2015 has come and gone in the blink of an eye, and reflecting on it, I realize I was able to accomplish quite a bit with my photography, both artistically and commercially. Still, I feel I left far too many creative projects on the back burner and had too many of my goals fall short.
Though I'm not generally one for New Year's resolutions, I can promise that the coming year will show a marked jump in the quality, quantity, and consistency of my artistic endeavors.
In 2015 I finally made it a point to fully educate myself on how to properly run my business, as well as effectively market it, and of course, now having the complete freedom of devoting all of my time to my career, I hope that the next twelve months will produce some very strong and memorable work.
But I digress with this peek into the future. My purpose here is to take a quick, fun glance back at the recent past.
So, if you believe - as I do - that our lives and careers are an accumulation of building blocks and stepping stones that allow us to reach ever higher and farther, then what I experienced and accomplished in the past year, regardless of whether it fell short of my expectations or not, definitely puts me on some very solid footing going forward.
Well then, let's take a look at some of the areas where I managed to get some things done...
'Frugals' Vintage Clothing - My Return To Fashion Photography
A watershed moment occured for me in 2015 when I was finally able to put together an artistic fashion shoot using local talent from Lake County. Trust me, no small task. And, as I had not shot fashion in quite a few years, it had become a huge priority for me, crucial to getting my fashion business up and running again.
Thanks to friends Ben Moseley and Lindy Colvin of Frugals the Collection in Leesburg, Florida, I have access to enormous amounts of wonderful vintage clothing and accessories. At some point it only made sense to use this as a theme, plan a shoot, and create strong new images for my book, web site, and of course, advertising for their stores.
After much planning, organizing, and waiting, I was finally able to coordinate the shoot wth my stylists. All local. Then my pals at Akers Media stepped up and allowed me to use their facilities as a location, including their photo studio and the older halls and large windows within their building.
Finally, the fashion gods decided to smile upon me, my struggle to find the final piece - a suitable model - reaching an end, as local talent Olivia Ashton appeared right in my back yard. She is long and lean with a beautiful face. And she was available...
Successful fashion photography goes far beyond the model, styling, and technical elements of shooting. It is all about assembling a team, coordinating the entire process, then clearing the hurdles that inevitably appear, everything aimed at giving yourself the best chance of making it all work, and hopefully capturing some lighting in a bottle.
There are a lot of intangibles. Even the simplest fashion shot usually requires the hard work of an entire group of talented people over an extended period of time. This was no exception, and not being located in a fashion market only made it more challenging..
To say I was pleased with the results is a huge understatement.
It was good to be back doing what I love...
Photo Asylum Moving Pictures Goes Commercial - The Andrew Roman Group Videos
2015 saw the launch of another major aspect of my photography business - commercial video. This was actually my number one priority for 2015: directing stylish short videos for commercial clients. Or at least getting the mechanism and the workflow set up.
This crucial goal of mine became a reality when local businessman Andrew Roman approached me about creating a series of videos for his new company, The Andrew Roman Group. Already a friend, his reinvention from a previous career into a consulting business meshed quite nicely with me moving forward with video direction, and wehn we met to discuss it, the ideas flowed effortlessly.
The results so far have been very exciting, and although short in length, these motion projects incorporate the exact workflow and process I need to master in order to succeed. Everything from pre-production and planning, to talent casting, direction, and shooting, to video footage evaluation and editing.
The perfect project arriving at the perfect time.
Unfortunately, we are in the midst of production, so I cannot publish any finished work yet, but look for these videos to be completed sometime in 2016, hopefully with a bit of fanfare from both of us.
Lizzii Le's 2.5 Semi-Annual Charity Modeling Shootout! At Studio One Orlando
I'm not normally one for being part of groups of photographers doing anything together, let alone events that include amateurs, hobbyists, and beginners.
One rare exception to this rule I am happy to make is when Central Florida model Lizzii Le holds one of her wonderful charity photo shoots at Studio One Orlando, as always under the fine supervision and generosity of studio owner and friend Michael Lewis.
