Part two
Part one of this story is here

I found myself in the lobby of a hotel on the outskirts of Salt Lake City in Utah waiting for a chap called Dmitriy, that classic American name, to take me to meet Jenn, the lady who would be the model for our trip. I would later establish that Dmitriy was of Greek origin but born in the Ukraine. I love to travel and I truly enjoy meeting new people, but this was definitely out there, even for me. I was alone in Utah and about to meet two total strangers for a photography tour that specialises in art nude in the desert, how did that happen?  Dmitry burst into the lobby and gave me a massive bear hug, no questions, I was clearly his guy (I fear I do look rather British). He thanked me for packing light, I had a suitcase and the world’s heaviest backpack crammed with camera gear, and we sped off in a Toyota 4x4 to the airport to meet Jenn.

Jenn was waiting for us at the airport armed with a far superior suitcase to mine and greeted Dmitriy like they were old friends. I later discovered that they were indeed old friends. Jenn had been one of the first models to join UTadventure, my tour for the week when it all started eight years ago. Introductions were swift and off we went, Dmitriy was a man with purpose and we had a destination to make. Once on the road Dmitriy was at home, a man who enjoys driving whilst sharing stories and experiences. What I’d call banter. Jenn and Dmitriy were clearly very comfortable in each other's company and I was quickly welcomed into the pack. Dmitriy is 50% of the UTadveture team, his wife Auroraa, a six foot Russian model being the other half. But on this occasion it was just going to be the three of us who would embark on this adventure for the next four days.

I was on a private tour, a mini segment in between longer tours that typically involve six photographers and three models. I had actually wanted to take part in one of the bigger tours, I liked the sound of meeting other photographers, but the dates just didn’t work for me. When I declined, Dmitriy suggested a smaller tour that suited my availability and I immediately said yes. 

Dmitriy breathing in the view at the overlook.

The roads in Utah are endless, and the views stunning, our time in the car may have been long but it disappeared with the camaraderie. It wasn’t long before we arrived at our first location, the overlook. This was to be the first of many times that my jaw just dropped at the magnitude of the vista in front of us. It was dubbed a mini Grand Canyon, but there was nothing mini about it. The hallmark of a UTadventure trip is to come away with stunning art nude photos, but that is not just down to the select models they pick, but also a net result of the incredible locations you visit and this was no exception.
By now the sun was low and time was of the essence, I set about picking my camera gear and Jenn, well Jenn was suddenly naked and atop the precipice. At home in my studio I am used to a period of time to get to know my subject, maybe swap a few funny stories over a coffee, but Jenn was watching the sun and quickly switched into her professional mode. We found our creative groove and agreed on a number of poses and looks. In that first 30 mins I took some photos that still make me proud as a photographer, but I later realised that it was my new found teammates that made it happen.

As the sun was ebbing, Jenn switched into a long red maternity dress she had brought and we used that along with a strong wind to take the last shots of the day. That night I got back to the hotel and fed my SD card into my MacBook. Still alive with jet lag I used the time to edit one of the photos of the red dress and post the first of many photos of Jenn on my Instagram feed. I was knackered, but also so happy for I knew then that this was going to be an awesome trip.
The next day we went to Leprechaun Canyon, a place I had seen many times from past photos on the UTadventure website. It was instantly recognisable due to its sheer size. Vast walls of red sandstone reach up into the sky and then get narrower as you descend into the belly of the canyon. Unusually it was busy with other people, busy in the Utah desert meaning between five and ten people. Whilst Dmitriy went ahead to encourage the tourists to leave, Jenn and I found a secluded spot and set about finding practical (see also comfortable) locations for her to pose in, naked. Over the course of millions of years, water has crafted unique paths into the stone leaving crude, but smooth crevices in the floor. We started off by shooting along the length of one of these formations with Jenn wading in the imaginary river. I then climbed up above the rocks and looked down and took a variety of shots that showed the harmony of human form within natural stone. This was one of those moments where I was reminded that I can take a half decent photo.

Jenn the serpent in the sandstone.

As our canyon guests departed we ventured further into the canyon and took a wide selection of shots. These ranged from long exposures on my tripod to close up portraits as well as wide angle environment shots that showcased Jenn as a distant figurine within the canyon. Aside from the constant sound of my shutter, the only other sound was the cold air of the stark walls surrounding us. This was a magical place and one that I would love to visit again, or at least see in the next Raiders of the Lost Ark film.

Time was marching on and Dmitriy moved us along to make our next destination, the second overlook of the trip. This was another impressive reminder that man is insignificant against the backdrop of our planet. You think you have seen it all until you have seen Utah.

