Behind The Scenes With Brian Doben
Award season is known to be one of the most glamorous times of the year. Hollywood’s biggest stars walk the red carpet and come together to celebrate the success of the people who make each nomination possible. During his latest project in collaboration with Walmart and The Academy, Photographer Brian Doben had the unique opportunity to shoot the powerhouses behind the scenes who help make the stars look good. From set designers to wardrobe stylists, Brian was able to capture the crucial moments where the set crews and glam teams shine.
The campaign included a number of commercials that premiered during the live airing of the Oscars and print ads that mirrored those six TV spots. Brian’s expertise working in conjunction with TV and film allowed him to successfully navigate the physical constraints and other challenges of capturing still photography on a production set where the schedule and environment are out of his control. “It’s always that kind of interesting dance of how do we find our time to create an image that is dynamic and stands on its own yet carries through and works simultaneously with the TV spots,” explains Brian on the process.
The final images for the ads intentionally match the commercial campaign, so it’s easy to assume that both of the shoots were happening simultaneously. In reality, most of those shots were done on Brian’s time, and there were only a few minutes that he was able to shoot in between the different sets for a true action shot. “I really try to respect people's time and space,” Brian notes, “so I saw that there was a moment when there was a lens change on one of the cameras and I was able to just take control of it for that shot - I think that image was taken in under a minute. It was pouring rain and it was fast.”
The result was a set of six images that transport the viewer straight to the set with all the energy of the production. Brian credits this to his practiced process of shooting. “My first camera was an 8x10 camera so I couldn’t afford to shoot too much, the film was very expensive to shoot. It would average about 10 dollars for a sheet of film between buying and processing it, so I would have to really think about my framing and the composition. It was extremely crucial for me because I couldn't do many images and that really was a great way for me to start. Although now everything is digital and you can shoot 10,000 frames, it's still stuck in me, to think about and to look at all the corners of the image and see, how do they relate to each other? What is it here that’s interesting, even if its just a garbage can, is that garbage can there right or is it wrong? When I really do think of my process now, I look at my 8x10 days and I use that because it's the same thing - what is my intention here?” Brian considers this process “creatively stretching”, where he comes on set ready to “absorb like a sponge” and connect with the subjects to get the best shot.
Although this isn’t Walmart’s first campaign as the official sponsor of the Oscars, the idea behind the campaign is a departure from the tv spots they produced in the last two years of their partnership. Making the decision to focus on the magic behind the scenes sits near to Brian’s heart. “From the beginning, I loved the concept because it goes really to the heart of my passion project, my at work project, celebrating people who love what they do so to honor the people behind the scene,” Brian commented on why this project was a great fit for him. “In my eyes, it shows that there’s a change in direction that's occurring which is to really appreciate the people that carry the weight of whatever it might be. It would have been much easier to show the stars of the production. They could have hired five or six movie stars and they could have done a very similar storyline and instead, they went with a much more daring and exciting point of view. They honored the person who’s getting the meals out for the crew or a stylist’s assistant - these are the people that make things happen actually and the viewer needs the reminder that without that core group, nothing gets accomplished. The stars wouldn't look good if their stylist didn’t style them to look good and the stylist couldn’t do it without their assistant. For me as well, I rely on my team who I’ve had for well over a decade and I really really love having them with me because they carry me through it.”
How First Responders Respond with Brian Doben and AT&T
Since Brian Doben officially launched his At Work series in 2013 it’s become a new window through which to understand his own work. By attaching the stories he tells to the work that his subjects spend their lives pursuing, it affords an opportunity to see them operating at the height of focus and passion. He was recently invited to a shoot for AT&T, embedding into a disaster zone situation to see how AT&T’s FirstNet gets everyone up and running on the other side of tragedy. “It was an incredible experience for me because I had the opportunity to work in a natural disaster environment with professional firefighters who embody the At Work philosophy of loving what they do,” Brian explains. “They’re very passionate people who work their entire life with their main goal of saving lives.”
There were no lives to save during the shoot: the entire situation was manufactured to create the campaign, which afforded everyone on set to take their time and get every epic moment possible. “They created a small town and they just made it look as though it was hit by disaster,” Brian explains. “They set fire to buildings, we had helicopters, and torn down buildings and had people working through the buildings. It was kind of a little bit of everything.” Briand had full run of the place while real firefighters and first responders did the work they would normally if the situation had higher stakes. This way, Brian was able to get the images that tell the stories of these incredible people without getting in the way of what they were doing. As an audience we need to understand how that work is done but without the risk of impeding it.
As part of At Work, Brian’s process is to have as light a touch as possible. He meets his subjects in their work spaces, spaces that are markedly theirs, and composes the images to highlight their unique personalities. There are no sets and nothing is manufactured. But this massive, Hollywood style, creation was something different. The truth of the work from his subjects is still intact, but the setting was created for the images. That was really fun for him. “I get to see people in all facets of life, usually it’s either creative people or business people, but to see people in action was kind of a different form which was exciting to be in,” Brian explains. “I got to be a kid and I got to hide under pieces of metal and in burnt out buildings and try to capture these moments because I was really left to my own accord to make epic images.”
