Shooting for OC Weekly
April 2008

by John Gilhooley

What a great year it has been shooting Orange County, California's music and culture. In the 12 months since my last dispatch I've had the chance to photograph musicians, club owners, boxers, ultimate fighters, models, ex-strippers, a retired Marine helicopter pilot who hosts gay sex parties, a guy who sues insurance companies to help disabled people, and even a guy who is an undercover drug informant--that was a challenging cover shoot because I was not allowed to show his face.

© John Gilhooley
Carefully arranged magazine cover of an undercover drug informant. It was a challenging cover shoot because I wasn't allowed to show his face.
With the ultimate fighter shoot I had the chance to photograph UFC Champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and it turned out to be a cool adventure for my girlfriend Dawn and I, heading up to Big Bear Lake to shoot an OC Weekly cover story.

On the way out of Orange County we stopped at a fabric store to pick up some velvet backgrounds. Not knowing what the gym location was like, I wanted to have a good backdrop to shoot a cover photo.

We arrived at Big Bear the evening before the shoot and went out to dinner. In a private room at the restaurant I noticed a bunch of guys joking around with each other when a guy walked out with a "Camp Rampage" shirt on. I asked him, "Do you know where Rampage trains at?" He says, "Oh, you want to meet him? He's back there with Juanito his trainer, Cheik Congo and Michael Bisping" (two other UFC fighters who train with Rampage).

I told him to tell Juanito I was there. A few minutes later Juanito walks out to meet me. I explained to Juanito that I had some lights with me and I brought a red velvet background and I was going to need some time to shoot Rampage.

© John Gilhooley
UFC Champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson posing in his gym at Big Bear Lake, Calif.
"Ain't gonna happen, man. Everybody wants a piece of Rampage," Juanito says. "Tell you what … we're meeting for a run tomorrow at 6:30 a.m. I'll see you in the Carl's Jr. (a fast-food restaurant) parking lot in the morning. Call my cell phone; I get up at 4:30 a.m."

The next day OC Weekly writer Derek Olsen and I meet up with them. I shot a few images of Rampage running by the lake and then we headed back to Rampage's house. At the house I spoke with Rampage while Juanito went back to his office to check his e-mail.

A few weeks earlier I had photographed Ronny Rios (Orange County Golden Gloves boxer) for an OC Weekly cover. I brought along that cover and showed it to Rampage. I said, "Look, I did this cover a few weeks ago and I'm thinking of something like this for you but Juanito said I can't bring my lights."

"Oh, Juanito said that?" Rampage says. "I'll tell him you can bring them; I want it to be a nice shot."

I headed over to the gym a few minutes ahead of Rampage and told Juanito. "If he wants it, man, that's fine," Juanito says. Knowing it was media day and a busload of reporters and photographers would be there in an hour or so, I scramble to set up the lights and tape the red velvet to a mirror in the gym.

When he arrived I asked Rampage to stand in and I shoot about 40 frames when Juanito calls Rampage into the ring for some training. At this point I thought I had some pretty good stuff, then I look over and see Rampage's trademark chain link necklace hanging on a pole.

© John Gilhooley
Cover shot of Charles Monson for the OC Weekly. His work involves helping disabled clients get the care and equipment they need by suing insurance companies.
I waited until he came out of the ring and said, "Hey, Rampage…I forgot about the chain...sorry, man… could you step in for a few more?" I shot about 30 more frames and Juanito yells, "That's it, man!" I yell, "A few more," and he yells, "I'll kick you out," in a joking way of course. Ten more frames and Rampage steps out.

I say "Thanks, man," and Juanito yells, "ya, thanks, man," laughing.

Looking back, they were all really cool guys and I did get my shot, it just wasn't easy.

A few weeks later I sent Juanito the cover photo and a photo of him training with Rampage and I wished them luck in the upcoming fight with Dan Henderson. "God bless you, man," he replies, "God bless you."

I also had the chance to photograph Charles Monson for an OC Weekly cover shoot and had an easy time setting up a mobile studio inside Charles Monson's Orange County home since there's no furniture in there. It's set up like that so Charles can roll around the house in his wheelchair. His work involves helping disabled clients get the care and equipment they need by suing insurance companies for help.

When I spoke with our writer Derek Olsen about the cover concept, Derek said he wanted to try and show the dents on Charles' head from when he had the halo attached to his skull after his accident. I then met with Charles; he explained to me that he injured himself in Newport Beach diving into the shore break when he was 16 years old. Being a surfer myself it really makes me think how lucky I am to have never injured myself since I have done the same thing as Charles many times.

© John Gilhooley
The interesting result for a cover story about the lawsuit between two women that teach Pole Dancing to Orange County, Calif., housewives.
I did a follow-up shoot with Charles meeting one of his clients at a hospital a week after I shot the cover photo. He told me that this hospital had a lot of metal detectors because of gang violence spilling into the hospital after incidents happen in the streets.

In the bed next to his client was a young Hispanic whose friend was visiting him. These guys were a little intimidating looking with tattoos on their chest and necks. I kept to our side of the room shooting photos of Charles' client.

I notice Charles used the chance to roll over and meet the guys.

"Hi, I'm Charles, how long have you had your injury?" We discovered the man had been shot in an alley after gang members mistakenly targeted him as a member of an opposing gang. The man was going to have to live the rest of his life in a wheel chair. "You know," Charles says, "I've lived with my injury for over 20 years and if you told me that I could have went [sic]on after 2 or 3 years I would have told you that you were crazy. Here's my card; let me know if there's anything I can do to help."

I really enjoyed meeting Charles; he's a guy that's really making the most of his situation. He even told me the bright side of being in the chair: "You know, I'm eye level with women's breasts," he continued, "I get a better view of women's bodies than you could imagine."

The third shoot story I'd like to share with you is an OC Weekly cover story about a lawsuit between two women that teach Pole Dancing to Orange County housewives. I got to see both sides of the story.

On one hand, I met Leda Lim, an older ex-stripper who claims she invented Sexercise (pole dancing for exercise). Then I met Edith Aboul, the woman that Leda claims ripped off her idea and is making a lot of money teaching Orange County housewives how to strip for their husbands and pole dance for exercise.

In both shoots the women met up with me dressed in sexy workout gear, makeup and hair done. They each posed for portraits with a stripper pole. I shot some nice portraits of both of them but something told me I still did not have a cover shot.

Then I saw something on the shoot with Edith that caught my eye. We took a break to adjust the lighting and I could not stop looking at her clear high heel shoes. I said to her, "I want to make a shot of those shoes after we're done." Then it hit me when I saw her hanging upside down stretching. Why not shoot the shoes and her legs with the pole and leave the rest of her out entirely? That decision made the job easy for my photo editor as well because this way we would not have to choose which woman's face to put on the cover.

I shot 40 or 50 frames with her upside down and loaded them on my computer. I then took a picture of the screen with my camera phone and texted it to my photo editor with the photo attached and called it "Cover?" with a question mark.

Out of the 30-plus covers I've done for OC Weekly I usually don't claim I have a cover until I get a chance to edit the shoot but in this case I did--I broke my own rule and claimed it right there on the spot. He texted me back and agreed: we had it. Looking at the cover, I love what he did with the text.

© John Gilhooley

Based in Huntington Beach, Calif., John Gilhooley enjoys documenting the musical and cultural worlds of Orange County, Calif., for OC Weekly and other clients. He is represented by ZUMA Press.

To see more of his work, visit his Web site:, at his myspace page, or

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