So why do we always say Meaningful, Memorable, and Masterful?
Around here, at Bellomo Studios, we are constantly trying to find better ways to create imagery that can sincerely have an impact. An impact on it’s viewers, an impact on me, as a creator, an impact on our community, and even beyond, to our world as a whole. I think this is not so different than what many artists want to achieve, but it is easier said than done and I don’t know if we can ever truly arrive at a formula for how this happens. Some of this goal can be achieved through patience, some talent, luck, technical ability, and perhaps intuition. There is no one-size-fits-all equation in our minds, which is why it is not part of our philosophy to narrow how we aim to achieve this ultimate goal. Instead, we live by a philosophy built around education, collaboration, connection, sensitivity, and evolution. This said, we also understand that progress must somehow be quantified. This is where we came up with the mantra of Meaningful, Memorable, and Masterful. We determined that despite how we got there and despite the imagery we were trying to achieve, be it for a business to better tell their story through fine art in their environment or on their website, or perhaps a milestone piece for a family to recognize and appreciate the brief moment their family grew, these three measuring sticks would hold us to a standard of excellence and give us a beacon to which we could always find our course.
Meaningful: Like any good story, good imagery must have meaning and purpose. Creation with intent. When we create with meaning, we focus less on the individual pieces that lead us to our image, but on the overall purpose into which those pieces can just fall into place. With meaning, there is no question, at times, to the “how”, “when”, and “where” as these become much more obvious when we are driven by the “why”. When trying to define meaning, we invariably also identify the “who”. Who are we creating for? Not all art is made for everyone. That’s not to say, someone who the piece was not created for can’t identify or that the “who” identifies a specific person or collection of people. Perhaps the “who” is people who are suffering, or people who are feeling joy. Other times, especially when we’re hired to create, our “who” is our client, but it is important that we ask the correct questions because if we assume, we can often miss our mark, thus, lose meaning. Sometimes are clients don’t want it to be about them at all. Commercial clients are a good example. They often really need images that tell their story to their target audience. It’s not about just a pretty picture, but about creating meaning for the “who” it was intended. MEANINGFUL.
Memorable: Now, more than ever, we encounter a never-ending stream of images. Our friends and family share about their lives, advertisements are trying to get our attention at every opportunity, news and magazine articles are helping us visualize a story, and artists are finding themselves faced with the challenge of creating pieces that still captivate their viewers minds who are often oversaturated with visual data good and bad. So this idea of memorable has become one of our standards of excellence. What makes something memorable? Is it based on technical excellence, is it based on color, composition, subject matter, lighting, etc.? And the answer is yes...it could be any of these things. But, what is it for this piece we’re working on, for this audience we are trying to speak and connect to. Without something having enough appeal to be remembered, it is, in fact, forgotten, as if it never existed in the first place. If we can’t make artwork that is memorable, then, is there a purpose? I’m sure this could be, and will be, argued in many directions, but the point remains that when we think about how we can make a piece memorable, we have a far greater chance of in fact doing so. We ask ourselves questions like:
“How can I shoot this subject in a way that is different than our audience is used to?”
“Does our audience expect this subject to smile? Maybe we should do something unexpected”
“Does this image require us to stay on the straight and narrow technically, or would it make it more memorable and impactful to break some “rules”?
When trying to achieve memorable, it is easier to get away from thinking we have to do everything the same just because we learned this was "the way". We learn “right” and “wrong” constantly, but in the arts world, they all have a place. Sometimes the “wrong” is the “right” when we work to appeal to our human tendencies towards imperfection. MEMORABLE.
Masterful: Now, as stated above, sometimes we follow rules, sometimes, we break rules, and other times we make rules, but as professionals, it is our goal to make that choice and not simply let things happen by chance. We want there to be an element of control even at our most spontaneous of times and this can be a direct contradiction at times. The point is, if we are masters of our craft, we must constantly be committing ourselves to education, learning, and an ever-raising bar of excellence. There are obvious mile markers in our common world, like degrees, awards, resumes, and although those are all great signs of growth, they simply mark a beginning to our journey as professionals. As a martial arts student, I defer to one of the teachings we study by, which is, that once we achieve our black belt, our training then begins. Everything up until that point is really fundamental and if we think we ever “arrive” we bring our true growth to a halt. As a professional, we aim to always be better and understand what we didn’t the day before. Something intangible one day, may seem commonplace the next. It is tenacity, patience, confidence and a commitment to true excellence that allows that transition. MASTERFUL.
MEANINGFUL, MEMORABLE, MASTERFUL...when these paths run parallel, we know we’ve created something worthwhile.
Let's look at an example and walk you through my thought process when planning and creating this image to better illustrate our point:
I was approached by a highly-decorated, veteran photographer friend and mentor, Nancy Bailey, 3 years ago about creating some images for her and her husband, Alan. When your very accomplished photographer/artist friends approach you about doing work for them, it is both extremely complementary and nerve-racking at the same time. You know their expectations are through the roof, as they should be, and since you know they have the technical ability to handle this on their own, they are really asking you to use your own creativity to tell their story in a way they wouldn't or perhaps couldn't. Needless to say, I was excited about this project and it was time to get to work.
MEANINGFUL: As with any session, I talked with Nancy about what was important to her...about what she wanted these images to say and how she would use them. Nancy told me she wanted something that highlighted her husband, Alan, who is her quiet supporter and often does not demand the opportunity to be recognized for what she saw so dear in him. With that, we talked about what Alan loved and what she loved and what they did together. Nancy explained how Alan loved golf and they even spent their winters in Florida where Alan spent much of his time on the green. In addition to this, we discussed how they interacted, we discussed that Alan didn't love spotlight, but Nancy still wanted to shine that light on him. We also discussed how she would use these images. Nancy was interested in milestone prints, but also wanted their story to share with friends and family as their annual mile marker together. At this point, we were ready to start building our art board, which I do with every session. This is where we can discuss the meaning behind all elements including wardrobe, location, lighting, props, what the story is, mood, style, etc. We build a board with imagery, words, colors, examples, etc. and then continue our conversation as these elements begin to meld together. We can then decide on the specifics of time, place, season, and any other necessary elements needed to execute our vision. By this time, we know we are primed to create images that will not only resonate with Nancy and Alan, but with anyone who knows them and even those who do not, but will know them better after seeing them.
MEMORABLE: To accomplish something that will be remembered, it is often important to appeal to a sense of unusual, spontaneous, and exciting. This can be achieved through any number of creative avenues. Composition, color, perspective, selective focus, contrast, texture, form...all of the topics we discuss in our creative studies. By using any infinite combination of these attributes, we develop our own style, which we aim to have the ability to stand out in a crowd. When creating this piece, I wanted to really embrace a sense of commitment to their relationship, exploring, and learning as a couple; the ability to be so different but want to be together at the same time. So, I wanted to embrace the environment of the golf course in it's pristine glory of shape and form. I also wanted there to be a testimonial to commitment, which is demonstrated by the time of day (and this was further reinforced by having to postpone our original date and time after being there before sunrise as we had unforgiving conditions the first time). The elongated frame allows us to embrace this environment and keep our subjects secondary to story at hand. All eyes point to Alan as Nancy, embracing what she loves, embraces Alan that much more as he is the subject of her passion (photography).
MASTERFUL: It was our goal that all elements point to Alan, the man who doesn't want to be in the spotlight, in a way that appreciated him, without making him uncomfortable or represented him as something outside of who he was. That's not an easy combination and as well as the planning of the shot, there were a number of technical elements we had to use execute the vision. Obstacle one was lighting, as we wanted to capture this image at a dark time of day to see the colors of sunrise, but only as a complement to our story. Of course, this requires off camera flash so we can basically allow two exposures simultaneously giving us a nicely exposed environment while shedding light on our subjects in an interesting way. As with all other images, another major obstacle is not just WHAT to put in the image, but more importantly, WHAT NOT TO place in the frame. This required us to scout this session prior by arranging to ride around the course in preparation and determine the right location that would give us the landscape we wanted and keep it in the correct placement with reference to the rising sun, as well as the placement of subjects, lights, and giving us the appropriate position to shoot from. By pulling all of these elements together, we are able to capture the "negative" needed to get us to our intended target, however, we are only about 3/4 of the way there as the last push happens in our studio during post processing and production. During postproduction we are able to eliminate some distractions that are not possible in the field, such as perhaps a bad patch of grass or a light stand that had to be in the shot. Removing all we don't want seen leaves only what we DO want seen. We then also selectively dodge and burn to further focus our light and overall tone to direct the eye to the target(s) and allow our eyes to move to all intended elements. In this case, we have Alan, our golfer, his adoring wife Nancy, both doing something they love all the while doing it together, which they love even more. They are on an early morning adventure committed to that journey as a couple and placing Alan at the forefront per Nancy's request.
Truly these elements overlap, and we accept that, but what is most important that we allow these benchmarks to drive every image we create for our clients and ourselves. Some speak to relationships, some to beauty, others heroism, love, anger, mystery, friendship, you name it. These are all notable things worthwhile of having visual testimonials created in their honor for people to feel and discuss.
We have had the honor to add to this story for Nancy and Alan each year since and expect to tell their story for as long as they give us that honor.
As an artist, I commit myself to these things and have found these simple words to encase the complexities of creativity that allow me to get there.
MEANINGFUL, MEMORABLE, MASTERFUL
PS...did I mention it was the brilliance of my wife to come up with these three words and so simply explain so much of what I could only otherwise feel and struggled to articluate. Thank you Adrienne! Once again, you make me whole.