In Memory of Jason Bell

One of the main themes I feel like I’ve had throughout my photographic journey has been relationships. I love how the process of telling a story allows us to connect with the person in front of the camera and behind the camera. The collaboration, trust, and vulnerability needed on both sides of the camera in order to really create something special. You’re telling the subject’s story just as much as the story of the outlook behind the camera as well and that takes a lot of trust and a deeper connection is built through that trust. We become attached to the stories we tell and the people we meet. That’s why I felt like I needed to create a completely separate post for my time shooting with Jason Bell.

A shot of Jason from John’s Workshop in December.

I met Jason in December of 2018 at John Russo’s Workshop while he was one of the models for the first day of shooting and I was attending the workshop as a student. I know I’ve touched on the experience multiple times over the past few posts so I won’t go in too deep, but we had the opportunity to work together a bit and grab some really interesting photos both while the group was shooting and after they had walked away and I’d had the chance to pull him aside for something a bit different. While we were shooting 1-on-1 we had the chance to talk a little bit more and connect over shared experiences we’d both had growing up. I was blown away at what he had already accomplished in his career working with the Howard Stern Show and as an aspiring model and actor out in LA. He had so much depth and was such a kind hearted soul I really hoped we were able to meet up again and shoot with more time to create and get to know each other further.

Fast forward to the end of my first day of shooting with Wilhelmina models Sabina and Raquel. We had just finished up and I had been in contact with and setting up a shoot with Jason throughout the week as well. He was able to come out that day and we ended up with about 25 minutes to shoot something in the same space on the back end of the Wilhelmina shoot. He had this whole plan and some really amazing work from different artists that were inspiring him lately. He wanted to try and shoot some stuff that felt a lot like those images as well as pull together a shot inspired by his favorite actor: Johnny Depp. I was all in and really pumped to have more 1-on-1 time to work with Jason in front of the camera. He is an incredibly good looking guy and has such an interesting and amazing look for photography, I was thrilled to create.

We started with the Depp inspired shots and Jason had this white shirt on, some glasses, and a stocking cap that really nailed the look pretty perfectly. My 69” Octa was still set up where I had left it by the windows and the wooden wall I had been using with Raquel and Sabina, so we headed up there and Jason jumped up onto the leather chaise that was in the space. I wanted the overall feel of the image to have more mood, so I used the v-flats to completely block out the window light coming in from Jason’s right (camera left). The only window light that would be effecting the shot would be coming in from about 12 feet down the wall being more front-facing in direction as a small amount of fill light. Next, I set up the 69” Elinchrom Octabox on the Profoto B2 light (yes, even those small heads can hold that big modifier like a champ, I’ve never had an issue!) and put that where the window light should have been coming from. The reason for doing this and not just using the window light was I wanted to area effected by the light to be more focused. The window is a huge, broad light source that would have equally effected the entire scene. Using the 69” Octa still gave me the beautiful, soft light I wanted and lit most of the scene, but I could create more directional and dramatic light with it than I would otherwise.

The results were phenomenal and still stand out as some of my favorite portraits I’ve ever taken. Jason’s mood and persona in front of the camera was absolutely spot on and the light, skin tone, and outfit paired with the surrounding set was spot on for what we wanted to create. Capturing the whole thing on the Phase One gave me a ton of depth in the shadows and detail in the image which really brought the whole thing to life. I probably could have stayed here in shot all day playing with different ideas and poses, but I knew we had captured something special and we still had another setup we wanted to shoot through before we wrapped.

Jason brought in some images from an artist he had been really digging on Instagram recently and wanted to try and do some moodier shots that were inspired by his work. They were really beautiful, dark, dramatic portraits in black and white of various male models. I instantly knew what to try and use to create the images we wanted, and we threw some Orsten on the bluetooth speaker and set to the task. I used the V-flat World v-flats I had with me to create a little, black cocoon around Jason to block down all of the spill light and create a black backdrop. I snuck the one side of the v-flat in close to Jason’s right side (camera left) to really pull in some drama and create deep, contrasty blacks. For the main light, I used my Profoto B2 with a 4×1’ Profoto Stripbox with a grid on it to camera right. I had this off to the side to create just a strip of light that would hit Jason’s face and fall off drastically on the far side of the face. Then, to add just the slightest amount of light onto the right jawline (camera left again), I had my Profoto B1 with the 69” Octa back a long ways to have just a tiny amount of soft light land on the jaw through a break in the v-flats. The result was pretty awesome. Not exactly like the other photographer, but inspired by it with our own little twist to it. Jason changed between a really cool grey sweater he had and going shirtless a la the inspiration photos. We wrapped on that set and were pumped with what we were able to create in the short amount of time we had to do it.

This 25 minute shoot was one of my favorites from all of 2019. What we were able to create and capture in such a small amount of time was awesome, but getting to connect with Jason again was just as great. He was always looking for when I was coming back into town offering to show me around and just being the good natured and pure hearted person that he was. We hung out a few times after the shoot when I was back out in LA just to grab a drink and catch up. It was something I always looked forward to and I am heartbroken at the photoshoots we talked about but will never get to create. 

Rest in Peace my friend. You are gone way too soon, but you’ll never be forgotten.

Just before Thanksgiving in 2019 I received a DM on Instagram from one of Jason’s friends letting me know that Jason had died in a motorcycle accident the day before. They were trying to get the word out to friends and family and raise money to help get Jason’s body back to his parents. I was absolutely devastated and barely slept that night. I’ve continued to think of Jason from time to time over the past few months and live just a little more the way he lived. Free caring. Creative. Boundless. Graceful in a way that was always apparent whenever you interacted with him. 

Rest in Peace my friend. You were an incredible light in this world and it’s a little darker without you in it. You’ll always be remembered for the amazing spirit you were and the kindness you exuded.

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