After finding James Quantz Jr on Wonderful Machine, a Smithsonian Magazine photo editor contacted him about creating an image for the magazine. James is known for his conceptual composite imagery and they knew he’d be a perfect match to illustrate their article on former CIA officer Douglas Groat, whose job was to break into offices and crack safes. They were hoping James would be interested in creating a photo that would have a dramatic, Hollywood feel to it. James was in (“who wouldn’t want to work for the Smithsonian?”) and soon got to work.
The Smithsonian team already had an idea of what they were looking for, and after some back and forth with James, they had the visual idea locked down: recreating a scene of the agent at work. From there, it was up to James to handle sourcing “period” relevant propping to create a late ’80s/early ’90s office break in. Many of the elements in the photo were found in James’ own props and image library, but one of the key elements of the photo, the wall safe, was a bit of a challenge,
We made a creative call to use a false wall-safe instead of one on the floor due to the chosen shooting angle. Basically, I took pictures of a floor safe and in Photoshop modified it into a wall safe. Getting pictures of the safe was interesting since I had to go to a store to take them. I figured there might be some apprehension on their part about letting someone photograph the safes in the store. And there was… until I saw the University of South Carolina Football poster on the wall that I had shot a month prior. Once I told them that was my work, I was a hero!
As for the subject, James says,
Being ex-CIA, he was obviously an interesting guy. I’m sure he’s filled with amazing stories, but I respected the fact that he couldn’t reveal any specifics about what he did for the agency. That being said, it’s always cool to hang out with someone who’s had experiences like he’s had. I also had an old safe that I inherited and couldn’t ever get open. So I figured I would give him a “crack” at it, and within ten minutes he proved he was the real deal!
Once all the shots were taken, the real fun began for James who handled all the compositing himself. Below is an animation showing how all the pieces came together:
Both James and the client were very pleased with the final results, which are being used in a spread in the October issue of Smithsonian and on their website.
Our recent trip to Washington DC began with a lesson learned: when renting a car, it’s not a bad idea to call ahead and make sure they’re not “upgrading” you to a vehicle the size of a bus. This can be a problem when traveling to a major city where parking is scarce.
Kayleen and I left early in the day, sailing our monstrous SUV/boat through morning rush hour traffic to the offices of Discovery Communications. We had a terrific turnout—the creatives were extremely friendly and impressed with all the work. They were particularly drawn to the portfolios of Buff Strickland, Rob Scharetg, Nick Hall and the motion work from Jeffrey Lamont Brown. And, to nobody’s surprise, Mark Katzman‘s impressive print/ipad presentation once again turned a lot of heads. One art buyer even went to her office and returned with a camera to snap a few shots of Mark’s portfolio. One of the most valuable things we get from these meetings is a chance to have a more relaxed chat with clients whom we normally exchange quick emails with, and get a sense of how they find and use photography. Talking to art buyers at Discovery, we learned that they no longer license images.They told us that they had issues educating clients about the different kinds of usage they were permitted and decided to avoid such dilemmas by “purchasing all rights.” Everyone we spoke to agreed that they love to see printed books, but none of them were opposed to iPads, especially as a supplement to a printed piece. There you go photographers, the last excuse you needed to buy a new iPad. You’re on your own justifying the iPhone 5.
We repacked the beast and headed across town to the swanky, new office of GMMB. So new, in fact, that the stairway had just been completed the day before our arrival. We entered the conference room, with its fabulous view of Washington Harbor, to a room full of 20 eager creatives. We passed around books and worked our way through the crowd answering questions and explaining the awesomeness of our members. GMMB works with a lot of non-profits, so they were especially attracted to our documentary photographers, as well as portraiture that was “socially motivated.” Favorites included Beto Adame, Radhika Chalasani, Annabel Clark and Eric Kruszewski. We ended our meeting with a nice chat with the head of the creative department, before ever so carefully extracting our vehicle from a cramped garage and headed to the seat of all elegance: Ritz Carlton!
Well, it was just their office, but it was still pretty nice. We arrived as we often do, with a tray of catered snacks. The corporate marketing coordinator we met with thanked us repeatedly for the treats. We also brought a small selection of books for this meeting, since we knew they would be choosy. Chatting with her, we learned just how choosy: unlike most hotel chains, Ritz mainly works with a select group of seven photographers with whom they cultivate long working relationships. She was impressed with everyone we presented, including Martin Dyrlov, Alvaro Leiva, and Evan Joseph.
Ritz's ritzy sign.
