The cold this year has been unrelenting. Bone chilling and grim, with stretches of consecutive days where the temperature has been minus fifteen celsius or worse, and even colder at night. I’m incredibly thankful that I live in a warm house surrounded by people I love, but of course not everyone is so lucky.
Last year, I had the honor of working with fellow Westsider Frank Hoedl on a campaign for Project Winter Survival, a Toronto non-profit that provides cold-weather survival kits for the homeless. It’s a very simple idea — supply those in need with sleeping bags, hats, gloves, scarves, and so on, so they don’t freeze to death — and it’s been very successful, but as the recent cold-weather deaths of several men in Toronto have shown, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Frank and I shot two print ads together, an exciting collaborative process that made for a rather unusual workflow. I scouted and sourced the locations, we co-piloted the cameras and co-directed the talent, and Frank applied his post-production magic to the final retouching. Frank has long been one of my favourite photographers and it was great to be able to work so closely with him. The final results are outstanding, and in fact won an Applied Arts Award in the Public Service category back in November. Here are the print executions.
One of the setups also seemed to have some solid potential as a compelling little motion piece, and with the blessing of the creative team at Cundari (CD Andrew Simon, AD Jason Lee, and writer Francesco Grandi), we gave it a go. We enlisted the help of Mike Rybinski at Spot Cinema and once the print ads were finished, shot a quick spec spot that turned out surprisingly well. It hasn’t seen the light of day until now however; I’m pleased to announce that it will finally be rolling out over the next few days..
It looks like we’re in for several more weeks of brutal cold before things start to thaw out again. If you’re at all able, please make a donation.
The holiday season is upon us, and with it, the usual holiday challenges. What to do for dinner on the 24th? Nobody likes to cook on Christmas Eve! What to get for my parents, who not only have almost everything, but in fact have several of everything? And how best to share gratitude and good fortune with those less fortunate? After all, one of the best ways to express appreciation is by helping others.
For as long as I can remember, the United Way has been a key feature of Canada’s charitable landscape. Facilitating aid at a community level is their mandate, and they’re resoundingly good at it. Of course, subtle reminders in the form of donation drives and public awareness campaigns are part of the process too, which leads inevitably to another kind of holiday challenge; how to differentiate the United Way campaign from the dozens of others that appear at this time of year? Even in the charitable realm, competition is fierce.
A few months ago we were approached by Taxi Canada to produce and shoot a TV campaign to meet this very challenge. Working with the general theme of “Possibility”, Taxi was tasked with communicating the idea that behind every changed life, there are many people who helped make it happen, and by extension, behind the United Way there exists a network of donors who, through their contributions, are the ultimate life-changers. The writer, Jake Boguch, and the art director, Yuko Brown, came up with the idea of shifting attention from foreground to background characters by using focus-pulls as a visual metaphor; an elegant and potentially very beautiful approach. To further distinguish the visuals, they also hoped to make use of an unusual post-production effect known as the Parallax technique, and had already retained the services of Joe Fellows at Make Productions, perhaps the world’s foremost Parallax expert, who came to their attention through the stunning work showcased in his Creator’s Project interview.
In essence, and without giving too much away, the Parallax method is a way of using various digital transforms, effects, and animations to breathe light, life, and a sense of depth into a layered series of still photographs. Joe’s previous parallax work is amazing, and all the more remarkable for the fact that up until now he has had to work solely with pre-existing imagery supplied by clients. With the United Way project he would, for the first time, have completely bespoke photo assets — custom images produced specifically with the technique in mind.
We were awarded the job in mid September, and embarked on a merry few weeks of script discussions, treatment writing, conference calls, scouting, on-the-fly casting, and technical troubleshooting. The agency was able to bring Joe from the UK to be on set with us, which was invaluable; his expertise and enthusiasm added tremendously to the experience. Once the shoot wrapped, he returned to London with the final selects and compositing elements, and began the post production and effects work. The end result – built entirely from still photos – speaks for itself. Shot completely on location, using almost exclusively ambient light and working only with actual United Way clients, client facilities, volunteers, donors, and staff, this distinctive spot is one of several that will be rolling out over the next little while and will serve as the basis for their 2015 national campaign. For more about the project, including some fun behind-the-scenes shots, head on over to the Westside Studio blog, and make sure to also visit the Make Productions blog to read about the shoot from Joe’s perspective.
