Oprah Magazine: Valer Austen

A few months ago, Chris worked with O, The Oprah Magazine and traveled to the wilds of Arizona to make portraits of Valer Austen, a captivating conservationist dedicated to reviving and continuing watersheds in the deserts of the southwestern US and Mexico. As president of Cuenca Los Ojos, she works tirelessly to restore and revive biodiversity on the border region between the united states and our border to the south.

Unfortunately this adventure was one that I had to miss, but do not worry, our superstar assistant Jared Castaldi traveled with Chris to Arizon  for this shoot. Keep reading for his take and more photos of our experience with Valer Austen…

[Editorial note: The rest of this entry will be in Jared’s voice with editorial comments in italics]

Back in May, Chris was assigned to shoot Valer Austin for Oprah magazine. Valer is an environmentalist that has been developing new ways of bringing water to the desert and reviving watersheds near her home and in Mexico – so Chris and I packed up the gear and headed down to Arizona.


Because of our schedules, we didn’t arrive in Phoenix until pretty late at night and still had to make the two hour drive south to Tucson. Valer lives and additional two hours from Tucson and we had to be there early in the morning the next day so we had no choice but to drive through the night. We may or may not have stopped at an In and Out Burger to fuel our journey…

The next morning we headed out early and grab a rental generator for the shoot and make the two hour drive into the desert to find Valer’s ranch. To put things in perspective, her ranch is literally in the middle of the desert. Nothing around for miles. To get there, we had to at one point drive on a dirt road for about 15 miles.


We finally arrive at the ranch. It’s beautiful and tucked down in a canyon in the desert. Chris and I hop in an ATV and drive around the ranch with Valer’s husband, Josiah. We scout it out and plan our shots for the day.At our first shot location we get set up and are ready to go. Just as Chris starts shooting with Valer, our lights stop working…… dun, dun, dunnnNNNN!

So. Back to that rental generator…. we decided to go with a generator that was similar to our little 2000w/s Honda generators. It was an off brand Home Depot generator but we figured that it would work just as welll as our Hondas. Boy was I wrong there. Once we started shooting a bunch of frames in a row the generator kept overloading and shutting down. Now we’re at least 2-3 hours from any Home Depot, so taking it back and exchanging it wasn’t an option. Luckily for us (mostly for me…), the ranch had its own 8000w/s generator that Josiah was kind enough to load into an ATV and take to our multiple locations.

Assistant rule learned the hard way: “Never take a chance with an essential piece of gear that you’ve never used before or tested.” [ed note: at this moment, I am very happy that I wasn’t the assistant on this shoot.]


After that major hiccup, the rest of the day and the shooting went smoothly. Valer was very generous with her time and gave us most of the day with her despite the intense desert heat. It was an extremely long day for the both of us but the photos made that day were completely worth it.




The next day we had a day off and decided to drive up to Sedona to look for some landscape opportunities. Chris had been there before and it didn’t work out and this time was no different. There’s something weird about Sedona. It’s absolutely beautiful but there’s really no way to get the right angle for the landscapes shots Chris was hoping for.. unless you rent a helicopter…. which we didn’t…. which I wish we would have… [really glad they didn’t decide to rent a helicopter without me]

We hope you liked hearing this story from a different point of view. Jared is a main member of our crew and you’ll be hearing more from him in the future. For now though, make sure to check out his website www.jaredcastaldi.com and keep up with him @jaredcastaldi on twitter.

3 replies to “Oprah Magazine: Valer Austen”

  1. Wow cool location, love the final images. Also I made a note on the quote…“Never take a chance with an essential piece of gear that you’ve never used before or tested.” Great tip, thanks!

  2. Chris could not finfd your email…could you please write to me. I have a favor to ask you. Thanks and Bravo for the pictures!!!

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