothing else better is going on. Emphasis on the latter.

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We danced for forty-five minutes, counting down the last minutes zealously. And then we packed up and went home happy and tired.

I felt insecure about it for days. But now I’m putting it down in the books as a learning curve to help me through the next big idea. I wonder what it will be?!