Jason Castro at the SLS Hotel, in Beverly Hills

I got invited to an industry showcase in Los Angeles this week – Jason Castro, who was on American Idol in 2008, and is now signed to Atlantic Records, was at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. I’d never heard his music before, but the invitation came from someone who used to work with one of the singers on Rock Star, and she’s now working with Jason – so I jumped at the chance to go! If she believes in him, then he has to be good – right? And I’d been hearing about the SLS Hotel a lot lately – Ryan Star showcased there just last month – and a photographer I know did a session there in July that was beautiful – so I was excited to see the hotel as well.

The SLS is really as fabulous as I’d heard it was. I met Arlene Catherine there, and we spent quite a bit of time exploring and enjoying the chandeliers dipped in plastic, glass deer heads lit from within, lettuce head floral arrangements, orange leather couches, monkeys as fine art, mirrors everywhere, and private dining rooms done in all white or all black. Everywhere you look it’s fabulous and funky and modern and fun – and it’s less than a year old, so it still has that fresh new vibe.

And Jason was great! I got there early enough to hear him do an interview with the camera crew, and then do a snippet of a new song – and I really liked what I heard, so I knew it was going to be a good night! The showcase was outdoors, and the sun was setting, and it was a good crowd for the size of the space – in other words a perfect summer night in LA! There were exactly eight fans – I had a fun conversation with one of them, and she said they all knew each other from recent concerts. It’s always cool when a few real fans get into an event like this – their enthusiasm is contagious and it makes it more fun for everyone!

Jason started the show with the same song I’d heard him do a few bars of during his interview, and he said he had just finished tracking it in the studio last night – and so this was the first time he’d performed it in public – and it was definitely my favorite song of the night. It was earnest and sweet and poppy – and fun! I told him after the show that I thought his personality and his music were a perfect match. Only a truly winsome artist could get away with singing songs that sweet and carefree – and Jason is as winsome as they come. He’s totally enchanting in person!

The rest of his short set was good too – but that first song was my favorite – wish I could remember the name of it?! Funnily enough, my least favorite song of the evening was the one that he’s the most well-known for – he mentioned he’d done it on American Idol, but since I don’t watch the show, it was new to me – and it was fine – but his own material is just so much better.

After the show there was a moment before anyone had approached him, and his fans were hanging back, knowing that this was an industry showcase after all, so maybe they should wait a bit before rushing him. So it seemed like the perfect time to go over and tell Jason how much I loved the show. He’s just as charming up close, and I was chatting away when I suddenly realized that there was a camera trained on us – the same camera that had taped the entire performance and had recorded the interview earlier in the evening. It’s not like I didn’t know it was there – I was very aware of it for most of the night – but for some reason in my head, when the show ended, the camera went off too – right? Wrong…

I have no idea why I worry about getting caught being enthusiastic and passionate on camera? Why would I worry about getting caught being myself, at my most pure? It really is a mystery! But I have to admit, I’m secretly making a wish, for that the footage to never ever ever ever surface…

And finally I should mention how great the sound was! The SLS isn’t just good at funky modern decor and really fun food – they’re also really good at making an acoustic artist sound great!

Marty Casey in Old San Juan Capistrano

Marty Casey at the Mission San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsI decided this session needed it’s own blog post–the images are just too gorgeous not to be seen at their full size…

We shot this session in Old San Juan Capistrano, both on Los Rios Street, and at the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

The Los Rios Historic District is the oldest neighborhood in San Juan Capistrano, California. Some of the adobe houses date back to 1794–including the Silvas, Rios and Montanez adobes, with the Rios Adobe still inhabited by descendants of the original family. The neighborhood also has historic wooden homes from the 19th Century, and Los Rios Street is lined with 200-year-old pepper and olive trees.

The Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1775, is the seventh of twenty-one missions in California. The Great Stone Church was completed in 1806, but an earthquake in December of 1812 caused the church to collapse, and the ruins still exist today. At it’s peak over 1000 people lived at the mission, but with the collapse of the Great Stone Church, as well as changes politically, the missions went into decline. In 1834 the Mexican government sold the land holdings of Mission San Juan Capistrano to twenty prominent California families. California became the 31st state in 1850, and President Abraham Lincoln gave the missions to the Catholic Church in 1865, just three weeks before he was assassinated. Today the mission is run by a non-profit organization and relies on donations for financing.

Marty Casey at Mission San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Marty Casey // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Marty Casey at the Mission San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Rios Street // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Marty Casey at Mission San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Marty Casey at the Mission San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Marty Casey at the Mission San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts.

