Photographer: Tim Walker
This is a wonderful display of resources, subject and timely content.
This is a wonderful display of resources, subject and timely content.
Heidi: How was being an Alaskan through and through shaped you as a photographer?
Scott: Alaska often feels like the edge of the earth. This is true not only for the natural environments I work in, but also for the business environment. I was raised with a homesteader attitude – we make do with what we have. As a creative this means not just working with the tools, subjects, and opportunities available to me, but really making the most of them. To work effectively in ‘The Last Frontier’ one must constantly adapt to the demands of nature and know how to get around. My lifelong experience and connections around the state are some of my greatest assets when it’s time to get work done.
Last summer I put together a shoot with ROXY. They were familiar with my fly-out surf trips in Alaska and wanted to shoot a campaign based on that story. Having worked with them in the past on several projects they relied on me heavily to bring all the pieces together. And it was a lot of pieces, we had two floatplanes and a helicopter in the mountains one day and then a floatplane and a boat at a beach scene the next day. My experience working with all the service providers and knowing what was realistically possible within the budget and schedule was crucial to making the shoot a success
Patagonia was just about to introduce their new drysuit made for kiting. This is a product that makes it not only possible, but actually comfortable to kite surf in extremely cold conditions. Or at least they thought. They came to Alaska to test out the suit and get some dramatic images of what would be possible wearing this new piece of technology. I jumped in the motorhome with them and we had what they all claimed to be a trip of a lifetime. We were kiting with icebergs just hours from their arrival into Anchorage airport, over the next few days we flew in two bush planes and fulfilled long time dreams for the crew. The icing on the cake was a floatplane day trip out to a glacial lake to kite with more icebergs in a total wilderness setting. The suits were well proven by the end of the trip and they went home with some striking images.
Have you surfed all your life? What drew you to winter surfing and how cold is it?
I started playing in the water at a young age. Before my friends and I borrowed our first wetsuit water activities were limited to the hottest days of summer. As the available equipment improved so did the time I spent in the water. Now with modern surfing wetsuits there is almost no limit to how cold it can be and still be enjoyable playing in the ocean. What made me want to start surfing? I really couldn’t say – I’d never even seen someone surfing in Alaska when I was overcome with the desire to play in the waves. The reason I still surf in Alaska is the adventure and natural environment. Imagine seeing an incredible ocean landscape with snow covered mountains towering in the background. There is no better way to really experience that scene than to literally immerse yourself in it. Even better if you get to ride waves of energy pulsing in the ocean!
How do you capture the surf shots?
Surfing is a particularly challenging subject. The athletes and photographer are very much at the mercy of the weather and waves. The right conditions are almost never easy to find, especially in a place like Alaska. Once we do find good surf the next challenge is finding a place to photograph from. I often put my equipment in a dry bag and swim into shore, arriving soaking wet to stand around in the cold for 1-4hrs. Alternatively I might shoot from a small skiff or sitting on a stand up paddle board right next to the breaking waves – a risky place to be when your attention is fragmented, camera gear exposed, and the water so cold. If the conditions allow, I will also shoot with a water housing right in the surf which is typically cold and exhausting. The large tides in Alaska make for strong currents to swim against and diving under waves in a thick wetsuit is not easy.
Clearly you’ve incorporated your lifestyle into your work, which came first?
Perhaps this means I’ve reached the perfect blend – I can’t tell them apart anymore!
My career as a photographer was launched by an overwhelming desire to share the spectacles of nature I witnessed while commercial fishing on the Alaskan coastline. This original inspiration has stayed with me for the decade plus I’ve been making images professionally.
I’ve been careful to pursue projects and subjects that I’m passionate about from the start. The reward has been that my work and personal interests are indistinguishable.
Photography has also given me opportunities that are otherwise out of reach – I’ve always loved aviation personally, but it’s my photography work that allows me to orchestrate the flight path of three helicopters through the mountains.
I’m also the beneficiary of a trend where photographers are hired for more than just their images. Many of my clients are aware of my lifestyle and they want some of that story to show through in the projects.
What was your first paid assignment?
As a self taught photographer I started out small. My first paid assignments were things like taking photos of Bed and Breakfasts for local business owners or photographing the Winter Carnival for the local newspaper. Looking back it’s humbling to see where this all began. Since 2001 my primary source of income has been photography.
Do you come to the lower 48 for meetings, shop your portfolio?
I was an early adopter of digital and online so much of my work has come from social sharing or people finding my images through searches. This has really helped me to overcome the challenge of being so far away from the major hubs.
I’ve done well over the years photographing my passions and finding a way to leverage the images after the fact. Sometimes those images are just marketing tools that attract a client, and sometimes they sell as stock. The unique subjects and locations that I photograph often market themselves with even a small amount of exposure.
That being said, my business and marketing efforts are evolving. Recently I’ve been to NAB, visited stock agencies I work with, and invested time getting to know folks at clients like Patagonia. Maybe this is the homestead way again, I look to find friends and establish long term relationships that more work and adventure can grow from.
For your aerial shots are you using a drone, in a helicopter?
Aviation is a part of life in Alaska. I’ve flown and photographed from almost every type of flying contraption from self propelled paragliders all the way up to Coast Guard C-140s. I’ve been toying with drones a little the last couple years but for much of my work manned aerial vehicles are still the way to go. Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time in helicopters as a Cineflex operator shooting perfectly stabilized motion content for a variety of clients with www.ZatzWorks.com. For still photography I’m usually in helicopters or fixed wing aircraft for commercial work. When I’m just itching to fly, or the weather is just right and I can’t stay on the ground I often fly myself in a motorized paraglider (paramotor).
Did the Adventure trips come first and then the ability to market the imagery?
First it was adventure in the Alaskan wilds and then photography brought a new richness to those experiences. Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time aboard the m/v Milo as both a photographer and USCG Captain (www.OceanSwellVentures.com). We invite people to join us as we explore the endless coastline of Alaska. The trips are roughly half for private adventurers and the rest are media productions for editorial or commercial clients like:
Patagonia (surf ambassadors on four different trips now)
Red Bull – boat based surfing adventure for the web video series – Brother’s on the run
FOX (apparel brand) – photographs of professional surfer Ian Walsh surfing in Alaska
Alaskan Brewing – ongoing contract to produce Alaska adventure images
Taylor Steele surf film – This time tomorrow
Alaska Sessions – surf film trip
Magazine work includes: Surfer’s Journal, Surfer, Fluir, Tide, Slide, tracks, GQ Spain, Mental Floss, National Geographic Adventure (online), Red Bulletin, Wavelength, Alaska.
What’s the best and most challenging aspect of being a working photographer in AK?
The best aspect of working in Alaska is Alaska itself. The unadulterated wilderness is such an inspiration for me. When I find myself in an urban environment it’s as though I can’t take a deep breath. There’s a feeling I’ve only found in the wilds of Alaska, a chest expanding peace and connection with the natural elements – something that I try and share in my images.
The most challenging aspect is that same rugged wilderness that I love comes with a cost. It’s untamed, the weather is extreme and it’s entirely out of our control. Much of my work depends on the weather coinciding with the schedules of my clients or the availability of resources.
Tell me about your creative role with Alaska Brewing, how did that project develop?
My work with Alaskan Brewing started when they were relabeling their IPA. It had a drawing of a surfer on the label and packaging. The formula was being changed and they were sick of being told ‘People don’t really surf in Alaska!’ so they took the opportunity to use photography instead of illustration to prove they weren’t being phony. After a few more image sales they approached me with the idea of being a ‘sponsored photographer’. I believe the idea came about after receiving requests from adventure sport athletes for sponsorship but it never seemed like the right fit. Then they had the idea to sponsor a photographer instead. Smart thinking in my opinion. It’s a new endeavor for both of us but the first year was a great success so I expect it to continue to evolve.
Is there any interesting backstory to that photo?
Funny that you ask. This seemingly simple opener was the subject of huge debate and drama for about three weeks in the office. There was some clash between our editors on what exactly an olive oil fried egg should look like. Some thought that it shouldn’t be too crispy and burnt around the edges, while others insisted that it was simply a quality of frying an egg with this method. It was definitely one of our more difficult openers to work on, mainly because it took a long time for the staff to come to a consensus on the shot.
Did the magazine know you were from Minnesota and did that have an influence you being awarded the job?
