by Harvey Goldstein
January 01, 2009 — Chris Borgman is an illustrative photographer who produces unique, vivid images for conceptual advertising. His photographs are innovative and bright and each of them tells a story.
Chris’ interest in photography began at age 12, the same time that his interest in music was growing. He would sneak his father’s camera into concerts and photograph his favorite rock idols. Later, he would lay out his pictures on the floor exactly in the order that he took them and replay the two-hour concert in his head. While he has been photographing for a number of years, he only became serious about making it his chosen profession in 2004 when he moved from San Antonio, TX, to Miami, FL.
As Chris’ Photoshop expertise increased, his mind would race with new ideas he wanted to try. He was always looking to experiment with his photography and find new avenues to explore. What he found in the fashion industry was this: What works for one magazine may not work for another. When he was first starting out, he did a photographic editorial with his mermaid photographs on speculation for a Latin magazine and was turned down because the images were not “sexy enough.”
He sent the same images to another Florida magazine and was turned down because “the clothes and accessories were not expensive enough.” However, the same images were sent to a third Miami magazine and the editor loved them, one of the photographs even making the cover of the magazine. This cover made Chris very recognizable; this first article and cover resulted in a photographic campaign for a watch company.
Tired of the same old-fashioned editorial images, Chris was looking for personality and emotion in what he created. He wanted something more than posing a model on a gray background or lying on the beach. “Taking pictures just to show clothes or makeup was getting boring. I needed more.” Chris was looking to expand his talents into a new genre where he could stand alone. Relocating to New York a few years ago gave him the opportunity to move away from editorial fashion photography and into the commercial field.
Never totally satisfied with “just taking a picture,” Chris experimented with the image in the darkroom; he tried pouring Clorox on a transparency or stomped on a negative just to see the result. “Photoshop has turned the industry upside down. What was impossible a few years ago can now be done in someone’s bedroom on a $1000 PC. For me, creating something that doesn’t really exist is an escape. People having fun in bright, over-saturated surroundings is where I want to be, whether or not it really exists. This is the idea behind concept advertising—show the consumer a better world with their product leading the way. This allows me more creativity than the standard ‘show the product being
Chris entered the genre of conceptual illustrative photography because he wanted to create images that were fun and light-hearted. “We are only photographers in a luxury-based industry. Why do we feel our next images of a cocktail dress are going to revolutionize an entire industry and cure cancer as a side benefit? I’m a mellow and conservative guy most of the time, so creating a fun and colorful world is a nice escape. With many photographers joining the trend of the dark, undersaturated, gritty look, I’m having fun popping colors. I am trying to push color way past normal while still keeping the image looking like a photograph.”
As a conceptual photographer, Chris works closely with art directors on commercial assignments. Many give him the freedom to create what he feels will work best, pop off the page and sell their product. “A good art director can take a photographer to the next level. The art director and I discuss options and many times I push for something a little different because it is better or more feasible. Most art directors hire photographers like me, not because we are technicians, but because they are looking for a creative resource.”
After moving to New York City, Chris received a postcard from a new agency called Ugly New York. He was impressed with a simple image of a man with an “ugly” and unique look against a gray seamless background. Photographing pretty models was getting boring to him and this seemed like a perfect change of pace. Chris teamed up with the agency, which would send him “ugly” people to photograph in bright, beauty-type light, thus creating explosive one-of-a-kind photographs.
When it comes to equipment, Chris is a believer that simple is better. He considers himself low-tech and works with minimal equipment in his loft studio in Brooklyn, NY. The studio is used primarily for testing ideas or photographing simple assignments. “I mix Profoto, Novatron, odd generic strobes, an AlienBees Ringflash and even a Vivitar 285. If it flashes, I’ll use it. With everyone’s budget being cut, my clients appreciate the low overhead.”
Chris’ camera of choice is a Canon EOS 5D with a Tamron 28–75mm f/2.8 lens. If his client is looking for something bigger, he might rent a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II or Mark III or a Hasselblad.
After capturing the image, Chris processes his work on a Mac G5 dual CPU. To be sure everything runs smoothly and is backed up properly and efficiently, Chris has four external RAID hard drives. He suggests that Mac users go to macgurus.com for resources. He has taken suggestions from this site and modified his software/hardware setup. To make his Photoshop go faster, he has separated his user’s folder from the original install location and put it on a separate drive with all of his big applications such as Photoshop and Final Cut. The Apple applications stay in the original install location on the start-up disk. His working files are on a two-drive external eSATA RAID 0 and Photoshop has its own two-drive external RAID 0 scratch disk. “If you can do only one thing, give Photoshop a dedicated scratch disk—a disk with nothing on it that does nothing else but work as a scratch disk,” he says. “Never use your start-up disk as a scratch disk.”
In addition to being a working photographer, Chris teaches advanced photography and advanced Photoshop techniques at the Miami Ad School (MAS) in New York City. “MAS is not an art school, it is a commercial advertising school,” he advises. “MAS does not have professional teachers giving ‘feel good’ art projects; they hire working professional photographers, art directors, graphic designers and copywriters giving real world advertising and photography lessons. They have a great photography department directed by a fantastic teacher, Darryl Strawser.”
Chris continues, “As far as technology is concerned, this is a great time to be a photographer. When I started in photography, I spent a lot of money on film and processing and many long hours in the darkroom. Now, we can do it all in the corner of a small room—and breathe safely too. The learning curve is so much faster now. Today’s aspiring photographers have it made now that everything is digital and instant. No more waiting for film to be processed just to realize that you didn’t sync the strobes right and you get back four rolls of half-frame images. Knowing that you have it right before you start photographing is a great advantage that most new photographers may not appreciate.”
Chris Borgman’s commercial images are imaginative, exciting, bright, bold and standalone. Since his first days sneaking his father’s camera into rock concerts to his editorial and now commercial work, it is no mystery why he has become one of the premier conceptual commercial photographers.
Harv Goldstein from Branford, CT, has been in the photographic industry for 35 years. He is a former studio owner and presently edits numerous association newsletters and magazines, as well as being a freelance writer.
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