Todd Baxter Is Chicago’s Best Photographer

Seriously.  At least to me.

Yesterday, the news broke that I was leaving Element 79 for the CCO job at OLSON in Minneapolis.  As part of this transition, I needed to take a press photo.  A tough gig given I’m a writer, not a model.

Despite my new employer hiring a big name photographer, the first shots didn’t work out so well.  I looked like a tired and overweight Mrs. Doubtfire, if Mrs. Doubtfire were an investment banker–not exactly the look I was hoping for to impress my new agency.

Panicked, I Facebooked a friend of mine who’s taken photographs of Element 79 staffers since we opened: Todd Baxter.  Basically, I begged him to save my bacon.

Todd found some time and asked if I had any ideas for the shot.  I thought of this photo which I’d seen online a few weeks earlier…

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON

Something about this legion of mini-snowment made me laugh.  So I attached this sketch and sent them to Todd…

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON

Todd jumped right into the concept.  Unfortunately, just as we shot last week, the three feet of snow piled on the deck behind his studio melted away during an unseasonable thaw.  Before it all disappeared, Todd found one lingering patch of icy slush down the street in a church parking lot.  His intern Ryan and studio manager Debbie packed it into ten jumbo garbage bags and lugged them back.

For the portrait, Todd sat me on some pillows covered with a white sheet on a white sweep…

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON
Unfortunately, I forgot my big Sorel snow boots.  And given the snowy setting, my wardrobe was a bit drab.  But Todd was undeterred.  First, he and his team started making snowmen.  Initially, their little snowmen faced in all different directions but Todd wanted them to engage the viewer with their creepy-cute gazes and direct the viewer’s attention to me.  Additionally, he thought these little guys needed to represent two ideas simultaneously; that I am both a creative worker as well as a creative leader.  Oh and they should also be fun, stylish, modern, and expressive while still feeling classic and homogenous. Me?  I just asked for snowmen.  Thankfully, Todd thinks on deeper levels.
Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON

The snowmen proved hard to form and almost impossible to decorate, mostly because by this point, they were melting quickly.  Somehow, he was able to get enough shots to mix and match bodies, eyes, noses, and mouths into an army of tiny snow people.

But there was still the matter of my drab dress.  Todd suggested changing my wardrobe, and created this PhotoShop sketch to show the color he was thinking: bright yellow, a color I never wear.  But I had to admit, he was absolutely right about its impact.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON

Essentially, through the wonders of Photoshop, Todd wanted to dress me far more stylishly than I would ever dress myself.  He ordered a coat online and asked me to drop off my boots at his studio.  This is the coat he ordered, as worn by a legitimate model.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON

Tuesday, Todd worked late into the night, modeling and shooting the coat and boots himself to make them match the raw portrait.  Then, overtop everything, he sprinkled large flakes of snow.  The end result is remarkable–a seamless portrait that is both artfully believable and a total fabrication.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON

In the advertising business, we manipulate images every workday.  But when the image is your own, the stakes feel somehow higher.  Finding a creative partner who not only shares your vision but improves it markedly is one of this industry’s true pleasures.

Thanks Todd.  You made me look far cooler than I ever have.  Or will.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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PS:  Todd is currently up for an AMD Visionary award.  Check out his video and vote for him here.

 

The Inexorable March of Time In Portraits

“I like reminiscing with total strangers. Granted, it takes longer…”  Steven Wright

This past week, a remarkable collection of photographs began popping up online. A personal project of Argentinian photographer Irina Werning, her series recreates old photos with remarkable exactitude of look and feel, albeit with the models assuming their poses after twenty years or more have passed.  Entitled “Back to the Future”, this collection makes the remarkable passage of time visual with a wide variety of people.  And yet, despite their specificity of time and place, the content feels remarkably universal.Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingDennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

Even without knowing the portrait subjects, the viewer quickly feels a kinship, a familiarity. We all have books and boxes filled with just these types of photos of our younger selves with our younger friends and younger families.  In our mind’s eye we remember so many aspects of those moments–the feel of the air, the smell of freshly cut grass, the pride of the new shirt or fancy bike.  And so, even decades later, the people recreating their earlier selves do so with remarkable alacrity.

