Stylist and creative Elizabeth Maclennan collaborated with photographer Gieves Anderson to produce some of the most beautiful sun-soaked images in the vibrant oasis that is Todos Santos, Baja Mexico. The photos evoke a visceral sense of a languorous summer day, alive with the colors, textures and easy essence of Mexico.
What drew you to Todos Santos? How has that landscape changed the way you live?
It was a place that showed up in my dream life before I actually found my way here. As soon as I arrived I knew it was somewhere that I was meant to be. It's a desert town tucked into a lush green oasis between the mountains and the ocean. At first, it was the landscape and the light and something ineffable about the energy of this place that took me. Although I wasn't completely conscious of it at the time, I was also yearning for more balance in my life and a return to a simpler way of living. Now it's all of those things, plus the community. There are so many wildly creative people living here who are making the most incredible things simply because it feeds them. It made me look at my relationship to my own creativy in a new way. It was a revelation and inspiration for me to see people who were living and creating in a way that was determined by nothing outside of themselves. I desired that freedom for myself and I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and took the leap.
Living in a tiny desert town has changed the way I live on many levels but I think the biggest thing that I've learned-- FINALLY-- is to go with the flow and be present with what is. Time moves differently in Baja and, as beautiful as it is, there are a lot of challenges in this place. Trying to force things won't get you far down here. When you let go of the thing that isn't working, that's when whole new roads open for you and take you somewhere way better than wherever you thought you wanted to go-- literally and figuratively. I've learned to trust and surrender to the current. It's brought unimaginable gifts and magic my way.
How do you balance your time between Brooklyn and Todos Santos?
I'm still finding a balance. When I moved to Todos Santos my intention was to be between places. But then COVID happened and I was living in Todos Santos full time through the early days of the pandemic. Really, it was perfect timing because it gave me an opportunity to fully root into the lifestyle and community here. Over the last year, as things have opened and work has picked up, I've begun to travel back and forth quite a bit. It's been wonderful because I love this tiny little town of mine but my roots, family, work, and so many friends are in New York. I still have a whole life there. In a practical sense, it's my career that determines the balance. Having the ability to be between places was the initial vision I held for myself and I feel really grateful that I'm able to live my life in two places that inspire and nourish me.
What is your creative process like? Where do you draw inspiration?
It usually starts as something ephemeral that I'm wanting to express-- a mood or a vibe. I will then start gathering more concrete inspiration to give it form-- everything from photos and music to movies, books, artwork, poems, etc. I immerse myself in these inspirations and let them really seep in so that I have a visual vocabulary to pull from. Then I do a big edit to create a cohesive mood board in order to communicate what I'm thinking to others-- clients and collaborators. When the vision feels whole, I start collecting all the elements I need for the project-- objects, people, locations-- in an organic way. I really have to challenge myself to stay open and not get too attached to early ideas about the project because sometimes that thing that pops to mind that seems odd but that you just can't let go of-- there's a reason for that! For me, allowing the entire process to be somewhat organic is where the magic happens.
Even if I've conceived of the project, I love the part of the process when collaboration begins. Photo work is a coming together of creative offerings, which is something I've always loved about it. My own creative energy and inspiration grow when I'm bouncing off of someone else and it's exciting to find collaborative partners who you harmonize well with, like Gieves.
When did you start collaborating with Gieves?
Gieves and I began collaborating last year on a project for Domino magazine. We photographed our friend Margot Stern's boutique hotel, Avenida Baja, together. I had been an admirer of his work for a while but didn't know him. He's so talented and I was really drawn to his photographs. On a whim, I emailed and asked him to come to Mexico and do the project with me. It was at a time when people still weren't traveling freely. He called to politely explain to me why he couldn't do it but we immediately hit it off on the phone and he decided to come down, after all. I'm so glad he did because we have a really special creative connection.
Tell us a little about your models?
Aya and Alf are artists who live in Todos Santos. Their creativity is hard to label as just one thing-- it's truly multi-dimensional. They make music and visual art, host performances, curate experiences, collect clothing and things, and put together the most amazing outfits. Their house is this wild visual feast full of things they've both made and collected. Together they are in a band called "Daturas" which performs a "pyschedelic variety show". They are a couple as well and their chemistry really comes through in the photos.
Aya is an artist who does so many things-- dance, photography, wardrobe styling, design work, and hand drawn tattoos. Gieves and I met with her before the shoot to talk about the project and she was so excited about it. She had so many ideas for everything-- locations, wardrobe styling, the story. Aya brought so much of her own spirit to the project-- it was really fun to work with her and have that collaborative energy between the three of us.
