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I t’s the end of a busy few weeks in the photo industry that kicked off with the Lucie Awards, back in LA at the Beverly Hilton for it’s 10th anniversary, PhotoPlus Expo and AtEdge’s Face-to-Face event in NY. A few weeks before The Lucie’s I got a message from Kate Chase. She and Matt had an idea. Did I want to go to The Lucie’s and sit at the Brite table? They had two of their photographers nominated for Print Campaign of the Year and a table in the ballroom for 10. Yes, I wanted to go! And I would also write about the Lucie’s and if a story developed, all the better.

I would be joining Kate Chase, Vincent Dixon, and Shawn Michienzi of Brite along with Barb Sanson/Art & CGI Supervisor at Innocean, Creative Director James Dawson-Hollis, CD Vivienne Wan, Andrea Rosenfeld/Senior Art Buyer at RPA, Producer David Safian and Cinematographer Doug Chamberlain at the Brite table for dinner and the award ceremony.

I was familiar with both Vincent’s and Shawn’s campaigns and the others nominated and had no sense of what the outcome would be—they were in very good company with Mark Seliger, Gustavo Germano, and Benetton’s “Unhate” campaign which had already garnered a Press Gran Prix at Cannes. Vincent was nominated for his “Save the Music” campaign shot for client DCS music by Leo Burnett Paris and Shawn for “You Know what You’d Bring” for National Geographic’s traveling King Tut show for Carmichael Lynch.

"What would you bring with you in the afterlife?," Photo by Shawn Michienzi

I’ll cut to the chase and say that after a lovely three-course dinner during which I was having so much fun talking at the Brite table (and apparently not eating very quickly) that Vincent, who grew up with 10 siblings, told me I ate like an only child, Shawn was announced as the winner of the Print Campaign of the Year award.

Vincent, exceedingly charming, looked at Kate and smiled and said “You’ll have to get me some creative campaigns next year” and then continued to cheer in support of Shawn with the rest of us. Shawn, exceedingly humble, accepted his award by thanking all involved in the project including Kate Chase and producer David Safian…and Vincent. Earlier in the evening, Vincent (having won a Lucie before) asked Shawn if he had an acceptance speech ready in case he won. Shawn said no, that he didn’t think it would happen. Vincent suggested a simple thank you and Shawn, teasing, had promised to be sure to thank Vincent if he won.

Shawn Michienzi and Kate Chase, Photo by Doug Chamberlain

2012 was the 10th anniversary of the Lucie’s and the first year it was back in Los Angeles after eight years at New York’s Lincoln Center and Amsterdam Theater. Susan Baraz, a co-founder of The Lucie’s, agreed to talk with me and answer a few questions about the history of The Lucie’s and the IPA awards, the move back to LA, the judging process and the work of the Lucie Foundation. I also spoke in-depth with Shawn about his inspiration for the shoot and collaboration with Carmichael Lynch and the subjects he photographed for the project and the highlight of his evening. And got insight into the project from producer David Safian. And of course a few words from Vincent on his Save the Music campaign.

The Lucie’s are the Academy Awards for photography, a black-tie event that honors photography and the image makers who have made the most impactful contributions each year across photojournalism, fine art, curation, fashion and commercial photography.

Shawn Michienzi and Jigisha Bouverat, Director of Art Production at TBWA/CHIAT/DAY, Photo by Doug Chamberlain

"Piano" for DCS Save the Music: Leo Burnett Paris, Photo by Vincent Dixon

Shawn Michienzi was nominated for the “What Would You Bring” campaign shot for the National Geographic King Tut campaign for Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis.

POP: You’ve worked with Carmichael Lynch for many years. What was the concept and creative process for this project?
I shot the National Geographic King Tut campaign for Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis. I have a long relationship with them having worked with them since 1989 when I moved to Minnesota. The creative director on the job was Dave Damon whom I’ve worked with since the mid 90’s, the AD was Brad Harrison and Ellie Anderson was the writer. National Geographic is a small account that Ellie manages.