Brian is always our guide when he enters a space and presents it to us later. This time he was able to show us something that the luckiest around us never get to see. And he did it in a way that was as safe as it was truthful.
Brian Doben In Martha Stewart's Kitchen
It’s not often an invitation to Martha Stewart’s Westchester home lands in your lap. So, when Brian Doben got that invitation, to take her portrait for a profile by People Magazine, he loaded up and headed to her small farm. When you meet an icon you can never be sure what you’re going to get, but this is Martha Stewart: the queen of all things good. “She could not have been a sweeter woman. It was a wonderful,” says Brian. “I think she spent a lot of time with Snoop [Dogg] - she’s really chill. I think she’s found peace and it was a really splendid time with her and her dogs and seeing her home.” Brian was asked by the magazine to provide a single portrait, so they started in the most obvious place, her kitchen. We’ve all been in Martha Stewart’s kitchen before, whether it’s the kitchen in her home in Katonah, or one on a studio set through the magic of TV, we know what it’s like to cook with Martha. It’s practically a sacred space and the basis of all things Martha Stewart, so it’s bound to be a unique experience.
“It was a bit surreal because we’re in her kitchen photographing, and it’s Martha Stewart so she talks to you in a way that is constantly teaching and explaining,” says Brian. “It’s really quite interesting because she is true to herself. She loves what she does. She has passion that is just at its purest form.” What started as a simple photoshoot turned into a regaling of stories about famous chefs, some set decorating, and a lesson in hygiene (Stewart showed Brian how she removes the garlicky smell from her hands after chopping). Brian and Stewart got along so well that the shoot continued outside the kitchen onto Stewart’s grounds and they spent some quality time with the dogs.
Stewart is a rockstar of homegoods, and even though she’s forever inviting us into her space (at least virtually) there’s still a lot to know about her. Her career and life are both remarkable, but as much as we learn about her there’s still so much more to learn – either about how to make the perfect apple pie, or maybe something even more. After all, if we can fix the small things, we can fix the big things. “She’s such an American Icon for constantly giving tips and all that, but I want to know more about who and why she does what she does. I think she really loves to do it all,” says Brian. “She’s truly like a Warren Buffet, she’s just a walking phenomenon. Good or bad. She’s just who she is. If we can get rid of garlic hands it would be like we solved everything.”
Brian Doben Changes His Perspective
Initially, Brian Doben wasn’t really interested in getting off the ground and photographing with drones – even though it’s the popular thing to do. He was totally happy with his feet planted firmly and his camera in hand. But over the course of a couple years, the idea took shape in his head and lit up a passion that became his ongoing “From Above” series.
It all started two years ago when Brian photographed former Representative Gabby Giffords, and met her husband, retired astronaut and Navy captain, Mark Kelly. While in conversation with Kelly he mentioned that his twin brother, Commander Scott Kelly, was about to spend a year in space with NASA and share his experience on social media. Brian didn’t think much of it until those posts began appearing in his own research and catalyzed a shift that would send Brian’s eye up into the sky. “He was posting these incredibly magnificent images from space. I’ve always been interested in space but it’s such an overwhelming thought I’ve just let it go,” explains Brian. “But, I just started listening to his words and his images and his videos and I found they were spectacular because of the appreciation for seeing the world from a different perspective. I never really thought of it that way.” It wasn’t until a few months later that Brian got the itch to go up. “The summer came, and it all started to come together,” says Brian. “I was just looking around and I thought ‘I wonder what this looks like from a different perspective.’”
So he went out and got himself a drone.
Not too big, just something he could play with and after four hours of studying up on the technology, he took it out for a spin. He was immediately entranced. “Just being able to walk in the sky, being able to be at a different perspective within a scene, and the exploration of space and composition was amazing. This is what was paramount in the beginning of my career, it was about creating purposeful imagery.”
That small drone didn’t last very long – less than a day. Instead he traded it in for a much bigger piece of equipment and then the real work began. He got to work studying, applied for, and then got his license with the FAA. But it’s about more that bobbing and weaving through tree branches or getting overhead shots of abandoned school buses. It’s about how we see the world. “It’s seeing from another perspective, it’s seeing the environment, the situation, the conversation from the other side. It’s seeing nature from a different perspective, it’s seeing space from a different perspective,” says Brian. “We’re so landlocked, we see everything from the ground, but there’s such a beauty from seeing things From Above.” From where we sit and stand, our points of view are limited. At a time where broadening our world view is more and more valuable, as the world gets smaller and boundaries feel closer, as we get closer to strangers and must share more than ever before – it’s invaluable to see things from a different perspective.
We've provided a selection of work from Brian Doben's "From Above" here, but you can find more in his portfolio. And don't miss the short film at the end!
