Christopher Wilson and Olivia Bee were hired by the creative team of Clark Evans and Joe Shands to shoot automotive and lifestyle images for the launch brochure of the Fiat 500. Christopher Wilson shoots clean, graphic, expansive images for clients including Ritz-Carlton, Morgan Stanley, Ford, NASCAR and Lenovo while Olivia Bee is known for her whimsical, youthful lifestyle work for Nike, Converse, Levi’s and Hermes. 17 at the time, together she and Christopher were hired to pair up and shoot the 110+ page catalog that would launch the Fiat 500 into the US market. I’ve included several images, but you can click through here to see the full catalog, a brochure that was so prized by Chrysler dealerships that it was given out closer to the time of sale than as a sales piece.
Both Olivia and Christopher are represented by Candace Gelman. I called Candace first to ask about writing a post about the shoot. We talked about selling two photographers for a job, signing Olivia at 15 and to ask a few questions about Christopher Wilson, one of my all-time favorites working today. I then called Christopher, Olivia and Creative Director Clark Evans of Blackboard Co. to get the full story.
In keeping with POP’s tradition, I’ve left this in Q&A format. Thank you to Candace, Clark, Christopher, and Olivia for their time and sharing this project with POP.
Candace Gelman/Photo Agent
POP: How did you pitch two photographers for the Fiat job?
I went to meet with Joe Shands and Clark Evans. They used to be at Chiat Day and were working freelance for a branding company that was introducing Fiat to the US. Because they are a branding agency, they did not have their own top notch creative. So they brought in the dynamic duo.
They loved the whole group, had a project for Lars and fell in love with Olivia and Christopher. They wanted the Fiat launch in the US to be different than all other automotive launches. He wanted non-traditional car shots, but also needed lifestyle. It was his idea to bring them both on the shoot. I frequently sell my roster like this if a client needs still-life and people. It’s a plus because the photographers know each other, they communicate well and it’s economical.
They each had their own producer—Sady Callaghan for Olivia and Cathy Wilson for Christopher. Between all of them, it was an incredible shoot. Great energy, crews, and photos. They shot all over the Bay Area and Northern California: Mendocino, San Francisco, Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, Tahoe and on the coast.
Christopher Wilson was an award-winning CD at McKinley Silver and freelance at Team One before starting to shoot. He was working for Ritz Carlton and showed the client some comps he’d shot and the client asked him to shoot it.
I signed Olivia at 15. I had sent her a congratulations when I saw her shoot for Converse and she responded with a “thank you” and mentioned that she was looking for an agent. I met with her and her family and it was a match made in heaven.
Clark Evans/Creative Director
POP: How did the project come about and what was the creative brief?
Chrysler hired a Detroit branding agency and I came in as a freelance consultant to handle the US launch which included the catalog. I was hired for my automotive experience—I previously worked on BMW and Nissan. Joe Shands and I worked together on Nissan while we were both at Chiat/Day in Los Angeles. Joe worked on Porsche at Goodby Silverstein and Partners. in San Francisco.
At the Fiat 500 price point, you want it to be stylish but not too slick. It was printed on recycled matte paper—inks love matte paper so it was super rich. We did two different covers and inside were bumper stickers and not pages.
The style of photography and design made it a really interesting piece. Chrysler were in awe because all their brochures are glossy, 16 – 24 pages, and stapled. This was 112+ pages, matte and perfect bound. It was a really unique introductory piece and to get your hands on one became a cool thing. They weren’t just handing them out at dealerships. They cost a lot to produce so you got one pretty much when putting a deposit on the car.
POP: What was the strategy behind hiring both Christopher and Olivia?
I love Olivia’s story and the work she’s done at such a young age and thought she would be a great person to bring in to capture people interacting with this car. I wanted her to focus on that.
I also love Christopher Wilson’s work. I like how he handles sheet metal and he can shoot anything. I wanted them to collaborate as much as they could to make this brochure something that hadn’t been done before. Two photographers with two completely different styles making an art piece out of it.
I’ve been an AD for a long time now and have seen how photographers work. They were both excited to work with each other and worked really well together and respected each other’s space.
For example, we took the cars in the snow and let the talent have a giant snowball fight and the two of them shot together at the same time but focused on different things. At the end of each day, I had a lot of images.
POP: Do you think they influenced each other on set?