Coming only a week after my great experience with Olivia Ashton (see above), the creative juices were still flowing, and I took my vintage wardrobe/camera theme on the road. And while these events typically have dozens of models available to photograph, considering my carefully planned-out styling and time constraints, I felt I needed to narrow my focus (pun intended!) down to two or three.
One lovely lady I was fortunate enough to work with was Vietnamese beauty Tracy Huynh. Her captivating eyes and long soft body-waved hair made her a perfect fit for one of the retro looks I had put together (again, vintage clothing from Frugals).
All in all, these are generally very crowded affairs (another reason I usually avoid them), so my styling and shooting times were greatly limited. Still, I managed to create a handful of really nice images, which in this business is pretty much what you hope for.
SNAP! Orlando 'You Are Here' Exhibition -
City Arts Factory
Participating in gallery exhibitions, especially some of the larger ones, can be a time-consuming and somewhat stressful process, not to mention an artist running the risk of rejection. My only showing of 2015 did not come until May, but I feel it was a significant event to be a part of.
SNAP! Orlando is arguably Central Florida's premiere celebration of photography, with exhibitions, workshops, and lectures scattered throughout the year. The You Are Here show at The City Arts Factory marked the second time I've been accepted into one of their juried events.
It's always good for an artist to maintain a presence in their local markets, and considering my limited options this past year, I feel this was a very good choice for me.
The piece I selected to submit was a street photograph titled A Trip To The Fair No.200. It was shot as one of a much larger group of photos taken at the Mount Dora Arts Festival in 2014, the sequence acting as animation frames in a stop-action video I created.
Street photography is not normally my thing, but the nature of the Arts Festival project meant I had hundreds of interesting images to choose from, all reflecting a slice of life by capturing people and moments from the event. I felt it fit the theme of the SNAP! show perfectly.
Return Of The Pattern Pinups!
Easily my most exciting gallery project of 2015 was a renewed commitment to my long-running series, The Pattern Pinups: a collection of fun and surreal erotic pop fashion art. My Pinups were conceived and first introduced in the 1990s, and had been exhibited and sold in South Florida when I lived there, and more recently up here in Central Florida, including Nude Night Orlando in 2012.
It is a gallery series I've put on hold many times in the past, but still feel has enormous potential, and it gives me a great deal of pleasure to work on it. To learn and understand more about the history of the series, and what I'm trying to achieve, read my Pattern Pinups Blog Entry from November. I also have some selected pieces in the Gallery section of this web site (link in the nav bar above).
The Pattern Pinups have evolved and resurfaced primarily because of the advancements I've experienced with digital editing. My ability to finally put on paper what I saw in my head almost two decades ago comes directly from my digital darkroom and the visual vocabulary I've acquired using its filters and tools.
The most exciting aspect of all of this is the idea of having new photo shoots with new models and new wardrobe in 2016! As fun as my older work was, and as good as some of it looks, I was practically flying blind when I originally created it. My understanding now of what and how I need to shoot is much clearer to me, which will mean much stronger final images in the future.
By the way, I hadn't really planned on using this space to cast any of my shoots, but I guess I should mention if you are a model of a particular body type (view the images), you are reading this and you like the idea of being part of a cool and fun artistic photo series that will be seen by many, please note that NUDITY is not a requirement for The Pattern Pinups. It is simply an artistic option for some of my ideas that will work with some of the models and some of the images. Be sure to contact me to learn more...
The IceHouse Theatre - 'Barefoot In The Park' Publicity Stills
I had a nice change of pace this past May when I got a call from friend Darlin Barry at the Sonnentag Theatre at the IceHouse in Mount Dora. Barry is the Managing Artistic Director at the theatre, and I have photographed her in the past for local magazine articles.
She wanted to know if I was available to shoot publicty still photos of a dress rehearsal of their upcoming production of Neil Simon's classic romantic comedy, Barefoot In The Park.
Well, of course I said yes, and it was a blast.
It had been quite a while since I had spent any length of time inside a theater during rehearsals for a production. It was fun to be with such a talented group of local actors. Also interesting to see how the crew lit the production. And while I have only shot these kinds of photos once before, I knew exactly what Darlin wanted, and my experience made it very easy to compose and block a scene on the fly while they were performing.