When Catriona Ni Aolain the director of photography at Men’s Journal contacted me I think she assigned me because of my series Political Theatre. So I was looking forward to going back to Minnesota and photographing Jesse “The Body” Ventura.
Had you met the subject previously?
Yes. Jesse Ventura was a pro wrestler in the 80’s in Minnesota. One of the first things I photographed when I started was pro wrestling. Then a decade later when Ventura was elected to office in Minnesota I went back for Newsweekmagazine to photograph him. He was always a great show, as a wrestler or Governor.
Describe your interaction on set.
I meet the former Gov. at his country club so that I could photograph him golfing. It was a cold raining November day in Minnesota so Jesse said he wasn’t going to play golf. So we just wondered around the clubhouse looking for something that was visual to the story. Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura was talking nonstop about politics and himself so it was hard to concentrate on what I was doing. Jesse is a true American Character…larger then life.
I love the range or scale shift in the Political Theatre gallery. Do the subjects realize you are shooting them that close or even register you are there?
The politicians know the press is there as there can be dozens of us trying to get a answer or a photo. It’s like a kids soccer game where everyone surrounds the ball and just kicks at it.
Is some of your close up work a result of the event “scrums”?
I started to take very close pictures of the Gov. Christie because he has a reputation of being aggressive and I wanted to show that. One of the first pictures I took for the Political Theatre series was a tight shot of his mouth while he was shouting at someone. I wanted to show his aggressive appetite.
In a few words describe this body of work for us, how do you chose the edits, the direction, how calculated is this?
I started the series Political Theatre in reaction to a Tea Party rally on the lawn of the US Capitol. The pictures I took didn’t show how fake the event was and how it was just a stage for politicians to get on TV. So after that I started to shoot the pictures with my DSLR and then run them thru my cell phone apps to give them a dramatic look. I am trying to have fun with a subject that at times can be very boring and staged.
I have to ask the obvious, is that a set?
Yes. We built that set for the shoot. We carefully measured the elephant’s width and height, then created the set just four inches bigger keeping in mind the proportions of the magazine spread, where the gutter fell; it was all calculated out ahead of time.
How was the elephant, was she easy to work with?
Tai was a 46 year old and very intelligent. She arrived with her wrangler and our adjustments were very subtle, like parallel parking a car, moving 3 inches here and there, she was responsive and so easy. A situation like this can be fraught with peril as you can imagine, thankfully it was a great day on set.
How did the talent react when you talked about shooting him with the elephant?
I knew from working with Bradley on the Hangover posters that he loved animals, that put me at ease. Once we brought her in, they spent time connecting and getting comfortable around each other. Of course the wrangler was always there to watch over, that said Bradley was comfortable and trusted her enough let her wrap her trunk around him and lift him over her head.
How did you explain the shoot to talent and the magazine?
I didn’t. This clearly goes against conventional wisdom not to tell talent you plan on shooting them with a six ton elephant but I thought telling someone about the picture ran the risk of this idea getting shut down.
We all see images in our mind when something is described, that’s uncontrollable.
Once a visual is stuck in someones mind whatever it may be, it’s difficult to have them see what you see or alter it. Our own visual catalogue comes into play, and everyone has a different reel.
Past experience has taught me to show people rather then try to explain. We went ahead and had the entire set built, rented the animal and then when talent walked in they saw exactly what was going on. If for some reason Bradley shut down the idea, the worst that could happen was VF rented an elephant for the day. As I said earlier, I knew Bradley liked and connected with animals, I simply focused on that.
I’ve developed a strong relationship with the magazine. Here I had this great opportunity to create a unique image, it’s not often those projects roll around, so when the resources and creative freedom present themselves, you make the most of it. The magazine trusts me, which is a great position to be in, what really underscored our relationship was me suggesting to them this is a black and white photo and they agreed.
When I shot Martin Short with the cats I remember how highly trained animals can be. For that shot the wrangler could signal the cat to pretend he was peeing. Knowing that, I asked the wrangler to direct her to curl her trunk and open her mouth as if she was going to trumpet, that detail takes the photo to another level with Bradley sitting there looking rather annoyed.
How much time did you have for this shoot?
We had a day of set building and a prelight day, the actual shoot day was about six hours in total; Bradley had a hard out at noon. Originally we were going to shoot this in NYC, we had a full day with talent shooting in Central Park, then the shoot switched to LA. That change of plan gave me time to come up with this new idea. I had a week to get the set built, fully comp up the idea and get creative approved with the magazine.
My team arrived on set at 4:00 am, Bradley came at 6:00 am, and we wrapped on time. I was pleased to have such commitment on his end to come that early and dedicate himself to the shoot. It’s not often things align like this, it’s great when the opportunity arises. It’s all about knowing when everything is there for you to make the best picture possible and there’s no excuses of why it didn’t turn out the way you wanted.
Assistant Photo Editor: Gabreille Sirkin
Who did the graphic sign for the first shot did that come from the magazine?
Yes the lettering on the sign came from the magazine. This shot was conceived ahead of time because the art director knew he was going to use this image as the opener. The magazine asked me to photograph Nadia (our model) with and without the piece of cardboard she’s holding.
Styling and casting seem essential for this project. Who was the stylist and what made you choose this person
The stylist was Jessie Cohan, and she did an amazing job. I was really hoping to work with a stylist on this shoot that could elevate the images. I loved Jessie’s sensibility, and she had a great mix of shoots on her site from sculptural high fashion to more bohemian feeling stories that looked like they had a blend of vintage and current pieces. Since this wasn’t technically a fashion story, we weren’t limited to certain brands or seasons. So, I wanted to do what felt right for the different shots. I also wanted to find the right styling balance where everything felt fresh and modern even though our girl in the story was supposed to be kind of a mess.
Tell me about the collaboration with the magazine, how did that unfold?
The magazine had a very clear vision of what they wanted the images to look like. They used a past shoot of mine as reference for the light and color palette which was great. It’s helpful for me to have direction when I start thinking about a shoot so I can visualize the images before I make them. So, we had that as a starting point and then we worked together to collaborate on the five different shots and what our model should be doing in each one. The story was already written so we had five specific branding-challenged “characters” we were going to be shooting.
What were you looking for in the casting? Long hair must have been essential for the looks, what else?
I actually didn’t think too much about the hair! I sort of figured we could use wigs if needed, but having a model with red hair was a huge bonus in the end. I was mainly looking for someone who was comedic and expressive. Casting this was the most difficult part of the pre-production process for sure. We saw lots of pictures of attractive women, but none of them really screamed COMEDY to me. I ultimately needed a really great comedic actress who wasn’t solely concerned with looking pretty. Nadia Quinn came to us sort of in the eleventh hour on a recommendation from a casting director in NY. The magazine wound up flying her out to LA for the shoot, and she really was my dream girl.
Did you have any reference to the looks you were going for?
We had all of the ideas pretty well nailed down before the shoot. For example, we knew one shot was going to be a drill sergeant, one was going to be so bland she blended into the background, one was going to be an over-zealous karaoke singer, etc. I didn’t have many visual references for the characters, but I had enough conversations with the magazine to feel comfortable going in and just doing it. And as I said before, I did have strong lighting and color references so I knew where I was going with that from the start.
What made you choose that color background?
The background is actually just a white cyc so the color comes from the color profile I used to process the images…and then of course some Photoshop love in post. It’s a profile I made on an older shoot (that was used as reference by the magazine).
Have you ever directed a model this much before? Tell me about the shoot process, did you talk it over before you started shooting
This was definitely on the high side of the spectrum in terms of how much I directed Nadia. We discussed every shot before we got going. I would give her the general idea…some were meant to be more subtle and some were clearly more big. While we were shooting I’d call out little tweaks for her to make and she took direction amazingly. This type of shoot would’ve never been successful if that communication wasn’t there.
Was this a multi day shoot?
Nope – we got it all done in one day.
What was your biggest concern going into this shoot?
My biggest concern was that one element wouldn’t be as strong as the others and bring the shoot down. Luckily we had such a great team – wardrobe, hair, make-up, props, talent, etc. – and there was no weak link. Everyone was dedicated to the story and worked so hard.
What surprised you the most?
I think what surprised me the most was how seamlessly everything came together on set. There were many people on this shoot I hadn’t worked with before, and that can really go either way. Not only was everyone so good at their jobs…everyone was nice and happy and we all had fun. It was really the best case scenario.