They might not say yes, but they were shooting cars together. And Olivia would watch how Christopher set up. Olivia shoots a ton, thousands of images, tons of images. Then does selects. Christopher won’t pop off as much, but he was more focused on sheet metal without making this car too stylized.
POP: How did you sell Chrysler on the idea of hiring two photographers?
It was a fairly easy process. I presented Olivia’s and Christopher’s work and they were sold on Christopher’s work because of his sheet metal work—they are always concerned with this. They wanted one photographer because it’s easier logistically and lower cost. But I pushed that if they wanted to show people interacting with the cars and the cars in this light, they might want to consider Olivia.
It’s about people seeing themselves with the car. Her work feels different. It’s from the heart. It’s not stylistically set up or posed. Christopher uses a very specific wide lens with everything centered. Olivia has a 50 mm and just runs around them laughing, makes everyone feel very comfortable. People weren’t intimidated by her and were able to just be themselves. The images of people having fun were really of people having fun. I’ve worked with many photographers and that’s a big talent, to make people feel comfortable instantly.
She was extremely collaborative and extremely open to anything. I’m sure it was a project a lot of photographers would love to have. I would say let’s hop in the car with the models and try to capture some emotion, to get people interacting with the car. We did a picnic in the snow with the cabrio and she has great ideas like getting bubbles and have them chilling and having fun.
Candace showed me Olivia’s Converse work and I’d seen Olivia’s other work in a photo magazine. I loved telling Olivia’s story to Chrysler. I said I would handle the logistics of working with two photographers. They said they couldn’t give me two cars, but once they got over this they really loved her story and liked that she was young and a young photographer being introduced on a grander scale is like Fiat introducing this new car to America. I wrapped this up in a story.
Christopher is an absolute joy to work with. He comes from the creative side, so he’s very easy to work with, super collaborative, and he gets it. He sketches it out and understands advertising and what the reason is for shooting something. And he takes that to heart because he knows our pain and what the client needs and what the hero needs to be. He shot some amazing images. In the end, putting them together was easy for everyone.
POP: How did you decide who would shoot what images?
I didn’t want to limit them to only shooting cars or people. I had a shot list and knew my hero angles—the car looked great from a low perspective with not too wide a lens. I knew what we had to capture for what I had to write about and I gave that list to Christopher. Olivia knew the story and the shot list as well—guy driving to beach, getting surfboard ready, guy sitting on the back of the car with surfboard.
Each day they had their shot lists and my job was to say this is going to be an organic process and guide it. We worked from the outside in—wide with Christopher and Olivia shooting details of the car and people. I had the hero car with the right wheels and another car that Olivia could be using to shoot the lifestyle images.
Christopher would be shooting the wider image and then I’d run down the beach and tell Olivia to capture the guy sitting on back of car getting surfboard ready. Every day was like this. We were very close in proximity.
Olivia’s dad was on set the entire time. He was so proud of her. And you can see how excited she is when she’s working. One day in downtown SF, there was a girl sitting on the corner crying in a ballet outfit. Olivia went up to her and sat with her and the girl was probably the same age as Olivia. Olivia made her feel better and she walked back into her dance rehearsal. An hour later, a girl ran over and said she heard Olivia Bee was there and was so happy to meet her. 15-year-old fans. Really nice.
POP: What was it like to art direct two photographers for one job?
I’ve never had the opportunity or thought to hire two photographers. But for this job, because of the content we had written for Fiat, it made sense to hire them both. You could argue that Christopher could have shot this himself. But I thought it would feel more authentic using both of them. Cars don’t have a life of their own and you can pull personality out of cars. I’ve done a lot of car work and knew I wasn’t going to lead them down the wrong path. They trusted that I would capture what they sketched out.
I started collaborating with Olivia and Christopher on the phone before the shoot. On the creative call, I said we should shoot by the beach and Christopher said “with a giant bouquet of balloons.” And I said “giant balloons that won’t fit in the car.” And Christopher loved this and captured the image.
I want to tell the story of each car. There are different models: the POP, Sport, Lounge and Cabrio. I created stories around each one. For example, for the POP, I wanted to have younger people driving around and hanging out together.
Christopher captured all the details that auto makers need: sport buttons, stick shift. Then Olivia would take the kids running around the park. We would get in the car and drive around the block.
For the Sport model, we thought of surfing and got Fiat out on the beach in Eureka. Christopher shot the car’s profile and Olivia shot details of the surfer getting his board ready and putting on his wetsuit.
