By Meredith Bless
I like to think that most of us possess the intuition to be adaptable to our environment, be it transitioning from one state to another, pursuing a new career path, and the long awaited execution of a creative project.
The majority of video and photo shoots that I send Jenna and Jon of P2 Photography on are clearly mapped out with storyboards, shot lists, and specific details for the outcome of each project. Time and again I hear from clients great praise for the duo on their execution of the necessary, and the creative spontaneity of unplanned imagery. Typically, those images ends up being a favorite. That’s commercial photo and video. Since working with Jenna and Jon, I’ve challenged them to think outside the realm of commercial to see what personal projects unfold. Now with the 5th production of Buck the Cubicle, the project highlights their ingenuity and has gleaned a global following.
At the beginning of 2016 when I asked Jenna who would be their next Buck the Cubicle subject she responded with enthusiasm, “...we got a falconer, and it’s a female falconer!” I was thrilled. As their Arts Agent and Consultant I’d been encouraging them to incorporate a female subject into their Buck the Cubicle series. This was excellent news, and there would be a wild bird, and let’s be honest, we all hold a secret fascination with these great winged creatures.
The subject, Lauren McGough, is unique in that not only is she a female falconer, but she works specifically with golden eagles. Working with these massive birds of prey is extremely rare for the 10-12 falconers in the US who work with golden eagles, and this set her aside from the rest.
“An eagle doesn’t need you. It’s perfectly capable of surviving on its own in the wild, and you have to convince it, through your own ingenuity that you’re a positive force in its life and worth sticking around.” Lauren McGough, falconer
Jenna came across a 2009 cached page on the internet which briefly mentioned Lauren, who had been granted a Fulbright Scholarship to live in Mongolia for a year to learn about eagle falconry. “She seemed like one of a kind, and that made me really want to meet her,” recounts Jenna, “The bottom line for all our Buck the Cubicle subjects is that I look for people I really want to get to know.”
As weeks turned into months I’d check in with Jenna on the development of the project planning, storyline, and all the typical expectations one would have when planning the production of a video and photo shoot. Their response would be, “We’ve done some background research, I watched some falconry videos, read some articles and have a basic sense for the action. Jon found the right equipment for the unusual angles we have in mind.” But as we all knew, a lot of their end result would come from what they would learn onsite with the subject.
In early November, Jenna, Jon, Lauren, and Miles (the golden eagle) took to the expansive prairies of Kansas for 3 days to complete the project. On their return Jenna had some great stories. When asked if they had to adapt as the project unfolded, her response was a clear, “Yes. This always happens with Buck the Cubicle and I think it’s important to let that take its course. It can cause some anxiety not to have everything mapped out, but you get used to it and then it’s really freeing. We are there getting to know the subject in real time, so we have to be fluid...we don’t go into these projects with a storyboard, so there has to be room for collaboration between us and the subject as well as solving challenges on site. That is one of the more interesting aspects of shooting the series.”
This strength of creativity came through so clearly in this specific Buck the Cubicle, and part of the reason is there were in fact two subjects. Lauren, a human who can communicate clearly, and then Miles, a golden eagle with a 6-foot wingspan, who at times could be unpredictable, easily startled, and moved with great speed. As Lauren points out, as a falconer it takes a certain originality of thought to work with a golden eagle.
When asked if there was a unique experience to the project, Jenna’s response was priceless, “This entire shoot was a unique experience. Working around such an amazing bird. Learning from someone who has so much knowledge and passion for this way of life - and it's definitely not a sport, it’s a way of life - was fascinating.
“We had a ton of fun with the lure. Lauren made it to help train Miles to hunt, because he didn’t know how to do that when she first got him. The lure reminded me of The Velveteen Rabbit, and it even had X'd out eyes sewn into it, like you see in cartoons. We attached a GoPro to the end of it, right next to a piece of meat; it was quail, I think. Then we hid the lure in some grass and Jon sprinted and pulled it behind him on a rope. Lauren let go of Miles and he just came swooping in on it with tremendous force and speed and precision…I’m glad Jon wasn’t looking back at what was barreling down on him. It was incredible. You can hear me blurt 'OH WOW!' on the first clip (which is now an outtake). We weren’t sure we were going to get anything useful out of it, but that’s what we do in this series...experiment.”