assignment Archives | Erik Almas Photography

What if your house burnt down?

What if your house burnt down?

 

Have you still “made it”?

 

3 weeks ago I was sitting, much as I do now, winding down on a Saturday evening, finding some time to write a newsletter and blog. I had just released an image shot for Kohler, a company whose advertising I had wanted to be a part of for a long time, and wanted to write something around this image and the process to create it.

 

Earlier in the day I had listened to Bill Burr being interviewed on Tim Ferriss’ podcast. A good laugh, as always with Bill Burr, balanced by Tim’s prodding for life lessons.

For a minute they talk about accomplishments and the idea of “making it”. Bill Burr had bought a house and said to his wife “I know you are not supposed to say this, but; “I made it! “ he continues “There’s a sickness in this business of -If you think you made it you’re going to relax and then it’s all going to go away!”

He continued:

“No! I tell jokes for a living and I bought a house. I MADE IT!

 

The stigma is that one can’t, as a creative, say or admit that you have made it. The second you do, you relax and loose your drive and creativity…

I can so relate, and Bill Burr’s thoughts lingered with me as I started writing.

Shooting for Kohler was a long time goal of mine creatively and by Bill Burr’s standard of buying a house I have “made it” several times over.

So have I really Made it?

I settled in that evening reflecting on what I had accomplished as a photographer and the blog shifted to words about goals and the acknowledgment of reaching them. Of pausing and being content for a moment rather than going straight into the chase of creating another image or landing the next assignment.

That was my Saturday 4 weeks ago.

That Sunday night we woke up by flashlights shining into our bedroom window and our neighbor shouting the hillsides were on fire.

We packed our essentials and got out.

 

That was October 8th.

 

The weeks since has been indescribable. The fires around Sonoma and Napa, where we live, burned more than 100,000 acres.

Lives were lost and neighborhoods left in ashes.

One of my best friends and 5 of our neighbors lost their homes. It is devastating.

 

There are many emotions around the 17 days we were in mandatory evacuation and I will write another blog to chronicle the experience. My perspective on having “made it” as an artist have shifted during the past weeks and I wanted to finish the blog I started and get back to Bill Burr and his benchmark of having made it.

 

I have learned that a home is absolutely no measure of having “made it” as a creative. The truth is;We never “make it”. We just keep making.

 

I now know this to be the truth.

 

After we left our house that morning I got a chance to go back to grab a few items. I had a shortlist from Andrea; Journals, some jewelry and some additional clothes for our 3-month-old daughter. The main item for me was my server rack containing all my work as a photographer. I ripped it out of the office and by sheer adrenaline got it into the car.

I hosed down the house with water and walked through it one last time. I grabbed a few small items as I passed them and unhinged a few framed prints by Nadav Kander, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Mario Testino, Alexi Lubomirski and a few others.

In these moments I was strangely ok with the house being gone. I knew then that this house was no measure and had nothing to do with who I am, my selfworth or how much or little I have accomplished as a photographer.

 

I’m sharing this, as I believe it can help a lot of young photographers starting out. And Bill Burr for that matter.

 

I know there are a lot of talented photographers who have given up on photography. Making a living taking pictures is as competitive as it gets, and a long endeavor if you choose to take it on.

What makes this process even harder is the social demands for immediate success.

 

But what if there was no monetary measure attached to successfully creating?

What if there was no pressure of even being good at it?

What if we would proudly call ourselves photographers without making money doing it?

I believe this paradigm would keep photographers in the game long enough to break through to the side of success!

 

As I was starting out I was embarrassed to call myself a photographer. In my hart I was one, but my job was to be another photographers assistant, carrying his gear. It took a long time for me to proclaim that I was a photographer.

Why is it so darn hard for us artists/comedians/photographers to early on confidently identify with what we do?

Why can’t we just claim our photographer, or comedian, title right out of the gate and then just slowly go about creating? Why do we have to “make it” before we can proudly claim our title?

 

I believe any young photographer would increase his success rate 10X if there were a disattachment between creating and success. If the bar of “making it” was set so that one would never fail there would be nothing to “give up on”.

It would only be the process of continually creating and as that continual creating would go on, success would only be a question of time.

 

Experiencing the certainty of loosing my home and how that realization affected me created a shift in my perspective on success and what having “made it” is.

In no particular order, and without being right for everyone, here’s a work in progress short list of what now resonates with me and the idea of “making it“

 

If you keep your focus on creating, you have made it.

If doing what you do expands you and fills you up, you have made it.

If you crave creating every day, you have made it.

If you are excited about what you just created and even more excited to improve upon it, you have made it.

