Blessing In Disguise (Part 1)

Tucson, Arizona and its surrounding landscape have always been one of my favorite places to photograph, and this past weekends shoot for an ad campaign focusing on a race against time for charity was no exception.  On November 29, 2016, a day also known as #GIvingTuesday, my musician Brother, Scott Helmer will attempt to break Hunter Hayes’ Guinness World Records title for "Most Live Concerts Headlined in 24 Hours (multiple cities)," while helping raise money and awareness for 12 incredible causes along the way.  Beginning in San Diego at 9 PM on November 28 and concluding at 10 PM the following night in Phoenix, each of the twelve concerts along Scott’s route will benefit a different cause including; Toys for Tots, Boys & Girls Club, Teen Lifeline, Rio Rico High School and more.

The focus of this shoot was to highlight Victorinox Swiss Army, the Official Timekeeper and Timepiece of Scott's attempt. Originating from inside a cutler’s workshop in 1884, Victorinox stands for quality, functionality, innovation an iconic design, and was gracious enough to donate a brand new Chrono Classic XLS watch to be given away in connection with a hashtag contest Scott will run to help promote his initiative.  Beginning October 15 participants will be asked to upload a photo or video onto social media telling the world who inspires them to never give up and why.  Other prizes include the actual guitar Scott will use to break the record, compliments of Godin Guitars and Seagull Guitars, a Focusrite recording package and fine art print from Rich Helmer Photography.  As the Official Photographer of the attempt, I wanted to make certain the timepiece was featured in a creative and meaningful way.  With that in mind, my gut told me to head to the Pima Air & Space Museum to capture these images but it was not meant to be.

Scott Helmer inside the stunning Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Scott Helmer inside the stunning Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Located in Tucson, Pima Air & Space museum is one of the world’s largest non-government funded aerospace museums and features nearly 300 aircraft spread out over 80 acres.  It is also home to the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame and one aircraft in particular that I knew would serve as the perfect backdrop for Scott’s Guinness World Records attempt ad campaign featuring Victorinox, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. Holder of countless altitude and speed records, the SR-71 was originally developed as a black project from the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft in the 1960s by Lockheed and its 'Skunk Works' division. American aerospace engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson was responsible for many of the design's innovative concepts and Pima Air & Space Museum is one of only thirty locations around the globe to showcase this incredible aircraft.

With Scott as my subject and co-pilot for the day’s adventure, and armed with my main weapon of choice, the Fujifilm X100S, we made our way south to the 'Old Pueblo' from the Phoenix area that we both call home, all the while enjoying an amazing array of clouds and a what appeared to be a massive thunderstorm system building in the distance.  Arriving on location shortly after 3 PM, Scott and I had spent the 90-minute drive discussing possible setups and scenes with the iconic spy plane as a backdrop, including how I wanted to capture some live video footage of him with the plane for his fans. Excitement is really beginning to build around his 2016 Guinness World Records attempt and I thought a personal message from Scott in this setting would really get people fired up.

Upon entering the museum which closes it doors promptly at 5 PM, we were quickly turned away by staff who informed us that, "no visitors were allowed in after 3 PM."  Seeing that we were only a few minutes past this cutoff, we pleaded our case, being sure to include how our visit was to capture a few key photos to aid in promoting a Guinness World Records attempt for charity, and how we would make certain to wrap by the close of business. Unfortunately and much to our surprise we were told, "no exceptions would be granted."  We promptly exited the facility and began to formulate, "Plan B".

As many photographers know, photoshoots, however meticulously planned in advance, usually never unfold in real-time the way you've mapped out, and remarkably those initial ‘failures’ end up being the greatest gifts.  This day and shoot was no exception.  As we left the museum and as the sky began to open up with a heavy downpour, Plan B seemed to hit us both at exactly the same time, "The Mission!"  Located just nine miles south of downtown Tucson and originally established as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692, Mission San Xavier del Bac began construction of the church in 1783 and is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.  A National Historic Landmark, the church’s 18th Century interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings, and retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners.  While there is no admission charged to visit Mission San Xavier, they do rely on the generous support from the local community and from people around the world who after visiting find that this treasure forever becomes a part of their lives.

That fact is definitely true about Scott and his own journey.  His entire initiative, including the upcoming Guinness World Records attempt is a result of his making some very poor choices in his own life, losing everything and being on the brink of suicide.  It was in this very dark place and being one second away from pulling the trigger that he asked God to help him through this difficult time and in exchange he vowed to never give up and to use his negative experiences to help others.  Since then, his concerts have helped raise more than $2 million dollars for military veterans and their families, equine and pet rescues, food banks, non-profit theatres, suicide and crisis prevention, special needs children and adults, high schools and colleges, and many more.  And during his most difficult time Mission San Xavier del Bac served as point of refuge and solace for Scott in his own life.  “Everything I’m doing now goes back to that moment where I was one second away from pulling the trigger,” says Scott. "I had to make those dark times in my life mean something and using my music to give back is the best way I know how.”  It's interesting how the days turn of events brought us to this very spot for today’s work.

Coming up in part 2 of "Blessing In Disguise", you'll learn how my adventure unfolded and led me to capture an inspiring group of images. Sign up now to get the Rich Helmer Photography Blog emailed directly to your inbox.

Behind the scenes. Rich Helmer at work at Mission San Xavier del Bac. Photo by Scott Helmer

Behind the scenes. Rich Helmer at work at Mission San Xavier del Bac. Photo by Scott Helmer