Marty Casey in the Los Rios Historic District // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Marty Casey in San Juan Capistrano // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Icon vs Icon

Last week online pop culture magazine, Icon vs Icon published a great new interview with Marty Casey – and with it they debuted some images of mine that have never been seen before.


Shot last fall in San Juan Capistrano, the session yielded one truly iconic image – and of course Icon vs Icon chose that one for their headline image! It’s also the primary image on myspace.com/martycasey and it’s the very first image in my portfolio at cherylspelts.com. Iconic is an understatement – of all the images I’ve shot of Marty, it’s the one in my opinion, that best encapsulates who he is – if any one image can do that… It’s pretty and gritty, and complex, and mysterious and yet still wide open.

But that image, as great as it is, has been seen before… The fun part this week is the new stuff! Icon vs Icon used four never-before-seen images, but there are even more in the slideshow!

Icon vs Icon

I’d like to thank Jason Price at Icon vs Icon… Jason, you rock!

Model Homes

I read a quote from a magazine editor recently, that mentioned the fact that not many artists are creating work about the current housing crisis. She was speaking from the frame of reference of someone who needs topical content for her magazine, but it made me wonder – why aren’t more artists referencing what’s going on, right here and right now? And on a personal level, why aren’t I? It’s definitely impacted me personally and professionally. You can’t really get away from it in the inland parts of Southern California. If there’s anyplace where you’d think you could find art about the the housing market, it’s here.

That’s not to say that just because we’re here and it’s obvious, that Southern California artists have some kind of obligation to go out and make art about foreclosures! But at the same time, how can you avoid it, when it’s such a big part of the culture in the area?

My conviction, the more I thought about it, was that sometimes it takes time for an issue or a feeling or a problem to sink into my consciousness deeply enough, for art to result. Other times that process is almost instantaneous – in 2004 I remember getting back after a major wild fire that almost claimed my home, and immediately reaching for my camera, and going out to create art out of the ruins around my neighborhood. But it’s not always that fast. Art comes from feeling and emotion – obviously – but what if you don’t know how you feel? This isn’t just an economic downturn, it’s not just the almost 14% unemployment in the county I live in, and it’s not just a bunch of empty, abandoned houses – it’s a lot of hurt people. People I know and love have been hurt. Loss is everywhere. So yeah, my feelings run deep on this, and that’s obviously the place where art *can* start…

So I decided to do an exercise. I shot some abandoned model homes, just to do it. To see where it led. I had no expectations, and nothing pre-conceived. I just wanted to go and see what happened. The results are maybe a little shiny, happy, glossy – but that’s okay – it’s part of my nature to find the serious *and* the beauty in everything I shoot. And I think that even though the images are beautiful, there is something off about each one – and in a way that’s more jarring than just flat out going for desperation and abandonment. Those feelings are there, but they’re the twist, not the main event.

A few notes on the location – it was in Winchester, California, at an abandoned housing development. Only a half-dozen model homes were built, and each one is still labeled with it’s model number. There’s evidence of a stream with river rock banks that used to run through the front yard of the main office, with a little bridge to cross it. There’s a sign pointing to the bathrooms. There was landscaping at one time, but the trees were cut down – who knows why? The turf has died, but the sprinkler heads are still there. Every single window and door was carefully and very thoroughly covered with thick plywood – no one has been in those homes since the sales people moved out. There is no graffiti at all, except for the spray painted note you see on the garage door in the first image.

It’s a really lovely location, and while I don’t like modern homes like these (I’m an old house lover!), I can’t imagine a better location. There’s a rock foothill right in the middle of the track, and the roads were built around it, so the neighborhood would have been really pleasant to live in.

And finally, I have to say something about the future. What you have to know is that this is Southern California. There is great demand to live here. Give us time, and these houses will have owners, and families will move in, and the idyllic location will not be wasted. There’s really no such thing as an abandoned house in Southern California, there’s just houses that are between owners.

Maybe I’ll come back in a year or two and shoot the same houses, from the same angles, when the grass is green, and the windows and doors are uncovered, and when there’s life in the streets.

Model Homes // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Model Homes // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsModel Homes // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Model Homes // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Model Homes // Photo: Cheryl SpeltsStreet Signs Are Up // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Bright Blue Sky and Puffy White Clouds // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Sidewalk to Nowhere // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Chain Link Cross // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Bright Shiny Future // Photo: Cheryl Spelts