On this occasion we focused on fashion shots, Jenn was genuinely excited about ‘shooting wardrobe’ (a new expression on me) and we came away with some stunning shots across three different outfits. It was then I realised I was in my element, I had come all this way and was surrounded by a view that stretched out at least forty or fifty miles across unnamed canyons, but yet I was shooting on a long lens with my aperture wide open, my focus on Jenn and what she was wearing. Classic Sam!

Jenn checking out the back of the camera shots with Dmitriy.

​​​​​​The next morning was an early start, we were headed for Professor valley, the backdrop to every Wild West film you have ever seen, plus the recent Westworld. I still had jet lag and was chatting with my wife, Cleia in the early hours and explained where we were headed. As we departed for our first location, Cleia sent me a photo of Professor Valley on my phone and I innocently asked Dmitriy if this was where we were going. He immediately said, ‘Oh man, you ruined my surprise!’

Once again I was blown away by the next location, it’s only in places like this that you can dare to imagine the size of our planet. We enjoyed the perfect sunrise and ran about being creative with the distant backdrop and also closer desert scenery. Each location affords a few hundred photos (plenty, and yet never enough) before Dmitriy calls time and we are pointed in the direction of the next location.

We jumped back in the car and back down an old dried up river toward the highway bound for our second canyon of the trip. I was very conscious that somehow this was day three and I was running out of time. By now I had seen so much of this amazing State, the scenery second to none and each location hand picked by someone who loved his home and importantly had an eye for photography. But what I hadn’t expected was to also create a firm friendship with two really unique people. We had spent so much time together now that in many ways it was to be expected, I had gone from paying customer to part of the family in such a short period of time, because of the concentration of time and focused creativity we all felt a heightened sense of friendship.

Our next location was Crack Canyon, another long sandstone canyon, but this time one that was filled with holes, the like you would find in Swiss cheese. The walls were incredibly alien, each one studded with holes big enough to climb in and created over millennia. Jenn had been on countless tours and knew each location backwards, so much so that she had her own favourite spots within these walls and in fact was hungry to try out new ones. As the entire location was new to me I was happy to oblige and we stepped through a number of shots, poses and movements. Jenn is an expert at contorting herself into tiny places, whilst retaining a sense of elegance. The resulting photos being a happy contrast of human skin against rough stone, both framed in smooth rock formations that were formed before man was a twinkle in the eye. 

Dmitriy and Jenn, firm friends.

Goblin Valley, an unusual location but common place for these two.

It is here I should mention that Dmitriy is also a fine photographer, one who claims to be at the fringes of his profession. We had joked about this time and again in the countless hours on the road. Photographers always compare camera gear and I remember reminding him about the best bit of kit he had being Auroraa, as not every photographer has a model as their significant other. Our camaraderie had rubbed off and Dmitriy and I were sharing back of the camera shots. It’s always fascinating how two people with near identical cameras can take two completely different photos of the same person and location. This constant creative reminder kept us pumped and we both reveled in trying to achieve perfection with each new pose Jenn created. The photo below was a snap reaction to some stunning bounce light that appeared as we walked down a narrow part of the canyon. I switched to my portrait lens, one that Jenn had become fond of as she said it made her legs look longer and asked her to pose like this, awkward and yet natural. 

The studio lighting effect we stumbled across in this beautiful canyon. 

We left Crack Canyon rather late but happy in the knowledge that we had exhausted its possibilities. Dmitriy had one more stop in mind, a tourist swing by of Goblin Valley (aka Mars) just to take in the view. Yet another magical place that makes you draw breath and is a quick reminder that man has been on this planet for a tiny fraction of time. No photos, this was just a time for friends to chat and watch the sun set. I was quiet and happy to listen as both Dmitriy and Jenn swapped stories of their favourite books. By now London seemed a million miles away and yet it was shortly to be my plane ride home.

The next morning was billed as our last day and an early start. We also knew we had a long journey ahead as we were far south of our tour and needed to be five hours north of us in the Salt Flats come nightfall. The first location was another extreme setting, natural sand dunes in the heart of the desert. The bumpy road was slow going but we made it and were patient with the sun to burn off the morning clouds and create longer shadows that exaggerated the drifts in the dunes. Jenn flipped between nude shots that showcased herself against the magnificent backdrop of mountains and red sand, and also three different outfits that were both a perfect fit for our location, but also strangely abstract. Who wears a long red lace gown in the desert? In all cases the looks were perfect and we had a riot taking the shots. I think it was here that I took the most BTS (behind the scenes) shots.

