There aren't many clients man enough to assign out a feature to be shot on film, let alone large format. They are out there, but these days, are few and far between.
In the spring of 2010, Mark Kohlman from ESPN and I came up with the idea to take my large format camera, and as Mark put it, "point it at guys on dirt bikes". The resulting shoot that was five years ago still stands out in my mind as two of my favorite days of shooting in my career.
With a background in motocross, I knew most of the guys in the crew who would be along for the two day shoot, and had just worked with Ronnie Renner the month before in the same location for a campaign for Airwalk, and was familiar with some of the areas we would be focusing on.
I hadn't, however, ever photographed anything of this sort in large format. I would be working with a big boxy camera, lenses with slow shutter speeds (not a good choice for shooting action), heat, dust, and having to transport everything around on a dirt bike. Oh, and not to mention that while shooting large format, you can't look through the camera when you actually take the picture. Focusing and composing is all done by calculated guesses. The odds were heavily against me leaving the shoot with any usable images.
But, hey...a camera is a camera.
Over the course of two days, we shot 24 sheets of film, most of which found their way into the feature. My slow, bulky camera made it a constant hustle to keep up with the crew. While the riders were scoping out a jump and started warming up on it, I'd take a quick lap around on my bike, pick a spot, set up the tripod, build the camera quickly, compose and focus...keeping fingers crossed that I had chosen a favorable position to shoot from. Relocating wasn't an option. Five minutes later, we would have captured one photograph on a single sheet of film, and the riders would be on to the next feature.
The landscape at Ocotillo Wells lends itself perfectly to what we were setting out to accomplish. Over a hundred square miles of mud hills that once lay at the bottom of a dry, extinct lake scatter for as far as the eye can see. Not only are they photogenic, but they are a playground for any freestyle motocross rider.
The scene is as close as you can get to the look of the moon here on Earth. It's dry. It is harsh. But above all, it is beautiful.
Big thanks to Mark Kohlman and Ryan Leyba at ESPN, and Ronnie Renner and crew for the invite.