The story of the Lounge was more upscale so we shot it at night in downtown San Francisco with the models dressed up for going out. We captured detail shots of the man’s hand on the stick-shift with light falling across the woman’s face looking at the man. Chrysler felt they got so much more than they anticipated.
POP: What is the story of Vendor Inc., now known as Blackboard?
Three years ago, Joe Shands and I launched Vendor Inc. Joe Shands was with me in Detroit at Chiat Day and he ran Nissan and worked on Porsche. He was my writer on this brochure.
We decided to start the agency in Austin because the lifestyle here is better for having a family and we thought Texas was better state for a start-up company. It was after the big crash and felt safer than LA.
We got our first piece of business right off the bat, then picked up Pabst Blue Ribbon and did our first interactive Superbowl ad for Home Away. We are also doing cool work for New Mexico Tourism, Grande Communications and Tillamook Cheese and just moved in to new offices in a new space. We recently changed the name to Blackboard.
Our mascot is the Yak, a very hard-working animal—a hairy domesticated beast of burden. We started an internship program with the University of Texas a few years ago and called the interns Yaks because they carried a lot of heavy stuff. It caught on and we realized we were all kind of Yaks.
POP: What was it like working with a second photographer?
We had completely different briefs. We shared some talent and cars, but were very much doing our own thing on our own sets. I was the lead photographer and was there to shoot the cars in the studio and on location. Olivia was focused more on lifestyle and not showcasing the cars. Part of the reason they hired Olivia is that she’s young and a good photographer and they’re trying to appeal to a younger market.
I had a lot of creative freedom on this. They gave me some parameters, but once we agreed on what we were going to shoot, they let me shoot it.
POP: Favorite shots from the job?
The shot of the old Fiat with the talent sticking out of the sun-roof because the car was so small.
POP: You were an art director before you started shooting. How did you make the transition?
I left McKinney + Silver in 2003 and was working as a freelance CD. I had a good camera and while on a job at Team One, I shot a layout for Ritz-Carlton. The client loved my photography so hired me to shoot Ritz-Carlton Asia. I had no idea what I was doing. I had a good eye but technically I was young. I went in to the middle of Vietnam with one camera. I can’t imagine doing that now.
Even then I didn’t say ‘I was a photographer’ but the economy shifted and there was less design work and people were interested in having me shoot for them. So I learned to shoot. I never assisted or went to school.
Every shoot is a different problem to be solved. It’s a blank slate every time. You just figure it out. At the beginning I was sweating bullets over imagery. I’ve noticed that every photographer has a different way of working. I love it when I get a chance to meet other photographers and pick their brains. I’m interested in how they get shots and their gear. I’m judging an international one eyeland awards show in January for their first international competition. It will be great to be around other photographers I admire.
When I look back, it makes sense because I was so visually oriented. In the last few years I finally say that I’m a photographer. Clients love it because I’m from their world. It’s been great and I love what I do and feel very fortunate that I’m working and get to travel a lot and have a great rep.
POP: What is your approach to marketing?
I do six or so outlets and it just propogates out. Clients seem to find me randomly. It’s a trial of breadcrumbs—maybe they saw me on a blog and then find their way back to my website.
POP: Are you hired more by art directors than art producers?
It tends to be both. A lot of the people I’ve worked with are art directors. They say they’ve been wanting to work with me for awhile. I think they bookmark me and when the right project comes along, I get the call. But it tends to be both.
POP: This was your first automotive campaign. How was it?
It was very fun because I’d never shot cars before and wasn’t sure it would work and I would enjoy it. But I loved it because it was more about the people. It was just fun to have a huge prop to problem solve with. I was given a lot of creative freedom. Clark Evans wanted some shots and I would tell him my ideas and he would say go for it.
Working with Christopher was a great experience. The bottom line is that we were buddies and very friendly with each other. One day we shot together when we had a day off and sometimes on set I was asked to direct his talent. He was very cool and inclusive, but we each got to do our own thing while working on the project together.
POP: Favorite shot(s) from job?
I love the shots from Tahoe when it was all snowy. The talent made snow angels around car with the car doors open. They told me it would possibly be on a billboard but it didn’t end up getting used in this way. I also like ones on the beach with the bonfires and talent.
I was very happy for the work. It was a pivotal point in my career—people take me more seriously since I shot this. It was a big shoot: two weeks of road-tripping down California with a big production budget. Big for me. Sady Callaghan of Purple Lamb Productions kept it all together.