The first 1/2 foot.

Fresh snowfall on Northerly Island, Chicago

The Field Museum: Hiding in plain sight

A great time to visit the Field Museum of natural history is during any winter blizzard in Chicago because it's empty and most creepy. I visited the home of Sue the dinosaur today as the city was being blanketed by 6 inches of fresh powder. I was actually prop shopping at the gift shop for an upcoming shoot for Discover Magazine with a prominent evolutionary biologist. After which I took a stroll into a long darkened hallway.

Deer hiding in a diorama

The most extraordinary thing I rediscovered was the museum's wealth of gorgeous
taxidermy dioramas. Hundreds of beautifully preserved animals mounted into painted environments, some of them actually give you vertigo while peering into them.

Great Horned Owl diorama

Dozens and dozens of glass vitrines of exotic animals acting out the frozen dramas of their natural lives meander along the first floor of the old museum.

Zebra family diorama

As a photographer, I can not ignore the brilliance of Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto
who made nature dioramas into gorgeous photographs in his own way.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, 2004 Gorilla

PDN interview with Liz Miller-Gershfeld

December's issue of PDN has a feature in which they ask prominent Art Buyers, “What was the best creative risk you took in 2008?” Senior Art Producer, Liz Miller-Gershfeld at Energy BBDO spoke about two projects I shot for the Art Institute of Chicago promoting their Edward Hopper and Cartier Bresson exhibits.

Do Anything Creative This Year?

Interview by Rachel Hulin

Liz Miller-Gershfeld
Vice President, Senior Art Producer
Energy BBDO

"Two ads stand out this year, not for being particularly unusual or offbeat, but for being elegant solutions to creative problems. Both were ads for the Art Institute of Chicago; both were for upcoming shows. Rather than using an image from the show and simply running type, the creatives incorporated existing artwork into new photography in intelligent and conceptual ways.

The first ad, which was to promote an Edward Hopper exhibit, used the famous Hopper painting "Nighthawks," and incorporated the painted people into a photograph [of a] Chicago diner. The art director, Steve Denekas, wanted the ad to have a particular Chicago flavor that reflected (in a contemporary way) the vibe of the original in its time. We had less than a week to prep and shoot this ad. We selected Chicago photographer Saverio Truglia. This particular technical problem had not been solved in his portfolio; however, we knew from working with him previously that he has a strong ability to take each project on its own merit, and to solve the puzzle from a cohesive conceptual and technical perspective. Johnny's Diner in the Logan Square neighborhood was the location that really felt right. Saverio took hundreds of exposures to literally paint with light and to make everything fit in a way that felt entirely natural and artistic.

The second and more recent ad was to promote an exhibit that included works by Henri Cartier-Bresson. The assignment was to use (in less than one week) an existing Cartier-Bresson photograph and to find a distinctly Chicago location that the image could be composited into. Art directors Jessica Campbell and Mike McQuade wanted the two worlds to flow into one another. What a daunting creative task for a photographer to take a photograph that is intended to be composited with a Cartier-Bresson photograph! Art Producer Laura Ricardo assigned the job to Saverio Truglia knowing of his enthusiasm for the Art Institute of Chicago. The moment Saverio knew we were using "Hyeres, France, 1932"—a photograph of a cyclist on a cobblestone road from above a stairway—he began scouting so that the clients could see potential locations the next morning. In the end, the solution was in our own backyard: the grand staircase at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The print producer, Heather Beck, had a strong sense of where both these ads needed to go in terms of all post-production and she was integral to their success. The lesson in all of this is to not overlook photographers because we don't see something very similar to our upcoming project in their portfolios: to be more flexible thinkers when we assess the appropriateness of a photographer to a particular assignment."

I'm switching to grass.

As gas prices finally slump, it's still important in the words of Sarah Palin, " secure our energy future."

Randy Cortright

Photo by Alan Rovge

More often now, the editorial stories I shoot for national magazines are about alternative energy sources. In the past week, I photographed two subjects for TIME about renewable energy sources. Here I'm shooting a story about bio-fuel production in a switch grass field in Wisconsin. You can read the story here.

This little guy just came down and visited a while.

Tongue. It's what's for dinner.

Jessie Adler, photo editor at Fast Company (the most interesting and well edited business magazine on news stands) asked me to fly to Wichita this week. I shot three young executives and chef in the test kitchen of a international food company. The story is about the business of food and those cuts of meat most Western diets pinch their noses to.

Seven beef tongues await their 15 minutes of fame.

Like tripe and menudo, beef tongue is one of those cow parts popularly sold in smaller Hispanic markets in cities like Dallas, Phoenix and Chicago. In addition to tasty tongue tacos, I sampled amazing Mexican horchata with lime and a specialty item the chef picked up on a research trip to L.A.. Though I don't think toasted grasshopper will make it into the local Safeway store soon.

Runner's World. Fast Food.

