August, 2018

shaun fenn hits the courts for usta

Shaun Fenn says any excuse to photograph sports is fine by him. For the past two years, he’s been working with the United States Tennis Association to create a custom library of images to use across their website and advertising platforms.

He was brought into the project by Wunderman to shoot fresh, healthy imagery for the USTA’s Net Generation, a program to promote tennis to a broader demographic of youth. Net Gen aims to help kids build skills and character on and off the court while creating a new generation of lifelong players.

They shot in L.A., first in a very urban environment, shooting chain-link everyday tennis, and later in an elegant private club, shooting the more typical upscale version of tennis. In both cases, the goal was to make tennis feel accessible to any player.


For this year’s revamp of the USTA’s primary website, Shaun took a larger creative role in the project, collaborating earlier on directly with the USTA to develop scenarios and scout potential locations.

The in-house team at USTA was comfortable that we were on-brand and aligned stylistically, so we were given a lot more freedom to generate work for the website revamp that met the needs of the USTA both creatively and technically,” said Shaun.

Shaun’s emphasis on creating authentic imagery combining humanity and active lifestyle has created the positive reaction to his work. Shaun and his team focus from the beginning on the details to set their projects up for success. “It really comes down to preparation and planning for these large commercial projects. This attention to detail up front allows us to really focus on creativity on set while maximizing productivity for our clients,” says Shaun.

“Once we are on set and we are collaborating with our creative team, we tend to work at a pretty aggressive pace. Everything that has been put in place – because of our years of experience – is developed to help support our creative process. The earlier we can engage with the client the better, because they can really leverage our expertise with large productions.”

While sports like sailing and surfing are inherently sexy with bright colors, a gorgeous blue backdrop, and a ton of action, tennis is not an easy subject to shoot. There’s no dimension. There’s no location. The court is surrounded by walls. It’s basically a big, green cubical.

There’s probably nothing tougher to shoot than a cubical,” laughed Shaun. “But for me, it’s a really fun creative challenge to work on scenarios which are more common everyday and make them look aspirational and inspirational. It just seems our sweet spot is working to get believable, authentic images which feel like they have some depth to them. Getting to work on projects like USTA which include outdoors and athletics are just an absolute bonus!”

randal ford for texas monthly

As a rookie photographer, shooting covers for Texas Monthly was the gold standard of photography assignments.

Texas Monthly has always been really respected for their photography and design aesthetic. A lot of the photographers I looked up to 10 years ago were shooting covers for Texas Monthly, and I thought, that’s what I want to do,” said Randal.

A decade or so later, and his 22nd and 23rd covers, May and August 2018 respectively, have been beautifying newsstands across the Lone Star State.

Texas Monthly is a client near and dear to my heart. I feel honored every time they ask me to shoot for them.

For the 300-year anniversary of the city of San Antonio, the magazine asked Randal to shoot resident artist Cruz Ortiz in front of the iconic Mission Concepción. The city’s five 18th-century Spanish missions make up the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ortiz is known for his colorful, playful plein air style of painting, and uses his work to address issues related to his experiences growing up in the bicultural landscape of South Texas.

I loved the idea of the modern folk art painting of a historic old world mission in the background. It’s such a simple but powerful concept. I wanted to shoot the image using natural light to allow the subject matter tell the story,” said Randal.

Over the course of the shoot, Ortiz created two very different paintings. The first take was in the mid-afternoon when the sun was higher and harsher. The second was later in the evening as the sun was going down.

It was amazing to see how fast he works. I’ve never seen anyone paint on location the way he does. Even though he has this particular folk art style, as the lighting changed, so did the tone and style of the painting. As a photographer, that was very cool to see, and I really enjoyed learning about his process,” recalled Randal.

The August 2018 Small Town Revival issue of Texas Monthly featured the new demographic in the Texas barbeque capital of Lockhart. Road infrastructure updates have cut the travel time from Austin to Lockhart in half making this once sleepy town into the hippest new suburb of Austin.

