Jason Madara Covers CEOs for Wired UK, Fast Company & Southwest
In his latest editorial collaborations, photographer Jason Madara takes on the covers of WIRED UK, Fast Company and SouthWest the Magazine to showcase portraits of individuals who are creating real change in their respective industries. Captivating the inspiring industry leaders, Jason highlights their ambition, the duality of their humbleness and entrepreneurism, but most importantly their humanity. These covers convey the same sense of authentic connection and personability that he himself strives to create while on set.
“I’m always photographing real people and sometimes it requires real patience. I’ve realized that honestly, 90% is just being present and just having a real conversation with people. They put their guard down with me and then we have a good time together. The camera is really a small part of what I do. I’m a strong believer that intimacy and connection are created by being present with somebody and becoming part of that moment is what I think comes through in my portraits,” explained Jason.
For the cover of FastCompany, Jason shot Katrina Lake, CEO of StitchFix. “I did literally put her on a pedestal. That was my furniture from my studio and one of my boxes. I wanted this to feel heroic and badass, but also endearing as well. I think that low angle is my thing for sure, shooting up. One of my inspirations has always been Helmut Newton, my whole life. I always loved the way he made portraits.”
Running from shoots in New York to London and back to San Francisco in his studio, Jason’s portraits manage to capture both the personalities and the power seen in the faces of his subjects. “The creative team at WIRED UK is I think one of the most creative in the business. When they called me to come out there, I went from NY right to London. I loved the idea that they wanted me to come to London to shoot this, cause I always really loved the magazine and the people that worked there. But I was curious, why me vs so many portrait photographers that are closer? Andrew the creative director said, ‘You have an amazing way of connecting with people that really don’t want to be photographed. Like real people that are not normally, genuinely comfortable in front of the camera.’”
Utilizing elements of lighting, low angles and a presence of ying-yang in these leaders, Jason captures and communicates their essence to the world in these series of portraits.
Jason Madara Connects With Fiverr
In our digital world, human connection isn’t hard to find. There are phone apps, websites, and even ride-share programs that help bring us together. In his latest project with Fiverr, photographer Jason Madara showcases the beauty of bringing creatives together.
The campaign focused on the unique collaboration process offered through the Fiverr platform. “You have the buyer on one side and the freelancer on the other side. My task was: how do you merge these two and make it show that they need each other?” Jason worked with the graphic black and white aesthetic to develop a concept that illustrates the partnership.
“The subjects are all real people that you and I walk by every day on the street. They're all real freelancers that actually work within the Fiverr community. We had twelve talent per day, and we had to do two outfit changes: twelve in black and twelve in white, so really I had twenty-four shots to do each day,” explained Jason. “I had a key light on each side, one person facing the right one person the left so I made sure I was lit for each side so I could switch back and forth easily. I really don’t get too much into the technical things, it’s more about connecting with each person. On the day of the shoot, my main objective is to spend time with each person, as much as I can. I like to get to know each person, talk to each person, try to connect with them on some level so that when they get in front of the camera, they aren’t nervous, and so we just continue the conversation that we started having. The camera is a small element, it’s really about what we’re talking about and then the camera comes up and I take pictures.”
Like all of his work, Jason’s passion for human connection shone through the shoot. “When you photograph everyday people: designers and illustrators, like with Fiverr, I don’t approach it differently. I’m trying to connect with people. Every shoot is an opportunity to celebrate the human story.”
Sharing Human Stories with Jason Madara and Best Buy
Our cultural economy has changed. As the world grows smaller, we’re more connected than ever before thanks to a constant deluge of information streaming from never ending communication and expression. These connections have given everyone the ability to parse between what is real and what is fake, forcing major brands like Best Buy to tell the story of their company entirely without artifice. That is not an easy thing to do. So when Best Buy made the shift to invest in that kind of a brand identity they went to Jason Madara to help them do it. The Creative Director of Best Buy, Denton Warne, explains:
“Jason Madara’s body of work intrigued us right away. His framing and composition always feel timeless and his light is meticulous – but what we loved most about his work is the character he’s able to draw out of his subjects. It takes a huge amount of care and intuition to capture a frame of someone who has never modeled before and turn it into something you are immediately drawn to.”
For Jason, the challenge of bringing truth out of a subject is the sum total of his job. He works on every element: lighting and wardrobe, casting and makeup. But the deepest part of the work happens between him and his subjects, translating those moments into images. But even beyond that, it’s about more than just making something great for his clients. “When I’m away from my family and I’m doing work, I want to find a way to not just enjoy shooting the job and going to work, I want to really become part of it,” Jason explains. “I find something to connect with for everybody, and that is really important to me.” By investing himself in every moment, the subjects meet him on that level and open up. It’s a collaboration: they work together to tell the best stories in the way that supports their message.
And the message is shared humanity.