If you are proud to show your work, you have made it.

If you found an expression that consistently expresses who you are, you have made it.

If you have done the above so consistently your expression starts to recognize itself, you have made it.

If you question why and how and who and explore this through your work, you have made it.

 

So my shift and lesson is this:

 

You can Celebrate your successes like Bill Burr, but don’t attached them to an event, a monetary item or any other social measure of success.

This will yield nothing but downward pressure and distractions to the significance of creating something which deeply resonates with your being.

It will leave you feeling like you are coming up short every time.

Which in turn will make you want to give up…

 

3.5 of our 5 acres of land burnt and the firefighters stopped the fire just a few feet away from our home.

I’m glad our house is standing. I’m also glad I had this experience and deeply realize the house is without significance when it comes to who I am as a creative. My “I have made it” has nothing to do with a fancy car or a home, but to every day do what expands me and fills me up.

I will remind myself of this going forward. I will worry less and create more because of it.

And if there’s any up and coming photographers or other creatives reading this; please worry less about achieving success and focus on the items on my “having made it” list above. You will then achieve your success…

Like Steve jobs said; Stay foolish, stay Hungry!

 

I want to end this blog with a few side notes

  1. It is an archetypal event to build or buy a home. I’m by no means diminishing this fact. In short I’m saying to not attach anything to your self-worth as a creator. Instead focus on creating and consistency, and measure yourself against your own progress.
  2. The word hero gets thrown around a lot. I have not fully understood, or felt, what a true hero was till now. The fire firefighters and individuals who fought the fires in Napa and Sonoma are my heroes. These men and women will all be my heros forever.
  3. The Kohler assignment was an extraordinary one. We started with the design of the dress. The fabric, color, pattern and form was designed for the shoot and sown to fit the model. This design informed all the other elements and creative choices of the image.
  4. I absorbed the fact that the house would burn with a strange disattachment. The news that it had survived however brought big tears of relief and gratitude. My heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to those less fortunate.

 

 

Low tide and High Style

I am a photographer.

That said; Close to all the assignments I now get hired to execute involves creating additional short films and animations.

As marketing continues its drift onto the digital platforms, creating “assets” and “content” are the buzzwords I hear on every creative call with Advertising Agencies.


In short it’s not just about creating a singular image or a campaign. It’s about different visuals that can live on many different platforms, telling the same brand story.

This is an exciting time for a photographer!

I came into photography and advertising assignments when crafting the one perfect, signature image was key. Now we create several signature images and a film and secondary shots and portraits and Behind the Scenes, all in the same time.

I love this!

If one keep on doing the same over and over one can easily become stagnant, which inevitably leads to becoming irrelevant.

And that’s the last thing I want!

I still feel I have a lot to say as a visual artist, and these added aspects of my assignments allow for creating new depth to my work.

The film aspect drives and deepens the narrative and push the emotional expression. The still frame drives the attention to detail and light in every single set up.

When I now shoot it is a hybrid production where I direct to establish the complete narrative within the frame and as the action unfolds we run both still and motion cameras side by side.

A few months back we got hired by Visit Newport Beach and AD Agency GreenHaus. The brief was a tongue and cheek campaign showing the contradictions of “Low tide and High Style” one find in Newport.

So with a great crew and a sense of humor we packed our bags for Newport Beach and had some of their signature Balboa Island Ice Cream while visiting their Beaches, Shops and Restaurants.


For me these additional platforms is an amazing expansion creatively and I could not be more excited about continuing to craft these expanded stories in different mediums.

So maybe I’m not a photographer anymore but a hybrid photographer/director who dabbles in winemaking and architecture and spacial design…

 

In any case I’m thrilled to share more of this work as these ongoing hybrid assignments are released.

 

A big thank you to Rob, Dave, Patrick and Jamie at Greenhaus!

 

And if you are curious:

The Wine: http://www.storiesbytheglass.com

The Houses:

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/13625550?preview_for_ml

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/18601988?preview_for_ml=true

A silver lining to a dreary affair in Vienna

 

As we flew into Vienna we knew it would be a dreary affair. The forecast had low cloud cover, fog and rain during the time we were there.

I tend to stress my producer out. He keep referring to me once saying “you are sending me right into a storm. There must be some place one can shoot where the weather is good…”

 

This time however there was no way around it. The Fog off the Danube River and the cold late winter weather was not going anywhere.

As a location photographer weather is always on my mind. We spend a lot of time planning our productions around weather patterns to make sure we can create the images we want without getting us and the client stuck on location.