The story is about hipsters moving into small towns across Texas and peacefully coexisting with the folks who have been there forever. It’s two different styles of life that are merging together, and it seems to be going really well,” explained Randal.

The shoot was on a scorching July afternoon just after the fourth of July. The Pearl is a classic Texas shotgun-style bar. The building is more than 120 years old, and it has been a bar for most of that time. The newly renovated space reopened as a cocktail and wine bar featuring live music with old-time Texas flair.

The Pearl still had their festive red, white, and blue flags of above the windows. It was so Rockwellian, classic small-town Americana. Those flags really made the shot,” said Randal.

jim salzano on the front lines with tony vaccaro

When Jim Salzano got the call to shoot a short video interview featuring photographer Tony Vaccaro, he didn’t know who he was. “And I know a lot about photography,” Jim laughed.

The assignment was from long-time client Hallowed Ground, the publication of the American Battlefield Trust. Jim has shot several pieces for the magazine, which primarily features stories about the Revolutionary War and Civil War. Long-time collaborator, creative director Jeff Griffith wanted to do a video series interviewing battlefield photographers from different conflicts.

Tony Vaccaro is best known for the 8,000 photographs he took during the last year of World War II—of action on the front line and portraits of the men with whom he served. But what’s most interesting is that Vaccaro wasn’t assigned to the 83rd Infantry Division as a photographer.

A 21-year-old draftee with a passion for photography, he took an Argus C3 35mm camera with him to Europe. Compelled by compassion for what was happening in Europe, Vaccaro took it upon himself to document what he saw.

The Army said to him, ‘If you want to take pictures, that’s fine, knock yourself out, but you’re a soldier first.’ They didn’t realize how talented he was—technically and aesthetically sharp,” explained Jim.

The assignment from Hallowed Ground was for a live-action piece, but Jim also wanted to do a portrait.

Going to the studio was really amazing. He took his jacket off and put his little smock on. I thought, ‘This guy is such a master.’ I thought it would be a little intimidating to shoot him but he’s just such a naturally relaxed guy, and it really comes through,” recalled Jim.

© James Salzano

The image he’s holding is one of his most famous from WWII, of a soldier kissing a little French girl during a spontaneous celebration in St. Briac, France, in August 1944. Years later, Vaccaro went back to France and reconnected with the two women dancing in the background of the photo.

Being a soldier first and then making a decision to photograph as the conflict was happening is one of the reasons his imagery of WWII is so powerful. An important photograph from that collection is called The Last Step. It was taken as one of the men he was fighting with was running across a field. As Vaccaro was photographing him, a mortar round went off in front of his subject. Vaccaro captured the image at the moment of death.

During the war, he wanted to dignify these men who were giving up their lives every day. He was always concerned about people’s feelings, about how he could make a great picture and portray them with the most dignity possible. Even after the war, he always came back to the idea of compassion and dignity. He continues to carry that through his life, personally and professionally,” said Jim.

Vaccaro went on to have a successful career as a fashion and lifestyle photographer in the decades after the war. He shot for Life, Newsweek, Harper’s Bazaar, and Town & Country. His subjects include Marcel Marceau, Marlene Dietrich, Frank Lloyd Wright, and John F. Kennedy. He’s won dozens of awards and published half a dozen books of photography, but somehow, he remains relatively unknown.

His portraits of Picasso and Sophia Loren are on the wall next to his desk. You look at these pictures, and it’s as if Arnold Newman or Irving Penn or Horst took them. The portraits he took of the men in his battalion look like the work of August Sander. The breadth of his style and versatility is just amazing,” said Jim.

Now 95, Vaccaro is long retired from professional photography, but he still likes to take pictures. “He was taking pictures of us while we were shooting him,” said Jim. He has been featured in the HBO Films documentary “Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro” and regularly exhibits in small galleries in the U.S. and Europe. Jim’s piece for Hallowed Ground will be released in mid-2019.

L to R: Creative Director Jeff Griffith, Photographers Tony Vaccaro and Jim Salzano at Tony’s New York studio