Still Images In Great Advertising, is a column where Suzanne Sease discovers great advertising images and then speaks with the photographers about it.
I know I can’t find all my favorite examples of still images in great advertising in the award shows or Ads of the World. Sometimes I like to find more recent work that is being seen currently, so I check blogs and websites of folks who have either caught my eye in the past or agents I respect. I stumbled upon the work of Peter Rad with Brite Productions and his work for The Brooklyn Academy of Music campaign. I think this campaign really spoke to me because a lot of my marketing ideas for my clients “just hit me”. I feel that inspiration can hit you at the most unique moments because as artists we see something and trigger an idea.
Suzanne: This campaign is very layered and therefore stopping the viewer in to looking a little close. When I look at your website and see the Open Orange campaign, Ballantine’s Scotch Whiskey, Skyteam and your editorial work, I get a true understanding on why you were selected for this campaign. But I would assume that you had a lot of input into who was featured and the “inspiration” of “just hit me”
Peter: I’m very grateful to have worked on such a campaign. One of the smart things that BAM and McGarry Bowen did is to bring the prospective photographers in very early in the concept stages of the campaign. This makes perfect sense, and I truly believe that if more agencies did this, they would get better results across the board. It helps tremendously when technical and logistical problems can be resolved before the idea is fully realized. To me it’s a show of strength and self-confidence from the creative team… the key to collaborative art, be it commercial or fine art.
With the tagline in place – ‘BAM – and then it hits you’, bidding photographers were given a bunch of performance images from BAM’s archive. These we mostly stage images… dance, theatre, music, etc. There were also some film stills included. Our job was to consider these performance images, and think of ways in which they (the characters within) could be included seamlessly, in a broader New York scene. We also had to somehow connect the performance with the protagonist in the tableau – the person who is remembering their ‘BAM moment’. At first; this made me a little nervous, because all of the stage images were lit with theatrical lighting. I initially thought that might limit the variety of environments. In the end though – and this is in part a testimony to the sophistication of today’s theatrical lighting designers – this challenge was instrumental in stirring up ideas and scenarios that I may not have thought of had the lighting already had a scenic context. Suddenly stage lighting becomes, a car headlight, or lightning, or light reflected from windows at sunset, etc.
Initially I was asked to draw 8 scenarios with a view to 6 ads being produced. However, as the excitement of the process grew, I found myself making many more drawings. In the end they increased the ad count to 11. That’s so rare. Usually the numbers are whittled down, not expanded on.
Suzanne: Your personal work is very thought provoking on the social and cultural aspects of people in different ages and places. Is this of interest to you? I know from your bio you love to document the honesty of environments but you seem to like to capture them? Where does this come from?
Peter: My initial foray into photography was what you might consider ‘old-school’. I used to paint and draw, but then my uncle introduced me to Polaroid cameras when I was little. Later that prompted me to switch to photography as a medium. I was already painting in a figurative style, so the transition was fairly seamless. From an early age, I was interested in people and how they relate to each other. When I started studying photography in college, I was immediately drawn to the work of documentarian artists… Diane Arbus, Alfred Stieglitz, August Sander and Robert Frank, among others, were strong influences. I was always drawn to the gutsiness of real emotion and body language in documentary style images, especially when used in conjunction with something slightly off – a seemingly displaced person or object, or the moment before or after the ‘decisive’ moment. To that end The Surrealists and Dadaists were other favorites.
By the time I got to grad school, I started to consider my social background more, and how it related to why I take pictures – I came from a large religious migrant family in Australia. I began to think more about how the themes of psychology, relationships and home/place might factor as foundations for my images. As much as possible I try to bring these ideas into my commercial work. Ultimately my images don’t end up looking completely documentary in style, as they’re staged and mostly lit depictions of a suggested reality. I stage a scene so that it can be ‘documented’ (in the more traditional sense of that word) within a controlled environment. In that regard, what I do is very similar to how movies are made. I direct and record the happening. The only difference is that I end up with one frame, not a reel of images.
Suzanne: Do you think that being a faculty member for the Master’s program at School of the Visual Arts has kept your mind open listening to the young minds of your students??
Peter: Without a doubt, teaching is a great way for artists to retain a verve and open-mindedness, necessitating a solid knowledge of the artistic dialogue currently taking place in, however also considering the past and (for the seers) the future, and how these tie in to contemporary investigations.
Teaching is very much a two way street. The teacher, who believes that teachers teach and students learn, is missing half of the equation.
Beyond this context, I feel that I’m constantly learning from crew and cast members on shoots. My ideas are always solid going into a shoot, but teaching has taught me that the interaction between two people is always educational for both parties. It keeps me open to a greater range of possibilities.
Suzanne: I love the fact that you are a busy working advertising, editorial and fine art photographer. I feel that many photography schools are filled with tenured professors who didn’t make it as professional photographers and therefore instructing their students with old school philosophies of advertising when the game has changed so drastically. Do you agree?
Peter: Let me see, how do I answer this diplomatically… it’s true, the old school methods of teaching photography are restrictive because they draw more from history than the present and the future. This was very much the case when I was in college. We were taught a craft, and asked to consider an artistic approach for our work. However it was left up to us to source those artistic influences, based on their teaching us what took place in the past. For those who didn’t make the extra effort, their work often reflected the work of historical photographers, and didn’t flourish in the context of fresh ideas. This is precisely the reason why I decided to come to New York and to SVA to study. Their faculty was a ‘who’s who’ of renowned working artists and theorists. This kept us (and them) on our toes, and required of us to engage in a substantial understanding and knowledge of what is currently taking place in our choice field of art. We’re a bit spoiled here (in New York) in that regard, because it’s a major center for photography. I’m encouraged to see that more educational institutions are adopting this fresher approach.
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Peter Rad lives in New York, and works internationally as an artist and commercial photographer. His award-winning work has received critical acclaim worldwide, and is featured extensively in top-level magazines, high profile advertising campaigns, and fine-art exhibitions. Drawing from his background in painting and a passionate love and understanding of the moving image, Peter directs his characters and carefully manipulates environments to create images that retain a realist honesty in their documentation. Through his thorough execution of lighting, this documentation is embellished with a hyper-reality and theatricality. He also often scripts dialogue for the actors in his images, resulting in a filmic style of tableau photography. The images have become well known for their narrative quality, as well as a unique ability to highlight that most interesting split-second moment just before or after an action takes place. Peter’s versatility and depth as a narrative image-maker is further evidenced in his portraiture and landscapes, which surround and expand on the main scene studies. Aside from his advertising, editorial and fine art work, Peter has been a faculty member in the MFA Photo & Related Media department, at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies.