I interviewed Jason Madara in June of last year. Since then, I have checked his site to keep up with his work. I recently noticed a new portfolio of images, Hanson Bridget – The Lawmen and knew I had to feature them on POP. A series of portraits pulled from a 15-day commercial shoot, the portraits are at first classic corporate portraits: shot on seamless, traditional lighting, with the subjects in suits seated at a nondescript table shot for Hanson-Bridget as part of a rebranding by SF’s Emotive Brand.
But they take on a new life in Madara’s hands. Varying crops, hands used to effect, profile shots. Expressions full of character. Beautifully retouched by Rebecca Bausher at Pixel Chick. One can imagine that a rigorous shooting schedule like this would be challenging in terms of engaging the subjects. Characteristic of Jason’s approach, the energy and enthusiasm that came through in his earlier interview was brought to a corporate portrait assignment and, as a result, a personal series that transcends.
Big thank you to Jason for sharing them with POP and for answering a few questions about the shoot. The images look good here, but do yourself a favor and check them out on Jason’s site where you can see the full portfolio in larger format.
POP: What was the concept for the shoot?
The concept came from Emotive Brand in San Francisco whom Hanson Bridgett was working with on a new site. I was hired to shoot new portraits of their 158 attorneys, interiors and architecture shots of their firms in San Francisco and Sacramento. The shoot took 15 days, averaging 15 portraits a day along with the interior and detail shots and un-posed portraits.
POP: When you were shooting, were you shooting images specifically for this series?
I always have the intention of creating a series for myself. You do what the client wants, but always give them options on how you see it personally as well. The brief was to create beautiful portraits of these lawyers, capturing who they are and I had about 20 minutes with each person. I sort of love this approach. It’s a challenge that I have become really comfortable with. We had two set-ups in a conference room, with the computer set up between the two. I would roll back and forth between each set-up depending upon what the person was wearing, their skin tone, etc.
After the second day, I started to see the variety that I was getting and that I had really captured some strong portraits, especially when I pushed the composition and got much closer, starting to force the crop in the composition. It was then that I knew I could capture a series for myself, always getting a lot of variety, about 80-100 images per person.
I never lost site of the brief and had a lot of fun with the shoot overall. When I saw that I could pull a strong series out of this for myself, it was just a bonus.
POP: In addition to the black and white treatment, you got some great faces and poses that capture the reference to another era. It must have made the job interesting each time an attorney walked in to be photographed whom you thought would work for the project.
It absolutely did. I love just about anything from the late 50′s into the 60″s. Many of the lawyers, especially the older guys, automatically took on something from another era. For the most part, I knew who would be great and who I would have to work with in front of the camera.
The final series reflects the guys that didn’t feel uncomfortable in front of the camera—they had fun and enjoyed the process. Throughout this process, everything was shot in color. We didn’t convert anything to B&W until about two months after the job was over and when
I had time to do a personal edit for myself.
POP: Why only men? You shot a lot of women for the job.
It wasn’t an accident. The men just dressed a certain way that fit the look I was going for. The character in their faces just worked more with the men.
POP: How do you work with people who aren’t as comfortable in front of the camera?
Some people are just not comfortable in front of the camera and just don’t want to be there—it can take more time to capture something real. I always get it, but it just takes a little bit more patience and time. All 158 portraits turned out great in my opinion. Some of the women felt more uncomfortable and really aware of what was going on, didn’t easily let their guard down and felt self conscious about me taking their photos. The guys on the other hand didn’t care. They would sit down and be ready.
POP: In 20 minutes, how do you make people feel comfortable enough to get a great shot out of them?
I guess it’s just my personality? I talk with them while they are in make-up, get to know them a bit, questions about where they live, do they have kids, etc. You can generally find a common thread with just about anyone if you look for it.
POP: How was the editing and retouching process approached?
Rebecca and myself made selects. It started with 50, then down to 30, then down to our top 13. We could have had 30 for sure, but I wanted it to be small and really cohesive. We could tell by the final selects that it instantly felt like something from another era. Then we started to research great B&W Portraits from photographers like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. We really wanted it to feel very contemporary, but still reference something from another time. Rebecca said it best in her blog post below:
“If you are old enough to remember Dragnet, and young enough to watch Madmen, then you may relate to Jason Madara’s masterful new portrait series which seems to us the perfect visual embodiment of these two classic TV programs. Meet, The Lawmen.
While The Lawmen started out as color portraits, we worked closely with Jason to alter the look and fine tune the feeling of intrigue and melodrama already inherent in the images. At the same time we discussed creating a contemporary black and white palette with a bit of an edge and a solid nod to the black and white films of yesteryear. We are very proud of the results and seriously think someone should write the script for The Lawmen.”