Blog #217  8/8/17


Shawnee Free Jones, on a mirror, at the pool bottom.
Really challenging, yet relaxed and beautiful.

Many photographers – perhaps especially fashion and beauty photographers – have favorite models that they photograph again and again. Irving Penn made some of his best images with the Swedish model Lisa Fonnsagrives, whom he eventually married. Richard Avedon had a special affinity for Lauren Hutton. These unique models offered special inspiration to their photographers, the term muse is the right one in this context.

I have worked with many models and dancers since my early work with ballerinas in San Francisco over 25 years ago. I’ve photographed some, such as dancer Katita Waldo, multiple times. I’ve been lucky to work with wonderfully talented individuals on very demanding underwater projects, but there has been one very gifted model whose natural brilliance particularly helped me make what I consider some of my best images.

Shawnee Free Jones entered my Marin County pool at a models’ casting. At one with water, she was relaxed and moved in ways that I had never seen before. I was so overwhelmed with her ability to be at home underwater that I thought I was seeing God. Shawnee was a gift, a dazzling, radiant gift.

I soon learned that she had spent some of her childhood in Fiji, where the ocean was her playground. She told me she’d had underwater tea parties, and put bungee cords around turtles and went for underwater “walks.”

Shawnee’s middle name, Free, perfectly describes her particular genius, an ability to use her body underwater in infinitely creative ways. Her improvisations were like physical jazz solos. I would hatch an idea and she could work for an hour making every photograph I took significantly new and different from what went before. I only needed to suggest a feeling, and she would invent and re-invent without ever running out of ways to express it, without any heavy directing from me.

She was my underwater muse, making my work look fantastic. She spoiled me, and like a true muse, made herself irreplaceable as no one else could do what she could.

One of the first of many photo-shoots we did together, this for Wolford Swimbody- a line of bathing suits.

For Target’s “Taking the Plunge” ad campaign

Just sweet, lovely…

Being goofy, having fun.

She moved like a fine highly trained dancer though she had no dance background. These two images were made for a television campaign for Sony-

From an ad campaign for MGM Grand Spa. This video from that same campaign showcases Shawnee’s underwater expertise:

“Kohler As I See It” ad campaign

Beauty editorial for IO Donna, the weekly style magazine of La Repubblica in Italy

With balls filled with water, Shawnee showing her inventiveness and creativity in an ad campaign for Wacoal Intimate Apparel

An advertisement for Palmer’s CocoButter

Fashion shoot: Goddess women of Atlantis for Gear Magazine.

She was the “STAR” in my book “THE PRINCESS OF THE SPRING and THE QUEEN OF THE SEA” an underwater “fairytale” shot as a fashion editorial for Stern magazine.”

This was a series of more provocative images Shawnee wanted to make for her own portfolio. These were not images I was interested in making: It was a way to thank her for the magnificent work we had done together. This was her shoot!

We explored many ideas together. In this image the camera captures her underwater (the lower 60% of the image), then her reflection at the undersurface of the water, and finally, at the top, the refracted image distorted by photographing at a more severe angle through the water’s surface.

She lays on 4×8’ clear plastic on the pool’s surface; I am underwater shooting straight up!

She lays on a mirror on the pool’s bottom; I am on the water’s surface shooting down.

In this image, I asked her to descend slowly – no easy feat. She made it look effortless, and special. This became the cover of one of my books of underwater photography, “POOL LIGHT”  –

I’ve placed one of Shawnee’s photographs onto the Empire State Building for my “Installation” project.

We have not seen her for some time—Beverly and I miss her greatly.