Heidi: What inspired you to start this body of work?
Joao: I watched a documentary called Pina (directed by Wim Wenders) a couple of years ago, and I was blown away. How dance could be abstract and energetic and seemingly random and chaotic but still cathartic. It sent chills down my spine, particularly watching it in 3D (I don’t need 3D in movies, but for this one it was truly worth it). It planted a seed. So I talked to a friend of mine who is an amazing professional dancer to do a test shoot with her. At the time I was mostly interested in stillness and getting portraits of her. I liked the pictures very much, but the more I looked at them, the more I thought this could be a continuing series with different dancers.
How do you select your subjects?
I picked my dancer friend’s brain, and she gave me a long list of dancers that she knew. She introduced me to a few of them via Facebook or email. So I started getting in touch with them. I met with whoever was interested, and decided to talk to them extensively before the shoot. That was actually the most inspiring aspect of this process, to find out about their upbringing, their lives, why they got into dancing, what they wanted to accomplish in the future… It made me realize that this could be a very fruitful collaboration.
Are these multi day shoots?
Yeah, I shot each dancer in one day.
Describe a typical session, it’s there some structure or is it fluid? ( do have a set of criteria for each series? )
A little structure, and then the rest to chance. The shoot day starts early with scouting some locations around the area where the dancer lives. Usually that takes a couple hours or more. Then we pick him or her up from their home and head from one location to the other. Typically I’d like to have three or four locations per session. That’s the only structure, the locations. But I’ve realized they’re very important, because they contribute to the consistency of the whole series. We’ve gotten lucky with that! Whenever we shot in New York, we always managed to get into an empty racquetball court. It was like having a natural light studio with a beautiful wall for free. And the last dancer I shot, we were able to shoot inside a huge empty public pool. (It’s incredible what you can get away with in this city if you just push a little.)
But I digress. The fluid part is the most fun, obviously. Whereas — as I mentioned before — I was mostly interested in formal portraits of the dancers when I began this series, the shoots quickly became a mix of capturing movement and portraits. My only goal really was to freeze the action in a way that made them seem weightless and abstract and surreal. And particularly something I hadn’t seen before in dancing pictures. The rest was letting them do their thing as they knew best.
Are you doing these through out your travel assigns or do you travel for specific dancers?
Most of these I shot while I had some free time in NYC. One other one that I shot while I was on assignment in LA. I’m hoping that next year I can find other dancers in places other than the US, to have a variety of locations.
Is there any type of music when these shoots are happening, how does the talent get into form?
We shot most of these sessions without music, except for the last one, which was actually extremely helpful. I decided to shoot a little video for this one (which I’m still cutting and should be ready in a couple weeks), and as we were shooting on the racquetball court, my assistant put on a playlist on a little Jambox. This song called Reflektor by Arcade Fire came on, and Emily the dancer began to move so incredibly that we all really got in the groove. It was magical!
What are you goals with this, a show, a book?
Honestly, a book or a show has crossed my mind, but for the moment I’m just enjoying shooting something that is so collaborative and creative yet I can truly call my own. For either a show or a book to happen I have to keep on shooting more.
How do you approach the individual and the collective edit for this?
I learn a little bit about them and their aspirations by meeting them beforehand. I do tell them though that I’m not interested in shooting the typical images you see out there of dancers — particularly ballet dancers — that can end up being so clichéd and cheesy. Once we’re shooting I let them do their thing, every so often telling them to repeat a movement that looked great, or to try something similar. If I end up capturing something a bit off-kilter, or jarring, or abstract, that also evokes a bit of narrative, then I’m happy. If it makes you ask, “what’s happening here?” then I’m happy.
As for the overall edit, I try as best as I can to have some variety in each session between locations. But also make sure that from one image to the next there is a bit of dynamic range. Some wider shots paired with some more close up, and so forth.
Let’s talk a little about your Fader cover: How long did you have with the subject?
Four hours or so total: hair and make-up, plus change of wardrobe. So at the end it felt more like an hour and a half or less of just shooting.
What led to this particular body position?
I don’t recall exactly, but Nicki certainly knew what she was doing. The magazine’s style director put on some music that Nicki liked and she moved and danced away. I was particularly interested in those in-between moments of stillness, or where it felt more of a portrait. This was one of those moments that probably lasted a click or two and then it was gone.
Was your dance inspired by this project or vice versa?
It’s funny how for me every recent project informs the newest ones, often subconsciously. I find myself looking back to find inspiration or ideas, sometimes ideas that I didn’t use before or that weren’t as successful that I want to try again. In this case, the dancers happened first, so it was funny how I ended up getting this assignment shooting Nicki Minaj that employed a similar method of capturing her still while she moved to the music.
What type of creative direction did you get from the magazine?
We talked a lot about creative direction before the shoot happened. They had some ideas but also asked for my input and also for a mood board, which I was very excited about. The challenge was that all the previous cover stories shot for The Fader had been shot on location over two days, so they could fill 10-plus pages with a good variety of pictures. This was the first time, I think, that they had to shoot a subject that could only give them one day, in a studio, and four hours at that. So they called me! (Haha.) Since there was going to be a few wardrobe changes, what about using different colored backdrops to complement the different wardrobe, but then also using textiles as backdrops too — a bit inspired by the portraits of Seydou Keita — to have greater variety. They really liked this idea, but this meant having some extra help with set design if we were to pull it off in four hours. I ended up hiring a producer (also because shooting someone the caliber of Nicki Minaj meant she came with quite a hefty rider, and I had no time or resources to deal with that myself), and he found an amazing set designer that was willing to collaborate with me. I flew to LA, and as soon as I landed, I found out that due to some miscommunication, Nicki was unable to shoot the day that had been scheduled. Oh well… I decided to meet with Lauren, the set designer, anyway, and sort out all the set logistics, including picking the textiles for the backdrops in downtown LA. For a moment there I thought this shoot was never going to happen, but thankfully, it got rescheduled.
What prompted you to start your own magazine?
I’ve been shooting food for magazines and cookbooks over 15 years. The subject of food photography casts a wide net of photo opportunities that include not only plated food shots but a portrait of the chef, the ingredients growing in the earth, interiors of restaurant, detail shots of place, documenting chefs cooking and people coming together to celebrate and eat. Most of my commercial work requires me to shoot a plated recipe or food product. GFF Magazine is the perfect outlet for me to shoot all aspects of food. I was approached by Erika Lenkert; a friend and writer, to help make a gluten-free magazine come to life. It was just the kind of project I needed and more. It has led me to creative directing, shooting a range of stories and collaborating with smart ambitious individuals.
How many people are currently on staff?
Two, myself and Erika Lenkert.
Are you planning a print version?
GFF Magazine was designed to be a print Magazine. We spent a lot of time selecting paper stock, paper weight and a premier printer to create the smooth vibrant experience when flipping through the pages. We have our fall issue on newsstands now and available in many Whole Foods across the country as well as select retail stores. You can get or gift a subscription at gffmag.com
Why a gluten free magazine?
There is room for a playful, upbeat gluten-free magazine with creative amazing food that doesn’t remind you of what you are living without. Gluten-free recipes are in high demand and it can be overwhelming to weed through all of the recipes that are online. GFF is a great place to find tightly curated recipes that won’t disappoint.
What sets your project apart from other food magazines?
What makes GFF Magazine stand out from other food magazines is that it’s playful and inspires you to get down and cook. It takes food seriously in that the recipes are seriously amazing but the stories and imagery are upbeat and fun.
GFF Magazine features inspirational cooking including stories about real people making really great food that just happens to be gluten-free.
What’s been the steepest learning curve for this process?
Asking people for help and guidance has been a huge learning curve. I quickly learned that sitting back and hoping that everyone will find out about our new venture was not an option. We had to shout out from the top of every mountain and tell people why they should believe in us and what we were doing. It’s amazing how many people did. We raised close to $95,000 on Kickstarter which confirmed the importance of reaching out and asking for support. It also proved to us that there is a real interest in a new indie food magazine focusing on gluten-free fare. We continue to ask for support and help from fellow magazine founders and contributers and business minded friends. It takes a village and tapping into our contacts and resources continues to make our magazine a reality.
How much creative freedom does this project offer you?
