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.