• 5.4.16   Tatiana Plakhova Reaches the Stars with Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner

    In Carl Sagan’s classic ‘Contact,’ he says, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” The universe’s vastness far outpaces the human imagination, and it’s not only likely that there’s other life out there, it’s a statistical certainty. The question isn’t if they’re out there, the question is where they are. And how far away they are. Because of the limits of our current technology, it takes us an incredible amount of time to cross the distances required to find the next living forms. So, Stephen Hawking is teaming up with Yuri Milner to bridge that gap. In an effort called ‘Breakthrough Starshot,’ they’re using non-traditional technologies to rocket our species’ introduction across the stars, and they asked Tatiana Plakhovha to help them announce it with Mark Zuckerberg. She created an image that both Hawking and Zuckerberg shared on their personal Facebook pages explaining the project, and it was a total thrill for Tatiana. “I was happy as a child when I saw my image on Stephen Hawking’s and Mark Zuckerberg’s profiles!,” says Tatiana. “Then people told me this image was shown in all the world news.” Creating imagery that is true to incredible science while satisfying minds like Hawking and Milner isn’t easy. Tatiana’s work strikes a balance between science fiction and abstraction, but tied to something like Breakthrough Starshot, Tatiana went a little more literal. To spread the Earth’s message, they’re going to create a “fleet” of “nanocraft” that can rocked towards Alpha Centauri at 100 million miles per hour, reaching our nearest star in only 20 years. They’ll achieve this by creating space sails that rather than wind will catch light from an array of laser beams. Tatiana’s image shows these space sails in incredible formation as they’re blown away from the Earth. As a native Russian, space has always been an interest of Tatiana’s, reaching all the way back to her childhood. “I’m extremely interested in space exploration,” says Tatiana. “Like many Soviet Union children I was deeply inspired by Gagarin’s flight. I even played a game with my friends for a few years; we would sit in my room near the window, pretending that we’re flying in a cosmic ship. That was really fun.” As the future comes closer to us by the day, galactic exploration and travel is almost within reach for us. What was once a child’s game is very much turning into a reality. We just have to grab onto it. Check out Tatiana’s illustration on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile here, and on Steven Hawking’s here.
  • 5.6.16   Get Nesty with Olaf Hajek and Leolux

    One of our deepest human impulses is the desire to nest: to create a cozy and safe living space around ourselves. It’s a ritual that comes from an evolutionary imperative to keep the next generation safe, but in the modern world it’s spread out to touch everyone whether they’re a parent or not. We want to make sure our spaces are our own, with our own personalities and sensibilities. That’s exactly what Olaf Hajek tapped into for his latest collaboration with European furniture giant Leolux. The design company is wildly popular in Europe, and they’re also a great supporter of the arts. Every few years they link up with a new artist to help them shepherd their public creative identity, and right now the collaboration with Olaf is just starting to roll out. The nesting impulse is what inspired Olaf for the Leolux this round, drawing a direct comparison to the reality of birds building literal nests. One of the paintings features a Marie Antoinette character with the regality that Leolux infuses into their own creative direction. But for Olaf, he saw her tall hair as an opportunity. “The idea is to build a nest and when you look at this she has a nest in her hair,” Olaf says. “They build up the nest in her hair and when you look at the birds they have little houses.” The interplay between nesting and housing is all over the imagery, from actual nests inside the larger hair next, to the small birdhouses, all the way to a laundry line drying a set of sheets. For now, Olaf sees this as being the heart of the work he’s going to create for Leolux, but the door is wide open since the collaboration will last for years. The images you see now will be used for invitations, magazines, and industry trade shows. But writ large they’re the result of compounding inspiration where furniture and creative expression meet. In the best case scenario a home, a nest, is a source of inspiration. For Olaf, it needs to be.
  • 5.5.16   Fighting ISIS: Joey L's Insight and Vanity Fair Italia

    It's hard to find trust in a war zone, especially if it's a war whose realities are almost entirely misunderstood at home. When Joey L first traveled to the Middle East to embed with the YPG (People's Protection Units), it took him a while to warm up to the war zone, and understandably so. It's not like what you read in the paper. Well, it is, but it's one thing to read about a firefight and something completely different to be in it. Joey recently returned to the conflict areas towards the end of 2015, spending a month and a half photographing the the newly formed alliance "Syrian Democratic Forces" in Syria. These are the people fighting ISIS and each of these groups has their own power structures, their own brigades, and their own goals. Joey’s goal is to get as big of a picture of these people as possible, but this month Vanity Fair Italia is running eight of Joey's images in an attempt to help us all understand better what's happening in the fight against ISIS. “Even to this day I don’t try to pretend to be some hardcore photojournalist who’s not afraid of anything,” Joey explains. “These groups really have their stuff figured out and they’re well organized, they’re not just a bunch of rag-tag guerrilla fighters that hit and then run away. They have frontlines, several resistance lines, and exit strategies.” As the American presumptions of what a “rebel” is fell away, Joey was able to relax a little into the flow of what he was seeing and doing. That didn’t mean it wasn’t an easy place to be, of course. “A lot of things you see are quite frankly terrifying,” Joey reminds us, but it did allow him to focus on photographing his subjects so he could bring the story back for us to understand better. There’s so much more that goes into fighting a real war than firing bullets. There’s minesweeping after taking over cities, and life at the base. There’s cleaning weapons and cooking lunch. There’s life. When journalists come through for just a few days they don’t typically get the full picture. Joey’s extended stay offers a view of what it’s really like for the rebels in a way we don’t typically get to see. But this commitment has compounded in on itself. His access has made it able for him to tell a richer story, which in turn builds trust and gets him even more honest access. “After my first trip, the spokesman/commander for YPG shared my video on his Facebook page,” Joey says. “All his forces saw it and they all know about it so when I went back he was the first person that we reached out to and he helped facilitate more access. I was seeing a lot more things because they trusted me to be honest about what I observed and tell the real story.” There’s an international effort to discredit these forces, with propaganda coming out of Turkey and ISIS. But Joey is committed to showing the truth of what he sees. After everything that Joey has seen and learned he gets why America's plan is what it is. It makes sense to go full force after ISIS right now, but that plan has its limits. ISIS is causing the most damage right this moment, but if they're rooted out our problems don't end. It's far more complicated than that. ISIS rose in a power vacuum whose solution is political. “[The US] also has to honor political projects of the Syrian Democratic Forces and give special attention to what they plan to do afterwards,” explains Joey. It’s one thing to understand a war from clips on the nightly news and from Presidential candidates on the stump, but something completely different on the ground. As Joey says, it's not crucial that everyone on American soil understand everything that's happening in the Middle East, even in wars being fought in our name. But if we refuse to examine any complexities or refuse, to support systems that are different than ours, we can expect this fight to go on for a very, very long time. You can find the Joey L Vanity Fair Italia story here.
  • 4.28.16   Tristan Eaton and Jeff Soto Team Up with Converse for Good

