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Snapshots of a friendship

Working with Jim Erickson

Story by Tommy Baysden + Photography by Jim Erickson

One night, this charismatic guy with a dome bald head and a top-of-the-line Stetson covering it up walked into the Walker House. And into my life.

I was staying on Spring Island by myself while the Chaffins were in Colorado, and we had made a deal with an ad agency that a hotshot photographer could shoot the Tabby Ruins for a billboard in exchange for taking two beauty shots of the golf course. (We were making all the deals we could.) I didn’t know what to expect.

Jim Erickson showed up mid-evening with a crew of three, and no sooner had I offered them a beer, when up drove a truck carrying the most gorgeous red Saab convertible that Sweden has ever sent out. Jim said they were self-sufficient but would have to be at the Ruins well before sunrise, and would I please ask security not to shoot them.

My curiosity got the best of me, so I was down there before dawn myself. I watched in rapt fascination as they took and studied about 25 Polaroid shots as soon as it was light enough to see, then jacked up the rear wheels of the Saab and inserted beneath them two sheets of a slippery matting pegged to the ground. One of the crew got in the car and floored it, making the rear end weave back and forth. This happened at about the same time as the sun started to peek across the marsh and through the ruins. (I don’t know how he planned that!)

The following week, when i saw the golf course shots, my jaw dropped open.

Years later, when we were getting Palmetto Bluff off the ground, I was in a quandary. As the marketing guy, I had to figure out how to showcase the property. Its natural beauty was other-worldly of course, but so was a lot of the Lowcountry, and everybody trafficked in that. We decided to experiment with some moody, almost abstract lifestyle photography, and Jim immediately sprang to mind.

When I saw his estimate for a week-long shoot on location, my jaw dropped open for a second time. But we couldn’t afford to come out of the chute with anything but the best, so I showed some of Erickson’s work to Jim Mozley, and he was in with both feet. “It’s exquisite,” I remember him saying. “This is art.”

Thus began an adventure and a friendship that has lasted twenty years and is still going strong. He has worked for Disney, American Express, Kodak, Audi and IBM, to name just a few. The giant photos you always saw behind Steve Jobs in his famous new product unveilings were Jim’s.

He shot at Palmetto Bluff several times, even bought a home there. He was nothing short of wonderful to work with. Unflappable, patient and conciliatory, with a great sense of humor, he made each setup a pleasure.

In the years since, we have fished together, have drunk together, ridden beach buggies at his oceanfront home in Northern California all stemming from a chance meeting in the dark at the ruins on Spring Island.

He continues to shoot all over the world. And we still stay in touch.