Miss American Coed – California Pageant Queens

Last weekend I got the chance to photograph the California State Queens for the Miss American Coed Pageant. They met for the day in Ontario, at the Hyatt, and after full make up and hair, we started shooting out by the pool, with the girls wearing Celebrity Pink Jeans.

Miss American Coed

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Miss American Coed

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Miss American Coed

This might be my favorite image from the day – it’s just so dramatic and emotional. It’s a beautiful portrait!

Miss American CoedMiss American Coed

Miss American CoedMiss American Coed

Miss American CoedMiss American Coed

Miss American CoedMiss American Coed

Miss American CoedMiss American Coed

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Miss American Coed

Miss American CoedMiss American Coed

What could be more Californian, than beautiful girls, bright sunny light, windswept hair, and a crown?

Miss American CoedMiss American Coed

Miss American CoedMiss American Coed

Miss American CoedMiss American Coed

Miss American Coed

And we’ll end with the littlest pageant queen – you’d think that crown might be maybe a bit too big? But you’d be wrong – she knew how to work it!

Old San Juan Capistrano

I spent some time in one of my favorite places yesterday – on Rios Street, in San Juan Capistrano – near the Mission and the train station.

San Juan Capistrano

My favorite house was built in 1870 by Jose Dolores Garcia, as a gift to his wife. He wanted to build a unique home, so he did extensive research on horseback, in Anaheim, looking at other homes built in that era. It was the first wooden house built in San Juan Capistrano and is now the O’Neill Museum.

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San Juan Capistrano

Pink Bougainvillea

A wrap-around porch with pink Bougainvillea..

Bougainvillea on front porchSan Juan Capistrano

San Juan CapistranoSan Juan Capistrano

I’m a big fan of the Victorian penchant for mixing flowers and fruit – if you look at the art from the era, still life paintings, with ripe succulent fruit and overblown flowers were extremely popular. They also combined the two in their front yards – as witnessed here – an orange tree, with a few oranges still clinging to the bottom branches, and one overblown, past it’s prime, rose. Perfectly Victorian!

San Juan Capistrano

The train still runs through the center of town, just as it’s done for over a hundred years. The Metrolink is a commuter train that can take you to Los Angeles, Riverside, or San Diego.

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San Juan Capistrano

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San Juan Capistrano

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San Juan Capistrano


There’s a petting zoo right on Rios Street – and I did a portrait session with a very pretty Alpaca who posed for me. We did a few headshots, and then a full length shot. She has that hair in the eyes thing going on that I just love!


AlpacaOrange Bougainvillea

Eventually one of her Alpaca friends wandered over, and wanted in on the action…

San Juan Capistrano

The houses in the Los Rios District range in age from 50 to over 200 years old. You can read more about the individual houses, and the Los Rios District at sanjuancapistrano.net

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San Juan Capistrano

White picket fences seem to be quite popular on Rios Street.

San Juan Capistrano

San Juan CapistranoSan Juan Capistrano

I arrived on Rios Street just before sunset, and by the time I left the sun had set, and the the restaurants were hopping, and the movie theater across a side street was open for business…

LA Guns “Shrinking Violet” Deluxe CD Cover

If you know me, then you know CD covers are my ultimate goal. The very idea of one of my images on a CD cover makes me happy!

And I’ve had some success in that arena – I did a couple of beautiful CD single covers for Marty Casey, and a CD single cover for Lukas Rossi – as well as two CD covers for an indie band back in the late 1990’s. But somehow, a full-length CD by a major band hadn’t come my way yet… until last summer!

LA Guns' Shrinking Violet Reissue CD Cover / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I’d shot LA Guns live in concert and backstage several times in 2008 and early 2009, so when they called late in the summer of 2009, I was there! We shot the images in and around, and behind a rehearsal studio in North Hollywood, on the day before the band left on tour. Beautiful images. Some of my favorite images ever of the band.

It was nearly a full year later before I held the actual CD in my hands – but was it ever worth the wait! It’s a beautiful CD, and I’m totally thrilled with the way my images were used. Favored Nations’ graphic artist, Maria Villar, really did a bang up job! When you open the cover, and pop out the CD, you’re immediately hit with one of my images – it’s big and bold and backlit and beautiful!

LA Guns' Shrinking Violet CD CoverAnd another of my images is on the back cover.

A little about LA Guns… The band was formed in the mid-1980’s by Tracii Guns, and at one point merged with a band called Hollywood Rose led by Axl Rose, to become a new band called Guns N’ Roses. Tracii eventually reformed LA Guns, and in 1989 they had a platinum album with Cocked & Loaded, and their single, “The Balled of Jayne” peaked at #33 on the Billboard Hot 100.

