Cherry picking the views at Sunnylands
In April 2012, I received a call from The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands. It was an opportunity to photograph the lauded Sunnylands, the 200-acre, Rancho Mirage, California, former residence and private golf course built fifty years ago by Walter and Leonore Annenberg of ‘TV Guide’ fame and fortune. It just also happens to be the spot where President Obama held historic meetings with China’s President Xi last year—one of the important political events that has earned the compound the designation as the Camp David of the west where global leaders seek to advance international peace and understanding.
During the call, describing the kinds of shots needed for their printed materials and for historical documentation purposes, it was mentioned there would be the use of a cherry picker to allow me a bird’s eye perspective of the golf course, fishing lakes and mid-century modern architecture by A.Quincy Jones.
“Holy crap!” I thought. The very idea of dangling from what can only be described as a bucket attached to a long robotic arm high up in the air elevated my fear of heights from mild to wild in nanoseconds! These were the ‘pre-drone’ days of photography (a mere 2+ years ago) so no practical, remote flying-camera option was available to lift my gear 100 feet in the air… my REAR was going up there with a camera strapped to it!
I graciously accepted the job despite the stomach pangs I felt thinking about shooting from the cherry picker mainly because there were also some shots needed of the splendid historical interiors designed by the late William Haines and Ted Graber, complemented by the Annenberg’s legendary art collection. I just couldn’t pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity over a little case of acrophobia. ‘Butch it up’, I told myself, and I did!
When the day came, I found myself standing in front of the ‘bucket’ as ready as I’d ever be to go up. Before I could climb in—and this has always seemed odd to me—the operator sent the robotic arm straight to its maximum reach. I was puzzling as to whether his thinking was that I’d be impressed with the heights this thing could reach or perhaps that I would feel more confident in his ability to operate such a heart-stopping thrill ride. Heaven forbid, I thought, that his tactic was simply to scare the living daylights out of me! Regardless of his intentions, the final thought racing through my head as I looked up to see where I would land in a few moments was that I probably should have worn an extra pair of underwear!
Turns out, it was just like a carnival thrill ride and my fears quickly subsided as I became accustomed to ‘levitating’ from that robotic arm and its bucket. In fact, I began to enjoy the ability to defy gravity in order to nail my shots—a superpower I had always fantasized would be so useful in my line of work. I was so lucky to be getting a rare perspective of an incredible architectural and cultural icon while topping off my faded farmer’s tan at the same time. A photographer’s life couldn’t get any better than this, could it?
All images courtesy: The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands