I was referred to Shannon Amos, an Advertising Wardrobe and Prop & Set Stylist, by San Francisco photographer Mark Madeo. Her response was ‘yes’ without a moment’s hesitation followed by an invitation to meet for coffee and a ‘friend’ request on Facebook. As I was to learn during the interview process, this is reflective of both her engagement, love for the photo community and her openness and commitment to social media as a way to build this community and a very successful and strategic freelance career.
We met at The Summit in San Francisco. While looking at her portfolio of consistently smart, clean, conceptual work for photographers, we had one of the most interesting conversations on POP to date, both in terms of how she approaches her work (with tons of talent, a clear sense of her style, hard work and a lot of love for her work and the people she works with) as well as with regards to a lived philosophy that informs the way she works and builds community: simply that there’s enough for everyone.
When I read Gladwell’s Outliers, it rang true somewhere that was hopeful, that it’s our beliefs about life that are fixed, not life itself. And that if we were willing to let go of some of our closely held ideas, prejudices and fears, we could create a more cooperative world where we live and work from a place of trust and sharing rather than from fear and competition. Like any new idea, one wonders if it will take hold, if there will be any willing to take the necessary risks. After a few minutes with Shannon, it was clear that in addition to being incredibly talented, she is one of these pioneers, living in a way that’s true to this place with a lot of trust, generosity and integrity.
Amos has worked with still photographers and filmmakers Timothy Archibald, Marla Rutherford, Martin Schoeller, Robyn Twomey, Ethan Pines, Dwight Eschliman, Erik Almas, Roger Hagadone, David Stuart, Jason Madara and many more. Her clients include Vanity Fair, GQ, American Express, Nike, Casio, Discovery Channel, Hewlett Packard, Subaru, Banana Republic among others. Her work can be seen on billboards, kiosks, in magazines, and in stores in the US and internationally. Shannon’s business, Amos Styles, can be found at amosstyles.com and on Twitter under amosstyles.
A very big thank you to Shannon for an incredibly inspiring interview.
POP: How did you choose styling as a career?
I wish someone would have come to career day and talked about being a stylist. That would have been an Ah-Ha moment. It also would have made my parents understand a little better why I was compelled to redecorate and paint my bedroom on a weekly basis.
I am completely visually driven and have been since I was a kid. I would find a way to skip math class and go sit all day in the art room. Otherwise I was always reading design, fashion and art books in the library. Luckily, I went to a very liberal high school and actually felt a great deal of encouragement.
I finally put all of these interests together and started working at our local theaters doing wardrobe and building sets. And let me just say there is nothing that will teach a stylist to work on a budget like live theater. After high school I moved to San Francisco and got a job at the New Lab developing film. I had no idea when I took that job how greatly it would effect the rest of my life. Suddenly I was spending eight hours a day viewing the work of the photography world greats. It was a usual Saturday afternoon to sit around with Jim Marshall while he waited for his film and hear all the stories behind the legendary photographs that he had taken.
In the process of proofing film I started developing an eye for what works and what does not in a frame. How color and texture are effected by lighting. And how much is needed or not to tell the story or sell the product. There was also a lot to be learned from what photographers were leaving on the cutting room floors.
Now the majority of my work is advertising. I enjoy working with ad agencies and photographers that also feel a drive to promote humor, beauty and awareness in a commercial industry.
To read the full interview, please click here:
POP: How long have you been freelance?
I have been freelance a year and a half. It has gone really well and my work has developed greatly. I read a lot of photography blogs and when I see someone’s work I like, I tell them and ask them to look at my site. With our ability to see so many people’s work on the internet I feel it is even more important than ever to say a kind word when you see something that strikes a chord in you. Eight out of 10 times I get a response. Five out of 10 times I get work. It’s important to find a good fit in terms of style. Every photographer is not your photographer. You have to actually put in the work at finding people who fit you. And when you do, the photographer will appreciate that and it will make for a fantastic working relationship.
POP: How do you use social networking to build your career and community?
I use all the tools: Facebook, Twitter,and Blogs. My Google RSS feed has over 3,000 photography and design blogs I try to follow. The majority of the photographers I work with are on my Facebook. My posts are about industry-related stuff and about my personal life and who I am. I actually do want to know about your current jobs…..and what you had for dinner. I am that person.
