Patrik Giardino and Gus Kenworthy Proudly Advance on The Olympics
It was only four years ago that LGBTQ+ athletes were skipping out on the Sochi Winter Olympics because of Russia’s bizarre anti-gay laws. Some out athletes didn’t want their celebrity to attract visitors or outside dollars to the country, so they opted out, while others – like skier Gus Kenworthy – used the opportunity to show the world the inhumanity of those laws. It was a tense time, that put a lot of athletes, countries, and committees in difficult positions. But now, on the eve of the PyeongChang Olympics, it’s a different situation. Patrik Giardino just caught up with Gus Kenworthy to shoot a campaign for Head & Shoulders, but what started out as a hair care product commercial turned into so much more. “He was super nice, he was so easy to work with and very open and happy,” Patrik says about working and collaborating with Kenworthy. “He wanted to do everything, to make the shoot different.” That creative dynamic meant they were able to do a lot more than glamour shots of great hair.
With the Olympics around the corner, and Procter & Gamble (Head & Shoulders’ parent company) a sponsor of the games, Kenworthy and Patrik knew that a lot of eyes were going to land on the photographs and ad, so they took on the task knowing the stakes. “There was a little more pressure because a lot more people are going to scrutinize the shots, it’s not like just another athlete going up to promote some product,” Patrik explains. Kenworthy’s status as an out athlete means that he’s a hero to more than just other skiers, he represents the future of competition, where every athlete can compete as themselves with nothing hidden away. Patrik wanted to bring that into the shoot. “We had a focus on something else, so it means a lot more than just going up there and shooting someone for the PR or the commercial,” he says.
For Kenworthy to be able to wear official uniforms and Olympic insignias, each image was going to face approval from the Olympic committee, and amazingly they approved everything. Even the images with Kenworthy posing with the Rainbow Flag, a flag that celebrates diversity and is seen as the herald of the gay community. “Luckily the Olympic Committee approved everything... It went all the way up to the top,” Patrik says. “He’s in the official Olympic uniform, and he’s allowed to represent the gay flag and everything we wanted to do, so I think in that sense it was amazing… It’s way more personal than just shooting another athlete, it feels like so much more.” The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and as images from the shoot continue to be released as the games approach, the campaign becomes more than a story of great hair: it’s the story of a more inclusive future where everyone has the opportunity compete as their true selves.
Patrik Giardino Jumps In with Nike Swim
Patrik Giardino comes from a long line of rescue divers, so when he was a kid he always thought he would end up in that career. But life had a different plan for him. He picked up a camera along the way and started shooting, but always wanted to see if he could combine his original love of the water with his new love of photography. When he started, underwater photography was unruly and expensive so he didn’t get to do it very often, until a big call came about a decade ago. “One day Nike Swim called me, 10 years ago or something, to see if I could do some work for them and I did one job and since then I’ve done tons after that,” says Patrik. “It just opened up a different world.” Since that shoot he’s continued to shoot for Nike, as well as a host of other brands like adidas, New Balance, Vitamin Water and many others, always coming back to his love of water. In fact, this month he’s back with Nike Swim again in a campaign that highlights competitive swimmers.
“Water does its own thing when you shoot,” Patrik explains. “It’s like shooting smoke. That’s what I like about it: it’s hard to control.” In front of the camera, whether he’s under the water or using water on land, the natural movement of the water has its own life. Its unpredictability adds a whole new element that could not be pasted on top of whatever he’s working on; it’s totally wild and impossible to fake. It’s almost improvisational, almost intentionally random. “It’s like art: you never know what you’re going to get. When you throw paint on the wall, it drips in all different kinds of directions,” he explains.
Having the unique set of skills that Patrik has permits him to create incredible campaigns, like the latest with Nike Swim, with some of the best athletes in the world. Because of the wily nature of water, it’s always changing but Patrik finds that when everything else is in chaos the athletes he works with hold stillness. “Around an athlete it’s actually very calm. It’s funny how the chaos of underwater… it’s like a still life feel around it,” says Patrik. This unique environment allows Patrik to show us aspects of human experience that we wouldn’t get to see otherwise. It’s like peering into a totally different world.
Patrik Giardino Bottles Lightning
A photograph is a frozen moment. It’s a translation of life into a flatter dimension; crystalized communication on a single plane. It’s a representation of a moment but it cannot be a direct translation. Photography has its limits so a photographer has to make up the distance. When Patrik Giardino puts together an image he makes it an energetic study, using the frame of the photo to speak what he finds there.
Just recently, Patrik teamed up with Justin Theroux and Men’s Health for a shoot that is not serene at all. In the cover story for the magazine we see Theroux in an alley and rooftop, leaping from fire escape to chimney. Light cuts through shadows, brickwork pops, and Theroux is right there inviting us in. When Patrik was planning this shoot he picked a location that ultimately ended up being a second character in the images. “I always choose a place where we can do both action and still. When the actor shows up you never know what will happen, you have to gauge it a little bit,” says Patrik. “It’s always way better if you put him in an environment where he feels at home and he can do whatever he wants. It’s a little gamble because you never know.” When Theroux arrived Patrik didn’t know if the actor would be stiff or a great collaborator so he had to be ready for both. But it couldn’t have gone better. They fed off each other’s energy, and it translates directly to the images. It was successful enough that Theroux even posted an image on his personal Instagram, which is always fun to see.
In the total opposite direction, Patrik worked with adidas to help them announce their brand new adidas Athletics enterprise with a campaign for their banner piece: the Z.N.E. Hoodie. The campaign encompassed still imagery and motion pieces that he directed, creating a fully immersive experience. He teamed up with German athletes like footballer İlkay Gündoğan and tennis player Andrea Petkovic, starting with the still images that offer a window into the world of an athlete preparing for a big moment. We see them on their own, finding stillness to help them compete. “The pictures feel serene - they’re pumped up and focused,” says Patrik. He played with the portraiture, offering some images that show the athletes looking off into the distance, and others staring directly at the camera. They offer two different energies but both are valuable. Stillness and focus. Isolation and connection. “For me, I like both because I like the connected eyes too,” says Patrik. “You feel the power.”
For the motion pieces, he used voiceovers paired with ambient noises to amplify the message. “A lot is done with sound,” explains Patrik. “Sound design is really important when it comes to telling what’s going on in a man’s head and how he feels.” Separately, the motion and still photography tell slightly different stories, but together they give a full picture of what Patrik is doing with the campaign. “Those two work really well together to create this kind of piece, once the hoodie goes on everything goes away.” “Z.N.E.” stands for “Zero Negative Energy,” and the whole campaign allows Patrik to show how that works in real life, using the limits of the form to underscore the power of the product.
Please join us in welcoming Patrik Giardino to the roster at Bernstein & Andriulli.