March, 2017

rj muna’s portraits of lines ballet dancers

RJ Muna’s latest project for Alonzo King LINES Ballet was to create an elegant series of black and white portraits of each of the company’s dancers.

When you look at a theater program, the portraits of the dancers usually aren’t much more interesting than a driver’s license photo—a small black and white headshot. RJ wanted to do something better. A classical portrait, that also gives a sense of who the subject is, as a person and as a dancer.

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Large companies like the San Francisco Ballet are made up of their principal dancers and the corps de ballet. People who frequent the ballet have their favorite dancers, so when dancers are photographed, the company generally wants to capture not only the dance but also the personality of the dancer.

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I’m always told, I want to see the dancer’s face. Sometimes there’s a beautiful image, but we won’t use it because it doesn’t identify the person,” said RJ.

LINES Ballet, like many of the other modern companies, only has a dozen or so dancers, who generally dance as an ensemble that works together—it’s rare to see only one or two people on the stage at a time—but still, the company wants their dancers to be recognizable.

We wanted these portraits to be very formal, very classical, which is where the background and the lighting came in. But we also wanted the portraits to identify them as dancers. A big part of being a dancer is the way they move, the way they hold themselves, the way they carry their hands,” RJ explained.

So they decided to bring in the arms and hands, allowing the dancers to work with their hands in a way that is natural—and unique—to each of them.

It’s not terribly natural for us, but what they do, they do because of years of training that includes how to hold their hands when they’re performing. It is second nature for them, it’s something they don’t think about. And that was part of what I was trying to tap into with this series of images,” he said.

While RJ is well known for his work with high-end automotive photography, he’s been shooting dancers and performance artists for years. RJ has been shooting the advertising and promotional images for LINES Ballet since 2009.

Of course, dancers are natural subjects because they’re trained to create visual space, but my interest in photographing dance goes back to my background; in a long past life, I was a gymnast in high school. I’ve always been very interested in movement. The sense of precision and accuracy of movement that is involved with dance is very appealing,” said RJ.

Like the rest of the performance community, dance is an ephemeral art. Except through photography or video, it doesn’t have a life beyond the moment it was created the way that a painting or sculpture (or photograph) does.

I shoot dance because I enjoy it, and it’s a way to give back to my community, to support the artists, the company, and the local arts scene.

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RJ is also interested in the ideas behind dance. Whether they are political, emotional, or social, every piece is always about something.

There’s a concept that they are trying to portray through movement, and it becomes my job to figure out how to portray that concept in movement in pictures. Photographing dance, on the one hand, is a bit of an intellectual exercise, and on the other, it’s just this beautiful thing, and my challenge is how to capture it.

RJ’s work with the LINES dancers and other performance artists is both a welcome respite from his commercial work, and also influences his work with cars—and vice versa. Like car photography, with dance, RJ said it’s important to understand the thing you’re shooting; if you don’t understand it, you’ll always miss the picture.

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The precision of lighting it takes to shoot a car, I bring that to shooting dance. And the sense of line and form I get from working with dancers, I take that back to cars. Everything influences everything else. We talked before about how dancers carry themselves; that’s built into the design of a car as well. I don’t want to be so singular in my vision that that’s all I see. The more I study people, the better I am at shooting cars.

shaun fenn shoots for charles schwab

Shaun Fenn says a number of his clients come to him because they like his editorial approach to shooting, which is precisely how he recently teamed up with Charles Schwab.

They had been working with another photographer for a handful of years and were ready to change direction, from something that was fairly corporate, to something a little bit looser and more active. We were super excited for the opportunity,” said Shaun.

The assignment was to create an image library that would be used for a variety of applications. There were three dozen scenes on the shot list, from mountain biking to fishing to technology-driven scenes.

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There weren’t a lot of parameters. We were bound by budget and time, but that’s it. Basically, they said, ‘We want you to tell this story, these are the scenarios we want you to communicate—go,’” Shaun recalled.

For the ease of logistics and budget, Shaun and his team headed up to Lake Tahoe, an area he knows particularly well. They shot 10 images a day over a three day shoot.