Best Buy is a massive company with huge stores filled with hardware and electronics. But with this campaign, they were able to fill every location with authentic human moments. “When I walked into Best Buy and I saw this campaign for the first time in Manhattan and in LA, I saw the prints in the stores and there is a certain sense of nothing feeling forced. Everything feels warm,” Jason explains. “Humans are the core of the story, and I think that’s true in life.” The campaign created the opportunity to fill every location with human stories, setting the tone for the future of Best Buy, but also giving Jason the platform to connect with people in a meaningful way.
Jason Madara and ABC Carpet + Home Invite You Out
Joshua Tree National Park is an expansive otherworldly space outside of Palm Springs, east of Los Angeles, California. You’ve probably seen pictures, but there’s nothing quite like being there. “It’s a mysterious terrain and everything about it is so surreal, you really feel like you’re somewhere else,” explains Jason Madara, who shot his latest campaign for ABC Carpet + Home (his sixth) in the unique location. It’s true that there’s nothing quite like Joshua Tree, but there’s also nothing quite like getting there. “When you go to Joshua Tree you go to this place called Twenty-Nine Palms, which is literally like out of a David Lynch movie. It’s weird, but it’s cool. You’re only an hour from Palm Springs: great hotels, flashback to the 50s and 60s, great restaurants. And then you’re in Twenty-Nine Palms which you feel like you’re in a weird, bizarre, alternate universe. And then you go to Joshua Tree.” The desert is filled with Yucca palms, also known as Joshua Trees, recognizable for their unique look and even stranger taxonomy.
It was on this backdrop that Jason wanted to create the newest campaign, one that is markedly different from the previous five. This latest campaign has a much deeper sense of space. “I feel like after we did the caves (last year), I was like, how do you outdo the caves?,” Jason says. “I love landscapes, I love product design, I love nature. This was everything. This is a portrait of an environment more than anything else. There’s always that balance of the rug and the tree and the nature of the lighting… There are always those elements that we use in everything we do.” By bringing nature into the campaign in a new way, the balance of those elements became ever more complex. But each of those complexities offers new depth.
It would be impossible for Jason to light the entire sets like he did in all the previous campaigns. These scenes stretch out for thousands of feet and feature mountains in the distance. Instead, for the first time, Jason harnessed the light of the setting sun and the vibration of the moonlight – in addition to carefully, and conservatively placed lights. Ultimately, that’s what sets this campaign apart from the rest. “There was a delicate balance between the ambient light, the sunset, the clouds, the moonlight,” Jason explains. “We had to combine all these elements and I knew right away that the only way they were going to work is if the sky shots had clouds. Everything had to have some side of clouds and texture and the feeling that you could touch it. Everything had to have a tactile texture to it.”
Jason has created these campaigns for ABC Carpet + Home for years, and they’re literally about selling rugs. But more, they’re about showing space. A home is a place of comfort, an enclosed private space that we shape and mold into our own self-contained worlds. But in this latest campaign, Jason takes that fantastical idea of “home” and opens it up. Walls are replaced by mountains, tangible clouds and arcing star trails become a ceiling. Instead of inviting us in, Jason and ABC Carpet + Home are now inviting us out, showing us what it’s like if we make the whole world our home.
San Francisco Tells Jason Madara and George McCalman "I AM BAYVIEW"
San Francisco has experienced an incredible transition over the last decade. As soon as it was identified as ground zero for tech development, the socioeconomics of the city changed drastically. In that time the social makeup, property value, and identity of the city shifted and the reaction has been rightfully mixed, to put it lightly. As the city grapples with its different identity, it has shifted and expanded in ways that the larger community isn’t happy with, and that is understandable. No one wants their home to change. As a way to celebrate the diversity of San Francisco neighborhoods, the city teamed up with Jason Madara, George McCalman and Bayview Underground on a series of posters that feature more than two dozen Bayview residents for a projected dubbed I AM BAYVIEW. “It was a joy for Jason and me to take part in this community initiative, from conception to execution to installation,” said George McCalman. “We wanted to celebrate the Bayview community — the people who have a desire to be seen and who have a say in how their homes and community are being portrayed.”
“The idea was born from several conversations about gentrification in San Francisco,” McCalman posted on his Instagram, @mccalmanco. “It’s an ongoing (and frustrating) subject amongst those of us who live here. In the course of talking, we came up with the idea of photographing the people representative of the values of a neighborhood that is suddenly desirable. One of the issues, oftentimes, is the people who live there are ignored in favor of expansion and ‘growth.’ We felt differently. We wanted to celebrate the current community; the people who have a desire to be seen, and have a say in how their homes and community are being portrayed. It was our mission to say, visually, that if you’re going to move to a neighborhood, you should get to know the people who live there.” McCalman and Madara leaned hard into representative diversity. They approached subjects from all walks of life, backgrounds, and racial representation, each of whom hold a special place in their communities. Social leaders, business owners, commentators, all vocal residents of the city who are fully engaged. Gentrification is often a destructive force, but confronting the issue head on with the community’s leaders is the only way to counter some of its subtler effects.
