Thayer Allyson Gowdy Imports Lessons from Cuba
Off the mainland coast of Cuba there's a small island called Varadero that is largely referred to as Fidel and Raul Castro's getaway. On this island there's a tiny hotel that's open to anyone who can get there, and a man for hire with a jeep to take you on safari. But there are no predators out there, no lions, no cheetahs, no poachers. Instead it's all prey animals happily multiplying to impressive numbers and if you want to drive by and gawk at them, they don't care. Thayer Allyson Gowdy recently had the opportunity to experience this micro safari for a Costal Living story on Cuba. She and the writer, Tracey Minkin, travelled together, a rare experience, and had a totally strange and lovely safari experience. “You jump in this jeep and you drive around on your own private island, and drive with herds of zebras and camels. It’s crazy," she says. "It’s like going to Africa but you’re in Cuba and it’s really small and it’s just yours. It was really surreal.”
We have been separate from Cuba for so long that we've developed in different worlds. So little of our cultures have overlapped, culling the cross over of tradition and information. But with the recent easing of relations, we have so much to learn from one another, most notably for us is medical information. Cuba's medical research is some of the best in the world, and includes research we're far behind in. But as Thayer describes it, there's even more we can learn from Cuba. “Be happy with what you have," Thayer says. Because of decades of sanctions their access to technology and tech products is extraordinarily limited, and although it's no elective for them, we can still learn from it. "I don’t think that’s something that they want but it’s something that they have," she explains. "The saddest part is that’s not a choice they’re making but it’s something that we can learn from them and it’s not going to last very long. All they want to do is live a different life. At least the younger population. That was the most common question I was asked, 'When are they coming? When are the Americans coming?'” As soon as the Americans start coming in real numbers, Cuba will see changes. They will demand reliable and fast internet and cellphone service, and lifted sanctions will mean additional income, a more robust economy, and a freer exchange of goods that they don't have access to right now.
At one point, Thayer and Tracey companion were walking through the streets of Santiago (Thayer's favorite Cuban city), and followed rumors to one of the most heartening discoveries of the whole trip. “There was a dance contest, and there were a bunch of neighborhoods that had dance groups," Thayer tells it. "There were so many people there watching, and I think one of the most amazing things was there wasn’t a single person in the entire audience with a phone. Not one. Not one person was taking a picture or rolling videotape, they were just watching and smiling and laughing. It was really beautiful. it was amazing to see that.” Maybe no one in that square had a phone out because they didn't have them, and they should have the right to acquire whatever kind of device they want to film a hundred town square dance competitions. But if they did have their phones and kept them in their pockets to be totally present with what was happening in the heart of their town, that's something we can learn from. And it's a lesson whose examples are disappearing by the day.
Thayer Allyson Gowdy and Creative Luxury
One of the challenges of lifestyle shoots, something that Thayer Allyson Gowdy is very familiar with, is the pure amount of energy that has to be maintained. Getting a deep variety of imagery in a plethora of settings takes a lot of time, and a lot of focus. The energy compounds on itself on set and ultimately helps to frame the final images with the same energy spilling in. As beautiful as those results are, there’s another side to lifestyle that can offer the same kind of beauty. When Thayer shot for Tommy Hilfiger, it was a bare bones crew. It was just her, the art director, a prop stylist, and her digital technician, and it was exactly how she likes it. “It was kind of a dreamy job,” she says. “We had so much freedom… It was a rare opportunity that we got to just sort of collaborate. It was refreshing and really, really lovely.” Working with a group of people that small meant both physical and creative mobility, allowing them to find the right shots in their own time.
When it comes to treating her shots this way, Thayer uses an athletic example. “We had a shot list for the day we stared and we just sort of moved through it at our own pace,” Thayer says. “And we always got done really early and did extra shots. It’s sort of the same theory of a marathon: if you walk part of a marathon, you can still get a good time.” In truth, when photographers are working on broad projects with deep requirements, it is very similar to the work of an athlete. At the end of the day we judge the final product, their performance. But to get there requires focus, time, and practice. And nothing can beat perfect conditions on the day. Part of Thayer’s perfect conditions on this shoot was her relationship with Lionel Cipriano, the Art Director for the shoot. Their creative synergy on set is what allowed for the compounding good vibes. She explains that when you have a working relationship like what she has with Lionel, you can leave behind on-set drama, which is a big time save. “You get straight to getting an image done a whole lot quicker when you can collaborate that closely, we ended up getting so many more shots than we needed each day and we had a shot list as long as our arm,” she says. “It was great! And we had a good time!”
When it comes down to it, those relationships are as important to a photographer’s success as their prowess with a camera, and it really shows up in the frames. “Any time that you feel really good and there’s good energy, it’s really positive and relaxed,” she explains. That feeling permeates the entire set and suffuses the images with effortless beauty and a little shot of natural luxury.
Thayer Allyson Gowdy Does Chicago in a Day
When Good Housekeeping contracted newest B&A roster addition Thayer Allyson Gowdy for their profile on actress Sophia Bush, they knew from the first moment it was going to be a busy day. Picking five different locations around Chicago, the setting of Sophia’s NBC show Chicago P.D., meant that they were going to have to move quickly at each location. Each spot they picked, from a taco joint, to a pie lovers dream, to a beer company, came with its own unique challenges and pitch perfect charm. “It was crazy we did like five locations in one day. It was basically just run and gun,” explains Thayer. At each location they had to set up, photograph, and take down in less than an hour each time. It was a challenge, but it wasn’t a problem at all.
For Thayer what made the day possible was the teamwork brought together through her crew, that at times included Sophia. At times it was all hands on deck, and although no one ever asked anything from Sophia than to show up and be beautiful, she did much more than she had to. “Sophia was so great,” says Thayer. “She was just part of the team. It was pretty awesome. She just jumps right in. No judgment. No pretension. She’s a fantastic person.” With everyone working towards the same goal, making sure they could get every shot possible, they were able to spend more time working on the photographs than setting up and taking down the shots. And even that was easier because of how Sophia acts in front of the camera.
For Thayer, a high speed, high-pressure shoot couldn’t have asked for a better kind of subject. She was shooting someone who was comfortable in front of the camera and ready to show up and work every moment. “Actresses are so great to shoot,” says Thayer. “You tell them what you need and they just deliver. Sophia is used to a high pressure schedule being in TV that it doesn’t phase her at all.” Every moment at every location was used to its greatest potential. They got every shot they needed, and then some.
In fact, at one stop, Antique Taco, they were able to take a little time to enjoy some of the restaurant’s wares. As you can see in the behind the scenes video, they noshed on some tacos. And Thayer doesn’t mince words when it comes to her praise of those tortilla wrapped yumyums. “I live in San Francisco where we have fantastic tacos,” explains Thayer. “I’m a taco snob. It was the best taco I’ve ever had. I’m not joking.”