Take a moment and enjoy Irina’s work.  It is bittersweet, hilarious and provocative, all at the same time, because it is so deeply human.  A very clever project, this.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Most TV Car Ads Bore: This One Doesn’t

It’s easy to pick on TV commercials. The tired conventions, the endless compromises, the poor executional decisions that condemn certain ideas to ‘almost’ status–almost interesting, almost memorable, almost good. And yet, TV ads often serve as a common ground for our culture, something shared despite varying geographies or differing politics. They still matter.

The categories with the heaviest media investments–insurance, beer, cars–have it particularly difficult. Sure, they often have bigger budgets, but mo’ money often means mo’ cooks, and that rarely helps matters.

Which is why I love this ad for the 2011 Dodge Charger. Much like the car, it’s all about Detroit macho: hemi-powered, sheet metal muscle with little redeeming value aside from torque-y horsepower. And yet this ad flatters my mind, my ability to understand references to a dozen Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters and fill in the gaping blank. And so, without CGI or special effects of any kind, with only aggressive footage of the car and an inspired script, they make me care. And think.

Sure, I could do without the tagline and yes, the shots could have been a bit more interesting, but still–this is a rare achievement: a car ad built on a clever, distinctive, memorable message.

God bless them. I so hope this works. It deserves to.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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A Presidents Day Question…

When Abraham Lincoln was nine years old, he nearly died after a horse kicked him in the head. He only had eighteen months of formal education. Most likely as a result of Marfan Syndrome, he had disproportionately long arms and legs.  He hated to go to the dentist, due both to the general lack of anesthesia and the specific instance of one who actually broke off part of his jaw while pulling a tooth. His contemporaries often characterized his mood as ‘melancholy’ which today would more likely be termed ‘clinical depression.’

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

So, knowing all that, would you put your money on him guiding this country through our darkest, most desperate hours?

People surprise you.  They always, always surprise you.  Happy Presidents Day.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Friday’s Arcane Meme Celebration: Marketing Client Bear

Now to the ever expanding pantheon of short-lived Tumblr powered memes like High Expectations Asian Father, Hipster Ariel, and the Courage Wolf, lopes in MARKETING CLIENT BEAR.  And frankly, he’s kind of awesome.

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

Oh sure, some of you are still enjoying Things Real People Don’t Say About Advertising, and that’s all well and good, but this meme takes that basic premise and applies it to a black bear.  A black bear sitting at a picnic table.  And that makes all the difference.

Enjoy.  And Happy Three Day Weekend Friday!

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Bad Day Yesterday? I Guarantee Nir Rosen’s Was Worse

I don’t know Nir Rosen.  Apparently, he’s an NYU fellow, a liberal journalist, and a fan of Twitter.  Around 4:00PM EST yesterday, he was also a wise ass, sending this cynical tweet regarding the physical and sexual assault on Lara Logan of CBS:

Lara Logan had to outdo Anderson. Where was her buddy McCrystal.”

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingThat particular message is no longer up on his stream, but a sequence of responses remain that document his increasing alarm at the response he generated.  Thanks to their time stamps, the path of Mr. Rosen’s rapidly unravelling day is all too easy to reconstruct.

Apparently, someone named  Joshus Foust was first to take umbrage with the crass joke.  Mr. Rosen responded to him with a few tweets:

@joshuafoust look, she was probably groped like thousands of other women, which is still wrong, but if it was worse than i’m sorry

When that didn’t work, he got a bit huffy.