Madara and McCalman have worked together extensively in the past, including their ‘Individuals’ series from 2015 that photographed artists and entrepreneurs from all over San Francisco to create intimate portraits. I AM BAYVIEW is an extension of that very same story, delving deeper into the figures that are beloved in this neighborhood. “My intent for this project was to make a beautiful portrait series of a diverse community and show the range of people that in this vibrant area of the city,” Madara says. So that’s what they did.
Since being released to the public, the project has catalyzed a fiery conversation about the impact of gentrification in San Francisco and the responsibility of representation. Some of the dialogue has been constructive and that’s what Madara and McCalman are pouring their energy into, passionate to continue the conversation and engage the community even deeper. The conversation itself is important. The conversation was the intended result. Everything that’s happened since the release of the project was what was supposed to happen, in a way.
“What constitutes a neighborhood in San Francisco? Especially a historically black one? Who decides who is Bayview?,” McCalman mused on his Instagram, questions that were present while they conceived the project, and questions that are still present today. These questions may not have answers, but as the community engages with each other and does the work of finding those answers, they’ll get closer to understanding and finding a common truth that includes all residents of Bayview, and represents the neighborhood they love.
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.”
A Lesson from the Resistance for Jason Madara
We are quite literally at the dawn of a new era. As of noon today The United States of America will have a new President and not everyone is happy about it. It’s not just that one side won and the other lost, but many who voted against the President-Elect of the United States, Donald Trump, did so because they were offended by his actions, words, or proposed policies. Now that he’s set to take over leadership of the free world, there are those who would continue to oppose him, to resist him and what he stands for. These people are The Resistance. It’s a growing movement in American politics, a movement that’s becoming more organized and more vocal as the weeks go by - but not everyone is seeing it happen in broad daylight - it’s still new.
Jason Madara and his studio mate George McCalman spent the first couple weeks after the election consoling each other and trying to figure out what to do with their experience, and to see if they could channel into something constructive. “I was trying to figure out many ways to deal with how a wreck I was and how everybody’s been a wreck afterwards thinking that we’re living in some nightmare, and then San Francisco Magazine approached George and I with this project,” Jason says. “And it took me a millisecond to say yes.” They asked him and George to photograph the growing resistance to Donald Trump. But it wouldn’t just be a couple photographs slapped together for a cute story. This was an expansive project with 40 subjects and a veritable portfolio. The Magazine wasn’t playing around.
“It was a very emotional journey because we’re photographing all these people in our studio which was amazing,” Jason says. “We’re talking about how to deal with this, and I have Nancy Pelosi in the studio and talking to her about all this, and Dianne Feinstein, and Gavin Newsom, and all these great people that are coping with is just as we are, and trying to make sense of it.” These are some of the best liberal political minds of our era, and Jason and George got to pick their brains about what was next, what they could do, and also spent more than a little time commiserating in their disappointment.
So what did he learn from these expert community organizers?
“We have to be resilient to this, we have to grow from this and be strong from this. We can’t just be doom and gloom every day because that’s not going to help anybody,” Jason says. “Yes, everyone’s angry but that’s not going to help change… We stand up and we come together and we fight together and we do whatever we need to do. That is resilience.”
Resilience is action, resilience is getting back into the fight once you’ve been knocked down.
Jason and George didn’t get to photograph everyone they wanted because some of their dream subjects had already gotten back into the ring. “The one person we didn’t get to photograph is Kamala Harris, she’s California’s newest senator and I get it. I wasn’t thrilled at first that she couldn’t pose for us, but I get it. She’s busy fighting. That is more important. And we didn’t get Jerry Brown because he doesn’t care, he doesn’t want to be in a photo, he just wants to keep fighting. I get that.”
But they did get Tom Steyer, Black Lives Matter organizers, London Breed, women from Dream SF, running the gamut from all walks, all experiences, all influences. It brought the scope into perspective, something that was crucial for Jason, especially when the topics came home.
“You know one of the hardest things about the next day after the election was telling my 9-year-old daughter that Hillary didn’t win. I said ‘Well, Hillary won the popular vote,’ so she asked ‘Well then why can’t she President?’ I had to explain to her that it’s not all bad, the world is not bad, because I still believe that most people are good, I really do believe that,” says Jason. “When you get to do a project like this, it just feels really personal.”
No matter where you are on the political spectrum, things are changing all around us all. As a new politics rises in The White House there are loud voices rising outside ready to resist, preparing for every move and counter move. And this month, in the pages of San Francisco Magazine, thanks to Jason Madara and George McCalman, we see the first class of this Resistance.