Brian Doben Finds His Heart 'At Work'
When he was prepping for the latest chapter of his ongoing ‘At Work’ project, Brian Doben found out about The Alternative Limb Project by Sophie De Oliveira Barata that creates prosthetics for amputees that include beading, sculptural elements, and non traditional colors and textures. “She came across our radar as someone who was bringing art, bringing fashion, and bringing a sort of showiness to the artificial limb world,” explains Brian. “I was very intrigued by that because I thought it was amazing, the idea that you can have a missing limb and you don’t have to hide the ugly prosthetic, you can make that into something really impressionable to other people.” Barata offers the opportunity to wear something beautiful that can be shown off instead of hidden behind shame. This is close to Brian’s heart as he understands at least a piece of it after replacing some teeth he lost in a horrific bike accident. Brian was made whole once again thanks to the work of his doctors, and for this video he got to witness Barata help make other people whole once again. “I think there’s something really special about giving people that wholeness that’s really quite beautiful,” he says.
Brian’s ‘At Work’ project has been jamming for years now but this is the first time he’s brought a motion component to it. Film and photography, although artistic siblings, offer very different ways to tell stories, each with their strengths. For Brian, film was a great way to explore different ways of presenting the ‘At Work’ mission. “It’s a conversation, it’s people sharing their inner thoughts as to why they do what they do,” says Brian. “There’s something to be said about open conversation and the ability to just talk and share what’s going on inside their mind. It just was kind of this snowball effect, one thing lead to another lead to another.” That winding pathway of conversation is reflective of the winding pathway of a life, whether it’s a life being lived or a career being created in real time. Only so much can be planned, the rest reveals itself step by step.
That is the nature of human experience, underlined by his conversation with Matt, a cartoonist who has been creating work for The Daily Telegraph for years. “He is just the most hysterical man and beyond passionate. He is everything that ‘At Work’ stands for,” Brian says. “He is excited every day going to work, he is humbled by what he does.” One of the moments that stood out for Brian about his time with Matt, and something that Brian wanted to make sure was communicated to his audience, is what Matt has to say about the creative process. “We want to romanticize that ideas come to us, that there’s this moment where the clouds separate and the light has this euphoric moment and you have your idea,” Brian explains. “And Matt said something that was very true and I think people need to understand: we have to put as many ideas on paper as possible and most of them are rubbish. You have to cleanse the body until that one moment comes and that’s the moment that you seize.” Brian is quick to point to his own story with photography as an example of this phenomenon. He was a professional photographer for 15 years before he began his ‘At Work’ project, what is now the defining pillar of his career. Sometimes you have to work through everything else before you get to the heart of it.
The key is getting there.
Brian Doben and the Power of Truth
Technology is clean and smooth, but our lives are not. Straight lines of glass and metal come together to create the products that we use to engage the digital world, but as humans we’re messy, we’re real. Brian Doben knows what the complexities of a human life look like thanks to his long-running project ‘At Work’ that examines how people spend their lives and what they spend their lives on. So when Intel approached him to photograph their latest campaign he knew he was going to bring that rough edge into the imagery. He wanted to make it feel real. “What I’m learning more and more in journey within this world is that perfection is unobtainable because in every moment we’ll see things differently,” says Brian. “We’ll see a moment that should have been, could have been, but what’s important is the actual moment that happens. To really create ‘authentic, organic imagery’ is to allow it not be perfect.”
Creating that kind of imagery can be difficult, especially when you must do it to promote a product with professional models. Both of those aspects demand perfection, but Brian works so that his photographs are relatable. It’s a balance, and to achieve it he operates in a unique way by working with the models and their process. “I empower the person to own their space within it,” says Brian. “And then the challenge at times can be how I then have to capture the image because sometimes it’s easier to pose everything but that’s not necessarily how it would really sit on their desk or on their counter, so I ask them to turn it into the area that would really suit them best.” Once they’re able to live in the space on their own, objects get placed in different ways and their bodies shift to work with the room. It all comes together in human behavior, which gives the right touch of realism.
For Brian, this reverberates all through the advertising industry. His focus and interest is about sending the right messages to his audiences. He wants to be a voice for empowerment, not shame. “Let’s create relatable images, not aspirational,” says Brian. “I don’t want to feel bad for myself looking at someone else.” By creating compositions that feel more real, feel more human, Brian invites his viewers into the world he creates as a partner, igniting a little bit of hope and a lot of excitement.
Vodafone Keeps It Real with Brian Doben
When an artist creates a personal project separate from their advertising work it’s because there are stories they want to tell and explore that the market isn’t asking for. But when an artist hits on something special in their personal project the industry starts to ask for it. That’s what happened when Brian Doben started his ‘At Work’ project. The ongoing series of images visits real people in their real working lives and offers environmental portraiture that reveals the heart of their work. Grey Advertising caught wind of Brian’s ‘At Work' and thought they would be the right match for Vodafone, the technology giant, who is looking to tap into a new market. “They’re humanizing the brand and ‘At Work’ was the perfect opportunity for them because they just felt that what they wanted to do was just create a day in the life moment image,” says Brian.