In 1999, former Love/Hate singer Jizzy Pearl joined LA Guns, and with former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke producing, the group released the album, Shrinking Violet.

In 2006 bassist Jeremy Guns joined LA Guns, and in 2007, drummer Chad Stewart joined the band. This CD is actually a Deluxe Reissue of the 1999 CD – but it also contains five bonus live tracks with the current line up – which is why they needed new artwork – and why I got the call!

Seeing my name alongside Tracii Guns and Steve Vai and Gilby Clarke in the credits? That’s just the best! But perhaps even better is that in Tracii’s “Thanxs” section, he spells my name as Cheryl Speltz – instead of Spelts. My name is spelled correctly in the credits – it’s only spelled creatively in Tracii’s section – and I gotta say, when a guitar god with a name ending in two i’s gets creative with my name, it’s just fine!

related posts

>> LA Guns in North Hollywood
>> Marty Casey – I See Stars
>> Marty Casey – Crime of Fashion
>> Lukas Rossi – So This Is Christmas

My new project…

Hemet, CaliforniaI’ve started a new site, for my new city – and I’m filling it with beautiful images, and photo essays, and stories!

So far I’ve blogged about Winchester Farms, Little Lake, Valle Vista, the Hemet Carnival, Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church, and one of my favorite old houses.

If you’re at all interested in life in Hemet, California, check it out! www.HemetWeb.com.

Haptic versus Visual

Self PortraitA little nuts, isn’t it?

And yes, that’s my real hair.

But why?

The year was 2002 and I was in a color photography class, and the assignment was Haptic versus Visual. Pick a subject and shoot it straight, simple, and honestly. Then take that same subject and shoot the feeling. Not the visual representation, but the “feeling!” Two prints, one Visual and one Haptic.

All I can say is that I must have been feeling really really colorful at that point.

How was it done? The hair or the image? Both? Well the hair was easy, just get it damp and put in small rollers, let dry, and Voilà! Instant curls!

Creating the image wasn’t hard either, but there were quite a few steps. It was originally shot on black and white 35mm film and printed on black and white paper. Then I took food coloring and painted liberally. The food dye shows up best in the lightest parts of an image, but I like applying it to the darker areas as well – and making rich inky shadows. Then I shot that print with a 4×5 camera, using color film. The final print was made on color paper – so it is, in the final form, a full-color chromogenic print, with the look of a hand-painted black and white print.

So where is the straight photo for comparison? The Visual representation? Isn’t this Haptic versus Visual? Where’s the Visual? Well, it still exists, but it’s boring. Really boring. And not really representational at all. And I got a B on it. I got an A on the Haptic version though, so maybe I’ll just leave this post with the one image, and skip the boring…

It’s not what you don’t do…

blueberries and cereal

How often have you heard someone who is trying to get healthy, or thin, or beautiful, explain that they don’t eat cookies anymore? Or potato chips? Or maybe they go all the way and just swear off all fat or all carbs…

It seems so simple and elegant to just say “no more bad food” and be done with it.

But for me the problem with swearing off certain foods or food groups, is that while it sounds good in theory, it’s incredibly difficult to do.

Isn’t it smarter to think less about what you’re NOT going to do, and think more about what you ARE going to do? Like adding more blueberries to your day? Or eating at least one fresh vegetable everyday? Or drinking enough water each day?

More early self-portraits

Once I discovered self-portraits, I fell in love hard. Who isn’t fascinated by their own image in the mirror? But to capture what we see in the mirror in a photograph? And then twist it, into something that expresses not just how you look, but also who you are? It’s beyond cool!

This series is all from 1996. At the start of the year I was still playing with the light from my vanity, and going for “pretty” images. I was also shooting models and my first musicians and bands, so it’s probably not surprising that even my self-portraits from that time period have a little bit of a commercial twist. But by the end of the year I was in full-on fine art mode.

Self Portrait / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Definitely going for the “pretty” with this one. It was shot on tech pan film – which has a very fine grain – and is good choice when you want to enlarge an image significantly, like this one. In fact, the actual print includes all of both eyes, and more – but my current scanner couldn’t handle a print that large, so I just scanned the center section, and let the left side fall off.

Duplicity / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Once again, going for the pretty – but this time with a twist! This image is the result of a flipping the negative during the exposure – so it’s a darkroom trick and really difficult to get right. I was VERY happy with this final image – I loved the way the hair crossed in the center. Very cool!

The last three images were all for one assignment – we were to think of three words that had meaning for us, and illustrate each one with a self-portrait – and we were encouraged to do something that scared us.