Jason Madara Reveals the Heart of Equinox
When we go to the gym, we go to work. We go to sweat, and lift, and run. We go to lose our breath and push ourselves to the physical limits with the goal of making ourselves better. They’re places of energy and focus, places of expression and fighting limitation. But Equinox tries to add another layer to the experience, and as Jason Madara knows: they do something special. For the last couple years Jason has been traveling all over the country photographing different Equinox clubs and most recently he photographed their River Oaks club in Texas. “At each club I really try to do something different that I haven’t done before because I don’t want to repeat myself,” says Jason. “Each club is very different. There hasn’t been one club to me that’s looked the same. And River Oaks was one of the newest ones and I think it’s one of the most beautiful that we’ve been to.”
He’s now gotten to know dozens of Equinox clubs intimately, and has gotten to the point where he’s more familiar with these places and the people that keep them running than even some of the most senior Equinox staffers. He spends days at each club, absorbing the energy and understanding the space in a complete way so that he, as a photographer, can offer an honest portrayal of what it’s like to be in each unique club. “All of these clubs have their own personalities, they each have their own thing that they say to you,” says Jason. “Through the architecture, through the color, through the light. And River Oaks has a beautiful blue and gold feel to it.” Jason’s images of River Oaks are crisp and fresh, but he didn’t paint that on. Instead he revealed what he found in that space, giving the architecture and light room to show itself.
After all this time Jason has come to know and understand the Equinox brand well enough that it’s become something of a touchstone for him. “Equinox is one of those places that no matter what city I’m in it makes me feel really at home,” says Jason. At a place where customers are going to find and push their physical limits, a little bit of calm and attention to detail goes a long way. And Jason just wants to show it to you.
Jason Madara Gets Real with Best Buy
At Best Buy there truly is something for everyone. Whether you're in the market for a gigantic TV, or need the latest tiny music device, you can find something that will give you a little spark of joy. In fact, that's what Best Buy is all about: connecting people to new pieces of technology that will enrich their daily experiences. This is exactly what they wanted to mine in their latest collaboration with Jason Madara, and gave the photographer a focus that he knew he could have fun with. After combing through thousands of models and actors, Jason found around 30 people to photograph and jumped right in. Sometimes literally. “I had the music on, I had the Tina Turner on in the background, I had to laugh and make a fool out of myself and get them to really bring it, and feel comfortable,” Jason explains. “So for me, no matter what I’m shooting, I want to get into it and become part of it and get in there with them and share that experience with them. And not make them experience it alone.” Creating that kind of an atmosphere means that he makes space for his subjects to open up and have fun, something that will show up directly on film and make for imagery that is fun and engaging.
Best Buy's products are incredibly diverse because their customers are diverse. Each person who comes into the store has slightly different needs, and Jason wanted to make room for that. The diversity isn't limited to race, age, or gender identity, but goes into life experience and Jason wanted to reflect these different experiences throughout the mix of photographs. “I was trying to mix it up and not feel like all the same,” says Jason. “So for every person I would get a feel for their personality and change the music maybe, and laugh with them. In a campaign with 28 images you want to try and mix it up as much as you can.” Jason asked each of them to imagine what it would be like to get whatever they wanted from Best Buy as a gift, and each of his models had a totally unique reaction. That was the point. Everyone who comes through Best Buy's doors is looking for something that's going to specifically speak to them; the broad range of experiences that Jason brought to this campaign means everyone can see themselves in it and engage with these stories.
What Jason wanted to keep the same was the overall aesthetic of the shots. Even with the variation on film, it all had to feel like it was a part of the same story. So Jason created a solid base for himself that he used as a touchstone for continuity. “My approach is always the same and technically my approach was always the same. I never changed the light too much, I wanted to keep it really consistent. We didn’t overly retouch these,” says Jason. “That was important. One of the things Best Buy mentioned is they really wanted that texture. They really wanted to basically feel real, that people can relate to these. That they look natural.” The engagement that Jason achieved can only happen if each image feels real. When an audience sees themselves in these images, it cannot be an extension of imagination, it must be a true visceral experience. Jason puts it all out there to connect with his subjects and ensure they'll connect with us so we can see ourselves in the story that Best Buy is telling us.
Jason Madara Grabs the Future for ABC Carpet & Home
Photography is a dance between light and the tangible world. We cannot touch light, but it changes and shapes what we see and how we interact with our world. Photographers balance light and objects to create an impression of a moment that becomes a permanent record. Jason Madara has been manipulating the confluence of light and spaces for ABC Carpet & Home for years now, introducing season after season of rug collections, but he and the retailer decided to go in a different direction this season. After Jason took a walk through of the new Santiago Calatrava space in downtown New York City around the same time that Creative Director Angela Gruszka did the same, they were inspired by the play of light in the space to apply that in the next campaign. They found that Calatrava also designed the Milwaukee Art Museum that was happy to play host for the photographer and ABC’s rugs.