Runner's World photo editor, Andrea Maurio has the most radio friendly voice I've ever heard out of a photo editor. She also has for me some of the most open ended assignments, and I love her for it.
One of the last times her voice called, it was to make an image that represents how little time you need to make a delicious and nutritious meal fit for a marathoner. We built a little kitchen set in the studio, found a "wall clock", bought a stove, etc. Thanks to Molly Topper for her help as the runner. She really can run though.

Me waiting for the treats Molly is serving up.

Yes we did!

I was proud to be in the company of 125,000-250,000 (who's counting) fellow voters and our new President last night in Chicago to celebrate what hopes to be the beginning of a new era in American politics.
Big ups to my family in Florida for voting Democrat this year.

The crowd goes wild when Obama took the stage.

Common fevers can't keep us down.

Everyone doing their thing.

Tuesday the studio was filled, I mean FILLED with activity, props and wardrobe. With only less than 70 days before Christmas, Sears geared up to launch a cool little shopping tool for Kourtney Hoffman, irrepressible Art Buyer and Joel Ebner, spirited Art Director at Young & Rubicam rose-up and worked closely with us to when 105 degree fevers kept others on the Y&R team down.

Art Buyer, Kourtney Hoffman chose the yellow couch.

We shot for 14 unique images, selected, processed and delivered them to the retoucher in the same day. Now that's teamwork.

Art Director, Joel Ebner manning the big screen.

Hard days and Honkey-tonk nights

Remember that John Travolta film,
Urban Cowboy where he plays, Bud Davis, a mechanical bull riding champion who's over protective spirit prevents his girlfriend, Sissy from learning to ride the bull?

Me taking the bull by the horns.

Well, Sissy defies Bud and takes lessons in the daytime while he works at the oil refinery and eventually rides the bull with much fan-fare. Sissy almost sleeps with Buds bull riding nemesis, Wes Hightower and Bud actually does sleep with some white trash, not helping things at home.

You can create this drama in your own life at Hogs 'n Honey's where I shot the cover for Time Out Chicago and where EVERYONE rides the bull.

My producer- Stephanie Foyer

Second Assistant- Maia Harms

Getting high with Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Yawn! I woke-up at 4:30am today to meet Energy BBDO at the side doors of the Art Institute of Chicago. I was shooting an print ad for the new Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Art of Paris show.

Clockwise bottom left: Neil Burger (digi-tec), Todd Hoffman (Sr. Art Director), Katie Rahn (Art Inst. Marketing),
Laura Ricardo (Art Buyer), Jessica Campbell (Art Director), Mike McQuade (Writer). Unseen is Alan Rovge (assistant)

This is the second occasion I've been asked to shoot an ad for the Art Institute recently. Both times I was honored to be considering the works of very influential artists in my life. Previously I created a magical ad for the Edward Hopper show.

Explaining my "vision" to Todd. Top secret!

Here are more production photos from our morning.

Me doing Neil's job. He can't bear to look.

The Country Life. I can almost stand it.

The Spanish Dog and me freaking out in the quietude with my new tent

If I were a Midwestern state, I'd have to choose to be Wisconsin. It's home to some of the most stunning places you can get to in 1/2 days drive from my home. The rocky south,western part of the state is agricultural and hillier than you might expect. While Chicago was flooding from record rains, Molly and I escaped (most) of it's wrath by packing up the Subaru and went camping. We explored Ontario, WI, the Kickapoo River Valley and Wildcat Mountain State Park; Places I've wanted to visit for many years.

Wisconsin spares no expense on outdoor media buys.

There is a sizable Amish community there and they don't seem to care if you stare.
We took the dog on his first canoe trip down the Kickapoo River. It's boasted to be the world's most crooked river. The beagle can attest to that because I steered us into a tree and he fell in the water.

Just moments before the dog fell out

We hiked on some nice rugged trails and enjoyed the warm serenity of the forest.

These trees almost looked planted

Rescuing the the beast. He goes up, but not down.

The park had a fantastic grove of apple trees. There were at least 4 varieties to taste, and taste I did.

No special fx

Molly took her time and picked carefully for to make a Wisconsin wild apple pie.

How pastoral?

Before we left town, I had to stop in downtown Ontario and try on some hats.

Admit that you've always wanted to do this.

Personal pool party

The scariest part of an underwater shoot is the part where you first submerge your camera into the drink. Happily, my cameras stayed warm and dry inside their German, Zip-Loc style housing.

This weekend I collaborated with my awesome team of Kami Bremyer (stylist), Lindsey Williams (make-up), Chris Kitahara (assistant), and Stephanie Foyer (producer) to make a personal piece about great American sadness.

Thanks to the fabulous Chicago Park District and Portage Park pool staff for hosting our afternoon of madness which no doubt confused swimmers and life guards alike.

I'm so popular on Flickr

People. I never thought it would happen but my picture of a Daytona Beach wet T-shirt contest is nearing its 80,000th view on Flickr! It shares company with random porn and a picture of black and white faced monkeys sucking face.