Typically technology companies focus their advertising on shiny new products or the future, whether it’s in robotics or what the omnipresence of the internet can achieve in the coming years. But Vodafone had a different idea. “They’re seeing an attraction to honest imagery. Even though at the end of the day they were selling a product, we’re trying to humanize the people using it,” says Brian. “We’re trying to capture an image that really tells the story for both Vodafone and how using a Vodafone product maybe will help them in their day to day. It’s embracing their customers, which is really what it’s about.” Technology helps us live our lives and take advantage of every moment. The way to understand that best is not through aspiration but through real human stories, and that’s exactly what Brian does.
For one of the ads he connected with the proprietors of Life Kitchen, a catering hall in London. Brian speaks the language of visuals, that’s why he’s a photographer, but it’s also the same language that they were speaking over at Grey making it a perfect partnership. “Grey’s Art Director is absolutely brilliant, he was great to work with. He had these amazing sketches that really helped,” says Brian. By interfacing visually, Brian and Grey were able to skip the confusion and get right to telling the story of this small business. “[Nick and Dave of Life Kitchen] explained that Nick will walk in the kitchen at any time and just plop his computer down and work in the midst of a very busy environment,” Brian says with a laugh. “And so I just wanted to it this as authentic as possible.” They tossed out their initial plans and just went straight to recreating that reality resulting in an image that is true to life, but also true to Vodafone.
Brian Doben Risks It All for PayPal
To take these relatively mundane moments and turn them into captivating imagery, Brian needed to make sure his subjects would come alive provided a very narrow set of possibilities. Brian solves this by casting an unexpected type of subject. “The casting was crucial. I tend to work with actors rather than models because I essentially put them in a role and give them a scene,” Brian explains. “I give them license to really work through it within certain parameters that I’m looking for, but to really explore it and let them go outside the box. In the real world, these people may do something that’s slightly imperfect or extremely imperfect, that makes the image perfect.” Giving over that sort of control can be risky for a photographer, but it’s that risk that makes or breaks the project. “If you don’t put the chips on the table you’re never going to really make it,” Brian says.
For Brian, this project wasn’t so different from At Work. It all stems from finding the humanity in every moment and allowing that to speak through. “I am going to people who are imperfect and embracing everything about that, creating an image that is true to who they are and not necessarily in any way trying to box them up and wrap them, and package them out," says Brian. "That is what a lot of advertising is. So I came up with this process that keeps it in line with the same process I use for my series.” Combining these processes, and taking the trusting risk, means that everything comes together to create moments that are true to their representation, familiar to the viewer, and still something great to look at.
Happy Holidays: 2015 in Review
As we come together with loved ones and friends to close the year, we’d like to take this time to reflect on some of our favorite moments from the last year. Included here is a list of some of our favorite stories we’ve had the pleasure to share with our community and friends. This year our artists helped usher in the next generation of Star Wars stars, discovered what bacteria lurk in NYC’s subways, sent hundreds of mean postcards to adoring fans, and put their own stamp on the 2016 Presidential campaign.
Our artists have done amazing things, so let’s take some time to remember some of the best stories from 2015 before turning our focus to the New Year.
We hope you have Wonderful Holidays, and a Happy New Year.
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Riding the New York City subway can be a precarious situation, not because of the unpredictable riders but because of what lurks on the handrails. Craig Ward wanted to see what exactly he has holding onto every day and the answers were both beautiful and revolting.
Sawdust and Nike Reach New Heights
One project with international powerhouse Nike is celebration enough, but when Sawdust teamed up with the athletic juggernaut for three bespoke typefaces it was an honor. Not only were they creating these solutions for Nike, but they'd be paired with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant, three of the most powerful names in basketball. What they created turly elevated the game.
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People's Sexiest Man Alive is always a hotly watched and eagerly awaited issue, and frequently their most popular. When Marc Hom got the call to photograph their non-traditional choice this year, David Beckham, it was an honor and a thrill. And on the day of the shoot, Beckham didn't disappoint.
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Chipotle has seen better days, but before their troubles they made a very solid decision when they asked Harriet Russell, Sarah J. Coleman, Adam Hayes, and Dave Homer to create illustrations for their bags and cups. Each illustrator was paired up with a writer whose pieces were to serve as the inspiration, and the results are as delicious as you can imagine.
Ken Fulk is a master at interior design, and Douglas Friedman is a master at photographing interiors. When the two came together in a show-stopping shoot of Elle Decor, Fulk's vision leapt off the page thanks to Douglas' unique ability to translate space into flawless photographic composition.
Bernie Sanders represents one of the most interesting political stories this season, and like any political character his whole persona is hard to distill into a single image (even a photograph!). Ryan McAmis took his time, and dug deeply into his bag of tricks, creating a portrait for the cover of National Journal that is as honest a representation as we've ever seen.
It's not every day that passion projects turn directly into corporate campaigns, but when UPS saw Brian Doben's "At Work" series they knew they needed it for themselves. Brian extended the project, meeting with read UPS customers that happened to run their own small businesses, to see what it's really like to work with a company that caters to their needs.