Once they made their way to Wisconsin and stepped into the museum, Jason knew that by using this space the difference from previous campaigns was going to be stark. Where their earlier work had been about creating and applying a feeling inside an existing space, Jason was going to interact with Calatrava’s work and let the light play the way it was designed to. “We really used a lot of what the environment gave us,” Jason explains. “I’m collaborating with the space as opposed to creating my own mood. I’m having a dialogue with the environment.”
Jason’s art is to manipulate how light hits a space and document it, which isn’t so different from what Calatrava does and inspired this entire direction. “If you don’t let the light in that’s there, you’re not doing the structure justice,” says Jason. “This is what the architect wants you to see, he wants you to see how the light falls on the structure. And that’s what it was to me and I was really trying to pay tribute to that as well as making the carpet look good.” By working with what the space has to offer, the rugs end up looking even better, and feel within the context of a space that is beautiful while feeling a little bit alien, a little bit ripped from the future, a little bit different from expectations. “I went in there expecting to do something that I’m used to doing and it turned out very different," Jason says. "Which I’m happy about, I love the way it turned out.”
Jason Madara Gets Personal with the Stars of The X-Files
The X-Files changed television. It was the first show to combine two different forms of TV storytelling: serial dramas and episodic procedurals. What was once a risk is now the most effective way to tell a story through the medium of long form drama. X-Files mythology carried the show through nine seasons of television and two feature films, as we followed FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) in their investigations of the paranormal and supernatural. The relationship between Mulder and Scully is what made the show as compelling as it was (until Duchovny’s early departure): Mulder’s passionate faith in the supernatural inspired his tireless and dangerous work, while Doctor Scully was there to root him in reality. The almost Taoist relationship between them was on display when Jason Madara photographed the duo in celebration of the X-Files’ return to television this month.
When Variety needed someone to step into the shoot the first person they thought about was Jason Madara to whom they offered full creative freedom. “I knew what they wanted was the color. I knew they wanted the green,” says Jason. “When you punch in ‘XFiles’ on Google, that color comes up. So I knew that was the one thing I had to give them. That’s what I loved about this, that I was able to do what I wanted.” With that freedom, and a little bit of understood expectation, Jason was set loose to make the images about what he wanted to make them about: the relationship between these two characters.
In order to get the shoot Jason had to travel up to Vancouver and squeeze it in the middle of a very busy day for the actors. Bringing a full photographic production to Canada has its own challenges, compounded by trying to find just a few moments with the actors. Jason was able to get Anderson and Duchovny for about fifteen minutes which he used as effectively as he could. Duchovny sat with Jason alone for literally less than a minute, but the first frame that he took was perfect and the one that they ended up publishing. As soon as Gillian walked in the room, the entire tenor of the shoot melted into her arms. They still only had a few moments, but Gillian became a great partner for Jason. “Gillian was great because she was kind of flirty with him and that’s what I wanted,” says Jason. She really knew how to handle him. She helped me a lot just by her being there and knowing how to take care of it. She was great. Beautiful. Friendly. And she gave me the look I wanted.” The time they had together was short, but Jason got what he needed effectively and efficiently. Chris Carter, who created The X-Files more than twenty years ago, was also on set and available, resulting in a shot of this exceptional man behind the curtain.
When he got to Vancouver, Jason thought he would have a little bit more time than he did, but things change on the day and that’s a part of the job. To be successful at it, a photographer has to know what to do with the time that they have. Jason’s advice is honest and immediately applicable: “Just adapt.”
Guillermo del Toro and Jason Madara Get Creative for Variety
Creativity comes out of an impulse for freedom. The ability to explore outside conventional constrictions is how we venture into new worlds and understandings. Few filmmakers have worked to open our minds the same way that Guillermo del Toro has. His mind is brought alive on screen time after time in some of the most acclaimed films of the last decade and each time it captures the imaginations of those who watch them, expanding our perception of possibility and the universes we can fathom. Creativity breeds creativity, and as a fan of del Toro’s work, Jason Madara was able to draw on his love for del Toro’s work for his latest cover of Variety.
The direct inspiration that Jason took was from the visual language of Crimson Peak, del Toro’s current film, and Variety was totally on board. They were open to whatever Jason came up with. “That’s one of the things about Variety that I love: it’s just absolute creative freedom,” says Jason. “It can be a double-edged sword because for some people creative freedom means they don't know what to do because no one is telling them what to do. But for me, I love it.” Jason found that there aren’t many portraits of del Toro as a new Hollywood icon so he had the opportunity to set the bar for this iconic filmmaker by striking the right tone. He went straight to the source.
Creating this portrait began with studying del Toro’s work. The energy of the imagery came from del Toro’s style, but the aesthetics were inspired directly by Crimson Peak. “I’m a huge Guillermo del Toro fan, I mean, who isn’t?,” says Jason. “I started researching the film right away, and that lead me to the color palate. And then I watched the trailer about a hundred times and I noticed this reoccurring candelabra, and a particular movement.” Honing in on that color palate, the iconography, and energy provided the creative structure to reveal del Toro’s essence.