The Agency who fell to Earth

My good friends Julie and Scott are rocking with a successful new talent agency called Planet Earth Agency. They are representing down to Earth people for print and TV.

I shot their latest casting call at my studio today and as usual, I'm inspired by the characters they are bringing into my world of photography. Check it out their site!

Here, Julie and I pose for our traditional, last shot of the casting.

Molly's Marathon

Congratulations to my girlfriend, Molly for completing her second marathon in a year. This one in record breaking time of 3 hours 55 minutes. We went to San Francisco last weekend for her to run 26.2 miles over the Golden Gate Bridge a LOT of hills. I caught up with her on my bike within the first 5 miles and pappa razzi'ed her for a while before meeting up at the finish line.

Afterward we went back to our friend's house in Alamo Square and slept the race off. After all, we were up at 4am. She finished 153rd of 1483 women, and 27th in her age group.

Careful what you cast for.

Right now I'm casting for a hairy legged man for an editorial project I'm shooting very soon. I'm in a hurry so I opened the Craigslist flood gates today. I wasn't expecting this one.

How to get ahead in photography? Sample ads?

Question by:
Daniel Cuthbert
South Africa

Paraphrase of Daniel's question:
What is the usefulness of shooting sample ads (fake ads) that look like published ones as a marketing tool to get advertising work?

Daniel's actual question:
So you've decided you really enjoy thinking of creative briefs for
adverts. You spent a few hours drawing up some story boards and your pretty ready to go ahead and do the shoot, all in the name of showing that bloody agency you can think like a advertising photographer and not make the creative director wake up with cold sweats. Problem is, what's right and what's wrong with doing adverts yourself?

Response by

A common assignment in commercial photography school is to recreate an existing print ad. Another assignment would be to art direct, write, shoot, and retouch a "sample ad" for an existing or hypothetical product. These assignments are all in the name of allowing students to gain an appreciation of what goes into making a real ad. These are great exercises for new photographers, but those sample ads in seriousness should remain out of portfolios and marketing materials. I'll give two reasons and then elaborate.

1. They say amateur "school assignment" and don't reflect a photographers true roll in creating ads. Photographers make photographs. Art directors make ads.

2. In making these ads, you are not showcasing your "point of view" as a photographer. Having a unique point of view will get you work faster
than showing that you think like an art director.

Art buyers, in part hire photographers that can handle "production". Production is having the team and skills to translate an art directors idea into a photograph within the agreed upon budget and time frame. This can include: casting, location scouting, catering, styling, prop building, and retouching. Most of these production rolls are handled by people hired by and overseen by the photographer and his/ her producer. How smoothly this process rolls out is anybody's guess especially when it's a first time project.

An art director will choose a photographer with a unique and defined vision. They want a photographer to partner with that will take their idea and "elevate" it either by addition or subtraction of elements. The chosen photographer's vision is one that that best syncs up with the art director's own on that project. Specifically this can be a sense of lighting, space, humor, gravity, landscape, etc.. Their work must be consistent enough that the art buyer is confident that the photographer will produce something like what they've seen in their portfolio and ultimately please the client and not cause the art director undue stress.

So showing an ad you created in your kitchen doesn't really say much about your competence as an advertising shooter. However, why don't you just make those very same pictures and forget about the ad? Don't try to write copy or place the product on the picture at all. Now put it in your book. A seasoned art director will always be able to see how a photographer thinks by the choices he/she makes. Make images about ideas you have and let that idea be the content of the photo rather than relying on a headline or product association to tell it's story.

One picture can send multiple messages to many people. This is the beauty of art. Ads are generally meant to communicate one message to all people. Don't limit the interpretation of your work by forcing the viewer to think of it singularly. Let it translate unpredictably. If it is in fact a great image, your art director will see it and "get you."
Pick up Archive Magazine and look at the ads in there. Very often they are driven by photography. Although the writing is brilliant, the headline or product attached to them could be many. Their strength relies on this very notion of the unexpected.

Later in your career you may have the opportunity to have an art director call you to help flesh out his/ her idea before it's pitched because your track record shows that you work well in this capacity and they like working with you.

Best Practices

Today I shot an addition to an ongoing personal series I call, Best Practices. Best Practices is about people risking their lives and safety by ill-advised problem solving. Today I worked with Slick Pete. I met Pete near my studio at his job. He's an awesome dude but is certifiably crazy! He invited me into his workshop where nine of his buddies converted a US Post Office into a motorcycle shop.

Special thanks to Krista Gobeli for hair, Stephanie Foyer for production, and Brian Guido for assisting.

Saline Solutions

Time Magazine has posted a photo essay I shot about my visit to Galos Caves, a therapeutic Polish salt cave in Chicago.

Yellow Paint

My work appears in Yellow Paint, a new photography source book being distributed now. You can digitally flip through the book here. See my work on pages 124+125. This is the first annual edition of this cleanly formatted and manageable book.

I think they did a great job keeping the quality of work high and relevant. If you're an art buyer or photo editor and you've not received a print copy, write them and say, "Saverio sent me."