Special Report: Advertising's Favorite Photographers

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Nadav Kander leads a tortured life when it comes to taking pictures. "It's not fun and easy for me," he says. "It's not lighthearted, wine-drinking time. I don't find it easy for one second of what I do. While one is creating, it's a difficult thing." Nevertheless, his labor pains have gone on to produce several of the most respected and awarded photographs that have appeared in advertising internationally, for clients like Reebok, Levi's, Nike, Cartier and Tag Heuer. Darkly seductive, Kander's images draw you in and sustain you in a moment of unsettling pause, whether it be his moody portraits of celebrities, like Christina Ricci or Benicio Del Toro, or his offbeat locations in ads for Levi's and American Express.

Kander, who is represented by Stockland Martel, was born in Tel Aviv and grew up in South Africa, where he first picked up a camera at age 13. There he was eventually assigned to the Air Force, where luckily he got a chance to develop his printing skills doing dark room detail for the service's aerial photographers. Following his military stint he assisted commercial photographers in the country, but soon relocated to the more hopping creative scene in the U.K. He finally broke out on his own in 1986 when he opened a studio in London, where he's based today.

Although Kander got his start in commercial work, today he squirms at being pegged as an advertising shooter, or even a photographer per se. "A photographer for me is someone who in a traditional way recorded something, and the thing I'm least interested in is recording. I'm much more interested in creating something from nothing, in showing a new viewpoint, in the same way an artist does. I don't like 'image maker,' but I also don't like 'photographer.' For me, it's much more about a more considered approach."

"He will debate with himself exactly what and how much an image needs," observes Jeroen Bours, ECD at Ogilvy & Mather/New York. Bours and ACD Frank Guzzone worked with Kander on a campaign for American Express that includes the gripping closeup of a crying, red-faced newborn, as well as one black and white shot of a factory wall, nondescript save for the decrepit mannequins that peek out of its window. "He's almost like a writer in pictures and he will say, 'How many words do I need to tell a story?' " Bours adds. "So if a picture tells a thousand words, maybe Nadav would say, 'You know what, it only needs to say 823.' But he's not writing, he's telling it in one shot." And as much as Kander likes to push his own limits, he does the same for his collaborators. "He was constantly challenging us," recalls Bours. "There were everyday phone calls and e-mails back and forth. We had 10 shots and we labored over every one of them. But it kept growing and getting better and better. It was fantastic."

"I'm not satisfied if things are turning out exactly the way that I imagined them," Kander explains. What I really want is to advance. If I'm looking at Polaroids that are just as I imagined them when I first spoke about the images with the art director, or when I first saw the layouts, then it hasn't worked for me and that upsets me. That's what I mean by it being difficult. The work I do needs to surprise me. I must find some way to make this extend further than it was intended to."

Kander's commissioned assignments have always taken cues from his personal work. Recent images in ads for mobile phone company One-2-One and in editorial for Black Book magazine are reminiscent of his own projects, some of which are observations of urban sprawl. "I've always been very interested in that interference that man has on landscape, man's thumbprint on the land," he notes. One project initially captured the repetitiveness of America in the form of clone-like images of motel rooms across the country. "You go from motel to motel from South Dakota to Miami and there's no difference," he insists. "A Pizza Hut in New York is the same as a Pizza Hut in Montana. You could be in these plastic interiors and not realize that just outside the door was this vast emptiness." The project then evolved to more abstract night scenes, featuring city structures and fields spookily lit by fluorescent lights. "I started photographing night fields for the very same reason. They were again repeating themselves, yet they were always lit by electric light. By the sheer fact that they're lit by man, they become manufactured.

"That was really the first body of work that I've been really satisfied with," he says of the night fields. "That was about a year ago, and it was the first time I've looked at my work and said, 'OK, I think is good.' " But wouldn't recording the urban landscape make Kander something of the documentarian he says he's not? "I think the main thing for me is that I'm not recording an instant. If you were there a night before or a week before or a month later, it would be the same thing. So my choice in what I photograph becomes thoughtful. I now just much more firmly believe that good work shows the state of mind of the person executing it, rather than what's in front of you."