The cover image was shot completely in camera. It’s not a composite. Jason took the camera in hand and in a pitch black studio opened the shutter. Then a blue strobe flashed on del Toro’s face very quickly, for something like 1/250th of a second, revealing it as quickly as a normal photograph would. Then, del Toro turned his head to profile and a red flash went off, very quickly again. Only after that did the shutter close, completing a single picture. Another photographer may take two photos and combine them in postproduction, but doing it for real adds elements that even the most seasoned photographer couldn’t plan. “It’s like these two brains connected, these two minds connected,” says Jason. “The Yin and the Yang. There’s something that’s so natural about that. I don’t think I would have come up with the same way to do it digitally. There’s something organic about it that worked out really well. No compositing anywhere on this one.”
The freedom that Variety gave Jason coalesced into two images he shot of del Toro’s workbook. This book is the shadow of del Toro’s imagination, part diary part creative confidant; it is the remainder of his entire body of work. “We didn’t know he was going to bring this book that he brought with him,” Jason explains. “And this is his book. This is the Holy Grail of everything he’s ever written. It’s all his notes going back to early films. Pan’s Labyrinth is in this book. Drawings from Hellboy are in there. It’s all in this book; it’s really cool.” In many ways, this book reflects del Toro himself which is why Jason shot it in the same style as del Toro with the same color and the same energy. At the end of the day, what a creative person has to offer is their work, the value of it measured against how it affects us.
Adding a Human Touch with Jason Madara and Glidden
When Jason Madara got the call from DDB to shoot a campaign for Glidden Paint, the edict was simple: photograph beautiful, lived in rooms painted in Glidden color.
Jason’s experience shooting with clients like ABC Carpet & Home has made him a master of setting a scene so that it’s compelling, injecting life into what could otherwise be expanses of emptiness. Whether it’s gigantic carpets, or in this case, large walls, what might look like negative space to another photographer becomes a canvas of potential in Jason’s hands. “The first thing we needed to do was add dimension and shape. It needed to be three dimensional,” explains Jason. His initial step was to do as much research and collect as much reference material as possible so that he and Creative Director Niko Coutroulis were placing the aesthetic dialogue in context and speaking the same language. Then, working closely with set designer Shawn Anderson, they created a series of compositions that celebrated the future life of the spaces these paints would frame.
Jason, Niko, and Shawn used their own tastes as the benchmark, creating environments that they wanted to inhabit. They investigated how to add humanity to seemingly blank walls. “Humanity was a huge reference,” Jason explains. The stark nature of each image meant that every tiny element was painstakingly chosen to ensure it was a perfect fit. From the texture of a couch to the exact placement of a set of keys, each added prop and angle of crown molding was intrinsically valuable to the final composition and deserved unwavering attention and consideration - at least in its placement. But, every element needed to enhance the images and not distract from the emphasis of the advertisement: showing off the paint. “The art really is the paint. We kept pulling back to ensure the paint was the hero while adding humanity and a feeling that someone really lives in these spaces.” The focus was that balance, tested constantly by Jason and his team. “I wanted to walk into any of these rooms and feel like it’s a very peaceful, serene, beautiful environment and I could live there,” he says.
By taking interest in each piece of the full collaboration, Jason was able to make sure that every piece sang from inception through the final images, and the intense focus paid off: “Glidden loved everything,” Jason says. Every element's perfect place made for just the right tone in a very human execution.
The Individuals of San Francisco by Jason Madara
Any city, any community, is a collection of people. Its make up and status as a destination is reliant upon the people who populate it. Few cities are better known for their people than San Francisco, full of radicals and businessmen, hippies and the old guard. Jason Madara counts himself among the artists of San Francisco, operating his studio out of the City by the Bay. But it was George McCalman, Art Director of McCalmanCo, who proposed they take a look at their community and document the individuals that make San Francisco so unique. Jason and George have been friends for years, even sharing a studio together. The initial conversation for this project, that they call “Individuals,” took place in 2009. It wasn’t until earlier this year, six years later, that they were finally able to get the shoot together.
They brought together a diverse group of artists and entrepreneurs from all over the city, people who had supported Jason, McCalman, and their communities, to be the best representation of what San Francisco is. Photographers, Writer, Chefs, Architects, Designers, Florists. These are the people that stand behind storefronts and prepare the morning coffee. They design the buildings and paint the walls inside them. They are how a city works. “For me and George this is to show the creativity of San Francisco,” explains Jason. “It’s such an amazing, creative place where a lot of people just stay in the shadows. They don’t really come out and be seen. Especially artists.” Because of this project these previously anonymous artists will be seen.
