E xactly 52 weeks ago, award-winning NY conceptual photographer and motion shooter Craig Cutler shot the first of 52 personal still and motion projects, shot one a week over the course of a year. Today marks week 52 and the completion of 13 at times very elaborate motion and 39 still projects produced on schedule while juggling a demanding commercial studio. The final installment, a motion piece called “WORDS” posted today.
CC52, Week 52: “Words”
Concept: Static words in a world of evolution.
Original concept and creative direction: Craig Cutler and Stephen Meierding
Original music: Sami Jano
Editor: Stephen Meierding
Assistant editor: Cooper Penn
Digital post processing: Bernice Gonzalez via Industrial Color
Prop stylist: Cindy Sandmann
Camera assistants: Tre Cassetta, Jeff Cate, John D. Huttenberger, Jarren Vink, Daniel Zverreff
Letterpress flip book: Ray Nichols at Lead Graffiti
Studio location: Fast Ashleys
Hired for his highly technical, masterful conceptual work, Cutler’s advertising and editorial client list includes IBM, HP, Chase, Exxon, Martha Stewart, Citigroup, Starbucks and eBay. This interview focuses on CC52, but please check out recent commercial projects and the CC52 projects we did not have room to feature on his newly launched website.
I’ve been watching the unfolding of CC52 and planning the interview with Craig for months. I often go into the interviews with an assumption and tailor a few questions around revealing this. What I’ve learned is that this approach can go one way or the other and it is most interesting when I am surprised by what I learn rather than what I think I know, which was the case with CC52.
Rather than a presumed evolution of concept or an inner exploration, CC52 is an elegant record of a master and his craft, the creative process distilled. And just beneath an interview that moves along quickly is a sub-text, a reflection of the process at hand with CC52. Tightly edited and short on labrynth deliberations on lessons learned, we are witness to a key talent and skill of the most successful artists, the ability to concept, evaluate and execute on schedule and on budget, leave ideas that won’t work on the cutting-room floor, and deliver a unique creative solution that takes the ‘brief’ to the next level.
The other story is about collaboration. More on this in the interview. But in my conversations with Craig, the conversation came time and again to the team effort that this project required and his appreciation for the contributions of his collaborators including his long-time assistant, stylists, sound and video editors and his creative director. I got the sense that he felt the projects relied as much on their contributions as they did his ideas and direction.
Thank you to Craig for sharing the story of CC52 with POP and for taking us all along on the journey with him over the past year.
CC52, Week 28: “White Vase”
Concept: To create motion and energy with no movements, in a single white box, with one white vase.
Editing and sound: Stephen Meierding.
POP: What inspired CC52?
During a meeting discussing promotion, with my representation, Stockland Martel, they presented the idea of doing one personal project per week, for one entire year – no stopping.
POP: What is your background and how does it inform your process?
My background is in design. The “idea” process is what I love to do best. When I am drawing, I am running the concept through my head, as if I am actually shooting. It is during this process that I decide whether to develop an idea into an actual shoot.
CC52, Week 49: “Letterpress”
Idea: To compose and create photographs using various letterpress type; to look at the individual type, and sometimes their environments, as abstract forms rather than objects of function.
Format: 4×5 view camera
Film: Kodak Tri-X 320 and Fuji 160S
Photographed on location at Lead Graffiti in Newark, Delaware. Special thanks to Ray Nichols, Jill Cypher, and Tray Nichols.
POP: What goals, if any, did you have?
Not to take myself too seriously. To have fun. To try not to do anything typical. Finally, I wanted to be spontaneous and let ideas develop.
POP: What was it like having instant feedback on your work?
It ranged from people responding to getting no response. I always believed that for every four projects you complete, hopefully one is good. The goal was to keep moving my ideas forward.
POP: What were the challenges of the project? How did you integrate your commercial shooting schedule?
In many ways, personal work is more challenging, because you are creating and executing your own assignment. You also learn to be realistic on how grand you make a project. I tried to balance larger scale projects with simpler ones. One thing that was not anticipated was how expensive the entire project became from shooting many weeks with 8×10 and 4×5 film.
CC52, Week 48: “Dots, Rollers, and Tape”
Creative direction: Craig Cutler
Original music: Sami Jano
Editing: Stephen Meierding
POP: For such a tight schedule, you shot film for many of the projects.
Today everything is shot digital, with files out the door very quickly. Film is still my favorite medium for personal work. Shooting a portrait with a view camera creates such a different result than shooting with a smaller, quicker camera. The process is much slower, it forces you to think everything through. The subject also becomes much more engaged. The last major client that let me shoot 8×10 was Martha Stewart.
From an ongoing series of portraits of beauty-school students around the United States.
Camera: Rollei 2 1/4 x 2 1/4.
Film: color negative.
Producer: Adrienne Hardman.
POP: You’ve always done personal work. How was the experience with CC52 different? Did you push yourself in new ways?
What was different was the pace. Doing something once a week did not give room to overthink anything.
POP: Did your interest in the project build during this year?
I think so, it became habit. I started to think weeks ahead about what I could do.
POP: You are known as a highly conceptual photographer. Did you approach this project more loosely? Did you find a different conceptual approach or one that took inspiration from the subject or material in a more direct way?