Hopefully this skill translates over into my video directing, as it's basically the same method of visualizing dramatic action and positioning actors for motion.
Gold's Gym/Habitat for Humanity Mount Dora Photo Shoot
Another great opportunity came my way in April when I was asked to be part of a Gold's Gym Mount Dora volunteer team to help with a house build in Mount Dora for Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter Florida.
Habitat for Humanity is one of the best groups you can volunteer for and make an immediate difference in your own community. And while I did end up doing a bit of painting with the group, my main job was to photograph the day's activities for publicity use for the gym and the organization.
Photographs For Writer Tom Austin's Miami Beach Knight Foundation Arts Challenge
One of the perks of having done this for so long is I occasionally get asked to provide portraits or otehr photos I shot years ago for various book projects from assorted writers, some of them friends of mine from my years living and working in Miami Beach.
The title to this section sounds like a mouthfull, but bascially Tom Austin is a longtime friend and very talented South Florida writer who's penned social and cultural columns over the years for prominent Miami publications and beyond. Back in the 1990s, I provided a great deal of the photography Tom used to illustrate his columns and feature articles.
This past year Tom approached me about a Knight Foundation Arts Challenge Grant he was applying for. His proposed finished product would be a book or zine documenting some of the cultural history of Miami Beach's arts scene, and he would need photos to go along with his writing.
Obviously, some of my older portraits would be perfect to match up with the people he mentions in his book.
So far, I've only provided a few photos to go with his short proposal to the foundation, including the shot of socialite-extraordinare Edith "Edie" Beale above. This portrait of Edie is a perfect example of how much of Tom's wrtiing - and much of my photography - went far beyond simple South Beach nightlife and club scene fodder, even though we did a lot of that as well.
Well, he was recently awarded the grant, which now allows me to even discuss this previously hush hush project, but everything is still in the formative stages, so final arrangements as to what images will be included have yet to be made. Looks like this will be one of my more interesting projects for 2016.
Suffice to say, while I do not dwell in the past, it can sometimes be a lot of fun digging through older work and reliving the experiences of photographing so many remarkable individuals.
The chronology of my work is important to me, and gives me occasional reminders to appreciate the many wonderful opportunities I've had throughout my career.
South Beach Tropical Art Deco - The Gallery Series Revived
Speaking of old work, one group of images that has been around a long time is my South Beach Tropical Art Deco series. These stylized photos of some of the smaller boutique Art Deco hotels and buildings, as well as street scenes, along Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, and other areas in Miami Beach's Historic Districts were originally shot back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In 2015, I made a significant effort to rework many of these images with new split-tone and duotone color combinations using Adobe Photoshop. They were all originally shot on black and white film, and of course, the subjects are all older buildings, so the whole retro/vintage vibe has been there from the beginning.
The big difference is, much like The Pattern Pinups (discussed above), my digital darkroom has allowed me to make edits and add style to the photos I could have only dreamed of years ago.
Needless to say, this is one series I heavily market to Interior Designers and Decorators, as many seem to enjoy having the nostalgic and stylized images of America's Riviera in their homes and workplace.
In Other News...
Even though I think of myself as a specialist when it comes to my photography, offers pop up throughout the year that get my attention, and from time to time I'll decide to take a job I wouldn't ordinarily be interested in. Sometimes it's because it's for a friend. Sometimes It's because I need the money!
But, you know what they say: the exception proves the rule, and though some of my paid jobs in 2015 seemed to go a bit against the grain of my career, they do restore my focus and act as a reminder of what it is I really want accomplish with my photography, and so still serve a purpose for me.
Did I mention sometimes I simply need the money???
2015 Leesburg Art Festival - Leesburg, Florida
I try to avoid shooting events for pay like the plague. No disrespect intended, but I'm just being honest when I say I think that nearly anyone with a camera can shoot an event and not screw it up, assuming they just pay a little attention to what they're doing. It requires little to no real creative skill.
And yet it is extremely hard to be taken seriously or respected as a fashion or portrait photographer if you also shoot a lot of events. Trust me, I learned that the hard way. Shooting events in South Florida nearly cost me my career as a "serious" photographer as clients began to label me, and stopped thinking of me for creative editorial and advertising fashion and portrait jobs.