@joshuafoust my wife didnt dedicate her career to promoting america’s wars

After that, it’s obvious that the direct messages must have really picked up. Fully on the defensive, Mr. Rosen felt compelled to clarify his position–clarifications he hoped would cool down the response to an insensitive crack he forgot to remember he said, not to a few like-minded friends, but to any of the 106 million US Twitter accounts.

jesus christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger

ah fuck it, i apologize for being insensitive, its always wrong, thats obvious, but i’m rolling my eyes at all the attention she will get

and as a result of that i hope people remember her role glorifying war and condemning rolling stone’s hastings while defending mcchrystal

All too soon, he must have felt the unbearable scale of the world wide web’s disdain. And all of it must have felt squarely focused on him. Within fifteen minutes, he was in full fall-back mode, and the apologies started in earnest.

i apologize and take it back. joking with friends got out of line when i didnt want to back down. forgot twitter is not exactly private

As someone who’s devoted his career to defending victims and supporting justice, I’m very ashamed for my insensitive and offensive comments

Oddly, his new found fame led to a rash of new found followers, and one apology clearly wouldn’t do.  He went on to post five or six more, ultimately giving up any defense of his initial joke.  He posted this last one at what must have been a bleary-eyed and deeply depressing 2:45 AM this morning.

but there is no point following me, i am done tweeting. too ashamed of how i have hurt others and the false impression i gave of who i am

He was up, not four hours later and posted this:

I feel I should make one last statement. I offer my deepest apologies to Ms. Logan, her friends and her family. I never meant to hurt anyone

I love comedy. I even enjoy off-color, inappropriate comedy. I can’t pretend to have excised all the insensitive references from my synapses and still find myself occasionally laughing at something that in mixed company would horrify me.

But I do that in small, familiar groups or the privacy of my own home.  Mr. Rosen didn’t.  He has since resigned NYU. When I screw up and make an offensive comment, it echoes in my mind for years. I can’t imagine the repercussions this extraordinarily public mistake will have in his mind. Still, it’s hard to feel sorry for him.

When everyone’s connected, everyone’s listening.  Your online self must represent your better self.  Unless you’re ready to become the latest pariah.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Today’s Midweek Distraction: Got $75? This Could Be Yours

Of course, it will help if you’re fluent in Japanese, which is where you can purchase this particularly gruesome/awesome consumer good: the anatomical sleeping bag.  And to think, I never realized I needed this…

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

I bow before the ever-vigilant minds at Geekologie who picked this up from the equally adept curators at Neatorama who found the original Japanese merchant’s link here.  And no, I have no idea what the bubble coming from the skin-less organ man is supposed to represent; I took German in high school.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Web? Mob? Sometimes It’s Hard to Differentiate

Three items popped up yesterday that while initially disparate, actually spring from the same foundation.

First, my friend Paul Meyer sent me a clip from this New York Times article which outlines the impact Google marketer Wael Ghonim had in galvanizing the youth movement protesting Egyptian police brutality and eventually, all of Mubarak’s regime.  After police beat a young Egyptian to death, Wael created a very active Facebook group “We Are All Khalid Said” and filled it with pro-democracy, anti-government propaganda articles and editorials from around the world.  Ultimately, this culminated in the January 25th Police Day revolt, an event they hoped would gather 50,000 protesters that ultimately drew twice that.  Ghonim used modern media outlets to communicate that the regime in power neither understood nor respected, and ultimately unseated them.  Yeah peaceful mob action!

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

Then there was the viral clip featuring CBS LA TV reporter Serene Branson stumbling through a live post-Grammy piece.  For nearly ten long seconds, she says gibberish and looks panicked before the cameras cut away.  The garbled clip went viral for its ‘hey, laugh at the blonde bubblehead’ hilarity…until unsubstantiated reports arose that she had actually suffered a stroke on air.  Suddenly, it wasn’t so funny.  This morning, CBS doesn’t confirm the stroke rumor, but the uncertainty killed the joke.  Boo sickening mob action!

And then there’s the Daily Online Examiner’s story about the people trying to make a buck selling appliances online at Full House Appliances.  In a bit of understandable but ill-directed policy, they banned “negative feedback” while threatening “criminal libel” against anyone who posts bad reviews of their company.  In a long section of eight point type that follows up their ‘Click to Agree’ box which most of us check with knee-jerk disregard, they explain their motivation this way: “While there are ample consumer protections, the inconvenient truth is that seller (the good ones to be precise) protections are severely lacking.” Lawyers doubt those threats would hold up in court.

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79

Today, everyone of us must learn to adapt to a world where people–even name-calling, libel-spewing trolls–have access to powerful media tools.  We have to deal with this new reality.  Whether the revolution breaks our way or not.

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By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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