I wouldn’t say loosely. I would say the process was more spontaneous. I thought it became easier to find ideas within myself as I got deeper into the project.
POP: You sketch out your ideas as part of concept process. Did your process with developing ideas and concepts change during this project?
I have been sketching and creating concepts ever since school. The process hasn’t really changed, but like anything you do over and over, it got easier.
CC52, Week 39: “Cracker.” This image: “Graham Crackers.”
Concept: To create a structured grid with crackers.
Medium: 4×5 color negative. View camera.
Lens: 180mm Schneider Makro-Symmar.
Light source: HMI.
Constructers: Jarren Vink, Tre Cassetta.
POP: This project required a lot of collaboration. Who were your main collaborators and can you talk about some of the pieces you collaborated on or your process?
Collaboration always creates the best work. Throughout all the weeks, I am working with my assistants who play a valuable role in each project. There were also people I collaborated with on special ideas. Some of my favorites were with Victoria Granof. She is truly the master of food and gets any crazy idea I would throw out there.
I also did many pieces with the crew at Industrial Color with Santiago Gonzalez as my D.P. and Bernice Gonzalez, a brilliant editor. Finally, most recently I have been working with Steve Meierding, my former assistant, on short abstract films.
POP: What evolved over the course of the project? Did any themes emerge or develop?
I tried very hard for it not to fall into a pattern. If I shot portraits one week, I shot something more abstract the next week.
POP: Mascots. Why nude?
It was a great way to showcase where these old mascot heads go, these sad costumes – almost like a dark joke. You always think of mascots as fun and cartoony. I shot them in film, in black & white format. I wanted to capture the juxtaposition of fun and serious.
Format: Rollei 6008; 180mm Shneider Tele-Xenar, 120mm Zeiss Makro-Planar.
Styling: Cindy Sandman.
POP: You’ve restored your old Porsche. Then you covered it in duct tape. How is that going?
I always wanted to do this – the car has such an iconic design and it is a beautiful shape to cover. At first I did elaborate lighting and it looked too fussy. It needed to be focused more on the idea and less on the lighting. What I shot was 4×5 film with one light source. I am still working on the car and may not finish it in my lifetime.
POP: How was the motion part of the project? You did some elaborate and very fun projects that must have taken many hours to produce.
I learned there is a lot of post-production – for each motion project we scheduled in three weeks of post. I think my favorites are Holiday Card, White Vase and One Sander One Drill.
The key is to have good people to work with, to surround yourself with people who are good at what they do.
I have to credit Steve [former assistant Steve Meierding] for sandpaper. He’s come back and we have fun. He’s a really good camera man and an integral part of these pieces. He edits as well. We collaborate on execution.
We decided to give away the process in the very beginning, because everyone thought it was a digital trick. It wasn’t, it was really created with the spinning motion of a drill and continuous loop of a belt sander.
I try to mix it up, shooting still life and then go to something crazy. It’s fun to jump back and forth between viewing the camera and then return to motion.
“Destination” was a collaboration with Industrial Color. I kept saying let’s not make it a surfer/skateboard thing. Bernice at IC, is great. She came up with shots of the board flipping and looking up at the sky as the underlying theme.
The last motion project is called “Words.” It is a film based on one word – ‘words,’ in which everything interacts in and out of that one word. It was shot both on location and in the studio.
Commercially, I just worked with Martha Stewart Weddings and shot an 8-page story with motion at the same time.
POP: Did you go into this expecting to learn something new about yourself as an artist?
I didn’t have much time to think or reflect back on any of it. It was always about moving forward. To me it was about directing ideas.
CC52, Week 43: “The Electron Tube”
Format: 4×5 large format.
Film: B&W / TRI-X.
Prop stylist: Cindy Sandmann.
POP: You studied design. Are you the type of photographer who has a lot of creative ideas and this was a way to actualize them or were you pushing yourself to be creative?
You could say that, I am constantly sketching and coming up with new ideas. It was fun to go from sketch to reality in one week.
Concept: To look at cacti as shapes and forms.
Stylist: Julie Flynn.
POP: What ideas didn’t you execute? What ended up on the cutting room floor?
Ones that were not realistic in the time frame. Also, I would cut something if I felt like I was becoming mentally lazy with a concept.
POP: Would you do it again? Or if you did this again, what would you do differently?
“CC365” would be interesting. One project per day.
POP: You are publishing a book to document the project. Concept? Collaborator?
I went in new directions with this project. I collaborated with Mary Warner, Creative Director at JWT, who I was shooting with at the time.
We came up with the idea of a “Zine” rather than a booklet. It felt a little more “real time”-not so precious. With 52 projects being curated throughout the year, each project is different. Just like the news changes daily, CC52 changes weekly, so a Zine seemed like a natural choice.
POP: Did you have a plan for promoting the project or did you let it happen organically via word-of-mouth?
I didn’t. It created its own interest and momentum.
Big thank you to Craig for his time and work on this interview.
CC52: The Exhibition – photos, short films and sketches by Craig Cutler
Opening Reception Thursday, May 10, 2012 6 to 9 PM
32 Avenue of the Americas, 22nd floor
The old AT&T building at Church & Walker Street