A mixture of seasons, vegetation and the other ingredients the shoot needs, like talent and location specifics, leads us to recommend a location to execute our assignments.

We have gotten quite good at it but at times it’s not avoidable to run into some bad weather…

The pressure to create great pictures however does not go away. And it is not just resting on my crew and me, but on the art director, the advertising agency and the marketing department of the client. In situations like this it is great to have clients you have worked with prior, who both understand and trusts the process and can roll with the punches a bit. The client was Crystal Cruises and the reason for Vienna was their new river cruise along the Danube River.

We were here to capture 2 landscapes of the Belvedere Palace.

As a great client the creative team at Crystal were on board for changing the focus and atmosphere of the shots to the very early morning and late evening where the interior and artificial lights would light up the Palace. This would give the landscape shape and make the best of the weather, which was enveloping Vienna in a wet blanket…

 

 

This assignment would be captured in 3 parts. The landscapes in Europe, the people in Los Angeles and the third layer would be created using CGI.

 

So we travelled home with our backgrounds captured, being quite optimistic about the rest of the shoot and how it would all turn out.

 

As with the prior images I have made for Crystal Cruises, these were to describe feeling or establishing an association with a feeling rather than a literal narrative.( http://blog.erikalmas.com/2016/04/12/a-dream-assignment/)

They were to depict how you would FEEL arriving at the Belvedere Palace with one of the riverboats.

Crystal is expanding into air cruises as well and a third image we were to capture was for their airline. It is exciting and refreshing when you start with a feeling to create a narrative within a frame. In this emotional state one start painting pictures and the mind goes: Having a cruise line in the air must feel like…..

Walking in the sky, or maybe Walking on air or lounge among clouds.

 

In a studio in Los Angeles with spaces to shoot both inside and outside we set out to capture the narrative of the extraordinary feelings of traveling with Crystal cruises.

The studio part was in this case a bit of a dance. Big dresses and a lot of movement where I’m observing, letting the talent be a part of the story and narrative rather than over-directing.

They move, I observe and capture.

And few weeks of computer work later, 3 set ups from 2 continents and one studio get blended together to create our final images. Below is a quick video with our layers and the final work…

 

The dreary weather barely shows.

It’s evening and in hindsight I keep thinking the images might be better this way. They are not what we expected when we started the project, but the unexpected makes us reset and work within the present moment. To let go of expectations and be in it without a preconceived notion of what it “should” be.

And to truly create this is where we want to be in the first place…

 

 

A big thanks to the creative team at Crystal Cruises: You are the best!!

 






Sheraton and mythology

 

Both as a person and photographer I’m fascinated by mythology and how it describes elemental psychological truths about the arc of life we all seem to experience. Myths speaks about a transformation; how we step into the unknown, face our fears and metaphorically “slay our inner dragon”

 

Joseph Campbell described this as the “Hero’s Journey” in the 1949 classic “The Hero with a Thousand faces”. This Hero’s journey permeates all storytelling. Star Wars, where Joseph Campbell was advising George Lucas, is the prime example and John Lasseter of Pixar stated they always reference the hero’s Journey in their animation process.

As a photographer I’m curious about how we can describe this journey, or at least create the feeling of one, in a singular photograph.

I have consciously worked on adding this to my personal work for a long time. (http://blog.erikalmas.com/2015/06/09/crafting-visual-stories-set-to-my-own-journey/)

It is not often I get to apply this to the fullest in my commercial assignment work, but got a great opportunity when approached by Venables Bell to be a part of their latest campaign for Sheraton Hotels.

In these concepts were Sheraton employees “Going Beyond” in helping their guests.

This effort can be described in many ways, but the creatives at VB had pushed this to a place of metaphors where the employees were crossing oceans, skydiving into deserts, climbing a mountain and riding across big planes in their efforts to help. In describing a part of the Hero’s Journey these concepts were spot on, and I could not have been more excited about creating these pictures!

 

In any picture and idea I execute I always try to capture as much as possible in camera. For this assignment it became a question of what was safe and what would give us the best chance of capturing the moments we wanted to create.

How do we photograph a boat in the middle of the ocean with a Sheraton employee elegantly posing with a tray of coffee service?

Or getting a 70 year old bellman with several suitcases riding a horse 25 miles an hour?

And how would we travel from sea to desert to mountain to planes in a relatively short span of time?

To best solve these questions we ended up with an approach capturing some images in two parts with a background plate and talent and some in camera.
The below behind the scenes captures some of the effort made in creating this campaign. In this process, all involved with the shoot did like the Sheraton Employees; Going Beyond to make it happen.

 

 

and the ads you will see placed out there: