I met Ben Ritter when I was an intern at VICE back in 2005. Anyone who knows him can back me up when I say he's kind of a weird guy, but in the best way possible. Upon meeting him he's extremely quiet and reserved, but once you get him going some of the most amazingly insane things come out of his mouth. Some of his ramblings are so golden I find myself writing them down in my phone so I can reread them later and laugh and think about how crazy he is. But all that aside, he is truly one of my favorite people to work with, and not just because he's one of my closest friends. He also happens to be a great photographer and the best person to collaborate with, because he can always turn ridiculous, half-baked shoot ideas into something pretty people will want to look at, no matter how strange the concepts might be.
VICE: How did you get involved with our Deep in the Bush fashion shoot?
Ben: Well Annette, It’s funny you should ask that. We were talking about getting out of the city to shoot and you came up with the idea to do something at a diamond mine. That ended up being the platform for our excursion north. Then at some point you were watching the movie Emmanuelle, and started frantically texting me about how this was the inspiration for what was going to happen upstate. The next day at lunchtime you made me watch a French porno and eat fried chicken with you. Somehow Girl Scouts were later thrown into the mix because you’re a pervert.
No, because it’s an outdoorsy shoot. They’re fishing and engaging in somewhat manly activities that you learn about in Girl Scouts!
I think it was perfect. When we were talking to Rocco about the concept, making him cringe about the idea was the best part. Watching him giggle uncomfortably over the absurdity of doing a shoot with naked lesbian Girl Scouts...
Adult Girl Scouts!
Adult Troop Leader Girl Scouts. Not little girls, but fully-grown troop leaders. So that’s how it came about, we’re friends and you’re a freak and I agreed with everything freaky and it led to a really good shoot.
I was bitter about my time in Girl Scouts.
I didn’t know I was helping you play out some childhood trauma.
I went home this weekend and found a ton of patches but none of them were ironed on to my sash. I just kind of gave up on them.
What patches did you have?
Something to do with art, a sleepover at the Natural History Museum, a teddy bear, and one for visiting the Governor’s mansion… you could just go anywhere and they’d make you a patch.
I thought there was a standard protocol for patchdom. But you could actually get something like an “I cooked a hot dog” patch?
Yeah. I had a really bad troop leader. She was a total hippie stoner and a butch lesbian—not the type of girl in our shoot. She wasn’t very knowledgeable about the outdoors, and we didn’t do anything fun except play air hockey at a local rec center.
That sounds more like it!
So being in nature was really important for this story. Did you like the models we worked with?
The models were awesome. The best thing about them was the second we rolled up to gather everyone in our rented Jeep Wrangler, we noticed that one of girls was clearly the dominating alpha-female, and the other was the innocent, wide-eyed, ambitious young girl. So the story played out perfectly! I wanted the shoot to look like movie stills and it all happened very naturally because they understood their rolls and they fell into them seamlessly. And they never complained, only once when we made them climb up a tree, but they did it anyway.
Right, because they had sticks in their crotches.
We joked about naming the story “I’m Sorry You Have Sticks in Your Crotch.” Taylor actually really wanted us to name it “Clam Bangers.” We ended up with the two most perfect models anyone could have wished for.
It also felt like we were really camping even though we slept in a tiny little cabin.
We did set up the tent for the shoot. That was cool.
We left that behind by the way…
Oh no! We left it in the Jeep!
My mom was complaining we gave her back a bag with sticks.
Those assholes, they didn’t tell us anything! Anyway we set up a tent and made a fire, but needed to make sure all of the models and the makeup artist, Jenny, were comfortable.
Especially because we set a guitar on fire, we weren’t sure if the fumes blowing from the pit were toxic.
We also burned a model! Jasmine was a trooper about it, though. We didn’t realize how bad it was since she didn’t say a word and just worked through it.
We put some aloe on it and she was fine. Then she spent the rest of the night entertaining us with animal calls.
She makes the best animal noises you’ve ever heard. You say dog and she starts going “Rrrrruuuuufffff! Rrrruuuuffff!” out of nowhere.
Yeah, we had some good vibes for such an extremely physical 2-day shoot. I hope the story makes people a little uncomfortable.
I would have no problem with Girl Scouts of America going after VICE magazine.
Whatever… I used the right color sash and leader booklet in the shoot; it’s not like we dressed them up like Brownie’s. I did my research.
I hope people feel a slight tingle in their spine when they see this, but also that they like it and get it. There is always a lighthearted aspect to anything dark that we do.