As an added bonus, in between shots, my Instagram alter ego thunder_pino managed to grab some offbeat scenics to add to the daily collection. Here are a few examples… Click here to see more, and please sign up to follow if you haven’t already…
Happy Holidays, everyone!
Has it really been six months since the last bulletin from Planet Shapton? Apparently so. Well, what can I say, it’s been a busy half year. In truth, I’ve also become increasingly ambivalent about the professional benefits of certain kinds of social media, blogging included. It feels like we’re all in a giant room together, and everyone is yelling “look at me, look at me!” at everyone else. It’s had the effect, lately, of making me want to just tune everything out. In an online world where we’re all crowing about how special we are, isn’t the reality actually that we’re much more similar than we care to admit? But that’s a discussion for another day.
What got me thinking about writing again, in spite of this, was a recent assignment photographing social media juggernaut (and, not incidentally, retired astronaut) Chris Hadfield, for the UK’s Guardian Weekend magazine. He’s a remarkable individual, genuine and good natured, with a crushing fighter-pilot handshake and an easy laugh; every bit as compelling and charismatic in real life as he seems to be from his prolific Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, and Tumblr activity. The key thing that sets him apart is that he’s actually hugely accomplished, distinctly and tangibly so, with real things to talk about and a clear vision as to the larger possibilities and benefits of the social media realm. I have no doubt that he has done more than any other single individual in recent memory to fuel interest in science education and space exploration — an invaluable and necessary effort given the anti-science, anti-intellectual currents that seem to swirl through our popular culture.
I photographed him in his home town of Sarnia, Ontario, and he was a dream subject; un-selfconscious, friendly, engaging, and thoughtful. I’ve talked before about how one of the best things about my job is the opportunity it affords me to meet different kinds of people, but I’ve never met anyone quite like Mr. Hadfield and I have to rank this as one of my favourite assignments, ever. I also got to meet and work with the acclaimed Emma Brockes, who wrote the article – it’s not often that the writers are there when I am shooting, which is too bad as it definitely adds to the experience.
I’ve written before about the challenges and frustrations of celebrity photography, but good things often arise from creative adversity, and over the years numerous assignments from Maclean’s magazine have resulted in what I think is a pretty coherent and solid set of shots. It’s nice to have that perception affirmed; the magazine is hosting an exhibition of portraits from the past 100 years as part of this year’s Contact Photography Festival, and I’m proud to say several of my images are among the 50 that have been included in the show.
From the exhibition catalogue:
“The series Maclean’s: Face to Face is produced in conjunction with the Festival and includes work done for the magazine by iconic Canadian portrait photographers, including: Peter Bregg, Tony Fouhse, Yousuf Karsh, Rita Leistner, George Pimentel, John Reeves, Derek Shapton, Christopher Wahl, and Mark Zibert.”
While I am flattered, I think my inclusion in a list of iconic Canadian photographers is a little premature. And who the heck is this Yousuf Karsh guy anyway? I swear, it’s getting harder and harder to keep track of all these up and coming young whippersnapper photographers.
The exhibit opens today at the Gladstone Hotel, with an opening reception tomorrow night (May 2nd). It runs until May 31st.
A few months ago I was contacted by Wallpaper Magazine to photograph a residence called the Integral House for a feature about the designers, Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe of Shim Sutcliffe Architects (above). It’s an astonishing structure. At times, parts of the house seemed to have a vaguely mid-century-modern meets Arts and Crafts aesthetic, but in totality it was so singular and fully realized as to almost be an architectural style unto itself. Every aspect of the building, from the texture of the materials to the door and stairway hardware right down to the play of light as it changed throughout the day was considered and refined and seemingly tailor-made for the space.
Walter Pater famously said ”All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music” — but that was before architects and photographers attained the cultural respect and artistic status they have today. I’ve often thought that photography should in fact aspire to the condition of architecture. There is a utility and inevitability about a great building, a harmony of method and emotion that I find very affecting, and I often feel the same way when I see a photo that really grabs me. In both instances it’s almost as though I’ve entered for a moment into the artist’s mind, and afterwards the “real world” seems uncanny and somehow wrong, for a little while at least.
So many things billed as once-in-a-lifetime are in reality anything but. The Integral House however is utterly unlike anywhere I’ve ever been and I’m extremely thankful to have been asked to photograph there.
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