I have a lot of creative freedom within the parameters of the photographs that visually support the text with delicious looking food. For now, GFF Magazine is fulfilling my desire to shoot food in all of its forms and tell stories through my photos.
Did you shoot all of these spreads?
Yes, I shot everything in the magazine.
How do we subscribe?
You can subscribe to GFF Magazine online at gffmag.com – it’s a great holiday gift!
How can photographers, writers reach out to you?
Email us at email@example.com
Can you share the cover direction? It is always an animal portrait to set the magazine apart from others?
LS & AQ: As the first issue was coming together, we were defining the aesthetic of the magazine and looking for an image that was striking and would set us apart on the newsstand. It was an organic process, working with the art director, Sarah Gephart, and the editors to refine that vision. Richard Bailey’s rooster was one of many options we tried for the cover, but we knew the minute we saw it that it worked. He really is a handsome rooster! The great thing about having an animal on the cover of each issue is that it allows for many different audiences to identify with the magazine. Richard has shot every cover since then and these animal portraits have really come to define the visual identity of Modern Farmer.
Do you use your still life opportunities to off set or surprise the readers?
LS: It is great to be able to create a polished and poppy product shoot for a farming magazine where it’s so unexpected. It’s also an opportunity to work with talented set designers such as Angharad Bailey. Together with the great Tom Schierlitz she conceived a crisp and graphic story that brought a strong sense of design in sharp contrast to the environmental images running throughout the rest of the magazine.
Heidi: Did Cosmopolitan commission this project or did you bring this idea forward?
Gabriela: This was a commissioned assignment for Cosmo and my first assignment for them. They contacted me in the summer of last year after seeing a story I had shot for Martha Stewart Living on the Kutztown Folk Festival. The first part of the rodeo shoot had a sort of similar, small-town fair vibe, which I think was a parallel. I was very fortunate to be teamed up with a writer, Kelly Williams Brown, who pitched the story to Cosmo and who became a good friend throughout the process.
How many days/weeks did it take to shoot this?
The shoot was split into three trips out West over five months. For the first trip, we went to Corvallis, OR, to the home of Nicole Schrock, who was Miss Rodeo Oregon and the main character of the story. We followed her around at home, on her family’s farm and the local county fair. The second trip started in Portland, OR, where Nicole was joined by five other state queens and we toured around Oregon for a week before arriving at the Pendleton Rodeo, one of the largest and most historic in the country. (Fun fact: At Pendleton, press is required to be in ‘rodeo wear’ meaning cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and appropriate western shirt, so I actually got a budget from Cosmo to purchase these items!) This was probably my favorite trip as it felt like I was just tagging along on a vacation with a group of awesome girls, plus I loved the reactions from walking around town with a gaggle of rodeo queens in tow. Lastly, we travelled to Las Vegas where the Miss Rodeo American competition takes place during the National Rodeo Finals, which is a huge event, cowboys everywhere!
What specifically does “expanded from an assignment” mean?
The story ran in the July issue this summer. Due to editorial constraints Kelly’s article was condensed into an intro for the photo essay and they published only a tiny portion the material that I had shot. Cosmo’s edit, understandably, was also very different than what I would show. Kelly and I talked a few weeks after it published and realized that we both had so much good material that we didn’t want it to go to waste and discussed how we could expand it. I knew I wanted to make a physical piece as a promo and I wanted for Kelly to share her full story in the way that she originally intended. The result was twofold: this promo book that highlights the photos with Kelly’s reporting interspersed throughout and a post on Medium with her full article and my photos. This was my first time working with Medium and while its geared toward text over imagery, it feels like it was the perfect place for our story to live. It was promoted by Medium, along with our outreach, and has been viewed over 21,000 times.
Was this promo a difficult edit? How many images were considered?
Yes! Isn’t every project difficult to edit? I shot over 4,000 images and there were probably around 250 that I handed into Cosmo and about 70 I was considering for the promo. One of the tricky things for me was choosing an image on the strength of the image versus the strength of the story. Unfortunately the last trip in Vegas, which was the grand culmination of everything — especially all the amazing sequined outfits — took place entirely under the fluorescent lights of the MGM Grand conference rooms. I had the least access to the girls, who were under constant chaperoned supervision. I knew it was important to show this in the story, but I didn’t feel they were the strongest images, so I only included two at the end to round out the story with the final shot of the newly crowned Miss Rodeo America. It’s not my favorite, but I felt like I needed that conclusion. There were also a few days on the second Oregon trip where the girls weren’t on queening duty and were just dressed in regular jeans and t-shirts. We shot guns, visited a saw mill and a cheese factory, went on a boat ride, and frolicked on Haystack Beach. A lot of the material I shot on those days just didn’t fit into the narrative, despite being some of my favorite shots.
The body of work has a great narrative arc, I loved the quote vs. captions. What made you decide to publish quotes?
I knew absolutely nothing about rodeo queens going into this story. I didn’t even know there was such an honor! The booklet was certainly to showcase the images and I knew it wasn’t the place where people would read a full article. But, I felt it would really enhance the experience by including a bit of context to the images that explains what its like being a rodeo queen for those who, like me, might not even understand the culture. I think this is a story that really benefits from hearing from the girls themselves.
Why the booklet, and not a foldout, magazine or cards…?
I’ve done post cards many times and recently did a promo poster this spring, but had never done a booklet. This might be the first body of work I have that falls nicely into such a linear narrative that making a book seemed logical. I have zero design background though and the idea of tackling a book project seemed very daunting. Luckily my husband is a designer and was immensely helpful in putting this together and it was an added bonus to be able to collaborate with him on this project. It was also a chance to try on-demand printing. We tried MagCloud and ultimately went with Smartpress, as they had better paper options. Both were great because I could order exact quantities, and can always order more.
Before you approach a multi day project, do you have an idea of it’s development or is it more organic ?
After the first trip out to Oregon, I came home so excited about the images. Nicole, the lead subject, was just wonderful to work with, as was her family who supported her all the way to Vegas. We had no idea if she was going to win the competition or not but she was perfect to be our main character in that she seemed to get along with everyone, certainly was considered a top contender and photographically was great in front of the lens. We actually got lucky in picking Nicole — the decision was mostly driven by Kelly, who lived in Oregon — because she ended up in third place out of twenty-seven girls in the competition . Projects definitely form more organically for me. I rarely set out with specific images I want to make. With so much material after only that first trip, I had a feeling I would end up with a body of work that I could develop beyond the assignment.
Are you constantly referring to images you’ve already shot and then looking for what needs to be added?
Not really. I usually just shoot and shoot and shoot and then pull out from there. I do wish I had been able to gain more access to the girls during the competition to round out the final stages of the story better, but I think I got enough. Were I to continue pursuing this project, of course I have in mind certain elements that I’d want to add. For example, there were talks at one point of shooting a seamstresses working on the gowns. With any project you could shoot forever and ever, but I think I’m done with this project for now. It was a wonderful opportunity to have all the access I received, and I feel like I told the story I want to tell.
What was your overall creative direction for this ( in your own body of work ) and from the magazine?
For the kind of stories I shoot, the type of direction I usually get is very broad and has me shooting a bit of everything. I love that kind of direction, or non-direction if you will, in that it leads me to shoot what I find most interesting. I rarely receive the type of assignment where there’s a shot already mapped out in someone’s mind and I’m there to execute it. This was no different. Of course there’s the schedule of events to follow but, outside of that, I was free to shoot anything and everything that caught my eye.
Are all the images in the promo unpublished?
There’s only one image (detail shot of Nicole’s Miss Rodeo Oregon chaps) from the promo booklet that was also used by Cosmo.
What was the most surprising element of this project?
Perhaps the fact that I was opened up to this whole new world that I didn’t even know existed. Did you know ‘queening,’ is used as a verb? And that hair curlers are an essential item to being a rodeo queen? This was a total cultural immersions for me from seeing parts of the country I’d never been, to attending my first rodeo, to shooting guns and bonding with girls outside of my social circle.
I am forever grateful to Cosmo and the photo department team who not only took a chance on me but really gave me the opportunity to dive deep into a subject matter, over a long period of time, and develop meaningful relationships.
How did this body of work force you to grow as a photographer?
One of the most important lessons from the this project was the power of collaboration and reporting. In this case I feel like having the quotes and the captions and being able to read Kelly’s full text really enhances the viewing experience of the images and adds another layer of understanding. I’m not a writer, nor do I feel I’m any good at it, yet from this experience I feel like I either need to push myself on the writing front or partner with other writers like Kelly who would be willing to dive deep into a project together.
