Photo shoot in the olive grove

Olive Grove April 2010The man on my front deck looked like he had teleported through a time machine, straight out of the 1960s. He was wearing dark sunglasses with octagonal, gold wire frames. His sideburns were long.

“You must be Jared,” he said, shaking my hand. In his other hand, he held a camera.

“And you must be Mike,” I answered.

He nodded. He had a relaxed smile, and his hair curled and flipped in sandy brown waves. He looked like he could have studied meditation with the Beatles in India.

No more anonymity

When I started this blog back in 2009, I was more or less anonymous. I used only my first name and a photo of me with my face obscured by a hat. But when the blog won awards, people started showing up to interview me and take pictures. It was freaky. It made me uncomfortable. Having lost my anonymity, I gave in. I began using my last name and using pictures where I was recognizable.

And now here was Mike, a freelance photographer working for Random House. He had come to our tiny olive farm to take pictures for my upcoming book. Life just keeps getting stranger.

Mike’s photos will supplement my own. Random House wanted pictures of me with the chickens and the pigs. They also wanted a shot of me down in the olive grove as a possible book cover.

At first, the thought of appearing on the cover struck terror in my introverted heart. I don’t like being the center of attention at my own birthday party, let alone a book cover. But I decided to let go. Random House is in the business of selling books, after all. I decided I would let the photo shoot with Mike unfold naturally. If I ended up on cover, so be it.

Down to the grove

“Let’s start with the cover shot,” Mike said, and we began walking down towards the olive grove.

Olive grove and the far hillsIt was a warm, sunny day. We’d had to cancel earlier appointments because the weather had turned cloudy. Mike wanted a certain kind of light. Today we had it.

Strolling along, I asked him about his photography. On his website there are a lot of pictures of famous New Zealanders – movie directors, musicians, poets, chefs, and athletes. It looks a bit glamorous.

“What kind of photos would you take if you could take photos of anything?” I asked him.

He smiled. “Sheep.”

“Sheep? Really?”

“Yeah. I love taking pictures of sheep. Can’t help it. I’m from the Waikato. A country boy at heart.”

“Well, I suppose there are worse things you could do with sheep.”

When we arrived at the olive grove gate, Mike’s face lit up. Under the olive trees, sheep were everywhere.

Mike Heydon lying in the grass of the olive grove. Image by Annika Davisdon.“Do you mind waiting here for a moment?” he asked. “I want to get some photos of the sheep before we scare them.”

I sat in a shady spot at the edge of the grove, and Mike wandered off to take his favorite kind of pictures. I waited 5 minutes, 10 minutes, maybe 15. It felt like a long time. This guy really did love taking photos of sheep.

When he came back he apologized. “Sorry. I took longer than I’d planned.”

I laughed. “Far be it from me to come between a Waikato boy and his sheep.”

Then the real work began.

The photo shoot

Mike found a row of olive trees he liked, where the light was good and the angles were right.

“Walk down that row,” he said, and I did. It was the end of November, and the flower buds were forming. So I did what I would have done if I’d been alone. I reached out and held the soft ends of branches, pulled them towards me to check for buds.

“Turn to the right 45 degrees,” Mike said. “Now step back half a step. That’s it. Look at me.”

I spent the next four hours in front of the camera. I had to change a couple of times so all the photos didn’t look the same. I carried a folding pruning saw and work gloves in my back pockets, in order to tell a story. We worked in the grove, down at the river, with the pigs, with the chickens. I felt like a dork.

River in the shadowsThere were times when Mike would fall quiet and I would forget he was there, which was no doubt what he wanted. I would pet Dougal the kunekune or look down along the edge of the riverbank, and then I’d suddenly realize Mike was taking pictures of me.

It is surprisingly hard work to have your photograph taken. I became exhausted. I now have a new respect for supermodels.

CJ, being shy and valuing his anonymity almost as much as his agapanthus, didn’t want his photo in the book at all. Eventually he agreed to be photographed from afar, or slightly obscured by the animals. Later Mike smiled and told me, “The chickens were more cooperative than CJ.” And it’s true. The pictures of CJ make you think, “Why is that man hiding from the camera?”

At the end of the day Mike and I did another round of cover shots in the olive grove, then we strolled back up to the house. I turned to say something to Mike, but he was gone.

Then I saw him. You guessed it. He was at the edge of the grove, taking a few last photos of sheep.

The proofs arrive

When Random house sent me the proofs of Mike’s photos, I was impressed. I’m afraid that you’ll have to wait for the book to see his photos, but I can tell you that Mike truly captured the beauty of this place. The olive grove looks enchanted. The river looks magical. The sheep, of course, look gorgeous.

And then there are these pictures of some guy. He’s petting the pigs, and he’s looking out at the river. He’s inspecting the branch of an olive tree. And I think, “Who is that? Who is that man standing there, looking like he actually belongs in that olive grove, wearing those farm boots and that red plaid shirt? Is that me?”

I barely recognize him.

What do you think? Should I resist being on the cover of the book?

Related links

Thanks to Annika Davidson for the photo of Mike sneaking up on sheep.

