Monica May Gets Active with Reebok and Gigi Hadid
Athleisure changed the way consumers think about what streetwear can be, bringing a more active energy into the every day, but the other side is that it demands a more polished look at the gym. Luckily for Reebok they’ve got Gigi Hadid on the case. She was one of the pioneers of Athleisure and the perfect spokesperson to show off what Reebok is up to. For their Spring/Summer 2017 campaign, Reebok needed a photographer who could give them all the imagery while straddling multiple aesthetics and bringing it all together into a single story. Monica May was the perfect partner. “[Reebok] wanted to transition these into different things. There were a couple of outfits that were strictly workout but then also because it’s Gigi Hadid they could transition into something more lifestyle,” says Monica. “We wanted it to feel cinematic, we wanted to transition from what they had shot before into Spring/Summer and have the space feel light and airy and also be able to capture a mood.” Monica and Reebok concepted a hugely broad campaign but kept it all in one physical location, starring only Gigi. And it wasn’t limiting at all.
To pull it all off Monica needed her subject to be present, active, and available in every moment. That’s precisely what Gigi offered Monica, keeping the shoot moving so they could get every possible image. “She was great, she was such a delight, she was a lot of fun and she came in with a lot of energy,” says Monica. “There were so many shots and so many outfits that came through the client and came through the agency but in terms of the overall vibe and energy she was so sweet and I think that’s what made for a really great shoot.” Gigi is more than just a model: she’s an international icon whose influence reaches into fashion, athletics, and art. Monica activated each of those elements to reveal the full range of what Reebok has to offer.
In order to show everything Reebok created for the season, Monica wrangled a bevy of disparate elements, keeping the logistical demands moving, and letting that play in the background while she captured exquisite imagery. “That comes from really making sure that you’re as prepared as possible. It’s all that prep work that was the challenge,” Monica says. “But it went really well and the timing went really well and we were able to sneak in some extra shots that they wanted, and got [Gigi] in on time and got her out when we were supposed to!” Even with the impressive needs of Reebok and the client, plus working with one of the most in demands names in the world, Monica was able to balance all of it and bring images that are energetic, intimate, and fun.
Monica May Gives a Complete Picture for adidas
Our bodies are tools. They help us accomplish our goals in this world, and like tools they can be honed and sharpened. Multinational sport and lifestyle brand adidas has made an incredible push in the last year by expanding their consumer base, but they’re stepping it up in a sector that may be a surprise to some people: yoga. This year they’ve teamed up with Wanderlust to help their customers recognize the benefits of yoga and meditation, activities that are wildly popular but normally separate from mass-market athletics. They asked Monica May to join them on a retreat and document what happened, in the most beautiful way possible. What we see here is a collection of that experience on Oahu.
As a brand, Wanderlust creates experiences for their customers to help them explore the softer side of athletics. They lead yoga classes, meditations, runs, and group classes that focus on a more mentally centric way of working out. Monica followed the group around for a week in Hawaii showing off what she found. For Monica and adidas it was less about conforming her work to a shot list and more about creating an identity and a feeling. In order to develop that sense of authenticity, nothing from this shoot is faked. They certainly worked to create the best environment possible to get the best photographs but if you see a model running, she’s really running. If she looks meditative in the image, that’s because she really was. This is how a photographer best communicates to the world: by telling the truth.
There are not a ton of female photographers who photograph sports. But Monica doesn’t let that define her. “I do so many other things,” she reminds us. And she does. In just this single shoot with adidas for Wanderlust it’s a complete blend of sport, lifestyle, and fashion. Each of those elements cascades over every photograph, creating an impossible balance that she strikes expertly.
Keeping Surprises Alive with Monica May and Aubrey Plaza
Before Aubrey Plaza appeared on Parks and Recreation she had done some TV and film work, but nothing that prepared us for her turn as April Ludgate that would go on to solidify her as one of the most exciting young talents in comedy. Her unique ability to combine biting sarcasm with openhearted generosity has caused millions to fall in love with her. She’s accessible, compelling, and riotously funny, making her a unique but inspired choice as a model for high fashion. Monica May met up with Aubrey at a comedy club in Los Angeles for a Yahoo Style shoot with rich Hollywood inspiration. “The ladies at Yahoo Style come up with some loose concepts about what they’re doing, and they wanted to shoot in the comedy club with her and wanted to try and get a sense of her being on stage,” says Monica. “So some of their references were an older, like a 1970s look for comedy performances, and also looks that felt cinematic in nature.” It was a natural creative line, but as soon as Monica arrived there was a bit of a surprise.
“The one thing I didn’t expect, which was cool in the end, was that everything in that entire place is painted black,” says Monica. “The floors are black, the ceilings are black, all the walls are black. Other than that one small dressing room and the stage, everything was painted black. It worked for the mood. It played in the cinematic inspiration so within that I could kind of mess around.” The darkness of the images make Audrey pop, turning the photographs into a play of texture and light. It makes each composition feel consistent from one to the next. The two exceptions were the bright red curtains on stage and the graffitied walls of the dressing room, adding just the right mix of visual variation.
