After 29 years on the swimsuit beat, senior editor Jule Campbell is a pro at keeping the locations of her photo shoots secret. Few people in SI's offices know where she's off to each year, and she has tried-and-true methods for disguising a shoot while on location—she covers the SI labels on all the luggage, and her standard story for onlookers is that she's organizing a catalog shoot for Saks Fifth Avenue. But when Campbell went to Alaska for one of this year's five swimsuit features, she figured she could finally relax security. After all, the 49th state isn't your basic Bimini, Bali or Bora Bora. Subterfuge, Campbell felt, would be superfluous.
She was wrong. During a lunch break last August near Anchorage, Campbell sat munching elk burgers with fully clothed models Ashley Richardson and Vendela when two curious lumberjacks approached their table.
"Shooting the swimsuit issue here, aren't you?" asked one.
"Are you crazy?" Campbell replied. "Why would I bring swimsuits to Alaska?"
Campbell can now reveal the reason she was orchestrating her own version of Northern Exposure. "The concept this year was to go to some unexpected places, yet keep it all in the United States," she says. "We're almost always glorifying somebody else's country, so this year we hoped to provoke people to explore a little in their own backyard."
Five locales were selected, four of them at extreme points of the American compass. Much of the Alaska shoot took place on the Matanuska Glacier, 75 rough miles northeast of Anchorage; Campbell had to helicopter Richardson and Vendela to the frozen site, where they posed amidst snow and ice while insulated by little more than Lycra swimwear. It was 4,100 miles from there to the sun-drenched Florida Keys, another swimsuit stop. And 5,100 miles separate the tropical beaches of Honolulu and the windswept shores of Martha's Vineyard, Mass. Mackinac Island, Mich., in Lake Huron, provides a nostalgic touch from the heartland.
As it happens, this Sands Across America idea was hatched during last year's swimsuit shoot in Barcelona. One lunch-time, Campbell asked her models what they wanted to eat. The chorus was deafening: "We want burgers!"
"So we got elk burgers," Richardson says. "We had to endure our share of goose bumps, sure, but since we stayed in the States, there was no communicating with hand signals, no having to change money and no customs. I think this issue is a terrific advertisement for the good old U.S. of A."