Heidi: Best of covers/thematic are always a great challenge to keep things fresh. How did this smart concept develop?
Michael: Steve Banks, the design director at LA Mag, came to me with the concept. Just like the previous cover I did for them, he came to me with a clear idea. My job is to realize it, make it dynamic.
What sort of editorial direction did you get to develop the the tools?
Steve knew most of the tools he wanted on the knife, but we continued to throw around more ideas for tools specifically, how the form of each tool would parody the likeness of the referenced item. There were specific topics in the issue that needed to be represented. Then, we looked at existing tools that get crammed into these pocket knives and picked the best fit. The palm tree bottle opener took the most time to make a quick read. It started off much more detailed and had a more organic silhouette. It took quite a few drafts to make it simple enough to read.
How many knives to did you research/buy or did you simply know the swiss army knife being such an iconic classic was the right choice?
I had a couple on hand to study. We did a bit of online research but, that was mostly for mechanics and tool details. The overall shape of these knives haven’t changed all that much over the years. Most of the research on the casing was for texture and material it would be made from. We had many options but, we ended with classic red plastic.
Did you do your own post?
Yup, I do all of my post and CG.
What was the biggest technical challenge for this project?
Figuring out how much detail to put into it without it looking messy. At one point, the tool looked pretty grimy and used. I like to put in more detail rather than not enough. Then, you can work back some of the details to a place that everybody is happy with.
How did you get so adept at post/CGI? Did it come naturally for you?
I learned the basics of retouching from my old business partner back in the day. When I took over the retouching duties, it started off with simple compositing. Over the years, it just developed in complexity as ideas grew and greater challenges came. At some point, I felt like I hit a wall with that general direction and started to learn how to create things in a CG environment. It started with small accents to my photography and gradually, I felt more confident in my ability. I started making environments that there either wasn’t the budget to have them made or was simply impossible to shoot. Then, my approach flipped and CG was the majority of image creation and photography became the accent. Now, things are balancing between the two along with the inclusion of video and animation.
Tell me about your entire process; do you think about the image first and then go into an execution thought process?
If it’s for a job, I consider the best approach for the idea. Will it be served better in a more illustrative approach or all photographed along with compositing? (nobody asks me to do anything all in camera, which I like). The general approach to CG is, if you can capture what you want, the way you want it in camera, that’s the way to go. If not, you identify the reason and find a solution using other avenues. Then, that becomes part of the process for that image. I think it’s important to be adaptable, especially when you’re working under tight schedules. The image is planned out in advance. Then, I capture and/or create the elements, lit properly to create a seamless composite. There’s usually some deviation and improvising along the way but, the general approach is discussed and agreed upon prior to any major work being done.
How do you feel these skills make you a better photographer?
Sometimes, there are things that are totally out of your control that just ruin a shot. There was this job I had where between the location being scouted and approved by the client and us arriving on shoot day, the location had been drastically changed. All of the elements of the location that led us to choose it for the image were gone. There wasn’t any time fix for a fix. I proposed that I create a new background where I could match the angle and lighting while improving on the look of the location that we had originally been expecting. It was an awful situation, but everyone walked away happy. Since then, I’ve been able to roll with most every problem thrown at me. That’s not a “fix it in post” mentality necessarily; that’s an unfortunate perspective to have towards image making. These skills help the photography overcome whatever challenges may arise throughout the job.
Heidi: How did the show develop?
Josh: The show came together in a very unusual way and pretty much grew out of my friendship with Lisa Thackaberry. She was looking for a few different spaces for projects she was working on. We had talked about collaborating together on a project with my photo collective Sorry Danny but the time wasn’t really right for the group. So after Lisa and I met Adam Stamp at the Downtown Photo Room we new that we had to move forward. So the show happened pretty organically. We weren’t out looking for a gallery or a space to do a solo show it just sort of happened. Which I guess is why the show had the feel that it did. So I guess the show came from a really natural place, which couldn’t have been better for such heavy subject matter as depression, guilt, suicide and personal growth.
Was your intent to have a show or was this body of work a way for you to deal with this difficult topic?
Ever since I was a kid I have been searching for a way to connect with my father Jim Schaedel. In the beginning the work about my Dad and his depression, and how that effects or relationship, was really a last ditch effort to reach him. What I found in that processes was that I really needed to work on myself. With each project about my father I tried to let some residual part of my baggage go and with each new discovery I feel a bit better.
I always thought it would be nice to share the work but honestly never thought I would have the opportunity to because the subject matter is so heavy. When Lisa and I first met I was really in a dark place and was trying really hard to be a good son and was really trying to get to a place of understanding with the work. So I really let Lisa into something very personal and she really gave me the strength and the confidence to see it through. So the show really just became as an extension of that. Which is why I am so proud of it and so glad that she pushed me to go forward with it.
Why did you choose to photograph yourself over the course of 12 hours?
The “Selfie” project is very a simple concept, take a half-day and sit and think about your life. My hope was that I could make a piece that I could come back to over and over again to continue to learn about myself so that I wouldn’t follow my grandfather’s (who committed suicide when I was 12) and my father’s path. I wanted to spend the day with myself to see all my flaws, all my shortcomings and all my mistakes. The twelve hours just felt like enough time to reflect and to learn.
What was the most challenging part from a personal and technical point?
Technically it was hard to work out all the little details and to make all these different projects and concepts live into one room that left viewer with an idea of what depression might feel like. But definitely the most challenging part of the show was personal. I realized when Lisa wanted to show these particular projects that I was going to have to go through a lot emotionally to do an honest job reflecting what my father and I have been dealing with for so many years. I was more then just nude I was transparent and it was scary and amazingly peaceful at the same time. It is without a doubt the best thing I could have done for myself and I have to thank Lisa Thackabeery for believing in me and for giving me the opportunity to set this part of me free.
There’s a beautiful series of screens on your site. How did this integrate with the show?
The broken TVs or “The Last Christmas” came from the original project on my father called “My Father’s Name.” The piece found its way into the show when Lisa and I were discussing the project that gave the show its title “Everywhere Between You & I”. She wanted to know how that project came to be and I told the story behind “The Last Christmas”. Which happened when my father and I were supposed to spend Christmas together and watch a football game. Well, he was very depressed and didn’t want any company that day. I was really upset but I thought that if I at least watched the game I could at least share the game with him even though we were not going to be in the same room. I went to my uncle’s house to watch the game; as luck would have it, the TV broke. I was very distraught and the rest of the family left the room to do other things. As I was sitting there a tire commercial came on that described a cross-country road trip with a father and son. This was something that my father and I had talked about since I was a kid. Even though I couldn’t spend Christmas with him or watch the football game together I at least had hope that one day we might take this trip together. The “The Last Christmas” is really a shift in thinking for me and is piece that tied the show together.
How has this body of work transformed you, if at all?
The show has affected me in many ways. I think the best part for me was when my childhood best friend made it out to the show. About a month prior to the show his brother who had battle depression for many years committed suicide and once he read “The Update” (the piece that describes my father and I talking about his desire to kill himself) he started weeping and we consoled each other. He shared very openly what him and his family were going through on a level that was very special and I think most people are not comfortable with sharing. That has since happened several times with other people and in those very intimate and open conversations I have learned more then I ever expected. I feel like I have the ability to share more openly with people and I think other people who know my story are more open with me. I think on a deeper level I am a lot less angry and a lot more calm. I hope as I continue to show this work that might get closer to a place of peace.
How will this transcend into your editorial work?
Since I draw most of my inspiration from a personal place and when I am working with subject I feel its best to share my story. Recently I did a documentary job where I had to photograph a young man and he shared a similar story about his father and I shared with him mine. By the end of the conversation he thanked me because I was the first person who he had felt comfortable to talk about what he was going through and I got a really nice picture out of it. So I guess for me the more I learn about myself, the more open I am to share, the more people are willing to share with me. I think once I let down my guard down they do too and that makes for great pictures. But to be honest that is why I don’t do a lot of editorial work because it really affects me and takes a long time to digest. I am currently working on a few editorial concepts that I will hopefully pitch very soon.
You chose to do a newsprint/newspaper promo, why did that seem appropriate to you?
Well I come from a zine background with my collective Sorry Danny so it just seemed natural to me to do it for the show. I believe that art should be accessible to everyone and I think the newspaper is one of the most approachable ways to do that. Everyone remembers there father reading the newspaper in the mornings and so do I, so the broadside newspaper/zine felt like a place where my father ended and I began. I am firm believer in books and zines as the best way, besides the gallery space, to communicate a message and its something I want to continue to do for each show that I have.
What sort of art direction did you give the designer for this?
My designer Rebecca King and I had luckily worked on a branding strategy before the show. So we just continued that conversation into the concept about my father. Our idea when we designed my branding was that it had the ability to move to beat of the concept at hand. So I just told her what I was trying to say with the show and she delivered a brilliant design around me and my father’s relationship. So each and every subtlety communicates some aspect of that relationship in an elegant way. She is one of those brilliant designers who work from a concept outward to a beautiful object and not the other way around. So the paper happened very naturally just like the show.
What prompted to you start the body of work?
Much of the inspiration for the Hollywood project was derived from Richard Avedon’s “In the American West.” I wanted to capture that intimacy and authenticity that Avedon had in his subjects for that series. I was also late in the game to switch from film to digital (2008) and was curious to see if digital would provide me with the same B&W-type quality images I used to process in my darkroom. I was lucky enough to meet “Tex” at a Hollywood dive bar one night, and after two years of calls (he didn’t use email) he finally agreed to be the first subject in my series. Once I photographed him, I was able to use that image in persuading the other subjects in and around Hollywood to participate in the project.
How did you select the subjects?
Whether it’s a shirt pocket protector that I would see Sal wear without fail every time he visited my neighbor or Tex’s six plus-foot frame with a fiery red beard and a cowboy hat on Hollywood blvd – something about them stands out and is compelling to me, and I knew their unique aesthetic in real life would translate to a unique portrait. I wanted others to see how I saw them.
What are you interactions with them like?
Throughout the shoot, I’m asking tons of questions trying to find out the What, When, and Why that lead them to Hollywood. Every person has their own story, and I usually find that the subjects are more than happy to share them.
How do you convince them to “come to my studio”, isn’t that a bit creepy esp for the women?
Yes, convincing takes time and patience…lots of patience ! This is such a departure from my editorial work for Vogue, but I think the fact that I shoot for them provides some “legitimacy” and trust the subjects are looking for.
Do you personally know them, how long is the session?
Only a few, but I know some of them pretty well now. No more than 30 mins in the parking lot of my studio… all daylight.
Have you had people turn you down?
Yes, many, but I just keep asking and asking. I still have about six on my list that I would love to photograph.
The copy is a nice touch, did you write it? Are you interviewing them on the spot?
I worked with a copy person at Agency Access, and the details are from the conversations I’ve had with my subjects during our shoots… I keep notes.
How many have you shot so far and do you have some that don’t make the final stage?
I’ve shot over fifty and the final cut was twenty nine.
Heidi: How did the cover concept develop, and why did the initial story become minimized?
Paul Moakley from Time called me at home in LA on the morning of August 7th and asked if I was interested in going to Atlanta that night and shooting a story on Ebola. At that time, the first two American patients had just been transported from West Africa to an infectious disease isolation unit at Emory Hospital in Atlanta.
The story was about America’s readiness to deal with an infectious disease as vicious as Ebola. I was assigned to photograph the facilities and staff at Emory Hospital and at the CDC. The subjects included the doctors and nurses treating the infected patients, as well as the Director of the CDC, Dr Tom Frieden. In addition, I photographed the CDC Emergency Operations Center and a staff member in the protective suiting needed to treat Ebola infected patients at hospitals.
After 3 days of shooting, the story was slated as the cover. Then on August 11th, two days before the issue was to go to print, Robin Williams died and his story took the cover and most of the issue, rightfully so.
Fast forward to September 30th, I get a notification on my phone that the first case of Ebola had been diagnosed in the US. I immediately emailed Paul Moakley a link to the article. We had worked closely together on the initial story so I thought of sharing the news with him first even though I was fairly certain he’d already seen it. He responded quickly saying that they were just talking about me and asked if I had any cover ideas that could be executed by the next day at 1:00 pm EST when they were to go to print(10:00 am PST for me).
Tell us about the time line.
That email I mentioned was received at 2:38 pm PST so that gave me 19 hours and 22 minutes to conceptualize, pre-produce, shoot, edit and retouch. The following timeline (PST) is how things unfolded:
2:38 pm: Started researching.
2:59 pm: Emailed Paul my first idea, which was a super tight portrait of a cowboy wearing an antiviral face mask. The concept was that the cowboy symbolizes America and strength, which I thought would make for a strong contrast with the face mask, which symbolizes caution and vulnerability.
3:57 pm: Emailed Paul two more ideas – 1. overhead shot of an empty hospital bed with a quarantine enclosure and 2. an image of someone in a hazmat suit.
3:58 pm: Started looking on casting sites for a cowboy and calling prop shops and costume houses to see about getting a hospital bed and/or a hazmat suit.
5:09 pm: Kira Pollack, Director of Photography at Time emails me saying that they are definitely going with an Ebola cover and they think my ideas are great. She wants to know if I think I can pull this off over night. I wasn’t sure but I told her I was definitely willing to try.
5:30 pm: Found a costume house with an authentic Hazmat suit from the movie Contagion but they closed in 30 minutes and they were 40 minutes away. They said they’d stay open later for a fee so I emailed Kira asking if I should pull the trigger.
5:41 pm: Kira called and we spoke about which shot would be the most realistic to execute in the next 14 hours and 19 minutes. We ruled out the hospital bed because it would be impossible to source the props. Kira wasn’t entirely sold on the cowboy so we decided to go for the hazmat suit.
5:50 pm: The costume shop withdrew their offer of staying late saying that there was no one there able to stay past 6:00. At that point I called a friend of a friend who is motion picture costumer and asked if there was any way I could find a hazmat suit that night. She said absolutely not. At that point I started looking at other options. I thought back to the protective suiting I shot at the CDC and started researching the personal protective equipment (PPE) being used by healthcare workers in West Africa. I found a page on the WHO website that listed PPE requirements specifically for treating patients with Ebola. After a few phone calls, I found out that all the articles I needed could be purchased at a local army surplus store opened until 9:00 pm, a hardware store opened until 10:00 pm and drug store opened 24 hours.
6:30 pm: Called Kira back to let her know the change of plans. I told her I was able to find a yellow Tyvek suite and a white one. We talked about background options and agreed that yellow on yellow could make for a powerful image with an undertone of caution/hazard and we agreed white on white would make for a good secondary option. After we got off the phone, I set out to to purchase all the parts of the costume from around town.
10:00 pm: Met my assistant at my house to load up lights and seamlesses (luckily I had a yellow one from a previous shoot).
11:00 pm: Got to my office to unload and set up.
12:06 am: Started shooting.
3:34 am: Finished shooting. For options, we shot yellow suit on yellow background, yellow suit on midnight blue background, white suit on midnight blue background and white suit on white background.
4:33 am: Sent my edit of the shoot to Kira, Paul and DW Pine, the Creative Director of Time.
6:34 am: DW emailed me his two cover selects to be retouched – the first yellow on yellow and the other white on white.
7:28 am: DW updated me that they were definitely going with the yellow and asked me to focus my retouching on that shot. He had also comped yellow patches over the edges of my seamless to use for a mock up which he and his team thought looked like walls so he asked if I could composite yellow walls into the final image, which I did.
8:32 am: Final retouched image delivered.
What prompted you to reach out to the magazine about the ebola case?
On the day of the first US Ebola diagnosis, I received a news alert on my phone. Because I had worked so closely with Paul Moakley on the original Ebola story, he was the first person I thought about when I read the news.
Where you surprised when they offered you the assignment?
More than anything, I was surprised that they were willing to let me try to pull the assignment off in such a short period of time. I didn’t think it was impossible but I wasn’t sure it was possible. The fact that they wanted me to try gave me the confidence to push myself. It’s amazes me that not only are they constantly operating at that level of production, but that they maintain such a high level of aesthetic aspirations in the process. It’s really a privilege to get to work with such wonderful people.
What was running through your mind when you fully understood the short timeline?
I didn’t have time to fully understand the short timeline. In pressurized situations, I thrive off of not being able to overthink things and making decisions as they arise. The lack of time really acts as a filter and helps prioritize.
