A couple months ago Kurt was commissioned to illustrate an article about divorce for the April 2016 issue of Men's Health magazine.
Being based out of Death Valley National Park, Las Vegas was the ideal location to photograph the three scenes as the story was taking place in the Sun Belt.
Here is a recount of our experience in Kurt's words:
We had two days in Las Vegas to complete the photography part of the project. It's always about the light, too much, too little, hard shadows, light coming from the wrong angle... For the scene of the house split in half, we were fortunate to find a crack in the asphalt that matched the scene I had imagined!
Finding a suitable apartment to shoot in was our 2nd greatest challenge. After being turned down by commercially owned properties, we began researching private properties on Craigslist. We found a great little home near UNLV, contacted the owner and shot the scene with the man sitting on the couch watching TV . Check out the "Making of" below where Edwige photographed me prepping this particular scene using fiber optic strands, a false floor and a flashlight.
Finding a traditional looking school was another challenge. The Historic Las Vegas High School (which opened in 1930) turned out to be exactly what I was imagining for the scene!
The Making of...
Death Valley is experiencing a"superbloom", its first since 2005. We're fortunate to be here to witness (and smell) it! The park got more rain than usual this past fall and just enough in January to make this super bloom occur. The flowers in the south of the park are past "peak" but the area around Furnace Creek is really starting to fill in with the Desert Gold flower.
Well, we made it to Death Valley N.P. and we're in our third week of volunteering. Last week Edwige and I were out shooting for the park and we came across some photographers shooting near Mormon Point. We hopped out of the car and started documenting them figuring they'd make good lifestyle shots (aside from the Ranger Programs and landscape photos we're always looking to photograph people enjoying the park).
After I got a few good shots, Edwige walked over and asked them to sign a release so that the park may possibly publish the shots online or in print. One of the photographer's name rang a bell so we looked him up when we got back to camp. Turns out we were shooting John Shaw and Jack Dykinga! I'm not usually star struck but I've been inspired by the work of these two guys for years. I've admired Jack Dykinga's work in Arizona Highways and John Shaw's work in National Geographic. In a way, it was best I didn't know it at the time or I would have felt a little intimidated :)
We have decided to merge both our travel blog (lifeinatravco.com) and our Un Petit Monde blog. I have been procrastinating the merger of the two blogs as I didn't want to confuse our art with our life, which is pretty much the same thing. More on that later...
Edwige and I left Minnesota yesterday for Death Valley National Park. We mapped a course through South Dakota hoping to shoot the miniatures in the Badlands and at the Minuteman Missile Museum. That didn't work out so well. I'm sitting in a cafe at Wall Drug writing this blog as Edwige plots our next move. It seems we'll be stuck with very cold and snowy conditions whichever direction we choose.
Our sleeping bag is rated for temperatures as low as 0 Degrees (fahrenheit), which will be put to the test tonight. My primary concern is our food. We should be cozy enough but not all of our food fares well being frozen. In fact, the food in our Yeti cooler is probably 30 degrees warmer than the food at the back of our van!
It's shaping up to be another exciting adventure! As soon as the frigid cold and wind subsides a little, I'll get to photographing the miniatures again.
The aquarium is perched on the bank of lake Superior in touristy Duluth, Minnesota and holds the title of "America's only all-freshwater aquarium”. We drove by it a dozen times over the summer on our way to the Twin Cities and promised one day to pay a visit with the miniatures.
Some quick research helped get us over the hump as the whole building’s facade looks rather underwhelming and a few appealing online photographs of its interiors got us excited about the possibilities with the miniatures. So we chose a cool and rainy summer day to make our first visit. The admission price was a bit high though a positive side of overpaying is heightened creativity and extra hard work.
The exhibits were overflowing with information, we could have easily spent hours reading about shipwrecks and aquatic invaders but it was not the purpose of our visit. We found a quiet nook on the second floor with interesting looking fish, more importantly fish who liked to have their picture taken with miniatures.
From the start of our project, Kurt and I made a wish list of "wouldn't it be great to get" shots. One of them was to photograph the miniatures with the Northern Lights. We were so blessed to see the northern lights 3 times over the past summer!
Our first sighting happened by chance one early morning in June. I needed to go to the restrooms and Kurt decided to go with. I was looking down at the path holding a flashlight and Kurt noticed what looked like fast moving clouds overhead. The northern lights were stretching from horizon to horizon and joining at the top. It looked like a fast, colorful pulse, it was incredible! The whole experience made me emotional as it was the first time I was experiencing the northern lights.
I don’t remember how long we stood staring before we finally ran back to the tent to get the the cameras. We did not get any miniatures photographed that night, we never made it to the restrooms either!
The second time we witnessed the northern lights we were ready to act. Unfortunately, the event took place close to a full moon so we couldn't see the colors as well but Kurt still tried a miniature man watching the lights next to his airstream travel trailer.
The last episode of Northern Lights yielded the best miniature shot, Kurt used an HO scale shack in his photograph. We felt so privileged to be able to experience the Northern Lights so often!
Before leaving Gooseberry Falls State Park Kurt and I had a chance to hike part of the Superior Hiking Trail while the leaves still had some colors left in them.