POP: You have a very distinct style. How did this develop and can you talk about a few of your favorite projects?
My style is clean and minimalist – with a sense of humor. I believe you can tell a story with very little. I love when you have to detect something in a shot to get the story. My personal style works to my advantage when you have to convey a concept on a billboard and also have it scale to a print ad. You get one shot to make them stop to look at a product or take in a message.
I worked with Ethan Pines on a campaign for Casio featuring Ke$ha. Casio was a great company to work with. Ethan and I were given a lot of artistic leeway with the sets I was designing. It was a lot of fun to work with Ke$ha—with who she is as a performer—and trying to convey that in the backgrounds and sets for commercial use. I also don’t usually get to pull out glitter guns on set. So big bonus for that. Ethan and I have a matching esthetic and a clean approach to things. His on-set presence is easygoing and charming making a celebrity shoot a breeze. I’m proud of these shots that are seen internationally and the client was happy that we created a set of images they can use on all advertising mediums.
Timothy Archibald and I worked on a personal project together. I am a fan of the painter Richard Bechtle. When this shoot came together, I thought I wanted that vibe—all these kids connected with these cars.
Timothy and I figured out the personalities of the cars and the personalities of the kid that would be in that car. The project was a very successful test that ended up being referred to on many paid projects we did in the future.
The shot below was for the WWE. This was my first time working with the amazing Marla Rutherford. It was an incredibly fun shoot. An entire day filled with the women of the WWE, taxidermy and the Russian River. It all came together in what is still one of my favorite shots. Marla and I went on to shoot many advertising jobs—the latest being for BOUNCE.
These shots were done by Jason Madara for HP. What I love best about them is that we were able to shoot and style in a way that represented Jason’s work to the fullest. The client completely embraced the epic scale that Jason is known for and we were all privileged to be a part of it. We started this shoot at the Van Nuys airport with such great props as Jimmy Carter’s gubernatorial campaign plane and a mint-condition vintage Porsche. The clothing was provided by NICE Collective. On the second day we shot at Frank Sinatra’s house in Palm Springs—one of the other cities where I work as a local (other than San Francisco and LA). I had my Palm Springs Modern coffee table book open to the page with Frank’s house weeks before I got the call for this job so it seemed meant to be that I would finally be there where I could appreciate the architecture and period furnishings up close. The producer on this shoot was Peter Scott and, as always, he did an amazing job securing these locations and making a huge shoot feel effortless.
POP: At what point are you brought into the creative process?
Being freelance it is often times from the beginning of the bidding process through concept development. I am very hands on and known for my art direction as well as my styling. I prefer to do wardrobe and sets for my shoots. It makes things more seamless and more economical for production. My photographers trust me to participate in pre-production meetings and pitch ideas. Having a great team already in place when the call comes in for a bid is vital these days.
POP: How much of your work is motion?
Right now that percentage is climbing everyday. As a creative I am very excited to have the combination of print and motion becoming the standard on advertising jobs. I have done a lot of film and television so it feels natural to me. The photographers I work with are ready to cover both mediums when an Ad agency needs that.
As a stylist, my job is not only to secure the wardrobe and props for a shoot, but also to anticipate and be proactive in bringing options that I feel will elevate the shot. In the case of the SEGA ad campaign, I felt like the fish in the water bowl could be used to really get the full effect of the tilt of the room. We promised everyone on set that the fish bowl would be caught mid air as it slid off the table – and it was.
POP: What do you love about your job and what is challenging? How do you handle the challenges?
There are so many reasons why I love being a stylist. All the things I am most passionate about are involved in what I do: style, design, art, architecture, clothes, objects. I feel blessed to be able to make a living doing something that comes naturally to me. I love the challenge of finding the unfindable and thinking quickly on my feet—anticipating obstacles and being ready with alternatives. In my experience, photo shoots are not marathons—they’re sprints. And I love that.
In a recent shoot with Timothy Archibald for American Express, I was faced with the task of securing 5,000 lbs of carrots in less than 48 hours. (The city of San Francisco actually went without carrots for a day). Once on set, the mountain of carrots was constructed and cameras and lighting were ready when the word came down that the carrots had been nixed. As Tim said, “Some ideas ya gotta embrace… some you need to let go of. But the mountain yielded the best crew shot ever.”
(On a final note: the carrots were donated to a local charity that provides hot meals).