Before our final meeting at Smithsonian Magazine, we made a quick stop at Georgetown Cupcakes. Upon arrival at Smithsonian, we learned our meeting turned out to be scheduled at a perfect time; they were already frequent users of Wonderful Machine, but had just completed a major redesign of their magazine. They told us they would be hiring for a lot more conceptual work and still life, and were looking for new photographers all over the country. They immediately recognized James Quantz‘s portfolio, since they had just hired him for their October issue. They were also very impressed with Adam Voorhes, Vincent Ricardel, John Kuczala, and the cupcakes.
After the meeting, we headed just a few blocks down the road to Cantina Marina, which is on the waterfront of the Washington Channel. There we had the chance to meet up with Stacy Zarin Goldberg, Jason Hornick, Matthew Rakola, and Edgar Artiga. It’s fun to meet our local members after a busy day and discuss our impressions vs. their more informed view of their own cities. Kayleen and I had been impressed by how friendly everyone had been, which they all agreed was true of Washington in general, at least compared to other cities in the Northeast.
From left: Jason Hornick, Stacy Zarin Goldberg, Kayleen, Matthew Rakola.
We spent a leisurely time with our photographers, watched the sun go down over the water while we once again timed our exit around the notorious DC traffic. A few hours later we were back in Philly, tired but very happy with the day behind us.
Last week our producers Ben and Amanda pulled off a marathon day in Virginia and the District of Columbia, sharing portfolios with The Martin Agency, Smithsonian Magazine and Design Army. They also met up with our local photographers for a drink.
Let’s let Amanda and Ben tell us about their adventures, first-hand:
After a scenic southward drive from Philly (our HQ), our first stop was The Martin Agency, an ever-expanding advertising shop whose clients include GEICO, Wal-Mart, Tylenol, and Kellogg’s. We had a large variety of portfolios that morning, and greeted about 15 creatives who came through to admire the books and learn more about our site.
One art buyer was searching for something specific, and after looking through Roger Hagadone’s book, grabbed his promo and said “This is perfect for the meeting I have in five minutes!” We chatted about Roger’s quirky style and expert production before she rushed out for her meeting, promos in hand.
Another art producer got a kick out of John Mireles’ take on the suburban housewife, saying “Weird, I wear the same thing when I take my son out!”
They must have been in a zippy mood, because their colleague kept turning back to check out the pecs on a shirtless athlete drinking water in Matthew Hanlon’s book, at the 1:10 mark in this video:
After packing up, we hustled up to DC (made it there in two hours) for a stop at Smithsonian Magazine. Their photo department came by to look through the selection of photojournalism, travel, and portrait books that we brought. They explained that the mag assigns photography for nearly half of each issue, and rely on stock photos for the rest to cover stories about historical incidents, which often demand older or official images.
They also like to know when photographers are traveling to out-of-the-way locations, just in case the stars align and the magazine is covering a story about that part of the world (it’s happened!). Additionally, they enjoyed seeing some of the international books that we brought, like Singapore photographer Charles Pertwee’s:
Next, we headed across town (after an unplanned detour under the arch of Chinatown) to Design Army to share a bunch of portfolios with their creatives. Jake and Pum Lefebure started the design firm in 2003, and already they’ve developed a reputation for their high-end approach to annual reports, fashion, and even cookbooks. They have a sharp eye for talent, and often shoot with DC photographer Cade Martin (you can see the work they did with him for the Washington Ballet on our 2009 Holiday Mailer).
Design Army’s creatives are heavily involved in the art direction for the photography projects they take on, and so they weren’t afraid to give their true opinion on people’s portfolio design, branding, and picture edit (which is refreshing, actually, even in the few cases where they were lukewarm on somebody). They responded well to Tamar Levine’s and Ari Abramczyk’s portfolios, joking that perhaps they used the same pool for their beautiful and distinct underwater shots. Here’s Ari’s book:
For their corporate projects, they’re big on playing down the staged shots and like when a photographer can artistically capture real moments. Their creatives also appreciated our food photographers, including Jeff Padrick, Teri Campbell, and Michael Kohn (below). “It has to look good enough to eat, so the coloring must be true-to-life but better,” they explained, showing examples of the work they’ve done for publishing house Chronicle’s cookbooks.
By 5:30 PM we were ready to relax, so we met up with a dozen or so of our Baltimore and DC photographers at The Front Page, recently voted the Best Happy Hour in the city. Sean McCormick just finshed judging an art director’s awards that week, and Eli Meir Kaplan told us about his smooth transition there from Austin a few months ago. New-to-WM Rebecca Drobis came by, and at one point explained to Jason Hornick about how she’s the real deal as far as a genuine DC-native: “It’s actually rare!”
After three successful meetings and a fun get-together, we called it a [long] day and headed back to a strangely summer-like Philadelphia.