a unique photography ability

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Museum uses photos of over 300 of their guests, created during my ONE by ONE Community Portrait events, to populate an entire branding campaign.

On the 3rd of July I got a call from Mary Beth Smith, Director of Marketing for the Oakland Museum of California. They were throwing a museum wide party to kick off their 50th anniversary, and she wanted me to capture as many portraits of their guests as possible, for use in the accompanying branding campaign. 

Only catch was, the event was NINE DAYS AWAY! No problem. Loaded up all the gear and got on a plane to Oakland a week later!

Big event was setting for my Community Portrait

Big event was setting for my Community Portrait

Working with their design agency, Image Design Works, I tried to explain what they’d get, saying I would provide them “over 300 photos” to use for their branding campaign. Their creative director replied, “Our photographers always give us 300 or more photos.” “No,” I corrected her, “we were going to give her over 300 photos of 300 DIFFERENT PEOPLE!!!’

Later, during the actual photographing she came to me and apologized, and said she had never seen a photographer capture so many great photos of people so quickly.

Photographing over 300 guests in one evening

Photographing over 300 guests in one evening

I shot the photos in color, for their branding campaign, but delivered black and white prints to the subjects, and for the wall.

Photographed both in color and black & white

Photographed both in color and black & white

I came back two months later to do a follow-up Community Portrait and I was amazed by how far reaching the branding campaign was. Street banners, subway posters, website, video, a picture filled brochure. The images seemed to be everywhere, which provided me with quite a fulfilling thrill.

My images EVERYWHERE

My images EVERYWHERE

Here was and organization who found use for the immediate community building results of the photos and the “wall,” but extended their value by asking the subjects if the museum could use their photos for the branding campaign. Everyone wholeheartedly agreed, so the museum ended up with this extensive library of photos that underscored the museum’s mission of being “the museum of the people.” 

Inventing a new way to use photography that utilized my unique ability

A conversation with Kimberly Young about a grant that the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, in Kansas City, received led me to proposing a concept to them.

Photographer Rankin, in London, had just done “1000 Britons” where he took everyday Londoners and made them into fashion models. I wanted to do lots and lots of people like that, but I wanted to capture them just the way they were.

When I suggested this to the museum they wholeheartedly got behind the idea. And so “500 Portraits in 5 Days” was born.

I contacted an old friend, Wilbur Montgomery,  a photographer himself in Indianapolis, and enlisted him to be my technical director. My idea was to take someone’s portrait and almost immediately give them a print. Photo printers were too slow, but Wilbur reminded me of our experiences with office machines, and we realized we could use a color copier for the 8 1/2 x 11 prints. A print in 15 seconds, instead of the 3 minutes an ink jet printer would take.

Signing up at the Nelson

Signing up at the Nelson

I also wanted to display a copy of each print, so I had the museum construct a display wall made of 4×8 sheets of foam-core. It would take 6-4×8 panels, using both sides, to hold the anticipated 500 prints.

Building the wall at the Nelson

Building the wall at the Nelson

We started on a Wednesday, then on Thursday Kansas City experienced a city-shut down blizzard for two day. I had no idea if people would turn out Saturday and Sunday, but the event had acquired quite a buzz, and by the end of Sunday I had photographed 816 people!

Photographing at the Nelson

Photographing at the Nelson

64 of the 816 Nelson portraits

64 of the 816 Nelson portraits

All this had been created in my mind, so I didn’t know if any of it would work. Turns out I discovered that I had an ability to very quickly size up a subject and direct them to an interesting pose. In fact, 80% of the photos I created IN ONE SHOT! The people loved them. And even more…they loved the wall. Seeing themselves, their friends on the wall proved to be the most popular aspect of the whole event.

How did it change  my life?

I created a book about the event, and when I started sending it around I received inquiries from other museums to do similar events with them. I will write about this in coming posts, including the one where I photographed 1246 people over 3 days!

A book, and the start of a new chapter

A book, and the start of a new chapter

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