With such little time where did you source the props, and I’d image accuracy was essential.
I referred to the personal protective equipment for Ebola treatment section on the WHO website for accuracy. I also referred to the images I had taken at the CDC of the staff member wearing the PPE for Ebola treatment. From there, I purchased the Tyvek suits, rubber boots and plastic apron from an army surplus store; face shield from a hardware store; and gloves and antiviral face mask from a drugstore.
Who was the model in the image, seeing that the shoot started at 11:30 pm?
The model in the image is my friend/assistant, Pat Martin. I’m grateful that he was willing to drive across town last minute, help me set everything up, and pose in the very warm and uncomfortable suits all night. Now he can say he’s been on the cover of Time Magazine.
Did you sleep at all?
I didn’t sleep at all. In fact, I told my wife who is also a photographer, that I’d be on set with her for a shoot she had for the Hollywood Reporter starting two hours after I delivered the final image. So, I woke up at 6 am on September 30th and didn’t go to sleep until 9 pm on October 1st. Definitely one of the longer days I’ve had.
What was the most rewarding part of this shoot?
Usually I’ll have a few days to think about an assignment before I start shooting and then a few days to live with the images afterwards. In that time there is a lot of static between my ears while trying to figure out the best decisions to make. The most rewarding part of this shoot was compressing my process to the essentials and becoming very aware of that static which I can definitely live without.
This was also my first cover for Time, which has been a goal as long as I can remember so that in and of itself is rewarding.
While it’s called “The California Sunday Magazine,” you’re also bringing geopolitics into the fold, and you have a different unique editorial architecture as well as distribution. Tell us about it.
We are a general interest magazine focusing on stories, mostly about people, that take place in California, the West, Latin America and Asia. We are on all digital platforms and a printed edition, with a launch circulation of more than 400,000, delivered on the first Sunday of each month with the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Sacramento Bee. (And for a limited time, in the Bay Area, with home delivered copies of the New York Times.) We’re comprised of two sections: shorts and features. We are not a service based magazine–we won’t tell you where to eat and where to shop. There are plenty of magazines who do that really well already!
The west coast deserves a good Sunday magazine, how did this emerge?
We emerged from the popular live events series, that our editor-in-chief, Doug McGray started, called Pop-Up Magazine, which is a live magazine which writers, documentary filmmakers, radio producers, photographers, and illustrators perform original stories to sell-out crowds at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall. They’ve had great photographers showing new work on stage — Larry Sultan, Jim Goldberg, Autumn de Wilde, Richard Misrach, Cheryl Dunn, Ron Haviv, Todd Hido, Lucas Foglia. After doing the show for a few years, Doug realized it was strange that California wasn’t home to a big-audience general interest magazine. He loved the sense of community he and the Pop-Up team were building. Fast forward to 2014..and here we are! Doug hired Leo Jung as creative director (formerly Design Director at Wired, deputy art director at The New York Times Magazine) and then I was hired soon after. I moved to San Francisco after working in magazines in NYC for a number of years (W Magazine, ELLE Magazine, and Interview). It’s such an incredible challenge and so unique for a photo editor to help shape what the magazine looks like, from scratch. It’s so inspiring and challenging. When Doug and I first met he said the magazine wasn’t going to have any cover lines. I thought he was crazy. And I knew I had to work with him immediately.
What type of visual stories is the magazine seeking?
We’re always looking for pitches from photographers. It’s not just about beautiful photos — they need to have a sense of story. Photo essays can be big and sweeping and urgent, or they can be small, local curiosities. As you’ll see in our first issue, we will have a mix of established and young artists. I love having that balance. Photographers can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get our contributor guidelines.
Describe your photographic direction for the magazine.
The magazine is made in California. So when it comes to photography, whenever possible we use artists who have a deep, authentic connection to this place, creatively and personally. And that authenticity can be seen in their photographs. We always want to surprise readers. California Sunday imagery will feel cinematic, thought-provoking, not overly stylized or retouched. A sense of place is really important to the magazine, so there won’t be a lot of studio photography. Imagery will feel bright, smart but not pretentious. Subjects will be represented in an authentic, real way. Always accessible, but never dumbed down.
You have a section called “visual short”, is this an opportunity for photographers to pitch you ideas?
Absolutely. Photographers can email us their pitches and links to their unpublished bodies of work.
In each issue we’d like to try and include a visual short. For the first issue we commissioned Will Adler, who is a fantastic fine art photographer. I saw his brilliant series of surf photography at Danziger Gallery in NY–he has such a deep connection to surf and art (his uncle, Tom Adler, is an art director of seminal early surf photography books.) I love his dreamy color palette and he really embodies the feel of the magazine we’re trying to achieve…cinematic and surprising. Will sent us so many striking images it so hard to choose. We chose a different image for the TOC image where the surfer’s body felt quite still, but when you turn to the story its a nice contrast –turbulent and wonderfully disorienting.
Holly Andres shot your cover/feature, virtual reality is a challenging topic to visually cover I’d imagine. Some of her work has a wonderfully unsettling narrative. Why did you gravitate towards her work for this?
I met Holly in Portland in 2011 at the PhotoLucida photo previews when I was at W. She was still focusing primarily on fine art photography. I love how she creates imagery that invites you in and takes you to another world, from an era you can’t quite place…which was perfect for the setting we were trying to create for our cover story, called “The Last Medium,” about virtual reality in Hollywood.
We’re hoping to do something really unique with our covers–immediately after you turn the page we have an inside cover, which is an opportunity to continue the cover on to a spread. We think it sets the tone up front in the way we sequence images, very cinematically. The cover is a young girl at home–wearing a virtual reality headset, then you turn the page and you’re in that alternate world with her. We continued that in the story as well, domestic scenes of the family together, then you turn to the last image and the family is in a bright otherworldly setting…
Often news journalism is about heart break. Omar Lucas photographed Ruth Thalia’s family. Undoubtedly this was important to select the right photographer. It takes a certain type of photographer to gracefully come into a family’s life and capture their sorrow. Why Omar Lucas?
Omar is a Lima-based photographer, and this was his first time working with a foreign publication. It was important for me that whoever was going in to the home where Ruth Thalia once lived, that they understand the sensitivity of the situation. Omar was familiar with Ruth Thalia’s story–it was on the news frequently there–so he made sure to go to their home and speak with them at length before he even picked up his camera.
Tell me about Daniel Shea‘s piece.
We teamed LA Times arts writer Carolina Miranda with the fantastic Daniel Shea, who was spending a lot of time out west and inspired by the contemporary arts scene. We decided on a unique approach, featuring artists who were directly inspired by the landscape around them. We used architectural historian Reyner Banham’s four ecologies as a guide.
(Grete Eliassen) Grete is the best all around female skier I’ve ever seen but the truth is I’m always excited to bring out her feminine side and show her in another light. 99.9% of the time she’s in a helmet or ski gear but for this moment I got her to wear a dress. Originally she wasn’t quite feeling it (mainly because of the cold) but I said when you see the image that’s in my head, this will be the photo you show your grand kids to remind them how beautiful you were.
(Louie Vito) Louie is probable the best athlete I’ve ever shot. He is always early, always cracking jokes, always making people feel at home which was the beauty of this shoot. I got to turn Louie into someone else besides “Mr. Nice Guy”. I love the camera for the simple fact that you can take a person’s persona and flip it on it’s head.
(Greg Bretz) Greg was pretty much in a media sponsor frenzy when I shot these photos. He looked to be the first lock on the Olympic Halfpipe selection and you could tell he had alot of interviews on his plate. Pretty much the last thing you want to hear as a snowboarder is “some guy from New York” is here to take your photo. That usually equates to “guy in the sky” and missed grabbed photos with poor style. Two things the core audience of snowboarding hates. I try to stay true to my roots and remember where I came from so I made it quick for Greg and got these shots in 2 takes. I saw Greg at breakfast later that week told him, by the way, I shot snowboarding for 15+ years and I grew up in Alaska.
(Arielle Gold) For this shot I literally introduced myself on the side of the halfpipe. “Hi I’m Stan Evans and I’m here to shoot your portrait for Red Bull!” This was during practice for the final so I would literally caught her hiking to do another run. I was actually lined up on the wrong wall for her action shot and practice ended so I hustled back up at night time (about 10 degrees) and got the action portion of her then.