The array of crucial positions that keep the city moving is juxtaposed against the stark and simple backgrounds that Jason and McCalmanCo chose to set the tone. They’re textured sheets and broad white boards, making the faces of these characters pop out so that we see who they are rather than what they represent. In a city of nearly one million inhabitants, it’s easy to forget that every life is unique. But thanks to “Individuals” we’ll never make that mistake.
“Individuals” is an ongoing collaboration between Jason Madara and George McCalman and the shots included here represent the fruits of their first shoot. Jason and George intend to continue documenting the creative people around them with the culminating goal of completing a book. Stay tuned!
Jason Madara Brings Grace to the Unrefined
A Civil War fortress may not be the first imagined location for a rug campaign, but when ABC Carpet & Home needed a setting for their latest project, that’s exactly what they chose. Fort Totten in Queens, New York still maintains a U.S. Army Reserve presence, and one of the most dynamic physical settings in the five boroughs. Jason Madara continues his collaboration with the interior giant, highlighting their new Sunclipse Collection, a series of rugs that draws inspiration from the relationship between the sun and the horizon.
For the images it was all about harmony. On the outset, there were two very different elements that Jason had to bring together into seamless compositions. “We have these beautiful, warm, colorful delicate rugs, and then this hard, stone, green/grey weathered fort. How do you make those two things harmonious together?” asks Jason, rhetorically. “It’s a delicate balance of light and shadow and manipulating light. And making them basically about texture.” That texture is what leaps out of the images. Whether it’s the fine nap of the broad rugs, or the deep, rough façade of Fort Totten, the images are supremely touchable and communicate what is unique about these elements. Each element reflects the internal relationship inherent in each rug: the hard, unmovable horizon and the elegant arc of the sun.
That confluence creates an otherworldly impression. “In reality these carpets would never be in this sort of environment, but in the end they look as if they belong there,” says Jason. “It’s as if this fort, this concrete structure, was made for these rugs." In these compositions, Jason has effectively suspended reality.
Bringing together these two alien elements requires no small amount of wrestling. Many different sources and forms of light had to be carefully balanced to create that harmony. Fort Totten is from a bygone era, the sun playing on its stone windows and doorways like a jungle gym. Each opening was a new source of light that couldn’t be controlled, only managed. As the sun arced across the sky during the shoot, Jason had to constantly adjust and shift the compositions. “This was like race for time on some of these shots,” explains Jason. “So I have to override the sun, which was tough, I had to block it where I could and I had to use it where I could. So it was a constant manipulation of strobe versus sun.” The continual recalibration maintained the harmony he needed.
The success in the creative direction of this campaign is thanks in large part to Angela Gruszka, ABC Carpet & Home’s Director of Marketing. Her conception and direction of the project guided Jason’s creative path, each of them working towards collaborative creative achievement.
Jason Madaraâ€™s Equinox Work Has a Life of its Own
Back in April we revealed the beginning of Jason Madara’s comprehensive reshoot of all Equinox clubs. The relationship between Jason and Equinox is one of trust whose collective vision has enriched as time goes on. It was only a matter of time before the team at Equinox tasked Jason with expanding their collaboration into a larger scope. With the introduction of Equinox’s new fitness app, it was time to bring forth a broader visual vocabulary for Equinox. “[Equinox] saw the interior work and how we kind of created a brand and a look for them, and they wanted me to match that,” says Jason.
Jason was suddenly tasked with shooting interiors, people, and still lifes for a comprehensive examination of Equinox’s app, but that meant translating his interior work into images of people and objects that made sense. “What I did for the interiors they wanted to apply to people,” Jason explains. But that’s easy for him. Rather than tinkering in the minutiae of each discipline, Jason approached them with the same focus and intent. “I started off photographing people, but when I moved to doing other things I didn’t look at it any differently,” says Jason. “Whether it was an interior or a still life, I do the light the same. I don’t change anything.”
Since photography is capturing light, Jason lights his interiors the same way he lights people: with deference to their personality. By approaching spaces and objects the same way he approaches people, an implication of human nature infuses the images and makes them instantly relatable, even though it’s a pair of sneakers and an iPhone. “I don’t care what I’m shooting, I’m try to achieve the same thing,” he says. His lighting puts these objects into a human space, and it makes the viewer take notice.
The goal of the Equinox app is to relate club users to their health in a more effective way. They get to track progress and seamlessly integrate their local club's amenities into their personal process and progress. It was created to affect the lives of their users. And working with Equinox has had an affect on Jason. Their professional interaction has turned personal. “Since I started shooting Equinox, I’ve started taking care of myself so much more. I’m eating better. I’m doing the juice thing now. I’m totally addicted to it,” he says. “I find myself wanting to take care of myself more.” Looks like their relationship was truly mutually beneficial.