Cinemagraphs are becoming more and more popular, but Chloe Aftel was there since day one. In fact, she's sort of become a go-to photographer to create these captive moments that she finds particular expressive because of their ability to inject more emotion and more story.
Sometimes the best way to talk about serious issues is with a good laugh, so when Todd Selby linked up with Evolve on a series of gun safety PSA they imagined what other things kids get into. Whether it's playing with condoms like balloons, or tampons like Wolverine's claws: the kids will get into anything and, most of the time, it can be hilarious.
Few artists are as closely watched as Banksy whose work is discussed and devoured the world over, so when James Joyce got the call to be included in Banksy's latest installation it was a no-brainer. James' contributions ended up including the cover of Dismaland's catalogue, a piece that has now been distributed the world over and marked as a coveted accomplishment for any creative CV.
We cannot pretend we know what the future will hold, but if we had to bet we'd bet on Roof Studios' vision. They were tasked with glimpsing ahead for a spot with Toshiba that envisions how our relationship with technology will continue to deepen and grow, and shows us what that will look like.
Ice Skating GIF by Nomoco.
Brian Doben and UPS Find Essential Common Ground
We’ve known since he began that Brian Doben’s 'At Work' series would be an inspiring project for anyone who would take a look. The series grabbed UPS’ attention and used it as inspiration for their latest campaign. “UPS came to me because of the At Work project and how I capture the authenticity of the moment and the subject in that series,” explains Brian. “They essentially wanted to create images that felt as tangible and as honest as possible because it’s really what the UPS brand is. UPS believes in small business whole-heartedly and will work with them to develop a strategy to grow. I never knew any of this!” It’s a little known fact that when Amazon was still in its infancy, UPS took the gamble of partnering with them after Amazon had been turned down by other carriers. Obviously the relationship proved very successful, thanks to the opportunities UPS was able to offer.
That passion for the underdog and understanding how entrepreneurs and passionate business owners do their work every day is a bold line through the campaign. It brings us into the working lives of these people who are, in all essence, the root of how these companies work. When a business is only a few characters, their work is so much more about the people because they make up how the business runs and what the business is. UPS has made themselves about connecting people and creating systems that allow those connections to interact most seamlessly. “What I tried to do was create images that really told the story of the person and their business,” says Brian. “My concept for At Work is about embracing and celebrating the person behind the work. I truly feel like UPS has that same feeling of wanting to help and appreciate small businesses and wants them to grow and thrive.” Making each of these characters unique and personable is a part of the challenge of photographing real people who aren't models. While Brian draws out their personalities, B&A stylist Karen Schijman helps them look natural and composed at the same time.
Each of the images offers a glimpse into the daily operations of real businesses that partner with UPS, but perhaps none are as affecting as the image of the baby in the hospital. This ad is particularly meaningful for Brian who accessed his own familial understanding guaranteeing a successful composition. “Creating that image was quite powerful for me because I, as a father, know what it’s like to feel helpless and the touch of my child is incredibly powerful,” Brian says. “What it came down to was my own feeling of when you touch your child you’re willing to walk through fire. You will do anything for your child.” Brian already takes all of these photographs so personally, but the challenge here was ever deeper and it paid off.
For Brian, it’s a dream come true to have his passions taken on by brands and Art Directors like Melissa Hoke, who want to tell stories the same way that he wants to tell them. “I’m just so honored and grateful for these opportunities that embrace the authentic image,” says Brian. “It’s so moving to me that we’re going to that place of honest imagery.”
Brian Doben Builds a Familiarity on Set
When Magdalena Cebula, Associate Creative Director at SENSIS, was looking for a photographer for an upcoming UCLA campaign she stumbled upon Brian Doben’s At Work series. Although she thought Brian would be a good fit for the project she had in mind, that’s not why she reached out to him immediately. It was more personal than that. “I just wanted to tell him that I really, really liked it,” says Magdalena. But when it came time to choose a photographer for the campaign, she didn’t think of anyone else when she picked up the phone. As she says, “he was the first person I contacted to actually shoot the thing.” Soon enough they were working on a series of advertisements for UCLA Extension, a continuing education off shoot of UCLA whose professors bring their real life experience into the classroom to offer a greater context to their students.
Much like his At Work series, Brian captured each of his subjects in the process of doing work. At least it looks like that. “These images were shot on a TV commercial set,” says Brian. But he was very carful to compose every image to be truthful while still communicating the message as clearly as possible. “I was very clear that all the props in all the scenes, meaning books, pictures, are all actual parts of their space. Those are all Kirk’s miscellaneous accessories down to the pen.” By cultivating an environment as familiar as possible, Brian is able to bring an extra level of comfort into the images.
Each personal item that populates the images and sets makes for a personal connection not only to the space, but also to the event of capturing the photograph. “When you’re trying to capture an honest image it’s very important that you keep the environment as true as it is,” says Brian. “I wanted all the accoutrements to be real and tangible and conversation worthy because that will bring the subject to a very honest, simple playing field.” As that affinity is built between photographer, subject, and space the moments that Brian is able to capture become more subtle, freer, and ultimately more captivating.