    Bringing art home always makes us feel good, but did you know it can make others feel good too? This year, Converse’s Lovejoy Art Program teamed up with 22 global established and emerging artists to create 48 original pieces of work that would be put up for auction. Tristan Eaton and Jeff Soto are a part of this impressive roster whose pieces are now available for bid at Paddle8.com.  The auctions are set up to benefit Artists for Humanity, a Boston based non-profit that focuses on job training for underprivileged youth. Their whole mission is to create a sustainable pipeline for kids who are interested in building careers that they might otherwise not have access to. Artists for Humanity is in the middle of a massive expansion, and the proceeds from this auction will help to build the future of this organization.  “At Converse we owe so much to artists and their abundant creativity,” says David Carrewyn, Global Creative Brand Director at Converse. “The Converse Lovejoy Art Program is an amazing opportunity for us to both give back to the creative community and offer all artists a platform to showcase their work. We’re proud to host our first auction to benefit the great work Artists for Humanity does in Boston and look forward to continuing this program next year.” Before Converse lets go of all this incredible work, they’ve hung it in their Boston headquarters to soak up the inspiration and creativity for their own employees. We think of sneaker brands as being places where technology meets the road, but everyone at Converse is trying to push the boundaries wherever they can and look to artists like Jeff Soto and Tristan Eaton to help them think about their processes in new ways. Converse is already benefiting from having this art all around them, and now you can too (while at the same time benefiting Artists for Humanity).  Both Tristan and Jeff’s work is still available to be bid on at Paddle8.com until Monday, May 2. You can find Tristan Eaton’s ‘Against All Odds’ here, and Jeff Soto’s “Distant Sounds in the Night” here. The rest of the work as a part of Converse’s auction are here.
  • 4.28.16   History and Texture with Rachel Stickley

    Our history is woven into every stitch of denim. Columbus’ sails that carried his ship across the Atlantic were denim, and Southern soil was resplendent with indigo plants in the centuries after. Few colors have the kind of rich history that indigo has and nothing says heritage better than denim. It is always in style, so it’s no wonder that Women’s Wear Daily just published a feature on what’s trending in denim and tapped Rachel Stickley to help visualize what the most creative minds in the industry are coming up with. Rachel’s styling goes against convention when it comes to thinking about apparel. Shrugging off the tradition of buttoning up models into clothes, Rachel has set the pieces up in a sort of origami showcase, utilizing textured white surfaces to highlight the shapes and feel of the cloth. The natural colors of the fabrics echo off the stark white base, highlighting how Rachel has arranged and folded them, displaying character and giving each article its own personality. 
  • 5.3.16   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.
  • 5.2.16   He's Back! Marc Hom and the Return of Jon Snow

    Marc Hom continued his blockbuster collaboration between Entertainment Weekly and Game of Thrones with the incredible exclusive story on this week’s episode of the HBO show. Fan favorite Jon Snow was killed off at the end of last season, creating a cliffhanger that no one expected. But, on the second episode this season, Jon thundered back to life in a move that many were too afraid to hope for. Kit Harrigton, the actor who plays Jon on the show, covers Entertainment Weekly this week in a shoot with Marc Hom to announce that Jon Snow is alive.  For all intents and purposes.  We won’t get into all the complexities, but there are still a lot of questions that the show will hopefully answer in the coming season. For Marc, this shoot was really refreshing. He’s photographed the Game of Thrones cast many times before, but this was the first time he got Kit Harington as Kit Harington. This was about connecting with the actor and not the character, and Marc was thrilled to do that. “It was very nice to work with him on something that was not in costume,” says Marc. “It was just about capturing him more than the character, basically. So that was very nice and it was cool. And I think that not having to have a reference to the show makes it kind of a bit more fresh.”  When Jon Snow died last season, fans were horrified to think that the only taste of Jon they’d ever get again would be watching Harington play other characters while grieving for their favorite character. Marc gives us Harington, but for now at least, we get more Jon as well. Until, of course, we don’t. Valar Morghulis.
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