There was a long laundry list, but we’re comfortable with that, and it fits our style well. One minute we were flying down on mountain bikes, the next minute we had scuba gear on underwater in the lake, the next minute we were rock climbing sheer cliffs. It was super fast.

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Shaun credits his producer Darcy Diamond for keeping the whole thing on track.

These types of shoots can be a logistical nightmare. There are boats and boards and bikes. All this stuff is following us around. Darcy is fantastic. She and her team don’t just keep up, they are consistently one or more steps ahead.

In order to achieve the kind of authenticity the client wanted, Shaun felt it important to cast a mix of locals and models. “A lot of clients want real people so that the shot is authentic. They need to be interesting and good looking, but they can’t be too beautiful, and they have to move like real people. We’re active out here on the West Coast, we do a lot of sports, and we needed people who look natural in the scenes.”

The client wanted to include a beautiful but non-typical vehicle of some sort. It so happened that an employee at the company had a wonderful old VW bus in mint condition. The family drove it up, and when they arrived, Shaun took one look at the owner and his wife and two little girls and put them in the shot.

If we had used a model family in that shot, it would have been hard to get the kind of warmth and emotion that we did—the husband kissing the wife while the daughter mimics the kiss. You couldn’t get a moment that authentic with models. It’s one of my favorite shots I’ve ever taken,” said Shaun.

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Shaun worked directly with creative director Nina Harris and art buyer Stephen Lazar at Charles Schwab. Later this year, they plan to head up to Oregon to shoot a second library of images.

I think coming from an editorial approach sharpens your visual instincts. You’re constantly forced into a situation that you need to make something wonderful out of. You learn to always be on the lookout for the natural magic of the moment. On some commercial jobs, it can be easy to get locked into a scenario. You’ll spend a ton of time trying to make it look authentic and it never will. We work on our feet really well, and I think that comes through in the imagery,” said Shaun.

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A big thank you to Stephen and Nina for the opportunity, and to Darcy and her team at Production Squad for the A+ production support. We can’t wait for the next shoot!

rj muna wins big at graphis 2017 photo awards

Congratulations RJ Muna, for your big win in the 2017 Graphis Photo Awards. A total of 16 images were recognized across 5 Gold and 2 Silver awards.

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jim salzano heads to the workshop at macy’s

Macy’s is a long-time client of James Salzano, but he recently got an assignment that was a little bit different. Jim usually shoots video in tandem with stills for a whole variety of campaigns. The Workshop at Macy’s is a business development program launched in 2011 to give select high potential minority and female business owners the tools to better succeed and sustain growth in the retail industry. James was asked to shoot four print ads in Macy’s 150,000-square-foot studio in Long Island City.

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Macy’s asked if I could come out to their factory building to see if it would work. They have an entire floor with offices, lounges and studios. I thought, ‘Where would we ever find anything this good all on one floor.’ It was a fantastic opportunity,” said Jim.

Beyond shooting four images in a particular location, there weren’t a whole lot of parameters.

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They wanted the images to be bright and airy and look like work environments. We had to build each set. The shot with the pottery, we brought all of that in. ‘Think bigger’ and ‘Dare to plan’ were shot in the same space; we just redressed it. We started with the more complicated shots, saving the easier ones for the end of the day,” Jim explained.

They were able to shoot all four images in a single day thanks to the support of two different teams—one working on set and another prepping the next shot.

The images are so simple, but there was a lot of prepping done on each environment. The creative team wanted it to look like we just walked into an actual existing work space, but they were all fabricated with props. It really was an effort to get those different, natural looks.

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Jim typically works directly with Macy’s, which has its own in-house creative team.

It’s always fun to work with Macy’s; they have such a wonderful energy. I just finished a video piece with 19 employees from around the world. It was great to hear how much everyone loves the company and they’re so committed to what they do—that kind of passion is always nice to be around. The magic of Macy’s, it really comes though.” said Jim.

A very special thank you to Michele, Rick and Joe for the opportunity and continued collaboration.