Giorgio Moroder by Jason Madara Covers Wired Italy
Wired Italy tapped Jason Madara to take portraits of Giorgio Moroder, the man responsible for the sound of the future – since starting Oasis Records in the seventies.
"I wanted to feature a person who would represent the bridge between our country's tradition and its innovation, and Giorgio emerged as the strongest possibility," said the mag's creative director, David Moretti. "He's been photographed numerous times – everybody recognizes his big mustache – so, we had to think about presenting him in a different way, and one that would speak to our readers." He decided on a film noir-like aesthetic that integrated hues aside from black. "In thinking about photographers who can cleverly combine colors and lighting, I arrived at Jason, whom I'd partnered with before."
For the front of the issue, Moretti imagined the disco-genre pioneer set against a simple, bright background. "I was speaking with Giorgio and I noticed that he had these glasses with his iconic logo (of his own face) on them, and I told him to put them on," Madara recalled. "That logo symbolizes his whole life and it's placed on top of who he is today – and with the sunglasses, I loved the idea of not showing everything, and only providing a glimpse at Giorgio." The interior images really brought out the film noir style. "I had in mind a spread portraying Giorgio as a sort of king standing proud, with this light coming from above," Moretti noted, which Madara achieved through precise backlighting and gels that created a cinematic flare. "I positioned him in that exact stance, looking slightly off-camera, to keep the lighting perfect," the photographer explained. "These are some of the first portraits of him that are truly crafted; almost all of the others out there are more point-and-shoot."
He also caught, as the creative director called it, "Giorgio's beautiful smile." Madara remarked: "I just continued shooting and maybe cracking jokes, and this little smirky thing happened in about three frames ... and one of them worked."
Stephen Wilkes, Jamie Chung, Jason Madara, and Joey L. Featured in PDN Photo Annual
Four Bernstein & Andriulli talents are featured in the 2014 PDN Photo Annual, which showcases the year's best imagery in advertising, magazine and editorial, photojournalism and documentary, corporate design and self-promotion, photo books, personal work, sports, stock, video, student work, and websites.
PDN included both Stephen Wilkes and Jamie Chung in the magazine/editorial category – Wilkes for his picture of the F-35 Lightning II a.k.a. the Joint Strike Fighter situated at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida (which ran in Vanity Fair) and Chung for capturing a series of kaleidoscopic floral compositions that were printed in Document Journal. Jason Madara's 2013-14 campaign for ABC Carpet & Home earned an Advertising mention for blurring the lines between nature and upholstery in a dramatic, yet harmonious environment. Joey L. completed the B&A crew, recognized for his tutorial-rich website.
The winners' work can be viewed in the June issue of Photo District News and online.
Jason Madara Works It Out for Equinox
Equinox Fitness tasked Jason Madara with a "mammoth undertaking," according to the company's art director Timothy Strudwick: photograph each of its 63 clubs for promos. "Some of our interiors hadn't been shot since opening (and entirely lacked assets) and others hadn't been shot for many, many years," Strudwick explained. "Jason and I had a good conversation about the project and we instantly had a great rapport upon meeting at the first club in L.A."
Strudwick and Equinox creative director Liz Nolan sought to depict the beauty of the spaces without showing people. "We wanted to add a human element through light and subtle propping in certain pictures, and what attracted me to Jason's work was not only his lighting, but his use of color – the way he sort of washes hues over certain areas to draw the viewer's eye to another part of the frame," Strudwick said. "For the propping, we didn't want it to become too contrived, so we added little touches, like a hand towel draped over a railing, as a reminder that as beautiful and luxurious as these spaces look, there's still a warmth to them ... people use them."
Thirteen clubs in, Madara is "at the point where he reads my mind," Strudwick remarked. "My input on set is fine-tuned ... there's little things I want to work in, but generally, we know the shot the minute we see it."
Madara cited an image of a yoga room at the Downtown L.A. location as a favorite: "That was done with long exposures and ambient light ... I love that picture because it feels quiet, but it's not your typical yoga room – with Los Angeles right outside the window. I used some of the street light to bring the outdoor mood inside." He also mentioned his photo of the Equinox placard in West Hollywood. "It was the second shot that I did at the very first club. It's always nice to get the sign when I can, and this incorporates where the club is – Sunset Boulevard is such an iconic place."
To capture the ten or twelve images per location, Madara and Strudwick scout for one day and shoot for two days, working partly at night when the clubs are empty. "We've figured out a way to do this with minimal equipment – shooting everything on a tripod and occasionally using a strobe or hiding LED lights in the scene," Madara noted. "The main challenge is ... I've done thirteen yoga rooms so far, thirteen bike rooms, and I go in and say, 'How can I do this in a completely new way?' It's through lighting and pushing the composition. I'm lucky to have Liz and Timothy embrace the way I work."
As his measure of success, Madara offered, "When we're done with the 63 clubs, could we make a book and would this book be beautiful, regardless of the subject matter?" His answer is yes.