David Yarrow - In His Own Words
Monument Valley, Utah, USA - 2022
1939 that popped up on my screen time and time again - the stagecoach moving right to left with the unmistakable monoliths of Monument Valley in the background. There is no indication as to whether John Wayne was inside the stagecoach, but that mattered little, this was the perfect visual in what many have described as the perfect western.
The location of the old still from Stagecoach is on private land right on the Arizona/Utah border not far from the Monument Valley visitor centre and my production team secured permission to film there.
It struck me, given the direction of travel was westerly, if we used a wagon as opposed to a stagecoach, we could use the first rays of light to dramatic effect as they diffract through the foreground content. The trick would then be to find a dip in the terrain which would allow for the monolith to pop out above the wagon and horses. This was the critical part of the execution as to block the drama behind would kill the context and the photograph.
We found our spot at dawn and then it was down to luck. I think in this part of the world, the light becomes too harsh to work with really only about 45 minutes after sunrise, so we had a narrow window. The end result is a testimony to the team around me and the great horse driving skills of Dan Harris from Santa Fe.
Monument Valley is a storyteller’s paradise. The enormity of the monoliths adds an extra character at no expense and that character is a constant throughout a day’s filming. No lunch breaks, loo breaks or touch ups. They are a bankable asset that must be used and John Ford did exactly that in his filmmaking.
The issue for a still photographer is that within no more than an hour of sunrise, the light is simply too stark to do the drama of this amphitheatre justice; the vistas become postcard vistas and are dumbed down by breakfast. I would say that the window of opportunity on a clear morning in this part of the world is at best 30 minutes.
The idea of using the spokes of the wagon wheel as a means of light diffraction was not preconceived. I just noticed the effect on the wagon as the sun first emerged that cold morning on the Utah/Arizona border.
The anonymity within this image works because the identity of the driver is not really relevant to the story. It is more about the isolation and the sense of purpose. I would imagine that in the 1880s any trip like this was done for a reason, not as a weekend jaunt and most journeys were concluded with a necessary haste.
Sitting proudly at 11,000 ft up in the sky, Cloud 9 is the infamous Aspen mountain bar/restaurant that hosts riotous parties during the winter season. The ski run down the hill is often complicated by the amount of alcohol consumed before revellers are reunited with their skis.
Aspen is Shangri-La to both seasoned visitors and residents and Cloud 9, with its dramatic location and reputation for glamour and excess, is a part of the jigsaw making Aspen the most famous Ski resort in the world.
My plan was to film up at Cloud 9 and style it in 1970s clothing as a nod to a period when Aspen really established its reputation as a bohemian paradise for the chic and the celebrated.
I booked two great girls - Brooks Nader - a high energy, livewire who has worked with me over the last couple of years and then the wonderful Brazilian - Alessandra Ambrosio - the queen of fashion shows and modelIng for the last 15 years. She is a joy to work with and has a fun and unassuming disposition despite her fame. There are few models working today that are as loved and respected as Alessandra.
The only problem was that we needed to shoot early in the day before the slopes opened and the day was fixed. We woke up to a blizzard and freezing temperatures.
I think adaptation and flexibility are core to what we do. Perhaps my middle name should be changed to “PLAN B”. I saw the snow as an opportunity not a threat and worked the conditions into the narrative. It was the right call.
All those familiar with Cloud 9 will, I think, smile when they see this photograph. Alessandra was magnificent, as I knew she would be.