We headed out early afternoon, the sky was showing signs of rain but we were prepared with jackets and rain covers for our camera back packs. One of our goals was to photograph an HO scale black bear in the woods. (Kurt’s inspiration for the bear came from an encounter with a real one a few weeks earlier).
While on the trail, it started to rain but we kept pushing forward as Kurt was looking for inspiration around us. When the rain stopped, the colors in the trees and the plants were so vibrant! There was a small clearing off the trail with a forest of tiny pine trees, the area inspired Kurt to set up a scene with a miniature lumberjack hacking down a tree.
We walked passed ruins of the Civilian Conservation Corp's camp built in the 1930s. Most of the buildings had only a concrete foundation remaining but regardless of how little was left it was fascinating to see signs of the group’s life in the park.
The weather turned sunny with a few clouds in the sky and occasional light rains. I counted 4 double rainbows! Our trail was hugging the Gooseberry river and after about a mile we finally reached 5th Falls, the farthest falls in the park. While exploring the river bank, Kurt discovered patches of rich green moss. The light was hitting one of them just right so Kurt quickly set up the scene of a hiker being pursued by a bear. This last scene was the highlight of the afternoon. Overall, it was a great day!
We left the beauty of the North Shore and are spending some time in the Twin Cities before heading to Death Valley National Park for the winter. We miss Lake Superior but it's good to be able to get things squared away before we head out again.
As a wedding anniversary gift, my mother-in-law brought us to the Minnesota Arboretum. I had never been there and Kurt had visited it once as a child so we were both excited to discover the place...with the miniatures, of course :) For a late October day, the weather was nearly perfect, neither windy nor cold. The diffused light seemed to make the colors in the trees even more vibrant. After about an hour of meandering I realized that there was no way we could see it all in one day.
After a nice lunch at the arboretum's organic cafe - we ate early to beat the crowd - we toured the gift shop and walked the trails through the woods. It was so beautiful! There were yellow leaves covering the ground and the trees as far as the eye could see.
While exploring, Kurt noticed the top of a barn above the tree line off in the distance and got inspired by it. When asked, a park employee shared with us that the barn was closed to the public for renovations but that we could hike to it if we wished. My mother-in-law stayed at the visitor center so she could listen to a concert performed by the Minnetonka Symphony Orchestra and Kurt and I hiked to the barn.
When we arrived to the farm Kurt began scouting locations to shoot the minis. We were alone except for a group of wild turkeys feeding nearby. Kurt chose a lone farmer admiring his barn as the scene. We were pleased with the result and Kurt was happy to finally get a red barn in one of his scenes!
Back in 2013, Kurt and I moved out of our apartment and into a beautiful 1967 Dodge Travco Motorhome, the same kind of motor home Johnny Cash used to tour in :)
It might have been a 46-year old motor home but it surpassed a lot of current RVs in quality and craftsmanship. We took our Travco on a cross-country road trip to Florida and lived in it for a total of 11 months.
Sadly, we encountered mechanical issues that would have required thousands of dollars to fix so we sold our beloved Travco to a friend who added it to his collection of vintage travel trailers.
We replaced the Travco with a 6-person REI Kingdom tent and lived out of the tent and our van for 5 months while we volunteered in the Southwest. In Joshua Tree National Park, our REI Kingdom 6 tent was set up so we could work, cook and get dressed. The low temperatures at night, occasional downpours and frequent high winds made it difficult to sleep in the tent, so we made the van our bedroom. We loved the entire tent experience and wanted to improve on it so when we returned to Minnesota, we purchased a sturdier straight-wall tent made by Barebones Living.
The Barebones tent has been used throughout the world to house victims of natural disasters so we were confident it would be durable enough to serve our needs. We set the tent up on pallets to keep ourselves and our gear dry in rain storms. We went through half a dozen severe thunderstorms with 50 mph wind gusts and we barely felt it. We have been cooking, sleeping and working out of our Barebones tent for the last 4 months. We outfitted the interior of our tent to be like a small cabin with small book shelf, full size air mattress, toaster oven, blender, small electric space heater and lamps.
It's liberating to live small. We have more time to focus on the things that matter to us, like photographing miniatures :)
Being Camp Hosts in State and National Parks means that we have responsibilities outside of our Un Petit Monde project. Our daily routine consists of cleaning up campsites, answering questions and selling firewood to park guests. Yesterday, we had to deal with a problematic black bear that was hanging around the campsites. And when I say "deal with" I mean we had to stay out of its way! This particular bear was unafraid of humans, which is a bad thing.
Because of this, Edwige and I had more excitement in one day than we've had all summer. Starting around 8am, we took a report of a sighting from a family of four. Roughly 30 minutes later I had my own bear encounter just outside of our tent. Late morning, we received another report of a bear rummaging through a cooler. A few hours after that, we found the bear digging through the dumpster! Although this made for a very long day, it was only the second bear we've seen in our three seasons of camp hosting (to be fair, Joshua Tree N.P. doesn't have bears).
He may look like a big fella in the photos, but he was just about thigh high. Cute but dangerous. Which means I did not get a photograph of our miniatures with the bear!