A wide variety of tools and techniques allows Kander to relay his messages. As far as lighting, "anything goes." He shoots in all formats in both color and black and white and also prints his own work. Recently, Kander has become fascinated by digital postproduction, which he first experimented with in a recent fashion spread for Black Book, in which he photographed models in his London studio and backgrounds in San Francisco. "I'm getting more interested in the digital after-process, because it can be, for its own sake, incredibly interesting. It's like I found a way of manufacturing pictures, really."

Kander's constant evolution makes it hard to predict where he will go next but perhaps that's why agencies seek him out. "I'm prepared to go places that I'm not comfortable with," he asserts. "If one always just goes over the same ground of where you're comfortable, it gets incredibly boring. Maybe that's why I've had a long career - because I'm not the same person I was a few years ago. I'm never satisfied with what I did a month ago, and I think that's why advertising likes me."


Russell Peacock and Connie Hansen, the husband-and-wife shooting team known as Guzman, are the cool rockers of advertising and fashion photography. At least that's how the pair explains their bizarrely chic moniker. "It's kind of like four guys in a band and they're just, 'Let's call ourselves whatever,' and four years later they're big stars," shrugs Peacock, as mellow as any seasoned musician. "You choose a name and that's it." "We didn't even have another name," adds Hansen, the more effervescent of the pair. "But it was just fine. There was no thought at all, because we weren't working anywhere, anyway."

In fact, they were just playing around when they actually first started to make a real name for themselves. After going the art school route (Hansen went to Pratt; Peacock attended Rochester Technical and RISD) they worked mostly in still life, but in their down time they'd go out and shoot quirky figures from the New York party scene. The extracurriculars eventually landed them album covers, shoots for New York designers like Marc Jacobs and editorial gigs for Interview, and soon ad agencies were calling.

"We just go with the flow," they say of their signature style, notable for bold images and offbeat humor, often highlighted with the otherworldly sheen of digital retouching. Such is apparent in images for the Evian "L'original" campaign, featuring the iconic mermaid with her lips pursed around the Evian bottle, as well as for French clothier Kookai, in the Lion-winning campaign that featured men as playthings. They're also skilled at the apparently "captured" moment, as in the "Beyond Measure" campaign, for Tag Heuer, out of BDDP/Paris, which includes one shot of a swimmer caught mid-butterfly, his arms outstretched, drawing up water, giving him a winged appearance. However, everything is the result of extensive forethought. "Our decisive moment is very planned," reveals Hansen. "It's supposed to be that odd moment that's captured by accident, once in a lifetime, but it was planned down to the last detail."

Currently, Guzman, repped out of Lighthouse in New York, continues their global tour. They just completed ads for Perrier, out of Ogilvy & Mather/Paris, and later this summer they'll be shooting for Japanese department store Isetan. After 15 years, their act is still tight, mostly because they enjoy what they do. "We don't like it when we're not having fun," says the cheerful Hansen. "It's like being big kids. I would probably leave this industry if I weren't having fun. It's very important." Adds Peacock, "Yeah, but it's fun not in the sense of laughing all the time. It's fun because the jobs are interesting. The moment where it feels like you're going to work, it's over."

Jim Erickson

San Francisco-based Jim Erickson might be called the Don Juan of ad photographers. The 47-year-old shooter unabashedly admits that he prefers romance to the stark reality of many ads right now, but considering the beautiful impressions his photographs have made, most recently in ads for Nevada Tourism, HBO and Goodyear, his classic tastes will never be out of style.

Maybe all the yoga, surfing and museum-going that the self-professed romantic does in his spare time have helped mold his philosophy of the craft: "I'm really interested in photographs that speak to the soul," he says. A Wisconsin native, he got his technical bearings at Rochester Institute, after which he went into journalism, shooting for papers in North Carolina. But he soon moved to advertising, where he was able to do the type of work that initially attracted him to the profession. "I was drawn to photography because of the artistic nature of it," notes Erickson, who's represented by Creative Management Partners. Leafing through his portfolio, you get the sense of being transported into the Old World, which is not surprising, since Erickson claims his influences hail from 18th century painters more than from any one photographer.