34 thoughts on “Photo shoot in the olive grove

  1. Hayley

    I can’t understand why either you or CJ don’t want your photo’s taken, you are both gorgeous (my littlest thought so when she hopped into CJ’s lap at the Dr’s and insisted he read her a book). i can’t wait to see the book and photo’s. I love the photo of the river. Laughed at Mike and his sheep

  2. Eda

    I’ve been thinking about doing something like your book with my blog (item #4627 on the list of things that will probably never happen) and to be honest, I wouldn’t want to be on the cover. Not the front cover, at least, or at least not close up, although less obscure than CJ would be good. I’m not helping, am I?

            1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

              You know, I recently saw some mock-ups that used Greg Keith’s great illustrations. While the illustrations are absolutely amazing, the layout and whatnot just didn’t tell you a story in 2 seconds the way the photos did. When you look at the photo covers, you know instantly what this book is about. It’s about this guy and this olive grove, and it’s a beautiful grove and you just feel like you want to be there. So that’s when I decided to go with whatever Random House wanted to do and simply get over myself.

  3. margottrommelmans

    I’m glad you will be on the cover of the book! It makes it more personal. You are really a gifted writer and together, the story and the photo’s makes it complete. I like to read about the life of other people, in a for me unknowed land. New Zealand is for us (Belgians) far away. (16600 km) and by following this blog it looks like i’m visiting New Zealand. I hope we can buy the book in Europe.

  4. free penny press

    I’m a camera shy person as well so I totally connect with CJ. Sounds like these are exciting times so embrace and enjoy. Random House? You sure go big, how wonderful. Looking forward to the book!!


  5. Maria

    It’s amazing when you follow your dreams and then wake up one day to find you don’t recognize the person you see in photographs or the mirror. I’ve found I like the surprise much more than the preconceived idea I once had. You guys are such an inspiration!! Can’t wait for this book!

  6. Ginny

    I cannot wait till the book is released! Will you be doing a book tour in the US? What fun. I hope you do! I’m sure the pics look gorgeous.

    1. Aunt Charlie

      Gorgeous creatures that you all are (including the sheep, pigs, olive trees/grove,river and oh yes, you and CJ), love hearing about this shoot, no doubt the first of many. I have just begun a path to US book tour, stay tuned all you fans!

    2. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      No tour for US on the cards right now. Although Aunt Charlie sure is doing what she can to make that happen. She’s telling bookstore owners about it everywhere she goes in the US!

      See the book page for buying the print book overseas. And here’s hoping it gets picked up by a publisher in the States. Regardless, I’m just so grateful for it being published at all that I’m thrilled no matter what happens.

  7. Diane

    Of course you should be on the cover! I can hardly wait to hold this amazing book of yours in my hands. I think I’m going to need several signed copies for gifts, too!

  8. ilargia64

    I understand you and CJ,….I am shy as well…But, you know? If he is as good as you have said, if he has been able to capture the magic of the place you really love…And if , at first , you were unable to recognize yourself..That must be because he is good, he captured your inside, your love for your land and your animals…So, you must be on the cover!

  9. Madeleine Slavick

    I hear you. Having yourself on the cover of a book can feel strange, even vain. But, since your book is about your personal experiences there, it seems right to go for the personal image — the transparency, honesty, openness. (And I have a photo of myself on my latest book of stories and photographs, and it has worked well, and no one has criticized it at all.) All wishes to you, the olives, and Mike’s sheep. -m

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      Yes, I think that’s part of my ongoing conflicted feelings. It is not only strange, but can be seen as a bit vain, and that makes me uncomfortable. Good to know you’ve done it with no tomatoes being thrown! :-)

  10. Katie

    As a bit of a diva and ex-model I am afraid I would beg to be on the cover! haha! You should be on the cover. You earned it. This is all your work and creativity come to life. Congratulations!

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      This made me laugh. Thank you. There is, of course, a part of me that would love to be on the cover. I admit it! But it’s only a small part and it’s drowned out by all these other parts.

  11. Jamie

    If you insist on resisting their putting you on the cover, you should only pretend to resist. Down on the creek bed during the dry season, find a patch of dust. Rub your toe in it, head down. “Awe, shucks,” is your line. “If you guys think it will help sell books …”

    I’d ask what in the world is wrong with CJ if I didn’t know full well. Had I been there at the time, I would have tried to talk him into it — not into agreeing to be shown in the book but into at least letting this guy take some shots, reserving the right to veto later if he had to, once he saw the one or ones they proposed to use.

    This is not a book, after all, about how beautiful New Zealand is. It is about your experience of it. Two guys from suburban America, living and loving the rural life. It is, too, about two gay guys acting like any other human beings. It should have in it a couple of shots of the two of you, not glamour shots, and certainly not close-ups, but shots showing you at the work of living. CJ has broad shoulders. They would help sell books.

    A former houseguest

    1. Moon Over Martinborough Post author

      I am so glad you left this comment, Jamie. I love your words.

      The 2 photo sections for the book are sorted now, and the odd ones of CJ hiding from the camera didn’t make the cut. So there’ll be no images of CJ in the book at all. But he infuses the entire thing. He’s in practically every story and it’s his fault we moved out here in the first place.

      The glamour shots are definitely something we want to avoid, so you’re right on the money there.

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