Design Director: Charlie Hess
Art Director: Suzannah Mathur
Photographer: Stephanie Gonot
Heidi: Did you plan on the double entendres of music and academics (majors and minors?)
Charlie: At first blush this seemed like a pretty rote story about UCLA offering students minors as well as majors. But as our Art Director Suzannah Mathur and I dug deeper it turned out that many of the minors programs were pretty rad. And what the kids wound up pursuing after college anyway. The double entendres was a happy accident.
What about Stephaines style made you choose her for this project and what was your direction?
I had been looking for an opportunity to work with photographer Stephanie Gonot and this seemed like the perfect assignment – conceptual, fun, and eye catching, so this seemingly academic story wouldn’t get lost.
Stephanie and I brainstormed some ideas and settled on an approach. Tight portraits, each with their own color palette, and matching props.
What was the criteria for casting and did you hire models?
With public university budgets we can’t hire models. Shooting students is the right price, and generally creates a more authentic visual approach. We picked students from the fields discussed in the story, gave them their color schemes, and prepped coordinated props. Luckily the kids turned out on set enthusiastic and up for anything.
At some point in our careers we take stock and self reflect, what has this job taught you?
Working for a university is complicated, but Suzannah and I have learned how to make great work despite the limitations of cost, and an art staff of just us two. I love the challenges. And I love working with brilliant, dedicated students and faculty who are making a difference in the world. I can’t imagine going back to all the years of celebrity shoots, publicists, and entourages!
Previously this year I interviewed you about your Agency called 20 Over Twenty, what’s the update on this?
It started strong. I put together a great team of six talented photographers, each with their own aesthetic. We got some great shoots with USC, AFI, LACMA, SCI ART, LAPHIL, GET LIT, ELLE… My concept was for us to shoot cultural institutions, nonprofits and academic institutions, where I saw a gap in the market between the high end commercial clients, and the bottom feeders who wanted us to work for nearly free. I was working with marketing departments which used to have sizable staffs, and now had been whittled down to one or two people giving them no time to plan ahead. My business model was for us to book multiple shoots over a year, creating the content the clients needed. I had dreamed of a photo utopia where we would all help each other, but in reality, I think the concept of a photographic collective has its challenges and I didn’t have the bandwidth to make it viable in the long run. Consequently, I’m shutting the agency down at the end of the year. It’s hard to say that out loud but my hope is others can learn from my mistakes. I have no regrets for trying something new. We learn from our failures.