In one circumstance they went above and beyond to communicate that personal space. Fernando Demoraes, an architect, brought a huge amount of personal effects to fill the space. “Everything in that environment is actually from his office,” says Brian. “Everything there is something that he uses. When you hold something that’s not yours it becomes an unfamiliar moment and you don’t have any emotional connection to it,” he explains. By including his subjects in the process Brian was able to build a comfortable ease on set. With Kirk Sanduski, the Film and TV Producer Brian made sure the journal and the pen were his own. “Handing him his journal gave him the ability to go back into his world,” says Brian. And that’s the world we want to see.
Brian Doben Puts Everything in Context
We all know Brian Doben from his environmental portraits. He has pursued his series "At Work" for years, with forays into celebrity features, and the expansion of his passion project into large editorials. Environmental work provides the context that Brian uses for his work, and adds a baseline for the stories that Brian tells in his photography.
Portraits come with a built in story, the subject comes fully packaged with a history and a point of view. But when Brian shoots fashion he uses the tools earned from this work. Those stories are how one captures a captivating photo. As a photographer he has to do that every time he picks up his camera. He doesn’t have the option of failing to take an exquisite photo. “I have to make a beautiful image every time,” Brian explains. “No matter what, I have to make it stunning. And there’s no excuses. And that’s fine. That’s the position I’ve taken. My job is to never to find excuses. There are no problems.” So Brian finds solutions. And he does that by finding stories.
When it comes to models in furs, like his series comissioned by W Magazine, it’s hard to imagine how one injects a story into it. Especially to the layman. But Brian explains it’s a little more subtle than “Once upon a time…” Instead, Brian is fitting his work into a larger context by understanding the shared history of aesthetic, and placing his shoot among visual references and familiar looks. “I have visual images that come to mind that are off of my own internal Rolodex,” he says. “But I’m referencing imagery that is outside furs and fashion.” For this shoot he looked to photographers like Paul Strand who is known for his shadows and implied motion, as well as Edward Weston who portrays the vulnerable and powerful. Brian takes the lessons learned from these titans of photography and shares them with us, applicable in any situation.
The trick to fashion work is to treat it the same as any other shoot. Even though these images are appearing in W, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Elle, and Town& Country, and bring attention to designers like Michael Kors, Oscar de la Renta, Bisang, Brandon Son, and Maximilian, the audience is still owed the same level of intrigue. “You have to really reference and have an emotional connection to the work,” Brian says. “So what I do it is find the environment in the image. Not in the literal sense, but in what they’re about… I use the structure of the clothing and the way the hair is to create a graphic image. That could be in body positioning, lighting, or coloring.” Brian’s known for his environmental work, but the trick is that every project is environmental work. “Environment” is merely another word for “context,” and Brian never shoots without providing the context his audience needs.
The Passion of Brian Doben
Some artists work on passion projects to fill the time between commercial projects, using them as a font of inspiration. Where commercial projects are usually directed by the goals of a brand and have very specific parameters, a passion project allows an artist to explore what they care about, and find their own corner of expression. For Brian Doben, his "At Work" series has always operated as a passion project. It started off simply enough: to document people in their own space, doing their own work. It's a representation of how these people have chosen to spend their lives. But as Brian has continued his on going series, "At Work," it has blossomed into something bigger, and Elle Decor took note.
For their latest issue, Elle Decor had Brian continue his "At Work" in "Fashion Forward," a piece for their Inspiration section. Doing what he does best, Brian entered the spaces of seven of New York's most consequential designers, the creative minds behind some of the most successful, or up and coming brands. Coming from the fashion world, this was the perfect pairing between photographer and assignment. "It was great to combine both worlds,” Brian says. “I really love the passion. I got to meet with the designers and see where they are in their life, at home or in their studios, and talk to them about their story."
But "At Work" has changed Brian. It's allowed him to be a more generous artist, and that generosity appears in his frames. "Before 'At Work' I used to walk in with an armada, both in terms of crew and over thinking the scene,” says Brian. “The project is right in front of you, and the magic is two feet in front of you, and my job is to kind of sit back, see it, and then capture it. I walk into the space and I let them talk first. And I find when you do that and you listen, and you don’t interrupt there’s a trust that comes.” By staying quiet and listening, the subjects open up and allow themselves to be truly seen by Brian and his lens.
Brian brought those lessons to another shoot with Meredith Viera for People Magazine, and even though the two of them only had an hour, they found a way to be incredibly productive. "She’s just so real and so grounded,” he says. “She’s just a really wonderful woman and has such a positive light about her. Being around people like that, and photographing them, it’s so inspiring, you just feel their positive energy.” Not every subject is able to open up for a photographer like Meredith Viera did for Brian. It all comes back to how his passion project has afforded him the lessons to more effectively do what he is interested in. Artists have their passions, and when fed well, they recombine into their commercial work, building and growing off of one another, creating the perfect path.
