Jason Madara Digs Deep for ABC Carpet & Home
Four hours north of New York City there’s an elevator in Schoharie County, New York, that brings you deep into the earth. 500 feet deep, in fact. Once you get off the elevator, it’s another two flights of stairs down to the main entrance of Howe Caverns, an expansive underground cave system that’s open to the public. It’s a fascinating place to learn about how our planet works and ecosystems outside of what we experience every day. But more than that, Creative Director Angela Gruszka thought, it might be a nice place to photograph a campaign about ABC Carpet & Home’s new collection of rugs. Unconventional, sure, but she and Jason Madara have been pushing the envelope for five years now and they want it to get better and better. “We talked about doing a rock quarry years ago but the quarry was just a logistical nightmare,” Jason explains. “I also thought about going to Arizona or Utah and that’s just amazingly impossible as well.” So they picked Howe Caverns, a hot spot for tourists and deep underground, but a challenge worth taking.
It’s not enough that they chose a shooting location two city blocks under the surface of the earth, but they had to fit the entire logistics of a photography shoot into those elevators and carry the equipment as far as a half mile through the caves. Plus there was a very particular time constraint. “This was tricky for a number of reasons: we could only shoot at night, we could only shoot after they closed. So we went down there from 6:30 in the evening to 4 in the morning,” Jason explains. For two nights they lived by flashlight, under umbrellas, and drinking as little coffee as possible (there are no bathrooms in those caves). The operational challenges were real, but so were the creative challenges.
We think of caves as rocky rooms, but really they’re more like winding hallways. That particular aspect of the natural geography of the space is a feature of the space, and one that Jason wanted to engage in a special way. “They already have the rocks all lit a certain way there, but I didn’t always like the colors they had over the light, so we would change that,” Jason explains. “So we lit everything. We lit all the rocks, nothing was ambient exposure. The beauty of that is then I can match the tones of the rugs and compliment the color of the rocks.” Jason used a wide range of rich colors all over the walls, reflecting the colors in the rugs. But more than that, those colors in contrast with each other on the walls lets us understand the spaces better, instead of all the rocky elements blending into a flat curtain of mineral and stone. “This one, for me, was really about these rugs were born here,” he says. “That’s how I looked at it. I really wanted to bring out little hues and little colors.”
Two days of working 10 hours underground in claustrophobic spaces with a studio’s worth of equipment, in the dripping wet and thick air made the experience as mentally taxing as it was creatively taxing. But it was a sacrifice with benefits. “Without a doubt, in my life, I’ve never had a more physically and emotionally challenging project just because of where we were and what we were doing,” he says. “But also the most rewarding campaign I’ve done.”