When I first imagined this portrait concept, I was thinking of my buddy Shawn, a Florida guide who has a thick beard. But he went and shaved it, so that opportunity disappeared.
Fast forward a few months, and I’m on a bonefishing trip at Deep Water Cay in the Bahamas. We caught two fish on a half-day trip, but I paid little attention to the fishing. I was thinking about whether I could talk noted Bahamian guide Mervin Thomas into posing for this portrait when we got back to the dock.
I should note that Mervin is one of the most matter-of-fact persons I’ve met. He’s done it all, seen it all — and he has semimanicured beard.
After we hopped off the Hell’s Bay skiff and thanked him for putting us on fish, I slid over next to him. “Hey, Mervin,” I said. “I have a favor to ask. It may seem weird, but I want to take your portrait with a bunch of flies in your beard.”
“OK,” he answered, and retrieved a small box of flies from the back of the skiff.
“Just stick as many flies in your beard as you can possibly fit,” I said.
“No, no,” he said. “You have to put them in.”
I did it, but it was uncomfortable. I’d known Mervin for a total of maybe six hours, and now I had my hands all over his face after he’d worked his ass off all day. He wasn’t crazy about the idea but was willing to play along. At any rate, I stuck a few flies here and there, making sure I didn’t poke him. Then I took a step back and fired off a dozen shots.