Brian Doben's At Work Goes to the Ends of the Earth
When Brian Doben started shooting portraits for At Work, it wasn’t to do anything else other than tell the stories of the people he met. He wasn’t trying to shoot a book, or make money off of it. It was just an expression of what brought him to photography in the first place: people. “I didn’t become a photographer for money, fame, or travel,” Brian explains. “I became a photographer to get out of my own life and start telling stories of others through portrait.”
The At Work series is a direct line into what people do. Brian finds people who work in their passion, whose work is who they are, and gives them permission to reveal themselves and their work. He captures those moments and delivers them untouched.
Rebecca Scholand is a weather observer on Mount Washington, who faces the wrath of nature on a daily basis. When Brian shot her he experienced the most severe weather he’s ever met, and he’s met a lot of nature. “I’ve been from Antarctica to the North Pole to Madagascar,” says Brian. But when he was outside on Mt Washington, shooting Rebecca at the height of winter and facing 95mph winds, it was a totally different story. “I’ve been quite a few places in my time… I’ve seen Mother Nature in her power. But that was pretty scary. I was very scared actually. Essentially scared.” Between the pelting snow and freezing temperature, his entire camera was encased in a shell of ice. But the camera kept clicking away, and he got some unreal images. “I have a photograph of her and she’s levitating off the ground. The wind had lifted her.”
Larry Mongos, who owns D’Mongos Speakeasy in Detroit, lives on his own edge of the world. With being the proprietor of the popular late night spot means that Larry sees a lot of faces go through his doors, and he gets a lot of attention because of it. He’s done his fair share of interviews and photo shoots. He’s a seasoned pro. But Brian wanted to get through all that, and what he found was really surprising. When Larry and Brian sat down, Brian put down the camera and allowed the two of them to connect as people, instead of as a photographer and his subject. They talked about life, Detroit, and Larry’s childhood. Brian learned that Larry grew up really poor, in a neighborhood that was largely Jewish. At the time Larry was coming up, his life experience was being steeped in a community that had just survived The Holocaust. He was surrounded by survivors. He was so touched by the stories of these people that it helped him get through his own trials. “He had a really tough childhood. He had a really tough upbringing,” Brian says. “But the only thing that ever got him through it was seeing people who had survived something that he could never understand surviving.” Brian captured a moment during this sharing where he and Larry were able to find something to laugh about again.
After all, Brian explains, that’s what the At Work series is about. “It’s about really connecting with people and having a real understanding of each other.”
Brian Doben wades through a sea of bridal gowns for The Knot
Brides can spend years looking for the perfect dress. Common wisdom tells us that it takes at least 9 months to prepare the dress to the exacting standards most brides require. To meet that demand, designers are making more and more styles in multitudes of trends and shapes. After all that, some brides can’t choose. So what do you do in that situation? Easy: have two dresses.
As more and more brides opt to choose two dresses instead of just one, The Knot magazine decided to show some of their favorite two dress pairings with the help of Brian Doben.
Brian is no stranger to bridal photography, but he and his wife are, as he describes, “kind of the antithesis of the big wedding thing.” His wife didn’t wear two dresses at the wedding they had on their own property. Instead she wore a simple dress next to his jeans and teeshirt. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t understand the relationship between women and their bridal gowns.
For the cover of The Knot, and the accompanying story, they used one model and upwards of 11 dresses. Each time she switched into a new dress Brian saw the shift in her. “When you put a wedding gown on a woman you tend to find their true personality,” he says. “You see the girl transform from one personality to another. And you start to see which ones they really vibe with.”
As fun as a shoot like this can be (there was a running joke that each time the model got in a new dress, she was getting married again – they asked each other “When are you going to find Mr. Right?”), there’s a bit of a challenge. Considering that a lot of the dresses are incredibly similar in color, and have only subtle variations of shape and texture, a lot has to be done on set to distinguish between them, to let the personalities of the dresses show through. Brian explains, “It’s a lot of being on your toes creatively, working well with the team, and figuring out little nuances that help to really tell the story of that particular dress.”
It's not all hard work and visual gymnastics, they are wedding dresses after all, something a lot of brides take very seriously. Sometimes, during a shoot like that, you get to see something a little deeper, something a little more personal comes through. "You see the model kind of melt into that dream dress and glance back in the mirror and envision what it would be like to actually wear it," Brian has witnessed in between shots. "It’s kind of sweet to see that."
Brian Doben Spans Sydney for Westinghouse's Solar Power Campaign
Brian Doben photographed Sydney-siders in their elements for Westinghouse's Solar Power campaign. "During the whole project, Brian was a joy to work with – understanding and authoritative enough to get things done, but open enough to incorporate new ideas and different points of view," remarked Dave Mullen, founder of Loaf Creative and creative director for the project. "Brian made all of the models feel comfortable in the surroundings, which led to much more engaging photographs. Both myself and the client are really happy with the finals and wouldn't hesitate to use Brian again."
