Still Images In Great Advertising, is a column where Suzanne Sease discovers great advertising images and then speaks with the photographers about it.
I have known Shawn Michienzi for decades throughout my career as an art buyer. I never had the honor to work with him but came close once. Shawn is a pure advertising photographer-he loves the business and brings a lot to the table when he shots a campaign. I interviewed Shawn with his West Coast rep, Kate Chase (he was sick as a dog and had a hard time finishing his sentences before breaking into a coughing fit).
Suzanne: There is a lot of propping in this ad campaign- did you shoot it in Washington, DC or Minneapolis? And how big were the sets to create these scenarios? And if not from a commercial prop house, where did you get a lot of these props?
Shawn: This campaign was created to raise awareness for a special King Tut sponsored by National Geographic and exhibiting at the Science Museum in Minnesota. Ultimately it was meant to be two-fold and gain the interest of other museums around the country for additional exhibits too. We shot in Los Angeles, in conjunction with TV spots. The sets were used from the TV spots but are all real places. The props came with the our very real talent — as in the tool guy, Johnny Long, that was his actual garage and those were his tools. Same for Lord Andrew Fairfax, the Medieval Re-enactor, he attends festivals and with the exception of the Damsel in Distress, he had all those props. And Dr. Ruehl, we photographed him in his house too, some additional propping of the dinosaurs required there.
Suzanne: This campaign seems to have your funny quirk to it- were you able to add a lot of your creative input to this campaign?
Shawn: As is sometimes the case, there were no layouts, just an idea so I did pitch some of my thoughts to the creative director and we took it from there. In this process that is the fun part. I love portraits of people with their stuff and for these, there were many ways to execute but we went with the idea that I had envisioned of having them laying down, real-people as modern-day King Tut’s, in their environment, with their collections.
Suzanne: It is really refreshing to see a hometown agency using the talents of the local photographer. Do you have a long working relationship with Carmichael-Lynch?
Shawn: Yes, I do. Was happy to do this for their budget because of my long-term relationship with the creative director. Even though print is not currently produced as frequently as it was once was, I have been fortunate to work with them at least once a year. Though I don’t ever count on the theory of repeat business coming from an Agency, after all these year’s we enjoy working together and I believe we produce some great ads, and now it feels less formal too. I get what art directors are doing, I understand it’s a process and it doesn’t bother me creatively that you have to shoot for the gutter. I just want to make beautiful images that work hard, no ego. I think if you are not working with the right people then your work is only as good as the people who hire you. The majority of the work that is risk-taking is typically not US-based so when this came in the door and it was clear we could take some risks, I was in, and it was worth it to make it happen, call in favors as needed. Along the way and because of the relationship, I was also commissioned to direct the TV spot with The Conspiracy Theorist. And I like that I am doing more and more commercial TV work. I feel this is reflective of the folks I have relationships with that are also doing more commercial/motion work. The younger creatives don’t have that much craft beyond print yet – so motion is where I see myself headed to provide value to the relationships. I have always believed you have to stay true to who you are, be passionate about what you do, find the joy in it. Be inspired. Making ads is a great day job- and I love it.
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Shawn Michienzi is an award-winning photographer whose work has been featured in everything from Cannes to Communication Art. He maintains residences in LA and Minneapolis, is represented on the West Coast by Kate Chase of Brite Productions and on the East Coast by JK AND Artist Management
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies.