Keep­ing things in­ter­est­ing

That age-old say­ing that ‘va­ri­ety is the spice of life’ rings true for photograph­er Simeon Pa­tience, as he il­lus­trates to Adrian Hatwell via some pho­to­graphic com­mis­sions

The Shed - - Assignment -

No two jobs are ever the same, and few experience the true breadth of as­sign­ment di­ver­sity that a busy agency photograph­er does. De­mands of all shapes and sizes flow in from clients, de­mands that could see a photograph­er squir­relled away in a stu­dio shoot­ing hun­dreds of prod­ucts one day then hang­ing out of a heli­copter to cap­ture dra­matic land­scapes the next. From food to fash­ion, au­to­mo­biles to aware­ness cam­paigns, the agency photograph­er has to be ready for it all. And Auck­land photograph­er Simeon Pa­tience wouldn’t have it any other way.

He is one of two pho­tog­ra­phers work­ing at .99, one of the coun­try’s top re­tail-spe­cial­ist ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies, and has en­joyed shoot­ing for the agency’s var­ied group of clients for seven years now. Start­ing off as a free­lancer, his aim was al­ways to break into ad­ver­tis­ing in some ca­pac­ity, and the fast-paced di­verse na­ture of ad-agency work continues to challenge and in­spire him: “Be­ing able to tap into those ad­ver­tis­ing jobs is great, it’s where I al­ways wanted to be. Be­ing right in the thick of it is a re­ally good op­por­tu­nity.”

Two cam­paigns Pa­tience re­cently shot make for a nice illustrati­on of how dif­fer­ent each job can be. One, a shoot for Ge­n­e­sis En­ergy, saw the photograph­er freely ex­plor­ing a com­mu­nity space with the eye of a doc­u­men­tary photograph­er. The other, for Avis Car Rental, tasked him to de­liver im­agery within the client’s strict set of pa­ram­e­ters. And the strength of both cam­paigns re­veals a photograph­er who thrives equally in en­vi­ron­ments of free­dom and con­straint.

The Ge­n­e­sis En­ergy job took Pa­tience to a com­mu­nity gar­den in the Hutt Val­ley, one of three com­mu­nity projects sup­ported by the en­ergy com­pany that would be show­cased as part of its Shine a Light cam­paign. As briefs go, it was very open.

“The art di­rec­tors didn’t re­ally have set im­agery in mind, other than the fact they wanted it to show­case the peo­ple that were re­ally spe­cial to the project, and the com­mu­nity vibe. It was just, ‘Go for it; make it look good’,” Pa­tience said of the job.

This gave the photograph­er the op­por­tu­nity to roam the en­vi­ron­ment for three days, ex­plor­ing in a way that isn’t of­ten pos­si­ble with the pace of com­mer­cial shoot­ing. It also al­lowed him to con­nect with his favourite type of sub­ject — peo­ple. In this case, a gang of en­thu­si­as­tic chil­dren tend­ing to their patch.

“It was nice to be able to get one- on- one time with the kids, or work with them in lit­tle groups — it was fun and games, they were so de­light­ful,” he said. “They were run­ning around, hav­ing a good time, and you could see they were in their el­e­ment. You could tell the gar­den was cre­ated for them, and they were re­ally ex­cited by it and learn­ing so much.”

Although he had a freer hand to ap­proach the as­sign­ment as he felt best, the photograph­er was still work­ing with a client. Af­ter evenings in his ho­tel sort­ing through mem­ory cards, grad­ing, and se­lect­ing, Pa­tience pre­sented the client with im­ages that they would re­view and use to guide the fol­low­ing shoot.

“They might point out an im­age they re­ally like, and ex­plain why they like it. That sets you off down another track,” the photograph­er ex­plained. “They liked the hon­esty in the kids’ faces, some­thing a lit­tle more pow­er­ful in their eyes, rather than just a laugh­ing shot. Some­thing re­ally gen­uine.”

In pur­suit of that gen­uine­ness, Pa­tience worked with nat­u­ral light, al­low­ing him to move about the area eas­ily, un­en­cum­bered by a bulky light­ing kit. Luck­ily, the weather pro­vided lots of beau­ti­ful golden light dur­ing the shoot (that luck ran out dur­ing another leg of the cam­paign. Kaik­oura was flat, grey, rainy, and mis­er­able when they went out to shoot the ma­rine-pro­tec­tion group Project Jonah).

To keep dis­tur­bance in the com­mu­nity gar­den to a min­i­mum, it was de­cided the fewer crew on the shoot the bet­ter. To get the stills, it was just Pa­tience and an as­sis­tant on lo­ca­tion, but the cam­paign also in­volved a tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial, so, de­spite best in­ten­tions, there were still up­wards of 30 peo­ple float­ing around. How­ever, if the assem­bly en­croached on the com­mu­nal feel in any way, it cer­tainly doesn’t show in the photograph­er’s breezy, in­ti­mate im­ages.

A sub­se­quent job for Avis Car Rental re­quired a sim­i­larly nat­u­ral­is­tic feel, but the shoot­ing re­quire­ments var­ied con­sid­er­ably from the Ge­n­e­sis En­ergy shoot.

Avis wanted to cre­ate a set of im­ages for a win­ter cam­paign that high­lighted the ad­ven­tur­ous pos­si­bil­i­ties of driving through the scenic South Is­land. Pa­tience ini­tially thought to han­dle it in con­ven­tional auto-ad fash­ion, shoot­ing a beau­ti­ful scene and the car separately. How­ever, not be­ing an au­to­mo­bile brand, the rental com­pany wasn’t in­ter­ested in sim­ply show­ing off the car, in­stead aim­ing to present the full road-trip experience. This meant shoot­ing ev­ery­thing for real.

“We had to get the cars look­ing real, and they had to be real lo­ca­tions,” Pa­tience said. “We could grade, but we couldn’t, say, pho­to­graph the car in one spot and then Pho­to­shop it on top of a moun­tain. It was a tricky, re­fined shoot, we had to be re­ally con­trolled.”

The client didn’t just want the cars and lo­ca­tions to look real; it wanted to show cus­tomers the proof. Each im­age would be ac­com­pa­nied by a geo­tagged link, so any­one could lo­cate the ex­act spot the ve­hi­cle was shot at on a map and make it part of their trav­els if they wished.

While a leisurely road trip through the south­ern wilds sounds amaz­ing, a tight dead­line meant lo­ca­tion scout­ing and shoot­ing were no holiday for the photograph­er. Pa­tience had just one day to sur­vey the sug­gested lo­ca­tions around Queen­stown be­fore se­lect­ing the ar­eas he would shoot for the next three days.

And there would be no drift­ing around the en­vi­ron­ment this time — due to the na­ture of the job, many of the cre­ative de­ci­sions had been locked in ahead of time, pro­vid­ing the photograph­er with strict cri­te­ria to be met and con­straints to work within.

“The lo­ca­tions were signed off be­fore we went. The cars and the lo­ca­tions were matched and signed off be­fore we went. The an­gle of the car was also signed off — they all look as if some­one has come along and parked look­ing at the land­scape, in­stead of fac­ing into the cam­era,” he ex­plained.

At each lo­ca­tion, Pa­tience had to have the car in place and cleaned up and his cam­era and tri­pod locked in place be­fore dawn, ready for that mo­ment that the sun­rise spilled per­fectly across the scene. Then there were the ad­di­tional shots as the light shifted through the day, be­fore wait­ing for it to fade out at the end of the day to get the sun­set hero im­ages. These were long days spent an­tic­i­pat­ing the ideal light­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, with no guar­an­tees.

“Cars are a tricky beast at the best of times,” the photograph­er said. “They are big re­flec­tive ob­jects, and you have to get that right. You can plan all you like for cer­tain things, then you get to a lo­ca­tion and the com­plete op­po­site of what you thought can hap­pen, with the light or the re­flec­tions on the ve­hi­cle.”

When na­ture needed a lit­tle nudge, the photograph­er used a cou­ple of Pro­foto B1 lights to help the im­age pop. A rel­a­tively slim set-up, the flashes, along with all the other nec­es­sary elec­tron­ics, were pow­ered by a gen­er­a­tor for the wilder­ness shoots. The pho­tog­ra­phy equip­ment all ac­quit­ted it­self well in the frosty con­di­tions, but not all the gear was as well be­haved.

“It was around –7°C in Moke Lake, near Queen­stown, and we were shoot­ing one of the hero im­ages. The lap­top wouldn’t take on any new charge be­cause it was too cold; it was plugged into a gen­er­a­tor, but it was just stay­ing at about 50 per cent. We were hop­ing it wouldn’t stop work­ing. At one point, it just shut down, but, luck­ily, it started right back up again,” said Pa­tience.

De­spite harsh tem­per­a­tures and tem­per­a­men­tal equip­ment, the client ended up with a se­lec­tion of ar­rest­ing im­ages that proudly dis­play both the coun­try’s nat­u­ral beauty and the photograph­er’s con­sid­er­able prow­ess. Hav­ing clients who ap­pre­ci­ate such craft is another rea­son Pa­tience en­joys his work at the agency so much: “They un­der­stand the pa­ram­e­ters of pho­tog­ra­phy; most of them un­der­stand what good im­ages are and what bad im­ages are. And it’s nice that they care about what im­ages are go­ing out and rep­re­sent­ing their brand.”

De­spite be­ing leagues apart in terms of ex­e­cu­tion, both the Ge­n­e­sis En­ergy and Avis Car Rental cam­paigns rep­re­sent an in­dus­try lean to­wards au­then­tic, nat­u­ral im­agery. It’s a trend that Pa­tience at­tributes to a de­sire to con­nect and be hon­est with the au­di­ence, and some­thing he’s clearly adept at de­liv­er­ing. But it’s a big ad world, and he knows there are also clients out there who are up for some­thing a lit­tle more ‘crazy’ — and that’s yet another kind of challenge this busy photograph­er is keen to court.

Said Pa­tience, “The weird­ness still hap­pens; it’s out there. And I’d like to be part of a bit more weird­ness.”

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