"Marrying painting and journalism and bringing it kicking and screaming into the world of advertising has been kind of my path," he chuckles. Most recently he's taken his painterly approach to campaigns for Venables Bell, promoting HBO's Oz video set, as well as an intriguing campaign for Nevada Tourism, for R&R Partners. The latter, which has a haunting energy reminiscent of the paintings of contemporary Norweigan artist Odd Nerdrum, one of Erickson's favorite painters, features in one ad a closeup portrait of a fur-hatted man, tilting his head back in a laugh, as two others engage in outdoor revelry behind him at varying distances on the Nevada landscape. "We used a computer and it's actually a construction, but it feels more like a painting," he notes. "There wasn't a lot of razzmatazz, just solid, nice lighting, big film, big cameras - just bringing the artist's power to bear on something really simple."

Although Erickson got involved in digital image manipulation about a decade ago, he says lately he's been advancing his craft, but "in reverse. I feel like the world has been screaming forward and I've been moving backward photographically," he explains of his affinity for older cameras and lenses, as well as his desire to create emotional connections with the viewer. This all contributes to the romantic moodiness of his images, the result of a highly deliberative creative process not unlike that traditionally associated with his painterly inspirations. "A photographer walks up to the subject and maybe in an instant he can get something that's really nice, and that's a powerful tool. But the painters have an advantage because they have so much time with an image, they can really contemplate it. In that contemplation, the real qualities of the image reveal themselves to you. In photography, when you get to that point, placing a camera there and taking the picture is the easiest part of the task."

Craig Cutler

After shooting 10 years for Tiffany, you'd think it would be hard for a photographer to bust out of the still-life pigeonhole, but Craig Cutler has done just that. Despite his legendary rep as an A-list tabletop shooter, in the past five years he's emerged as a winner outside the studio as well. "I've been perceived for so long to be a still-life photographer I had to make a slow evolution; I think I now do more location than I do still life," he says with some satisfaction. He continues to work in the studio, of course, but he's also gone on location for clients like Lexus, Volkswagen and Conseco. "I'm getting excited because they're starting to blend together now," he enthuses about his professional and personal projects, the latter including series of everyday things like street lamps, diners and even condiment packets.

In fact, it's his thorough examination of warehouses that got him noticed by Y&R/San Francisco. "He has a sublime sense of design," notes Ali Mumtaz, the Y&R senior AD who worked with him on an upcoming campaign for Verisign. "If he shoots a crack in the wall, he'll frame it so it looks bloody stunning. I think a lot of his work in other areas takes a lot from his experience in still life. Even when people are in there, the whole thing is treated the way one would treat a still-life composition."

Apparent throughout Cutler's photographs are objects or people that emerge heroically within an expertly composed framework, whether they're shot indoors or out, in hard flash or natural light. That's not a big surprise considering he studied design at both the University of Delaware and Georgia Tech. Later, years of creating layouts made Cutler realize that he wanted to extend his eye for design into photographs as well, so he moved to New York and started assisting. Now repped by Art & Commerce, Cutler's work also benefits from his purist's sensibility, as in his beautiful series of condiment packets, shot starkly against brightly colored backdrops. "Those are good examples of purity and still life," Cutler explains. "It's almost like you're taking objects and treating them as shapes, extracting what they really mean and making them look like something else."

The same holds even when it comes to people, which he says he's shooting more of these days, as in a new conservation campaign for New York's Central Park, out of Goodby Silverstein. Reminiscent of Irving Penn's tradesman portraits, Cutler's black and white photos of the park's groundsmen seek to capture the essence of his subject. "I try to break them down until they don't have any expression at all," he says. "I don't want any attitude to be shown, because I think all the expression in someone comes right from the eyes. It's very pure, in the sense that they're just looking straight at the camera, allowing you to imagine what they're thinking. That's my new thing now."

Hans Gissinger

Don't worry if you think Hans Gissinger is giving you the silent treatment. In person, the photographer is reserved, keeping his comments pared down to just a few words, even pointing to his own images instead of answering questions directly. "I'm very visual," he notes. "It's much easier to tell a story when I make a picture."

