Category: Art Direction
My Role: Creative Direction, Producer, Editor
I wanted to capture the spirit of creation and destruction in a physical form. The form of a goddess. With the help of photographer Chris flor we brought this concept to life through a photoshoot and subsequent post production work in photoshop.
During my internship with adidas, I was approached by one of my friends who was working in the employee store at the time about how we can expand our portfolios. We wanted to do something that would stand out, something that at the outset we weren't really sure how to do but knew we could figure it out as we went along. Chris was looking for a creative director. I was looking for a photographer.
To start I came up with five concepts.
MUDD: people buried in sand, like they'd been left behind by time on their way to some place they once would do anything to get to. I wanted to capture this somber feeling of loss when you realize you're no longer going where you once dreamt of. For one reason or another, you've abandoned yourself.
FIRE: an image of a kid playing with fireworks, positioned over the city of Portland. This was inspired by the fires in the Columbia River Gorge that were ignited in summer 2017 by a couple of kids with fireworks. I wanted to capture what was actually at stake when something so foolish is done without consideration of the consequences.
KRUGER: I'm heavily inspired by the works of Barbara Kruger, so I wanted to try to execute a typographically based concept expressing some higher meaning.
PAIN(T): Using a studio context I wanted to take seemingly normal portraits of people with areas on their physical bodies painted red that have experienced the most pain. This could be their head for someone dealing with mental illness, their wrists for someone suffering from self harm, or the affected area of the body from someone who had been physically or sexually abused. I wanted to reveal the pain that truly drives us but we keep hidden.
DNA: Similar to PAIN(T), I wanted to take portraits of people with parts of their body masked over with what truly drives them; be it money, sex, drugs, ambition, etc.
When I brought these concepts to Chris, we mused about the things that tie all of my concepts together. The threads that seemed present in each concept were the ideas of pain and power, both in their nature and their relationship to each other. Playing off of that realization, I thought of a way to capture this cycle of creation and destruction in our lives so often driven by pain. In this I wanted to capture the raw essence of these phenomena in a being seemingly indifferent to the whole process, as if it were as natural as walking or breathing.
Creating The Goddess
Turns out, forest fires happen a lot. The climate-change and fireworks initiated wildfires aside, forests burn down a lot. Trees burn. Animals die. People lose their hiking trails. And then the ashes provide nutrients to the soil, bringing the forest back stronger than ever. Animals return, and people can resume taking selfies in the woods. To the observer, experiencing a cleansing forest fire happens in three stages: smoke, fire, and ash. First you see the signs that something is changing, even if you're not sure what the scope of the change is. Then you see the raging fire, consuming everything with complete indifference befitting it's power. Then you see the ash; all that remains of a once brilliant forest, warning smoke, and raging fire. All we're left with is the ash that will one day fuel the rebirth.
I decided a woman would best represent the concept. Often, in classical and modern art, we see men controlling the elements. They're depicted as the masters of the natural world, while women are often presented as the physical embodiment of these elements. Since we have no control over these forces, I wanted the focus of the portraits to be one with these forces. She does not have power. She IS power.
Consumerism gets a bad rap. The idea that we express our intangible perspectives, emotions, and personalities through our material possessions is a fundamental part of our experience in society. I wanted the embodiment of our concept to BE these forces of nature. So instead of clothing, our goddess wears smoke, fire, and ash because she is smoke fire and ash. All that they are is all that she is. She is one and she is all.
After researching how to capture these elements, we decided that the best way to capture smoke would be literally filling a space with smoke, fire by using steel wool in a long exposure around our model, and ash using sand due to the health hazards of burying a naked model in ash. So we went to the Canon Beach to test shoot and location scout. Once we knew the lighting conditions we were going to need and settled on location, we were ready to go shoot.
The morning of the official shoot, on what we knew to be the last chance of the year to get a warm enough day at the beach that fit with our schedules, our model's car was impounded and she had to deal with that. We found out around 9 am, so I called everyone I knew who might be willing to do the shoot or know someone who might, and around 1pm I was on the phone with Aimee explaining the details of the shoot. We immediately picked her up and drove to the beach. I dug a few holes in the sand while Chris took some portrait shots as compensation, and when they were done we buried Aimee and started working on ASH.
From there we moved to a cove on the north side of the beach that offered enough wind protection to really be able to play with fire. We shot several takes of steel wool and Aimee in front of the fire to capture enough that we'd have plenty to work with in post production to create the FIRE shot.
Once we had a ton of assets to work with for ASH and FIRE, we grabbed dinner and came back to Portland to shoot SMOKE in the bathtub of my apartment. Of all three parts, this came out the strongest without ever hitting photoshop. I setup a heater in the bathroom in order to keep the water based fog from rising too fast. We turned all of the lights off and relyed only on a dim string of Christmas lights and a flash.
I brought these three shots to some friends of mine working in the industry as photographers, cinematographers, and directors to get some feedback. After their comments and many conversations and editing sessions with Chris, we knew we had to tie these three together. While we were happy enough with what we had done, it didn't quite meet our expectations. So started playing around in Photoshop, looking for tools, techniques, and brushes I'd neglected or failed to consider. From that, I made the foundation for FIRE, which Chris and I decided was strong enough to bend the other images around stylistically.
We started to think about how this thinking applied to the other two concepts, and came up with the final result.
The first part of a far off fire you see is the smoke. It's the birth of something, the first sign of an unknown destructive power. Only time will tell what it's capable of.
The forces of destruction don't care about our ethics, priorities, or lives. They only destroy. Seemingly on a whim the power of fire moves one way or another, consuming everything in its path with an unrelenting fury. You cannot control this power, and despite your best efforts to mitigate it's rage you're at its mercy.
In ash we find both a bitter memory of the horrible destruction we've witnessed and the hopeful potential for new life. Just as the ashes after a fire become nutrients for the next wave of growth and life, so the forces of creation and destruction rest as well. In the ashes we see both the destruction that has been wraught and the potential for what we shall become when we recover.
I handled the Photoshop compositional work for all of the editing behind the three concepts, while Chris handled the photography itself and the final color adjustments. We really can't thank Aimee enough for how amazing she was to work with and how excited we are with the final product. This would've been impossible without her.