The one thing you won’t be able to tell from the photographs is that during the shoot Aubrey was recovering from an injury. She had just gotten surgery on her ACL and as a result had limited mobility. But for Monica, that was just a small obstacle to work around, and together they found a way to succeed. “It was just about making sure that I could be as quick as possible and make her feel as comfortable as possible, but it was a really positive experience,” says Monica. “She’s totally awesome. It was a good day.” Every project presents surprises, but what matters is how the people involved approach them and let them shape the results in a positive way.
Monica May Enters a Writer's Space for T Magazine
It’s almost understandable for the public to feel like they own actors. These are the faces that we relate to in the stories we absorb in theaters and in our homes. They feel like friends, and then their private lives are splashed across gossip blogs and newspapers. We know their intimate details better than we know our neighbors’. But the writers that create their stories are far more elusive. They’re rarely seen unless they also direct their work, or have reached celebrity status for their own unique abilities. In the latest issue of T Magazine, Monica May caught up with six screenwriters who are on the top of their game.
“T Magazine wanted environmental portraits, and the very first person that I shot for this was Aaron Sorkin,” says Monica. The original idea was to use spaces that meant a lot to the subjects, but circumstances change as they always do on shoots with this kind of scope, and Monica found herself in places that she wasn’t expecting. She wanted to keep the same sort of feel that T asked for in the first place, so she found a way in each circumstance to make the space as much of a character in the images as the subjects. For Sorkin they shot at the Four Seasons hotel. Often, hotels feel impersonal so it was up to Monica to change that. “That image sort of set the tone with how the environments were going to be. Since they’re all screenwriters, and most of them are also directors, I thought it might be cool to make these photos sort of feel like a film still. So that this could feel like it was part of a broader story.” They ended up putting plastic sheeting down because they weren’t happy with the carpet, and it added a new element that contributed to the otherworldly feeling of the image.
Each of her subjects were incredibly busy, and Monica was always working around their intense schedules. “Iñárritu had to be shot at Universal because he was still in the process of the sound for The Revenant. I mean, the debut is Christmas Day. The scheduled hour ended up turning into 15 minutes because he had to get back to work,” explains Monica. They shot the photograph in an elevator inside Universal Studios because locations were limited. The Studio was active, so there weren’t a ton of places they could go that weren’t teeming with people. Luckily they were able to get their hands on an elevator that could be stopped while they shot inside it. As a result, the picture takes on a feeling of a moment in between. In a transition space where riders usually enjoy stillness between floors, Iñárritu was literally in the process of intense work and allowed the shoot to be a quiet moment in the busy of his day.
For most viewers, the biggest surprise addition may be Amy Schumer. Most people know her for her comedy, but don’t realize she also writes for the screen. “Amy was great. I think she was a real trooper. She had flown in the night before from a performance that she did in Dallas, and I don’t think she got in until late, late at night in LA,” says Monica. “In the end you just want someone to be present for the time that you have them.” And Amy was. In the photograph, her energy fills the space, making it feel public and private at the same time, straddling the line that Monica was walking.
Monica May Helps Russian Athletes Find Their Power with Nike
When Monica May landed in Moscow for her latest shoot with Nike, she arrived with a clear mind. “I didn’t quite know what to expect,” she says. The culture in Russia is entirely different from America, and that’s partially why she was there. The Russian idea of what a young girl could hope to grow up to be is traditional if outdated. So Monica arrived to help Nike change the minds of young Russian women, using their world-class athletes as examples in a new series of advertisements that show off their individuality and unique strengths.
“It’s about each individual athlete that’s doing their thing,” says Monica explaining the spot. “We wanted to try to convey that these women are really strong. No matter what they’re doing while they’re practicing their sport, they’re going to persevere.” Whether it’s sparring with an opponent, running through nearly impossible choreography, or remaining in a mind-bending yoga pose, each of these athletes are operating at the top of their level and encountering the incredible challenges that one only finds at the apex of their study.
They are taken to the edge of being beaten by their opponents or their own self-doubt. We see their moments of reflection where they consider what giving up or succumbing to outside forces would mean. But in those dark moments, when all seems lost, when surrender is the easiest route, they choose to go in the other direction: the path of strength. "What are you doing here?" boxer Kat Izotova asks herself after taking a stunning blow to the face. “You could have stayed at home, been someone's trophy…. Screw that. I'll earn my own trophy.” She powers back and overtakes her opponent.
“All these ads were about overcoming things that would normally get you down, or things that aren’t traditionally girly, or things you need to persevere through,” says Monica. “You can literally go out and do what you want to do.” In many ways, Monica and Nike are popularizing the powerful female for a whole new generation of young Russian women with dreams. They’re proving that these dreams are attainable.
Bernstein & Andriulli is thrilled to welcome Monica May as a new addition to our roster. Take a look at the spots described here, and head on over to her page to see her entire portfolio.