The concept was “What would you bring to the afterlife?” to promote the National Geographic-sponsored King Tut Exhibition that travels around to the science museums. TV spots were being filmed and they asked me if I wanted to help them out since it wasn’t a big budget job.

"What would you bring with you in the afterlife?," Photo by Shawn Michienzi

When working on smaller-budget projects, it is more open and you don’t have to deal with all the layers. For this project, I got the basic concept—what would You take to the afterlife,” but they didn’t come to me with a layout. They had some layouts of portraits of people with all their stuff in the rooms. So I came up with the concept of having the guys laying down. What I love about it is that it was so simple. When you’re first presented with a concept, a million ideas go through your head and you come back to the most obvious.

I also shot one of the TV spots for this campaign—Dr. Franklin Ruehl. I shot this one because the broadcast director wasn’t into him but the creatives loved him. He has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UCLA and has a cult following for his Science Channel show “Professor Weird” among other things. We contacted Franklin directly to set up the print shoot and shot the motion at his house on the 5D with a very small crew.

POP: What did your kids say when you told them?
When I texted them a photo, my son texted back “Awesome! That’s a cool statue.” I wish they could have been there, but it was a nice moment to share with them afterwards.

Shawn Michienzi, Photo by Doug Chamberlain

POP: Highlights from the evening? You shared it with your friend Cinematographer Doug Chamberlin.
I work with Doug as a camera operator and everyone always thinks we’re brothers. The best part of the night for me was that I got to meet Joel Meyerowitz who thirty years ago, inspired me when I was first learning about photography. He walked right by me and I said “Doug, that’s Joel Meyerowitz.” He didn’t know who he was and said I always do that to him. Joel used to do all those Newport Cigarettes campaigns in the 70’d and 80’s, the billboards of outlined people on green boards. He would do that campaign every year and then go off and do his own art projects. So when Joel walked by me again, I followed him out to the step and repeat wall where he had his photo taken and I asked him if we could take a photo together.

Shawn Michienzi and Joel Meyerowitz, Photo by Doug Chamberlain

Honestly, there were so many powerful projects and incredible photographers honored that night, the advertising award seemed like the lightest work among the projects in Sudan and the Lifetime Achievement awards but I was happy to be included alongside.

If you are interested in reading more, Shawn has been honored for this campaign in Communication Arts and has written about it on the Brite blog.

Shawn Michienzi and Doug Chamberlin


POP: How long have you been working with Shawn?
I’ve been working with Shaun for several years and have known him for six or seven. We were friends before we started worked together.

This shoot was pretty fast and frenzied. We covered a lot of ground and shot all three portraits and the video of Frank Ruehl in one day. The highlight of the day was Mr. Ruehl, the dinosaur guy. That was a real experience. We showed up to his apartment and saw all those cat calendars and how excited he was. He was the most interesting character by far.
Because the TV crew wasn’t interested in filming him, but the agency was and Shaun has skills as a director, we shot some footage and did great vignettes. We worked directly with the print copywriter and creative director on this and just myself and Shawn and they ended up using it.

POP: How did you find the people to profile and were you involved in the process?
Most of the work on this project actually went into finding the people. We were looking for people who would be good interviews, who could be authentic. The word ‘hoarders’ came into play a lot during the day. These are people who keep everything. Ruehl brought out his favorite shirts and dinosaurs. He showed us two-headed dinosaurs and explained how they could have really happened. He is one of those guys who is extremely eccentric, but also very intelligent.

I love photojournalism and the great thing about working with Shawn is that he works from that place. He’s an extremely intuitive photographer, truly a great artist in that respect. We plan everything and have a lot of conversations about what we’re going to do. But when we show up, he lets things unfold naturally, he doesn’t get in the way. He’s really good at cutting through and finding gems. Some people tend to over think the shot. Shawn is really good at cutting through and finding what works, he’s very adept at getting the shot, nailing it and moving on. He looks and sees what’s needed and has the confidence and experience to know what works. Every time. He’s bang on.