Volition / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Volition was my favorite word at the time – it means the act of choosing, or the power to make something happen. I was in love with the word… So I chose a long exposure and a lot of movement to express it. I set the camera timer, then bent over at the waist, and flipped my hair back, and the lines you see in the image are strands of hair, as they passed in front of the lens. Some images are magical, and can’t be recreated, and for me, this is one of those images – I still love it, all these years later.

Hope / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Hope was my second word, and to illustrate it I decided to do something a little out of my comfort zone. I decided I was going to feature my least attractive body part in my photo – and for me at the time, that was my stomach. I was determined to make a beautiful image of the ugliest part of me – that’s the definition of hope, for sure!

Narcissism / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

My final word was Narcissism. It’s probably not hard to guess why I chose narcissism at this point! Self-portraits tend to make you question all sorts of things. I decided that the best way to twist that concept into an image was to shoot myself first thing in the morning, with wet hair and no makeup – in other words, at my absolute worst – and try to make that into something beautiful. Getting past puffy eyes and wet hair, and into sensuous lines and tangled creamy focus – it was a stretch, but I loved the final result. I still do!

So that was 1996 – it was a good year for self-portraits!

Eat Locally. Eat in Season.

California white nectarines and blueberries

When I was just out of high school I got to visit the same nutritionist who had treated my Great-Grandma, my Grandma, and my Mom. Her advice was personalized, just for me. She had me lay on a board, with my head lower than my feet, and she felt all my internal organs through my clothes. She looked at my skin and hair and eyes. She gave me pamphlets, and told stories and gave me lots of really good advice that I still remember.

One of her best pieces of advice was to eat what is grown locally and what is in season. It’s just plain healthier, as well as being cheaper.

And who doesn’t love California white nectarines and California blueberries? I’m so grateful to live here!

My first self-portrait…

Self PortraitIn the Spring of 1995 I took my first photography course – and in the fall of that same year I was introduced to self-portraits.

The assignment was simple – make a self-portrait – no other restrictions or rules. Most of my classmates groaned, but I got excited!

All art reveals something about the artist who made it. We spend time debating and critiquing art, because good art says something! And self portraits expose the artist in a way that no other art form can – it’s not just your art that’s on display, it’s also you!

If you want to get in really deep, you could say that every piece of art an artist makes is in reality a self-portrait…

I was a beginning photo student with no lighting equipment and not much in the way of lens choices – so I had some limitations – but I could see in my head what I wanted to do, and I knew just how I’d do it! I had a vanity in my bedroom, with full makeup lights, and I set up my camera on my tiny tripod off to one side, and I sat on my little stool and posed, tripping the shutter with a borrowed cable release. After processing the film, and making proof sheets, one frame jumped out at me – the one where I cut the top of my head off, and you couldn’t even see my eyes. What kind of a self-portrait was that, if you couldn’t even see my eyes? But it was the frame that spoke to me, so I printed it, and matted it, and ended up getting an A on the assignment.

Bottom line, there are no rules with self-portraits. That one frame said more about me than any of the rest. I won’t tell you what it says about me – that’s for you to decide, as the viewer – but it definitely speaks volumes about who I was as a person and as an artist at that point in my life. In other words, it’s a true self-portrait. Who needs eyes anyway?

Nathan in the summer of 2010

One of the best parts about my new home in Hemet is that it comes with a garage that faces the North. That may not mean much to most people, but as an artist the words “Northern Light” make me all feel all tingly inside.

What’s so special about Northern Light? Well picture the globe, spinning on it’s axis… No, that’s way too complicated.

Okay, picture yourself at home, and note the position of the sun at different times of the day. In the morning the sun is obviously in the east and at sunset it’s in the west. Easy. But there’s more to it! Depending on where you are in the world, the sun is also a little to the south or a little north of you – just a little – all day long – but it’s an important distinction.

Since I’m in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is usually a little south – so the plants on the southern side of my house get more sun and the plants on the northern side get more shade. Fairly basic stuff, right? But, that’s not the fun part – the fun begins if you have a window on the northern side of your house – I call it make everybody beautiful light! No direct light at all – just lots of soft light bouncing around outside and illuminating the subject. Beautiful!

And if you have a garage facing north, and you raise the garage door? That’s like a big huge natural softbox, only better.

The only thing I like better is a garage facing west… You can get the golden glow of late afternoon, but because you’re under a big roof, there’s no direct sun, and so no squinting – it’s really really beautiful. But, the drawback with western light is that it’s not quite as flattering as northern light.

My nephew Nathan spent a little time in California on his summer vacation, and he volunteered to help me test in my studio/garage space.

Nathan / Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Can you believe that light?! Beautiful! And Nathan is beautiful as well. When I saw this image, I felt like it’s a glimpse of the man he will become. He looks soooo mature here!

We also shot a little out in Winchester Valley, just for fun – and I’ll post those here as well. It was a fun day!