The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own.  I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before.  In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find.  Please DO NOT send me your work.  I do not take submissions.

Today’s featured artist:  Ian Spanier

In the heart of Venice, California, I enlisted the help of custom hat maker Brandon Wise, for my latest personal mini project. I wanted to capture the essence of Brandon’s craftsmanship and artistry through a series of portraits of some of his clients, of course wearing his fine works of art.

I’d met Wise on my previous personal project, (MoTo, which was a series of portraits of motorcycle riders). He stood out from the crowd with his long hair and unique hat, and when I learned he was a former photojournalist, of course we “nerded out” on cameras for a moment.

Photographically, I love the challenge of working on location, so I centered this shoot around Wise’s custom hat maker’s shop, making it easier for his clients to join us- and at the same time challenging myself with the unknown hurdles working on location provides. Weather, space limitations and the mystery of variables always make for a more satisfying day, when overcoming the uncertainty results in success. I chose to use what’s been kindly called “the Spanier Stack,” by my photographer friend Andy French. Essentially a seven-foot Westcott silver umbrella with diffusion placed over a 43” deep silver umbrella with diffusion on the same light stand thanks to a mafer clamp and pin. I used Westcott FJ400

Strobes for power, and the ability to override ambient light being outside. I set the seven foot two to three stops (depending) over my smaller umbrella which then acts as a fill. This works great with subjects in hats as the shadow from the hat is not an issue if only using one light. As an added plus, these are portable lights, so no need to plug in. As with most shoots, I’m using a Canon R5 with a 24-70mm lens. Behind my subjects is a Storm Background on a c-stand.

Through the lens, I sought to convey the personalities who enlist the deft hands of Wise’s profession, the meticulously chosen materials, and the dedication to preserving time-honored techniques.

In every frame, I aimed to showcase the fusion of artisanal mastery and modern sensibilities alongside making a portrait of a stranger, a skill I’m always continually honing, particularly with “real” people- which can be far more challenging than actors, models and personalities who are accustomed to being in front of the camera.

Venice, with its eclectic blend of cultures and lifestyles, provided the perfect subjects, ripe with individuality and expression through headwear. The use of a custom canvas backdrop was intentional to compliment the custom-made theme of the shoot.

This project is a celebration of the hat maker’s dedication to his craft and a tribute to the unique spirit of Venice. In each photograph I wanted to encapsulate the spirit of an artisan, and the diverse tapestry of personalities that adorn Brandon’s bespoke creations.

In a world where mass-produced fashion dominates, this series invites viewers to pause and appreciate the artistry of handmade hats. It invites contemplation of the relationship between artisan and wearer, and how a custom-crafted hat can be a vessel for personal expression.

My hope is that these images not only offer a glimpse into the world of hat making but also inspire a deeper appreciation for the artisans who continue to breathe life into timeless traditions.

To see more of this project, click here


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world.  She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades.  After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999.  Follow her at @SuzanneSease.  Instagram

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