The concept always has to be there, the collaborative aspect of it and this comes from the creative at the agency. But when you’ve got a good concept and a certain amount of parameters, he’s good at realizing what works and what doesn’t. This is exactly why Shaun can get three portraits and film shot in one day.

Producer David Safian and Shawn Michienzi, Photo by Doug Chamberlain

Vincent Dixon was nominated for the “Save the Music” campaign he shot for client DCS and agency Leo Burnett Paris. Striking images of musicians covered in oil, all shot in camera and using real models.

"Trumpet" for DCS Save the Music: Leo Burnett Paris, Photo by Vincent Dixon

Adding to the evening’s fun was the fact that Vincent was a previous Lucie winner, having won in 2010 for a photo titled “Class Photo” that was part of a Unicef campaign shot for Ogilvy & Mather Paris. At the time, the piece was featured on A Photo Editor for the full story. He had also been nominated in 2008 for a Scrabble campaign and in 2009 for Pepsi.

"Class Photo" for Unicef: Ogilvy & Mather Paris, Photo by Vincent Dixon


POP: Vincent: How was your evening?
I really enjoyed being at the Lucie’s and was really happy for Shawn that he won. It was doubly good because I hadn’t prepared a speech.

POP: Tell me about the Save the Music campaign.
This was a project for DCS, an audiophile company who make very high-end digital audio players. Save the Music was about how using their equipment you hear all the music, the purity of the music without all the grunge. We showed what happens when you don’t use their equipment.

We shot a rock musician , a jazz trumpeter, and a pianist playing a grand piano covered in ‘oil’ which was actually non-toxic paint. We got every shot in camera with the exception of the piano which was a 3D model.

Leo Burnett in Paris briefed me on the concept, sent me hand-drawn layouts and it was up to me and my agent Matt to find a way to shoot it. We contacted Will Lemon, a make-up special effects artist.

Will came up with using non-toxic pain over a base of black make-up. Each shot required us to pour gallons of black paint on the models. We shot a few elements that we could add in post, but it was mostly a live shoot. We initially thought we’d shoot models of famous musicians, but they didn’t look real enough. The models are generally 12 inches tall and the oil/paint was too thick and removed all the details. When you see these big, they really show the human elements. The challenge was to find a studio that had a shower.

We shot over two days in the studio. We scheduled one shot the first day and two the second to give us time to problem solve on day one. We shot the guitarist on the first day and the pianist and the jazz guitarist on the second. It ended up being a fairly straightforward shoot – lighting. It’s nice to get as close to real as possible, to get as much in camera as one can. It’s more credible when it’s a single shot.

"Guitar" for DCS Save the Music for Leo Burnett Paris, Photo by Vincent Dixon


POP: What is the history of The Lucie’s?

We have the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, the Tony’s, the Grammy’s, and the Emmy’s. There was a vacuum with regards to honoring photography, yet it has been so impactful in the world. One image alone can affect minds and hearts more than any other art. We founded The Lucie Awards to celebrate the masters of photography, emerging artists in all fields, and to give this art form it’s rightful place in the world.

Photography affects everyone. In the darkest areas of the globe, a photograph can shed light, enlighten, and bring true insight. The name, Lucie’s is a derivation of “lux” which means “Light.’ It’s what photography is based on, as well as what it does, which is to illuminate. Hopefully The Lucie Awards will be around for many years to come. It is nice to have ten years arrived and still be standing,

Photography is a very special community, a very homogenous culture. In any other art, you have these designations as the first African/American or Latino, etc to win an award in their field. You never hear that with regards to photography. It’s solely based on the image being an amazing one. There is a complete lack of discrimination as to a photographers’ ethnicity, origin, age, or culture. I don’t know any other cultural art that can say that. Irving Penn and Cartier-Bresson were still shooting at 95.

One of the mysteries of photography is that you can identify with the photo, more than the person who shot it. These icons are hidden behind their cameras. The Lucies are about celebrating, not only their great work, but introducing them, in person or via personal videos, to the cheering public, some for the first time.

POP: Why did you bring The Lucie’s back to LA for its 10th anniversary?

