NORWAY — Lake Pennesseewassee isn't an unusual place to see people in their swimsuits, but usually they don't show up when it is possible to see one's breath in the air. Or when the lake itself is capped with a crust of ice and snow.
Keri Welch, a 21-year-old woman from Auburn, was the first to defy that tradition on Sunday. She waited, wrapped in blankets, until a snowmobile had been driven up onto a snow-covered platform and two photographers had finished setting up equipment. Welch then removed her coverings to reveal her only defense against the freezing air: an American flag bikini and a pair of white boots.
"Oh, it's cold!" she immediately exclaimed.
Guided by photo stylist Courtney Hatton, Welch sat on the snowmobile in a few different poses as the photographers snapped off a series of shots. Once they were finished, a couple of assistants quickly bundled the shivering model back up in the blankets and spirited her to the warmth of a trailer parked on the ice.
The shoot was part of a photo project undertaken by Jason Harris, owner of Life Through the Lens Images of Bethel. Along with Jessica Robbins, another model in the shoot, he came up with the idea of photographing several Maine women posing on snowmobiles to be used in a calendar. The pair have since formed the company Mainely Calendars. They've been preparing for the shoot for four months.
"If I was asked to do it again, I would take pause," said Harris. "This really has taken over my life."
At Harris' last count, the shoot had 14 models and 26 snowmobiles lined up. It received sponsorship from I Love Swimwear of New Jersey, which provided the swimsuits; AMI Clubwear of California, which supplied the boots; and Subway of Oxford, which provided lunch. The snowmobiles were donated for use in the shoot by Blaisdell Brothers Racing of Dixfield, Ken's Yamaha of Oxford and individuals from around the state.
The event attracted a small crowd to an open-air tent, which was covered with a tarp on one side to exclude the sun and improve conditions for photography. It coincided with the second day of the annual Snowfest snowmobile races hosted by the Norway Trackers.
Soon after Welch's session, Snowfest vendor Scott Mondor of Lynox Cleaning Systems loaned Harris a large portable heater to train on the models during the shoot. Debbie Moreau, a 38-year-old model from Portland, said she managed to make it through her time in front of the cameras without getting too chilly.
"I noticed my legs were shaking, so I tightened my muscles a little bit and was fine," she said.
Moreau said she first started modeling last January and had never done an outdoor shoot or one in front of a group of people.
"It was fun," she said. "I was more nervous for the photographer than all of the other people here."
Kayla Bailey, 26, of Gray said she has been modeling for five years and got into it through participation in pageants. She said she grew up using snowmobiles and was pleased that her session took place on a vintage snowmobile of which only 12 were made.
"I've never done anything like this before," she said. "I've done some work down in Boston, but never anything out in the cold."
Todd Bergman, of Vonberg Photography in Livermore, said the frigid project was a new one for him as well. He is used to taking photos in studios or in Florida.
"I've never shot outside when it's below 32 degrees, ever," he said. "I made an exception for this one because it sounded fun."
Bergman said he usually takes about an hour to shoot a subject, but Sunday's sessions were limited to a few minutes. He said there will be a considerable amount of post-production work, including an estimated four to six hours of computer editing for each photo to enhance the colors. He said he aims not to do any touch-up work on the models themselves so they can look as natural as possible.
Harris said the goal of the shoot was to produce enough photos for two calendars, one each for 2011 and 2012. The calendars will be printed in November or December and be nationally distributed, along with posters.
"If this is a success, we'll move toward a summer calendar," he said.
Harris said more information on the calendars will be made available at the project's Web site at www.realityoneradio.com/ztek/lttlipsb.