It makes little difference how good your portfolio is. If you are seen shooing events all the time, your are labeled as an Event Shooter and thought of as little else. Cold hard truth about the industry. And that is why I no longer shoot events.
Now, that being said, when friend Amy Padgett Painter, director of the Leesburg Center For The Arts, phoned me and asked if I was available to shoot her fabulous art festival this past March, I did not hesitate to say yes.
Aside from the simple fact that one single 'event job' would have no negative effect on my career at this point, I also saw the opportunity to shoot both video footage as well as a time lapse while I was covering the festival. And that's what I did.
Grumman HU16 Albatross "Zeus" - Tavares Seaplane Fly-In
Technically, the Tavares Seaplane Fly-In in May was an event as well, but I wasn't hired to take photos. This time I just showed up for fun!
And, of course, to see the Guest of Honor. The vintage Grumman HU16 Albatross "Zeus" that was flown in specifically for the event.
Easily the largest seaplane I've ever seen up close, "Zeus" demonstrates one of the perks of living near the popular Tavares Seaplane Base and Marina: the occasional unusual or unique aircraft that pay a visit. Aside from shooting an assortment of stills of 'Zeus", I also managed to capture some video footage as well.
Tavares' Wooton Park Seaplane Time Lapse
My time lapse videos serve mulitple purposes. So far, they have all started out as personal projects. I pick a day, pick a place, pick a time, set up and shoot. It couldn't be more simple.
But at some point the usage of the final footage may change. Time lapses make great transitional footage for longer video projects, including, of course, commercial ones. Obviously that also makes them good for stock video sales and use. So what begins as an artistic endeavor often turns into a money-maker. Crazy world, ain't it?
Video/Animation Gear Car Rig Tests
Any photographer who truly cares about improving is continually testing their equipment, whether its acquiring and trying new toys, or learning new techniques using existing gear. Growing and expanding my skill set is a never-ending process.
Don't be fooled by the quality - or lack thereof - of the image above. It's from a test where I rigged mt DSLR to shoot out the side window of my car, played with the camera settings, then drove around and had it shoot still images triggered by an interval timer.
To label many of these images as mistakes and simply dismiss them is very short-sighted. Not only did I learn how far I could push the camera settings and still get acceptible sharpness in the final results, but even the blurred photos tend to work well as frames of a stop-motion animation, adding a certain style to the footage that could be very valuable in a later project. Also, the settings could (will) be appied to shooting video while shooting from a moving car as well.
Never be afraid of failure or making mistakes. Or wasting time. All in all this was an afternoon of experimenting well spent...
Whoomp There It Is!
Well, that was 2015 - a lot of ground to cover, but we seem to have made it through in one piece. I apreciate it if you actually read the entire post!
Some have said it's a mistake to organize one's life - our goals and accomplishments - strictly based on a man-made calendar. As if that somehow creates an unhealthy imbalance in our lives, goes against the laws of nature (as well as the rest of the animal kingom), and places very unnecessary limits and restrictions on our way of thinking.
Personally, I scoff at that notion. Like most, I think it's simply human nature to want to quantify and document nearly everything in our lives possible, sometimes in precisely organized ways, many times not. But almost always placed within the familiar context of a date, a time, and a place.
And so, as always, the year just ending - 2015 - becomes carved in stone for me, and 2016 begins with a fresh start: a new chapter full of wonderful possibilities.
Let's hope I make the most of it.
BTW, what follows is the final paragraph from my Year In Review post from a year ago. As I cannot think of a better way to verbalize how I feel, I have simply copied it from there to here and updated the year!
I cannot express how thankful I am to all of you who have shown such unwavering support this past year. As I faced many challeneges throughout 2015 (including health and financial), often times it was this foundation of good will and support that motivated me to continue: to reach for higher goals, improve and add to my skills, network and reach out to many talented individuals to be a part of what I'm trying to accomplish. And it's obvious that effort is finally paying dividends. So thanks again! And check back here often to see what successes lie ahead in 2016!
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All photos ©Steven Paul Hlavac. All rights reserved.