To date I had shared all my shots with Jenn as we went along which apparently isn’t common place with photographer’s. This had helped us both agree on what good looked like and I enjoyed her reviewing the shots and critiquing her pose, so much so that she would insist on going back and re-doing certain angles. Her pursuit of perfection was like my own, but also really enjoyable to partake in.
We completed our set and got back in the car, creatively exhausted but happy in the knowledge we had saved the best to last, the Salt Flats. Ten minutes later Dmitriy stopped the car to confirm we had a flat tire. Jenn said “these things happen” in a conciliatory way that suggested this was the end of the road, figuratively and practically speaking. We all got out and performed the mandatory kicking of tires that you know to do (but doesn’t actually help). Jenn found a place in the sun and worked through her messages, but Dmitriy was undeterred and quickly had the car on the jack. Somehow the tire was changed within ten minutes and we were back on the road again.

When I first spoke to Dmitriy, weeks before booking my tickets we spoke about my aspirations for the trip, I had a list, but specifically I really wanted to see the Salt Flats. I can’t say for sure, but knowing him now I think he was fully vested in getting the car back on the road to help me complete my mission and see this final destination.

The rest of our road trip was long but filled with competing playlists and yet more banter. We were firm friends by now and the long trip seemed inconsequential.

On our journey to the Salt Flats the weather reports were not good. They suggested it had rained recently which makes the hard salt surface more like slushy snow. As we got closer the flats seemed to vary in composition, some covered in water, some dry as a desert. We were just going to have to work it out when we got there.
Dmitriy ordinarily likes to drive out for six or seven miles across the Salt Flats to ensure a secluded spot for taking nudes, but on this occasion it was touch and go that we’d make it 600 feet based on the deep tire treads in the surface. One car had just been pulled out, which only added to the stark reality that this might be the end of our adventure. Undeterred Dmitriy engaged the differentials in the car and off we sped across the surface. A consistent speed and steadfast direction kept us going, but as we slowed to turn our rear tires began to dig into the surface and we quickly started to kick up the salt.

Dmitriy suddenly confessed to being unsure we’d make it. For the first time I saw this fan of pushing the extremes admit defeat, meaning he knew what was right for our safety. We found a more solid spot closer to the main road and stopped the car. With the remaining hour and a half of direct light we took some of my favourite shots of Jenn, in a variety of outfits (no nudes this close to other people).

The light was epic and bounced off the white surface like studio lighting. Behind Jenn was a backdrop of hard mountains and stunning skies. Jenn expertly worked the light with each new outfit and we both enjoyed going through the back of the camera to confirm if we were happy with the shots.
As the sun finally dropped behind the mountain we put away the camera gear and stayed out on the Salt Flats chatting and breathing in the last of our tour in the dark. It had been a magical experience of companionship, endurance and creatively all wrapped up in a sudden and unexpected friendship.

When I booked this trip I knew I was going to witness some incredible locations and challenge my creativity, but I had no idea that I would create such a strong friendship, one that felt more like a family bond.

As we drove back to Salt Lake City I mentioned that my flight home was late the following day meaning I had a lot of time to kill after I checked out of my hotel. As I should have expected by now, Dmitriy had a plan.

The next morning we got up and embarked on a bonus day. Jenn, Dmitriy and I headed to The Great Salt Lake, the plan being to take some shots on the water, several miles out by foot. As we walked out an additional figure appeared behind us, it was Arouraa, the other half of UTadventure and Dmitriy’s better half. She quickly caught up and just like my first encounter with Dmitriy a firm Russian bear hug was had. Unbeknownst to me, Dmitriy had been sharing our stories with Auroraa and saying “Sam really gets it”. She had also wanted to see my editorial style in action as that wasn’t the typical approach for these trips.

We had lots of fun taking shots together, Auroraa enjoying a very dramatic almost contemporary dance like set of poses alongside Jenn. The two of them were both firm friends, but also allies in modelling for Dmitriy and I.

As the sun got higher we headed back to the cars and arranged to meet for lunch. There we enjoyed a great meal together and swapped stories about the trip whilst Auroraa outlined her ideas for improving future trips. Dmitriy then carried out what must be a familiar ritual of sharing fun Instaxs (Polaroids) from our trip. Pictures I treasure and have on my shelf at home today.

With my remaining hours in Utah we said goodbye to Jenn and Auroraa and Dmitriy took me to see Antelope Island. This was an island out on the lake that seemed to have its own weather and lucky for us was awash with Bison. We took the mandatory photos of the local wildlife but then also found some stunning locations to shoot in. Auroraa didn’t need asking twice and jumped out of car in a long yellow dress and atop the very edge of the world (a long drop down into the lake). I continued to take many photos that soon blended into real photos of Dmitriy and Auroraa who were clearly more than just business partners.

It was there that I confirmed that UTadventure is a family experience one of shared friendship and a common desire to achieve the best in photography.

That night I flew home, exhausted but creatively enriched. We had covered over 1500 miles together and visited some of the most incredible locations I had ever witnessed. My camera bag was covered in red Utah sand, but stuffed full of images and if you are reading this I hope you have enjoyed a few of them.

Dmitriy and Auroraa

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