Photographer: Stan Evans
Producer: Verity Hoskins
Concept: Val Harvey
Heidi: Now that you’re a few episodes deep in your Podcast called “Social Studies Show” about Advertising and Activism, what is the common thread?
Stan: About a year ago I noticed a common thread: many of the gatekeepers in the advertising industry wouldn’t allow access or give their time to mentor minorities. I figured the only way to really have an impact and create measurable results was to do it myself.
Advertising and Activism share the same narrative “to get a message out to the masses” and on that path they’re parallel. Maintaining a full-time career and youth seeking internships can be difficult, so I started looking for a way to have a lasting and manageable impact on the industry. What if I could create a living library of information for minorities and women (really anyone) who were passionate about advertising and driven towards activism? Something that would live long after I’m gone and help future generations break into those fields.
After talking with Rebecca Williams VP, Group Creative Director at Burrell Communications about advertising and culture, what were your three biggest takeaways as a photographer over a podcast creator?
Stan: Being a Producer
It’s a video series as well as a podcast, and I focus on tangible information. I conceptualize the shows, write the scripts, cast talent, direct each episode, shoot video, photos, and coordinate travel to make it all happen. I also coordinate video editing and graphic design around the series. The hardest part is finding the right guest and digging deep into their career challenges; both the highs and the lows. The key is walking that line between Advertising and Activism. One of the most telling and vulnerable moments on the show was Arturo Nunez talking about losing the opportunity to sign Steph Curry to Nike. It says alot about the process and the trust that’s built when someone like Arturo is willing to let down his guard to admit mistakes so others can learn, adjust, and avoid the same.
Stepping in front of the camera and putting yourself out there for better or worse. As a photographer it’s so easy to hide behind the camera but in interviews guests often ask me pointed, sometimes surprising questions and put me on the spot. There’s no hiding—the internet is a savage place. You have to be ready to respond and be ready to take the hits.
Negativity and detractors come with the territory. You start something new and everybody has “suggestions” about how and what to do with the podcast. There were definitely people who didn’t get it.
“How are Advertising and Activism Connected?” they asked….It got to the point where people would critique the work without taking the time to understand the concept or ask questions to learn; I’d just tell them to go do their own podcast. I’ve got my own thing over here, and it’s the work I want to create and leave for others. Honestly, I’ve failed at so many things, I know that even if I get knocked down doing this — I can get back up. I knew it was a good idea, and I was more afraid of not getting it done than doing it in a way that didn’t match someone else’s vision.
A year later we’re in a different climate of Activism in the United States and people totally get it now. A lot of Black voices weren’t being heard in the ad space, and I feel like I was actually ahead of the curve on looking for real ways to create change. I hope people are listening now. Black voices are going to save us. The economy and race relations are in turmoil and to survive companies are going to need to hire people of color to speak to those disenfranchised masses helping to course correct years of damage. If companies ignore it, minority consumers will simply take their dollars and talents to businesses that appreciate them.
The Burrell campaign “We Are Golden” shares the same inclusivity and representation as your recent Coca-Cola work, “History Shakers.” What does this work show you and tell us why it’s important.
Stan: The “We Are Golden” campaign showed everyday black people in a positive light and gave them the respect they deserve. There’s a misconception in America that the Black man (or woman) gets treated equally, but it’s an illusion. Marketing at times fuels that illusion.
Dave Chapelle shares a real life example of this in his latest special. The police officer who pulled him over for speeding and let him off with a warning is the same officer who, a day later, shot John Crawford in Walmart while he was looking at a BB Gun.
Further and to put it in perspective, think about the differences between first responders and essential workers serving the public during COVID and celebrities who sheltered in place on private estates. We’re all going through lock down but our experiences are very different.
Everytime I shoot a photo I’m trying to challenge perception. Every person of color I shoot, from a background extra to Will Smith, deserves that equal level of humanity we all want. Advertising affects the message. I am the messenger.
Verity: There are so many reasons! First of all, I think any time you highlight someone who is excelling you increase the chance that a young person who looks like them, or has a background similar to them, or can relate to them in some way will see that and it will give them the confidence to pursue their dream and eventually excel themselves. I only really produce commercial jobs and of course, many of them are simply facilitating the creation of pretty pictures to help sell more stuff. I’m not a creative director or a brand manager – my job is to make it happen on budget and on time (with great snacks and a fab playlist! Haha). So any time I get a chance to work on something that has an ultimate purpose beyond just raising brand awareness, I feel like it’s important to jump on it. I was really excited and honored to be asked to work on this project.
Brands are admitting they are making mistakes and taking steps to address them. Right now we are in a cycle of mis-step, conflict, conflict resolution. Can you share the strides you and Verity have made which skip the need for conflict resolution?
Stan: I look at best case and worst case scenarios and work my way back. I ask a lot of questions with the client, and sometimes I have to go with my gut but as a Black man in America. My perspective is vastly different from many of my peers.
Growing up in a military family, having a camera at an early age and being genuinely curious gave me a broad perspective; most of all, though — I watch and I listen. I go through ad work of the past looking for what people did wrong or what people did right, and I apply learnings from all of that right now in the present.