We held the first ever Lucie’s gala in LA, at The Beverly Hilton ten years ago. We just wanted to return to the “scene of the crime”, so to speak, for this major 10th anniversary milestone. It’s such an international event that it actually can be based anywhere.

In New York it’s at Lincoln Center. People there went to dinner after the Lucie Awards and we seemed to lose the intimacy of spending an entire evening together. The Beverly Hilton afforded an opportunity to sit at round tables in groups, table hop, talk and dine all at once. There was a very special energy in the ballroom. Everybody loved it so much we are reconsidering having it there from time to time.

POP: Who makes up the advisory board and jury of the IPAs and Lucie’s?

The jurors selected to judge the work for the IPA finalists are gathered from a worldwide roster of notables, and are top-ranking photo experts in various fields. We had the Photo Editor of Phaidon, as well as Taschen,looking at the photography books submitted, and the photo curator of the Tate Museum, in London among this year’s judges.

The IPA jurors are the creme de la creme in photography. This was our largest jury to date- 80 renowned people. They are assigned to judge in their category of expertise i.e.; architecture category are the photo editors of Architectural Digest or Dwell. They are NOT paid, have no idea of the names of the photographers, and do it because the Lucie’s are considered an important event in photography.

The Advisory Board is composed of people that have input on selecting candidates to provide scholarships, grants, programming for at-risk kids who are being mentored in photography. The Lucie Foundation is non-profit, and its advisory board has input on funding for it’s programs.

POP: What is the criteria for the awards?
The evening comprises two award categories: The IPA awards is a juried competition and the Lucie Awards which has honorees that are peer nominated. IPA is judged by blind entry submissions and the judges rate each of the entries. The winners with the highest scores in various categories becomes a finalist. We then send the resulting finalists to all the jurors to rate their top picks for title, “Photographer of the Year”.

We give the jurors full authority and trust in their expertise. I’m a judge and always look for certain criteria for example, in a entry Series: Does the lighting work within the entire presentation, is it consistent in telling the same story visually-are there photos that seem out of sync with the idea being conveyed.

“The Print Campaign of the Year” is nominated by the industry and sent out to top judges within this category to vote for their choice. The overall high scorer wins.

POP: The videos produced and shown at The Lucie’s were beautiful portraits of the artists. Will they be available online?

All the videos we showed at the Lucie’s were produced specifically for the awards gala. The good news is that they are archived, so people who want to know more about, let’s say, Ruth Bernhard, Cartier-Bresson, or Arnold Newman will be able to have access to them. It’s incredible to be able to see them as well as hear their own words on how they think about their work and how they feel about being a photographer.

I remember Ruth Bernhard talking about how lucky she was to have done this as her life’s work. Where else could you walk out on the street and see something and say ‘Oh, this is fantastic’ and click and then it’s there forever?” Bernhard is no longer here, but her work and discussion is. This serious archival compilation is so valuable to research, as these icons are in these videos for all time.

We’re also working on a Lucie magazine that will be published twice a year as well as a new website and blog. The idea of The Lucie’s is more than just an evening’s award ceremony, and the goal is to build out media with the mission of celebrating and recognizing important photography and photographers throughout the entire year.

We are looking for an overall sponsor and trying to find a right fit for this amazing evening and for continuing with the Lucie Foundation’s goals. We previously had Pilsner as the overall sponsor and they were very engaged. They would fly the winning Photographer of the Year to Prague and shoot video and stills of his or her impression of their beer. It was an amazing piece of art as a commercial promotion for them to use. A great campaign for their Pilsner image.

In Europe the Lucie’s are renowned because of Pilsner being based there. They traveled the curated Best of Show images to galleries around Europe and it made a huge impact on their label as well as benefitted the photographers involved. A win-win for all.

We are searching for the next sponsor who will understand how to capitalize on the largest and most recognized event in photography, The Lucies. In the meantime, the Lucie Foundation looks forward to many more anniversary’s honoring the photography masters and emerging talent in this wonderful art that we all love and cherish. We hope Lucie keeps “lighting” the way for all of us.

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