Shortly after the bloom of social media, when a raw DIY aesthetic had begun to displace the traditional aspirational trends in fashion and advertising photography and when a new audience was making it clear that an authentic personality got you further than a slick execution, I was recruited to Berlin by Veer Europe to provide creative direction for a revolutionary new take on licensed imagery. I had been working in editorial fashion with a promising pool of young photographers who exemplified this approach. Now I saw an opportunity to bring them to a lucrative marketplace. At the time microstock and peer-to-peer sites were throwing the stock industry into a panic. Veer had decided to explore a new premium collection of commissioned photography crafted to emulate this peer-to-peer style, where spontaneity and a strong engagement with the subject took precedence over polished production value. My first challenge was to sell the idea internally: to demonstrate the trend, identify the markets, and illustrate the potential appeal.
An Undeniable Trend
I would be working with Veer CD, Jens de Gruyter. Our initial goal was to show proof of concept to the executive directors guarding production budgets. Once development funds were green-lighted we would proceed in building a new image collection by producing a series of prototypical photo shoots based on the idea. I took an apartment in Berlin and began gathering moodboard inspiration and putting together a defining brief. It was crucial to establish a foundation of clear criteria underlying the concept.
As a working title, we called the brand DIY. The success of DIY would depend upon distinctly balanced art-direction. To sell the project internally and prevent it from being misconstrued, we needed to create a brand-defining document that both exhibited these distinctions and demonstrated how they could be effectively put into play. We arrived at the idea of giving the charter a lo-fi, newsprint feel, inspired by strap-hanger standards like the Village Voice, to give emphasis to the street-level nature of the brand.
L to R: Michael Yang, Clayton Hauck, RJ Shaughnessy, Kristen Burns and Nikola Tamindzic
For the prototype presentation, we solicited existing imagery from a short-list of photographers whom I had worked with in editorial and who possess a special instinct for capturing personality as well as an eye for the moment. Among them, NYC’s Nikola Tamindzic, Chicago’s Clayton Hauck, from the LA scene, RJ Shaughnessy and Kristen Burns, as well as Michael Jang, Robert Yager and a number of others who possessed a demonstrated gift for capturing spontaneity while still retaining the core aspects of artful photography.
The collection would refer to a current revolution in photography: the blurring of the distinction between the photographer and the photographed—and between the industry and the audience. Still, DIY was conceived as an alternative approach to many of the same themes currently featured in the licensed photo industry. The new images would feel more familiar than idealistic. To show this, we focused on a few of the currently popular themes in the market. We portrayed them, however, through a markedly different lens.
Advertising Mock-ups
Interspersed through the presentation are mock advertisements based on the DIY aesthetic. It was important to show the concept in the context of real-world market applications. I had a bit of fun with this, and, as it was strictly an internal presentation, a rare degree of freedom. For a nice couple of days I got to flex my copywriting skills. The results show the real potential of DIY.
It was also important to establish a precedent in the marketplace. We researched and referenced existing advertising campaigns throughout a variety of industries that currently embraced this raw aesthetic as a key element in their strategic executions. To give strategic credence to the trend, we also researched industry articles in the media where leading agency execs were endorsing this shift in the way marketing is presented. Of particular interest was the rather radical shift from tradition in luxury marketing.
DIY Elements
In addition to the main image collection, we proposed creating a royalty-free brand extension we tentatively called DIY Elements. This would consist of random environmental images crafted from the DIY aesthetic that could be used to lend a sense of placement within an eclectic and creative young urban culture. DIY Elements would also perfectly complement the rights-managed collection.
Zeitgeist Image Solutions did a spot-on job in providing us with the combination of high quality offset printing and disposable, street-level feel we desired in the final piece. To package it for presentation—and further position it outside of the realm of the ordinary—we called upon local Berlin graffiti artist Matthias Gephart to create a stencil and individually spray paint each envelope. In this way, every copy took on a raw, imperfect, one-of-a-kind charm that is the essence of DIY.
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