If you check out his massive portfolio, there's no doubt his quiet manner masks the endless ideas that roil below the surface. His book can best be described as a two-volume tome of Tolstoyan heft, spanning from 1956 to the present. Considering Gissinger was born in Zurich in 1946, that would make him just 10 when he shot his first presentable pics, which include a well-composed photo of his father and brother, gazing in heroic profile against a snowy backdrop. After getting a degree in engineering, Gissinger's youthful hobby led him to a job as a photo editor at a press agency, after which he went on to head up the film and photography division at the Swiss Arts Council. Although he was always shooting, he didn't turn pro until he was 30, when he opened his own studio in Zurich.

Now based in New York and represented by Stockland Martel, Gissinger can't be pinned down to any set picture-taking preferences. "Sometimes I like to create something very perfect, and on the other side there's reportage. Still life, portraits, I like both. I like to mix. It's more interesting to me." In terms of technique, he's adaptable when it comes to lighting, although he likes to keep it pretty basic. If hard-pressed, he says he prefers the abstract qualities of black and white to color, but he has a fascination with the latter, as well. But above all, his work must "always tell something," he says. "With all the millions of pictures we have, a photograph has to get a reaction. Otherwise, it's useless."

Talk about reaction - Gissinger shot the 1999 Nike ad for sports bras, out of Goodby Silverstein, which ultimately got pulled from magazines for "overexposure." There's also page-stopping ads for Ebel, in which he shot the watch-bearing forearms of celebrities like Harrison Ford and Madonna, whose palm also sports a bloody Messiah-inspired slit. Beyond that, his portfolio includes car shots for Jaguar, offbeat tabletop for Cartier, and portraits and fashion for Vogue and GQ. As for 2002, Gissinger recently shot a massive 20-page spread for Lincoln that appeared in this year's Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair as well as food still lifes for Martha Stewart Living.

Outside of advertising, Gissinger has been putting together his latest book, Brute, in which he uses hunting-related scenes to illustrate the most primitive aspects of human nature. Previous works The Conversation and Salami linger a bit darkly over another of Gissinger's extreme passions: food. His personal work, more primal than his ad jobs, is of course more telling of his real interests. But the ever-flexible photographer believes that advertising has charms of its own. "Life is so short, you know," he says ominously. "You have to make new things. Advertising is interesting because you always get something new, and you have to make the best out of it. You get excited when it's done, even if in the end you think you could always do better."

Olaf Veltman

"Working in the States is something else," says Dutchman Olaf Veltman. Although he got his start in the European market, he's found something of a creative windfall shooting in the U.S., in all its stereotypical bigness. "You not only have larger budgets, but there's a lot of creativity, a lot of good art directors with good ideas. Although there are difficulties with all the different channels to go through, people still give you room to be creative." The 43-year-old Veltman signed with Creative Management Partners five years ago and has since gained notice in the American market for his well-composed and frequently eerily beautiful location photographs, for clients like L.L. Bean, Ford and Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Recent projects include images for Audi, out of McKinney & Silver, that work the car into the bleached white backdrop of the Bonneville Salt Flats, and a Union Pacific campaign featuring panoramic scenes of railroads and trains, from Bailey Lauerman. The latter was a huge logistical undertaking, as it involved arranging for trains to be at certain points on the track at specific times of the day. But Veltman didn't mind. "In photography, the nicest part is always doing it," he notes. "When you look at the pictures later, you say, 'Oh it was a great time.' It was tough, and it was difficult, but you did it in the end, which is such a great feeling. To see pictures on the wall is not as satisfying as just doing it; the moment you take them, when you know you have something on film - then that moment you process it and get it finalized. That's something that gives me a good feeling."

