Humboldt County Line, California
I had never met Lula when she approached me about making some photos of her in my nighttime style of photography. But I was game; placing a figure in an image inspires stories in the mind’s eye of the viewer, and I could see from the photographs she shared that she was comfortable modeling.
My only plan: I would do my thing photographing starry nightscapes, while trying to interpret within my abilities the ideas she brought, and create some kind of scene with them. We decided on the County Line sign at the Cooks Valley Bridge, where on the north side it’s Humboldt County, and to the south, Mendocino.
I picked her up at her place after dark. She was grabbing last minute props and doing makeup and putting things on. I didn’t know what her ideas were going to be.
“Mind if we bring this shotgun?” She said, hefting the heavy piece.
“Uh — “ Jeepers, a shotgun! I didn’t even know her, which might have been precisely her thinking. But I said, “Ok…”
Putting a shotgun in an image was an idea I’d never had. Way outside my box… but I liked it. She probably felt safer with it, too, I thought, though I wasn’t sure I did. I’d try to stay behind the business end of that prop. Anyway, the images were sure to resonate with people in one way or another. It would be good.
Cooks Valley Bridge on Highway 271 crosses the South Fork Eel River at the southern border of Humboldt County, parallel to Highway 101 just a couple miles south of Richardson Grove, site of wonderful campgrounds among giant redwoods along the Eel.
We shot from several angles, with various lighting, and she wore different clothes and struck different poses, creating opportunities for narratives to develop in the viewer. One of the poses was whimsical, a dancer in the twirling glow of a whirling scarf.
As Lula and I photographed the dancing scene, a car’s headlights down the road approached and pulled in alongside my truck. The lights went out, and a car door slammed shut. Uh-oh, I thought. Miscreants? I worry about them sometimes.
“Is one of you David Wilson?” Called a woman’s friendly voice.
I laughed. “Yes! Who is it?”
“It’s Talia!” She cried. Far out! It was Talia Rose, famous around these parts for her wonderful wildlife photography down near the county line. She had just passed by us a few minutes before, and returned to see if it were me. And it was.
We laughed some more. She pointed out where she’d seen some of the wild animals she photographs. A couple days later, within spitting distance of where we were on the bridge, she saw and photographed a mountain lion stalking an otter. The great cat may have been nearby while we were out there, staking us out for a midnight snack. I thought about that, having read all the Tarzan books (multiple times).
I won’t explain the photographs individually. A photograph is worth a thousand words, they say. Some photos show, some describe, and some tell stories. Consider the stories forming in your mind as you study these images. What thoughts do you find surfacing? Whatever I may have been thinking when I photographed these moments, whatever Lula thought as she planned her outfits and props and poses, the stories forming in your mind are your own. I made these photographs knowing that the figures would tell powerful stories for some people. Though there are times when I want to send a message, this isn’t one of them, and these photographs aren’t messages from me. They are catalysts for your own thoughts. The thoughts you are experiencing are from you. My own role is to provide food for your thoughts.
What I am trying to say is that I’m not trying to express a message here. Yet I know these images will generate some powerful thoughts in some of you.
The distant hillside was illuminated by the headlights of passing cars on Highway 101, and the light in the foreground is my own. The model, Lula May Williams, can be found on Facebook as “LulaMay The Model,” and on Instagram as @lula_may_no_lula_will .