The Art of the Personal Project: Ackerman + Gruber

- - Personal Project

As a former Art Producer, I have always been drawn to personal projects because they are the sole vision of the photographer and not an extension of an art director, photo editor, or graphic designer. This new column, “The Art of the Personal Project” will feature the personal projects of photographers using the Yodelist marketing database. You can read their blog at http://yodelist.wordpress.com. Projects are discovered online and submissions are not accepted.

Today’s featured photographer is: Ackerman + Gruber (Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber)

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber Ice Racing in Minnesota.

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

Ice Racing in Minnesota.  Photos by Ackerman + Gruber

How long have you been shooting?
We have been shooting professionally for 6 years.

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
We went to grad school(Ohio University) for photography, which gave us two years to build a solid foundation to work from. That along with test shoots, commissioned work, and personal projects have all played a huge role in our continued growth.

With this particular project, what was your inspiration to shoot it?
Ever since we moved to Minnesota in 2010, we’ve been working on another personal project, Frozen, about the people and places in Northern Minnesota. This project that we are sharing here, Frozen Speed, is another chapter in that body of work. It’s also extremely quirky and we’re suckers for anything quirky so it was basically a no-brainer for us. We stumbled upon it one Saturday afternoon and have shot about 10 races so far.

How many years have you been shooting this project before you decided to present it?
We’ve been working on it for the past two years and only now are we starting to present the work.

We’re also still working on it and this winter the focus will be more on the motion side of things along with shooting stills until we aren’t finding any more surprises/gems in our take. This project allowed us to test our drone in extreme conditions so we will continue to we will continue to explore it from above.

Despite living in a social media age of immediacy we work on our personal projects quietly for years without ever sharing them. We love doing this as it gives us time to explore a subject and really formulate not only the project but our aesthetic approach for each project. Along with Frozen Speed, we have been working on two other projects that have yet to see the light of day. We also love this way of working since it’s so relaxed compared to the intense and quick nature of the editorial and commercial shoots we do.

How long do you spend on a personal project before deciding if it is working?
It really depends on the project. Some projects last a day for us and the magic just isn’t there or it wasn’t what we were hoping for so we are happy with single images and we move on. Often we give a project some time and we realize the fire hasn’t left us and there’s still things we can say with the project so back out we go.

Most of the personal projects we start seem to linger for years and just organically come to a close when we feel like there’s nothing more we can say with our images or the passion dwindles.

Since shooting for your portfolio is different from personal work, how do you feel when the work is different?
We try to approach both the same. Most of our personal work ends up in our portfolio. We’re strong believers in showing what you love shooting. Obviously commissioned work doesn’t always work out that way and the art direction might call for something else. Despite that, we always try to make an image or two that is us. The great thing about personal work is that it’s “personal” so our head isn’t muddied with thoughts of what the photo editor or art director might be looking for but rather we let our eye and mind explore and find images that speak to us. If all goes well the images hopefully speak to others as well. We have been lucky enough to have some great photo editors and art directors that allow us to go explore too and make it personal and those are the best assignments we can ask for.

Have you ever posted your personal work on social media venues such as Reddit, Tumblr, Instagram or Facebook?
Yep we use Tumblr, Instagram – @ackermangruber, Twitter – @ackermangruber and our personal Facebook profiles as outlets for our work.

If so, has the work ever gone viral and possibly with great press?
Nothing has reached the point of trending, but some of the projects have gained decent traction. One of our personal projects, Trapped, – http://www.ackermangruber.com/trapped seems to catch on in different circles (mental health, prison reform, photo) on the web so it’s been interesting to watch over the years as it gains traction in different parts of the online community and even in traditional print outlets (TIME and Newsweek). We have been invited to speak at numerous national justice reform conventions about the work and it’ll be a solo gallery show later this year because of it all gaining traction online. Another project, Miss, – http://www.ackermangruber.com/miss which documented Miss USA and Miss Universe has also received a decent amount of buzz and awards over the years with the last surge being a feature on Refinery29. The Frozen Speed – http://www.ackermangruber.com/frozenspeed project was recently highlighted on Wired and it led to a handful of emails from others wanting to highlight the work.

Have you printed your personal projects for your marketing to reach potential clients?
For sure! We do this with most of the personal projects we work on. The last personal project we used in a promo was our Blue Ribbon – http://www.ackermangruber.com/blueribbon project and we sent creatives a 20 page booklet of the work along with a blue ribbon that awarded them first place as a top creative. We received great feedback on the promo and it placed in the self-promo category of the PDN Photo Annual. We were in NYC for meetings this past fall and editors still had it pinned to their wall, which was great to see.

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Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber are a husband and wife photo team. They work as a collaborative team on shoots, sharing roles as director and photographer. The two work seamlessly as a duo to bring one creative vision to all their shoots. They take an authentic approach to their work and specialize in providing images of real people to advertising, corporate and editorial clients. Their work has been described as colorful, genuine, full of life, and soulful. Ultimately they strive to make you feel something with their work.

Their work has been honored by the Communication Arts Photography Annual and Advertising Annual, American Photography, PDN Photo Annual, Review Santa Fe Center Project Competition any many more. Their most recent documentary film won an Emmy and they were named a McKnight Fellow and to PDN’s 30 Photographers to Watch in 2012.

Their work can be viewed at www.ackermangruber.com


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 establishing the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter feed with helpful marketing information believing that marketing should be driven by a brand and not specialty. Follow her on twitter at SuzanneSease.

Suzanne Sease

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