JamesNYC recalls working on Sports Illustrated 1996

by JamesNYCFebruary 15. 2011 21:25

Since the new Sports Illustrated is now on news stands I thought I'd reminisce about my own S.I. experience.

I had the great fortune to be on a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot several years ago, with a photographer I'd been following since my photo school days back in Chicago.
These YouTube Videos are from our leg of the shoot in South Africa.
We shot in Cape Town, The Kalahari desert, Cape of Good Hope, Johannesburg - Sun City, and the wine country known as Franschhoek
This was back in the "Olden days" of film and Polaroid, 35mm manual focus cameras and the best/most reliable portable flash unit of the day was a portable 600W Hensel.

In fact I personally loved South Africa so much I seriously considered moving there; and the video production company was even willing to sponsor my Visa. Little did I know that I would become a father 10 months later.

Long before reality TV I was foolish enough to attempt industry specific comedy on camera at 7:30 in the morning, before having my morning pot of coffee, on an airport tarmac which at that hour of the day was already 105 degrees. Thankfully the forth generation audio on this 1st video is bad enough that I just sound like an inarticulate exhausted photo assistant; and I can live with that.

For me this was the final travel job of 6 that included traveling to 4 countries, and working 120 days straight with 1 day off while we were in shooting in Milan. It was during this trip that Marco and his business partners and boarding school friends Federico Pignatelli and Gianni Versace (the silent partner very few knew of) were putting the finishing touches on the new Pier 59 Studios in NYC.

Other fun stuff about this trip:
Rebecca Romijn (pre Stamos) gave here engagement ring to someone during the shoot to hold while we were shooting in the red sand dunes. Later that day we spent a large portion of that afternoon sifting through 2 acres sand aided by the local goat herders to find it. The sand in these red dunes is so fine that in order to get an idea of how deep we should be digging we dropped a quarter in the sand from from an elevation of 4 feet. The quarter had gone down 16 inches when we found it.

Travel time direct to South Africa from JFK NYC is 28 hours with 1 stop to refuel off the west coast of Africa (Cape Verde I think). When you know your going to be sitting on a plane for 28 hours straight I highly recommend flying business class. And while South African Airlines appears to have crappy user ratings now, they took really good care of us on that shoot.

When shooting at the Cape of Good Hope the surf spray was so harsh that even when shooting 150 yards from the breaking surf the salt mist was coating the camera and lens and getting into the the focus ring. That particular 200 mm lens which was new at the beginning of the shoot was cleaned and put up for sale at a local camera shop when we got back to NYC.

In order to escape the heat of the intense midday sun our call times were often 4:30 am, so that we could shoot by sun up at around 5:45. We would load the 3 passenger vans and start driving through the dessert to the locations I had scouted the day before. That's a 40 minute drive in pitch black. So to break the silence and to wake up Angie Everhart and I would sing Van Halen songs at the top of our lungs in the van. Actually not the worst duet you've ever heard.

OK, so it was still the 90's. Pretty much every night everyone on the shoot consumed a bottle of wine each at dinner; some more... while we were in the Kalahari the local producers set us up a barbecue of fresh lamb chops (butchered that morning) flown in to us along with fresh veggies and 6 cases of wine from the vineyard we had shot at the week before. While we were eating, drinking, exhausted and sunburned a couple of Bat eared fox strolled through our camp looking for their share of the BBQ.

Night time in the Kalahari is the Blackest black and the quietest quiet I have ever experienced. Very NOT like NYC.

For our 30 day shoot we brought 300 rolls of 35mm Ektachrome 100, 100 packs of Fuji fp100c, all crammed into my flight case. Total baggage of the photo crew (3) including equipment and personal bags was 9. Sports Illustrated/Time Warner had 50 body bags of swimsuits and accessories.

7:00 in the morning is the wrong time to realize that a single Cessna Turboprop aircraft is too small for a group of 8 and all of the equipment and baggage. So we loaded a van and our S.F. producers boy friend drove 16 hours to our next location.

When the video crew on your shoot asks if you want to go on safari with them while the rest of the crew sleeps through the afternoons high sun TAKE IT!! You'll probably never get a second chance to get out of the truck and photograph 3 Lionesses in the dessert sitting under a lone tree watching you.
Wild Animal PHOTO TIP: Keep 1 foot in the truck at all times; cause you really ain't that fast!

I think an interesting video now would be a "Where are they now" of the people from that shoot.
More in that book I keep saying I'm gonna write.



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