I always describe Alf as a kind of unicorn-- there is no one like him. The first time I met him was at a friend's house. He was drinking tea and pulling tarot cards and he took us on this capitivating journey through a tarot spread that ended with him predicting a meeting with a beautiful "woman of his dreams" on a beach. Of course, that ended up actually happening to him about two weeks later! That's Alf-- otherworldly! Everything he does is completely original and leaves you sort wide-eyed and amazed. You can't take your eyes off of him. He has a number of projects in the works at any given time. He is visionary and I'm so inspired by his creativity.
Gieves and I were thrilled to have them as collaborators and to work with both them.
What do you do to unwind?
Unwinding for me means having unstructured time and being very simple-- simple things ground me. On a perfect day, I like to loll around my casita, play with my dog Lenu, take a swim, be in nature, read, listen to music, cook, and allow the current of the day to take me where it wants to, unfettered by obligations.
Three words to describe yourself?
thoughtful, perceptive, spirited
What does a day in your life look like?
Because of the nature of my work, I don't have much of a routine, but on a day when I'm between projects and in Todos Santos, it goes something like this:
I take my mornings slow. Once I wake up I spend some time in silence and ground into my body, my spirit, and the day ahead. I like to start my day with lemon water, some coffee, and then some form of movement like yoga. After that, I make a smoothie, answer emails and do some work which can look like a lot of different things-- concepting a new project, prepping for an upcoming shoot, wrapping a job that just completed, etc. I usually have plans with a friend at some point in my day-- either for breakfast, lunch, or an adventure. Sometimes at this point, I'll get "Baja'd" and my day will take a turn I didn't expect-- I'll find myself touring someone's organic farm, helping out with a creative project, stopping by a friend's studio to see what they're up to, or making an impromptu beach trip. But if I do make it home, I'll return to work-- I do actually have a lot on my plate! Around sunset, I take my pup Lenu for a walk in the desert or at the beach. And then I either have a really quiet evening to myself-- I'll make dinner and listen to music-- or I'll do something social with friends like dinner. I always end my evening with a book in bed.
Was styling innate for you or learned?
It was innate. Long before I knew that prop styling was a thing you could do, I would sit in my elementary school classroom and get lost imagining how I could make the bulletin board look better or how I might rearrange the "book area" so that it was cozier. I've always loved creating little worlds in my imagination and so it's a dream to have the opportunity to make them real through my work.
Have you always felt a need to create in your life?
Yes. I'm a believer that creativity can be channeled in infinite ways and I've always had a strong wellspring of creative energy to draw from. I need to make things all the time-- whether it's sets for photos or a big salad for dinner or a birthday card for a friend. I need to move that creative energy through me and out into the world. I'm always looking for new outlets.
Any advice you would give your younger self?
Yes-- three things come to mind:
- Don't waste time and emotional energy trying to fit yourself and your life into the prescribed structures. Follow the call of your own spirit and your life will blossom in ways you never imagined.
- Sometimes the things that life wants for us are far better than the things we thought we wanted for ourselves. Don't fight the current, let the current take you.
- Don't worry, baby!
Do you have a favorite meal you always return to? Would you like to share?
I'm currently trying to eat a lot less meat but I love a classic roast chicken and it's a favorite of friends and family when I make it! This is loosely based on Ina Garten's recipe. It's great because the veggies roast along with the chicken and catch all of the drippings so when you're done cooking you have a roast chicken and veggies all in one go.
1 whole chicken, insides removed
1 orange or lemon, cut into quarters
1 bundle of rosemary
1 bundle of thyme
1 whole garlic head, cut in half
2 carrots or so
1 yellow onion
1-2 tablespoons of butter, melted
kitchen twine (if you want to get fancy)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F
Peel the carrots and slice them into thick pieces-- about 1.5-2". Cut the onion into 1/2" crescents. Layer on the bottom of the roasting pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add some herbs if you want. Toss.
Wash the chicken inside and out. Pat it dry. Sprinkle the cavity generously with salt and pepper and then stuff it with the citrus, fresh herbs, and garlic. I like to squeeze some of the citrus juice into the cavity as I stuff it-- getting messy when you cook is part of the fun! Lay the chicken on top of the cut veggies. Tie up the legs with kitchen twine and tuck the wings under the body (I have to watch a YouTube video every time I do this part, btw-- no shame!). Brush the top with the melted butter and salt and pepper the outside generously.
Put the bird in the oven and roast for around an hour and a half or so. I always check the temperature with a meat thermometer but another good indication that it's done is when the juices are running clear. Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest by tenting it with aluminum foil for about 20 mins. Et voila! A perfectly roasted bird with veggies for your friends and family.