We go behind the scenes of our August/September issue cover shoot with photographer Michael Neese.
When he heard about a cover shoot featuring Wes Studi in New Mexico for Cowboys & Indians, photographer Michael Neese of Studio Seven Productions says he was stoked. “Wes is Mr. Santa Fe. Wes is Mr. Actor. Wes is Mr. Green Chile Stew. The restaurants in Santa Fe know this by now. It’s a small town. Wes is a big name.”
The drive from Neese’s base in Albuquerque to the shoot location at Indian Head Ranch in Las Vegas, New Mexico, took about two and a half hours. “Call time was 9 a.m.,” Neese says. “My two assistants and I were on time and ready to go. I knew this was a celebrity shoot when the groomer, Willow, pulled up in a Range Rover and Wes arrived in a shiny new Lincoln Continental.”
The news had just broken about Studi’s Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. “Wes was humble about his award,” Neese says. “I offered to write his acceptance speech. Wes chuckled, and that was it — no excuses ... a man who knows how to say no.”
Wes might play some bad dudes in movies, but he can do the funny stuff, too. “When he got bored with one standing pose, he turned and offered his backside for a shot,” Neese says. “Then he started doing stretches, using the hitching post as a ballet bar. Cute! But nothing prepared me for what was to come next.”
Neese has photographed Wes multiple times, but this shoot went to another level: “What he did for the C&I cover at Indian Head Ranch was futuristic and almost mesmerizing.”
The assembled group on location at the ranch for the shoot included C&I publisher Greg Brown, associate publisher Brandy Minick, five ranch hands, three photographers, one photo assistant, one groomer — and one classic red and white Jeep pickup.
Click above to view the behind-the-scenes slideshow.
Neese dubbed the amazing skill Studi demonstrated in front of the camera the “15.”
“The ‘15’ requires the utmost body control, timing, and the ability to visualize an external viewpoint of your own body in space,” Neese says. “Mr. Brown would pick an area for a shot, and a point of view. I would set my camera, set the lights, and do test shots with a stand-in. When I was ready, Wes would emerge from the adjacent building all made up and pretty.
“Wes instinctively would find the best spot, best angle, and best side, making it his shot, almost ignoring our pretense, but simply making it 100 percent his shot.
Then the famous actor would find his perfect profile stance and start the “15.”
“As a photographer, I work with a variety of subjects, and quite frankly most of them require direction. When working with Mr. Studi, I keep quiet and click the shutter when he allows.
“As if in a robotic artificial-intelligence trance, he began moving everything in a complete arc, at 15-degree increments, showing 15 views in under 60 seconds.
“I don't really know if Wes was rotating, or if the universe was rotating around him — he has that much presence. Each view would be unique in body position. But what makes me call this the ‘15’ is that each position had a different emotional cue.”
That, Neese says, is what acting is about. And Studi is a seasoned pro.
“Thanks, Wes Studi, for your many iconic performances.”
In true Western fashion, there was plenty of inspiration in the moment and creative decisions on the fly during the shoot.
Indian Head Ranch has been a working cattle ranch and private getaway of Steve Alvis of Houston for some 20 years. “Preserving the cowboy way of life is of utmost importance to him, and the ranch is his way of doing it and being able to enjoy that way of life even in the modern day,” says ranch equine and hospitality manager Lydia Kyle.
C&I publisher Greg Brown saw the Jeep on the property and thought it was so cool that he asked if we could borrow it for the shoot. The Jeep belonged to the family of Pappy Harris, a local contractor who lives in the small nearby village and has been doing renovations on a historic property on the ranch. Pappy was happy to oblige.
The Borrowed Bohlin Buckle
“The funniest thing was that Wes took my Bohlin buckle off me to wear,” says associate publisher Brandy Minick.
At one point, everyone had their cameras out. That’s Michael Neese behind the big lens and tripod. And that’s Brandy shooting with her iPhone and wearing her aviators, a Ryan Michael shirt, and the good-looking Bohlin buckle that Wes borrowed. We won’t ask who wore it better!
Photography: Studio Seven Productions, Courtesy Brandy Minick
Read the August/September 2019 cover story. The issue is on newsstands now.