Doben and Mullen first discussed solar energy and the sincerity of the "I have the power ... " tagline that accompanies each ad, and the photographer was soon in Sydney, Australia, casting subjects and scouting locations. He noted that he approached the commission as he does his "At Work" series: "It was paramount to find people I could relate to and have honest interactions with. I spent about three hours with each person, getting to know him or her and shooting." He completed fifteen ads in six days and directed a forthcoming TV commercial.
Pressed to choose his favorite image, Doben picked the "I have the power to use all my energy" advertisement, which shows a boy in his bedroom strumming an electric guitar. "I was looking down on his room and I wasn't seeing the shot, so I put myself in his position to see the magic of his space through his eyes – to him, it was like Shangri-La," Doben noted. "Once I did that, so much beauty came out."
Brian Doben Captures the Different Sides of a Lexus
Brian Doben combined the hallmarks of his portraiture and flawless shots of Lexus's new 2014 GX for his first major automobile campaign.
"The ads showed a breakdown of the many sides of a Lexus owner," he said. "It might be someone who attends red-carpet affairs; it might be someone who kayaks or cycles; however, I tried to humanize the models. The car was obviously significant and heroic, but the people had to feel genuine, as well."
Doben devoted a week to storyboarding and traveled to L.A. in advance to scout and study locations: "I found an area outside of the city with picturesque vistas and dramatic, tall grass, and I wanted to get a sense of how the sun interacted with the environment." He and his team worked from late morning until dusk, photographing the car and each of the characters (styled by B&A's Stacey Jones and with makeup by Amy Chance).
The various elements were then composited to form a single image. "It was an absolute pleasure to have technology in my corner," Doben remarked.
Ad agency: Team One
Executive producer: Elle Sullivan Wilson
Retouching: Taylor James Ltd.
Brian Doben Shot 'Duck Dynasty' Before the Cast Shot Him
Ahead of Duck Dynasty's season finale – October 23: "Phil puts his own twist on Halloween decorating by making a jack-o-lantern with a shotgun" – B&A chatted with Brian Doben about his summer Parade cover depicting the Robertsons.
"When I received the call about the Parade project, I ordered a few Duck Dynasty DVDs and became an instant addict," remarked Doben, who isn't alone. More than 11.8 million people tuned into the fourth season premiere of the show, which follows the owners of duck-hunting product purveryors Duck Commander. "Parade wanted a dynamic cover and an inside image, and left the approach up to me ... but the show is about good fun, so I wanted to keep the images fun and easy." The Robertsons welcomed Doben to West Monroe, Louisiana, with a fleet of 4x4s. "We went flying around the property, becoming completely muddied, searching for strong locations."
Doben won't soon forget his second location: a swamp containing the five deadliest snakes in the state. "At first, I freaked out – because these are five-foot-long snakes and thousands of them – but once I have a camera in my hand, I forget about everything and am excited about the whole process," he recalled. "We went out into the water and I was stomping away like a fool ... and everyone around me had shotguns – the family and others who were there – because they were prepared to shoot a snake if they saw one. The whole time, I kept thinking it would end up like a Quentin Tarantino scene ... on top of being bitten by a deadly snake, I'm going to be shot by 20 people."
Fortunately, that didn't happen; in fact, the experience "was a blast – no pun intended," according to Doben. "The Robertsons are wonderful, grounded, and genuine people who deserve all of their success."
Watch a behind-the-scenes video at right.
Brian Doben's Atwork Vegas
Brian Doben continues his ATWORK series with a new set of images taken in Las Vegas. Sin City is infamous for attracting visitors worldwide to game and escape reality. Brian's fascination with Vegas led him to explore and get to know the people who live and work in this city that never sleeps. With the help of Robin Leach, former TV personality and host of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous", Brian was able to connect with several interesting individuals from a broad spectrum of occupations. From Elvis impersonators to acrobats and even mermaids, Brian's lens captures the city from a unique and interesting perspective. About his Vegas experience Brian remarks,"it was a great opportunity to meet wonderful people who enjoy doing what they do."
The first ATWORK series was recently selected to be part of a photo festival in France called "Les Recontres Arles Photographie". The series is ever moving forward and somewhere down the road Brian plans to release a second ATWORK book.
Brian Doben Captures Carrie Underwood for People Magazine
Brian Doben photographs the revealing cover story on Carrie Underwood for the April 15th edition of People Magazine. In the issue, the country singer talks about her tour and marriage to hockey player Mike Fisher.
The shoot was done in multiple locations and included a studio sitting and snaps behind the scenes of Carrie on tour. "Carrie was so happy and excited about her tour. It was inspiring to work with someone who truly loves her job," Brian says about the singer. An interesting tidbit is that in order to get to the shoot, Brian had to fly to Detroit and then take a bridge to Canada. When Brian and his assistant arrived at the Canadian border they were detained and questioned for an hour. Two guys flying all the way to Canada to see a Carrie Underwood concert can't be the strangest thing!
Publication: People Magazine
Photographer: Brian Doben
shot while on tour in Windsor, Ontario Canada
Stylist: Emma Trask/Opus Beauty
Hair/Makeup: Melissa Schleicher >