Verity is a smart, strong woman who has worked with a lot of amazing photographers. A different set of eyes, realistic expectations of what we can produce within the confines we’re given and a female perspective are all welcome assets so I bounce the final ideas off her and we adjust, improve, and course correct where necessary. If we do the work and make it through all that, then we usually don’t have conflict resolution. Notorious B.I.G said .The key to staying, on top of things is treat everything like it is your first project. I take that to heart and have pride in my work.
Verity: I’m still learning, and while I know I have made mistakes, one piece of advice I received is to always be authentic and be curious. If the things that are coming out of my mouth and the actions I am taking feel authentic to who I am, which is a person who is always trying to do the right thing and to elevate others, then I am at least going to be on the right track. I try and approach each new situation with my mind wide open, ask a lot of questions and really listen to the answers. Production can be so hectic. You just want to cross things off your list as fast as possible. But if you can sit back a little sometimes and really be intentional in the midst of all of it, you can learn a lot more and as a result, make less mistakes. I ask Stan a lot of questions. He has never made me feel awkward for asking and has spent literally hours talking through things with me with humor and trust.
Can you share a vignette from your recent project together?
Verity: The second part of our Coca-Cola project was a three day stills lifestyle shoot to create assets for Black History month but also evergreen imagery that could be used throughout the year. It was December in Atlanta but we needed to create scenarios relevant to all seasons. On our last day we were shooting at Morehouse College, which is such a beautiful historic campus. It was raining and 43 degrees, and we needed to shoot a tailgate setup as well as various outdoor campus hangouts. I grew up in Canada, the daughter of British immigrants. Stan cracked up so many times watching me navigate various aspects of this shoot – there were many funny moments. I’ve never been to a tailgate in my life and have pretty much zero understanding of anything to do with American college life. I honestly didn’t know a single thing about Historically Black Colleges before this shoot. So while it was really important to solve the issue of shooting around freezing rain, and I wanted to figure it out fast, I had to really try and ask lots of questions and understand exactly the spirit of what we were trying to capture so I could find a solution. Everyone was worried about how to pull it off and everyone was offering a million ideas. Figuring out who to listen to and what questions to ask helped me prioritise the workarounds and compromises so that our client was happy and the images looked authentic.
Stan: Arriving on set that day it was cold and a torrential downpour. There were puddles 4 inches deep in some places and the wind was blowing sideways – placing gear and talent would be problematic. Looking at rearranging two mohos a gear truck and craft services to create a new set and avoid electrocution was gonna be tough ask and put us behind on an already challenging day but that is what was needed when I arrived. Verity made it all happen and luckily I brought 2 sets of clothes so we could get caught up and back on schedule making the creative shots happen, staying on schedule and keeping everyone safe.
The psychic toll of the recent weeks are heavy, chaos is the breeding ground for change. Movements are trying to hold community leaders, brands and gov’t accountable, are you hopeful for change?
Stan: I’ll put it like this. This race is a marathon not a sprint. Black people have been dealing for so long that this is just another day, it’s like everyone else woke up from a coma. When I was young, my mother was afraid of me wanting to pursue photography because she thought no white people would hire me due to the color of my skin. Racism did that to her, made her set aside her dreams for herself and her children.
A few months ago I had a meeting arranged with a pretty high profile photo rep. I later found out the meeting was cancelled because the rep realized I was black.
Both those things are disappointments yet the significance of a black man shooting a black history campaign for a huge international brand is not lost on me. No one is going to stop me because I have hope and believe in myself. I don’t need the world to believe in me. I just need a few people who want to help change the world. I dare to say, this movement feels a little different this time. I just want to share my knowledge, passion, bring people up with me and develop generational wealth. Something the ad world needs to think about though is if you want to find the next Gordon Parks – you have to invest in the current, myself and Erik Umphery or Marcus Smith. We’ve been out here – it’s just time to admit, you just started looking…
Verity: I do think the movement happening here in America (and around the world) in the last month is causing me, as a white person, to actually wake up, ask questions and educate myself as much as I can. It’s not a case of being politically correct or ticking a diversity box. Becoming self-aware is inherently uncomfortable but it inevitably brings growth.
Since we both love riding, I must ask, what was the creative impetus for “Dawn till Dusk” besides your love of the sport?
Stan: After COVID19 hit Los Angeles a shelter in place order took effect, shutting down most of the city. The somber aura of the city was unprecedented. Normally packed streets gave way to the framework and architecture that usually serves as a backdrop for larger than life personalities. While desolation hung heavy in the air, there were pockets of light and hope. I set out to find these spaces and uncover a bit of creativity that is often at times staring us in the face but is lost in the noise.
In a city of lights, camera, action – sets shut down and the only stage was the city itself. I was a one man band of production, searching for meaningful sights and sounds. Sharing scenes only available to pedal power and discovering pockets of optimism. The tale of the corona virus is still being written… and it doesn’t have to focus on fear and animosity. There’s room for a little hope in there….
I started working on it April 3 and wrapped shooting April 21st, I had to work around Kollbi’s schedule because he was working at a bike shop, one of the few places open during COVID. We finished the edit about three weeks ago.