(Nick Goepper) Sometime in all the seriousness of preparing for the the olympics we forget these are kids. So for Nick’s shoot it was all about fun. It was pretty fun convincing him to do a cartwheel in ski boots and he had the biggest grin when I asked him to backflip with my camera. He asked, “what happens if i wreck?” I told him I have insurance…. but don’t wreck. (it’s a canon 5d mark II in his hand that I remote triggered from the ground) If you look closely you can see me bottom left.
Heidi: Had you pitched Red Bull projects previously? Or was this the first open assignment with them?
Stan: Yes, here’s a list of what I had pitched and executed for them:
Grete Eliassen Movie: “Say My Name”
Travis Rice portraits: “That’s it, That’s All”, Mainstream Media ( below )
For Travis Rice, “That It, That’s ‘s All” I shot test samples and had meetings with Travis, Brainfarm Producers and Red Bull, the goal was to shoot for a mainstream audience so it wasn’t as much about his performance on a snowboard as it was building a compelling character.
The pitch for Grete’s movie actually took about 8 months. It ended up being a two year project We created a teaser and photos compiled of Grete adventures of what logged the first year and coordinated it with outlets that had already expressed interests in the project and projected views. Grete, Adam Bebout, her regional athlete Manger and I flew down to Red Bull and we pitched in person. They warmed up to it a bit but what took it over the top was the hip jump idea. It was something that differentiated it from other female ski projects and opened the appeal to a larger audience. The general public might not understand skiing but the idea that a woman could fly 30+ feet in the air and create a world record was something a lot of people could be excited about.
Here’s a few pages from the Virulence Report from my office which was for interest in the movie before hand. After Grete’s hip jump/world record the impressions were 33 million the first month by Red Bull’s analytics team.
What were the directives from the brand?
Red Bull wanted portraits that were compelling to mainstream media but could still live within endemic media. Logo placement is always imperative but I try to blend it subtly. It was nice because action was secondary but I think being able to handle both sides of the spectrum was a large selling point for them.
My guess is you’re also an athlete adventurer. How does that play into your work?
I love the outdoors and being a part of the action but being snowboard photographer started to take it’s toll. I actually was in a car accident on my way to filming a part of Grete’s movie. I chipped off a piece of bone in my kneecap and after 6 knee surgeries I was ready to take a different direction so I started focusing on portraits. If anything I’ve probably toned it down a bit. It lets me see more of the quiet moments between the action and helps humanize people. I still love risky jobs and exploring in that I connect with the subjects because they realize I know what they are going through and as a photographer, I’m trying to make them look their absolute best.
The biggest oxymoron is being on a set in NYC where people act as if something goes wrong someone might die as opposed to being on the side of a mountain in Alaska where someone actually could die.
For example, before Kevin Pearce there was Timmy Ostler. Tim was an amazing snowboarder that I was shooting at Park City. He had a freak fall in the halfpipe, was heli-evaced and consequently paralyzed from the waist down. Those moments change you. I’m not trying to be a downer but those moments make you realize what’s at stake on set or in the studio. I’m so thankful I get to do what I do, and I try to remember that, as well as remind those around me. Positivity and being happy to be there are a huge part of my shoots because in the back of my mind I realize, this can all be taken away in an instant.
What was the biggest hurdle with the assignment?
Weather is always a factor. For the Grand Prix it snowed ton during qualifiers and people could barely get speed for jumps. It made for pretty lackluster action and inopportune for some of the locations I had scouted. I usually try to have a plan B – get creative and adapt. Grete’s location was really the only specific parameter I had to nail. Schedule was probably the other, many of the athletes had overlapping practice or events, other sponsor commitments and competing with television and other media outlets . But sometimes that worked out. I met one of the hosts for NBC and showed him some of the photos of Louie. They ended up using them in a “Road to Sochi” spot so turnaround was quick and I caught a lucky break.
How long did you spend with the athletes in order to capture the non action side of them?
Sometimes 5 – 10 minutes, sometimes days.
I had a hard time tracking down Arielle Gold. I literally saw her at the halfpipe, introduced myself, shot her portrait and action on the spot. For Louie we actually talked quite a bit and he invited me to his home. I was immersed in his training regimen. I ate what he ate. Woke up when he did and would get the gym before him to set up. It made for an amazing experience and it shows in the photos. We ended up having a great spread of photos of everything he did but the edit focused on his physique.
Grete is beautiful woman and was probably the most challenging yet rewarding to shoot. I wanted her to look feminine and have the environment and props tell the story. She really is standing in the woods in 15 degrees with a pair of skis in a dress. That’s amazing trust.
Bobby Brown was probably my favorite though. I had him for about 45 mins. Once he came on set he was invested. He was so curious about the process and how he could help make the shot better. Never looked at his watch, never told me he had places to be. A consummate pro – I was really happy he fought through some injuries and made the Olympic team… I’m a Bobby Brown fan for life.
Heidi:Once your direction was set to show a package of pills received by mail, what were the next steps in the creative process and what was your time frame?
Gail: The next steps were deciding how we wanted to the package to look, thinking about what type of image would best convey our message and then figuring out the best person to shoot that kind of image. We were on a pretty tight time frame, as we usually are since the magazine is weekly. We had about five days to pull the shoot together.
Was it this body of work (My Parents Love Letters ) by Johnny Miller that convinced the team he was right for the project? Were there any other considerations and made you choose him? See the full gallery here
Yes, this was the body of work that made us think of him. We wanted the image to feel very natural and dimensional – to walk the line of being a conceptual image but with the feel of something real. Our photo department had been looking for an opportunity to work with Johnny, and Christine Walsh (the photo editor on the project) and I thought he would be great for this because his work is clean and graphic but still personal.
I loved the small tear in the cover where the bottle is, what other details were taken into consideration to make this image come alive?
A simple image like this is all about the details, so we paid a lot of attention to them. We hired stylist Randi Brookman Harris, with whom we’ve collaborated quite a bit. She sourced a number of different kinds of envelopes and adjusted them to fit the proportions of the cover. We also designed cancellation and metered postage stamps from India (the point of origin for the packages mentioned in the story) and Randi commissioned rubber stamps of them to be applied to the envelopes. We estimated how much a package like this would weigh and accounted for that when fabricating the metered stamp. Randi applied both stamps to the modified envelopes somewhat haphazardly to approximate the way they would appear if they had actually gone through the postal service, and she applied unequal pressure so the ink would vary in density. We placed a square box in the package to give the impression of the volume of the pillbox and began shooting. As the shoot progressed, we also tried versions where we beat up the envelope more, adding wrinkles and smearing the stamps to give the impression that the envelope had been through the mail.
I know from working at news organization there’s prestige and a social responsibility that comes with designing news journalism. How has your role as the Art Director shaped you personally?
There is definitely a social responsibility aspect to working for The New York Times. While there is always a craft and attention to aesthetics that is part of what art directors do, there are also many other considerations when designing news. Under the best circumstances the most eye-catching design is tonally on target, the most arresting photographs correspond with the narrative of the piece, and the most graphic concept for a cover accurately captures the main point of the story, but in cases where that doesn’t happen, conveying the intent and message of the writing sometimes wins out over the aesthetic considerations. I have learned to look past my own viewpoints on the subjects we cover and see the story from varying angles. And in some cases, it’s necessary for me to temper my own goals for the visuals of a piece with what is right for the magazine and the brand of The New York Times. My view of visual story telling and journalism has become much more nuanced.
While I was at The Los Angeles Times Magazine I remembered having moments of being semi paralyzed and in awe of the amount of news being produced on a daily basis. How does the volume of news and your acute awareness effect you as a mother?
The amount of news being generated a daily basis is absolutely dizzying. Particularly in this moment when digital access means that our choices of where to get information have multiplied exponentially. As a mother, I sometimes worry about the easy accessibility of news that is increasingly more violent and graphic. I want to protect my 5-year-old son’s innocence while I can, so I make efforts not to watch or listen to the news around him, because the coverage can quickly shift from a benign topic to something that could be scary for a little person.
However, I’ve also seen the upsides to the kind of instant access to news and information that we now have. It’s great to be able to satisfy a curious mind not only with a verbal explanation, but also with images. Particularly for a very visual learner like my son. That has never been as easy to do as it is now. As with everything, we take the good with the bad.