Jonathan Kantor

At the age of just 32, Jonathan Kantor already qualifies as one of the leading advertising still-life photographers. He's acclaimed for showcasing his subjects against unusual backdrops that speak to the essence of each piece, and for transforming mundane subjects, like carpets and plumbing, into true objets d'art. "I try to bring some sculptural qualities to my pictures," he says. Kantor nurtured his vision through schooling (he studied sculpture and photography at Syracuse University), but he also soaked up invaluable lessons as an apprentice to some of the greats: Jerry Simpson, Craig Cutler and Hans Gissinger. His earliest mentor was the legendary Vogue photographer Horst, who happened to live next door to the teenage Kantor, in Oyster Bay on Long Island. "I was kind of naive," Kantor recalls. "I'd walk over there and say, 'I'd love to show you my book. Would you sit down with me?' "

Today, clients like the Gap, Target, Wallpaper and Black Book are the ones who are knocking at Kantor's studio. Recently, he shot a new campaign for BBDO/Chicago, for Stoli vodka, its first since 1996. The ads feature the Stoli label folded, origami style, into various animal shapes, placed in hyperreal composited environments. The campaign took a new turn for Kantor, whose photographs often deal with subjects more abstractly, by playing with scale or positioning, as in work he shot for Flaunt magazine, in which bedding becomes a tiny element that appears realistically perched on what looks like a colossal two-by-four. "I really like to make things abstract," he says. "I don't like to have them so easily read."


It's hard not to be wowed by Clang. It's not just that his vision is highly id-driven; there's also the mind-blowing origin of his unusually vibrant palette: Clang is color blind. (see Creativity, Photgraphy, November 2001). Nevertheless, it's his quirky, erotically-charged vision that has helped him gain high-roller status on the international ad scene. His work has graced ads for everything from Orange in Europe to the award-winning Nordstrom shoe campaign, from Fallon. The 29-year-old Clang got his start shooting for galleries in his native Singapore, but his fine-art work quickly attracted the attention of ad agencies.

Currently repped by Art & Commerce, Clang is still an active fine-art shooter whose first Paris show is scheduled for January. This can only be good news for his commissioned work, as long as he gets to be involved from the get-go, a Clang artistic prerogative. "The idea of working with an art director reminds me of that final year of art school, where two genius students are put together on their last project," he explains. "That feeling is great; you're trying to do something competitive, but it's a collaboration. Also, because of my travels, my interest in contemporary art and my knowledge of the gallery world, I feel I can bring something new and help set a path for the art direction so that it can do something that is simple and functional - yet refreshing."

Russ Quackenbush

While shooting an ad for Polaroid, Russ Quackenbush figured he'd make things easier by putting a boat in a tree. The layout actually asked for this odd scene, but instead of manipulating the moment in post, he chose to shoot the real deal. "Usually people want to shoot things separately and then retouch later," he explains, "but the challenge to me was, how can we recreate a disaster scene to make it look like a hurricane came through and put it there?" So he went ahead and put it there, anchored on a wire. "I'd rather keep things as simple as possible for the art director. I'd rather have them deal with retouching a metal wire that's holding a boat in place rather than retouch the boat into the tree." Lighting, as well, he likes to keep "simple and sweet," limiting it to as few sources as possible.

This no-frills approach has worked in ads for clients like MasterCard, Nike, Adidas and VW. Based in Boston and repped out of Virtu in Chicago, the 31-year-old shooter studied photography at the Art Institute of Boston and started in still life in 1996, after which he quickly moved into shooting people and locations. Today, his images are largely reality-based, with a documentary sense of spontaneity. But they're also infused with a quiet visual wit. "The challenge is keeping the humor at a certain level of intellect; slapstick humor from back in the '80s is pretty tired. It has to be subtle."

Catherine Ledner

"I feel super comfortable with myself when I'm shooting," says Pasadena-based Catherine Ledner. "No matter what's going on in my personal life, when I'm taking pictures it all goes away." Ledner's ease behind the lens has yielded the same from those in front of it, producing offbeat images of real people caught in charmingly quirky poses, seen in major campaigns for clients like IBM, MetLife, Fidelity and Microsoft.

Repped by Deborah Schwartz, the Louisiana native describes her style as a little "off-kilter," which, ironically enough, stems from her appreciation of reality. That explains why after she graduated from Art Center she had to completely rethink her portfolio. Full of fashion-type shots, it was landing her glossy jobs instead of the reality-based work she preferred. "I completely reinvented my book," she recalls with some amazement. Now her work is like a visual paean to the Everyman, showing "people for who they are, because I really think everybody's beautiful. That's really how I see things. I shoot real people in real situations, with a little bit of a sense of humor, but not making fun of the subjects at all."

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