A native of Leeds, Yorkshire, Harriman, 36, credits growing up in this rather grim English province for sowing the seeds of his current oeuvre. "The north of England is cold and the weather is miserable - it seems to lend itself to a dry sense of humor," he explains. Harriman didn't go to college and he assisted only locally, but he was hooked on photography from the age of 11 when he discovered his father's homemade enlarger in the attic and taught himself the basics of black and white printing. "I never looked back," he recalls. His original professional foray featured stylized black and white portraits of people and places, but he soon grew bored with this and began looking for a new source of inspiration. Then, one day as he was driving past a Chinese restaurant, he had a photographic epiphany. "There was always condensation on the window and it looked like a miserable place to get food. Somehow, I convinced them to let me take pictures." And lo, Harriman's enduring new style was born. "Like a bottle without a cork, it just flowed," he says. "I was tired of more-romanticized subjects and I preferred the honesty of this style of photography." He quickly landed a Guinness campaign in London, started producing personal work in this style and, again, never looked back.
As for the aforementioned King of Drab, "that's not a title you want in advertising," he chuckles. "But I do find the dark side of life a little more interesting. My pictures do have a certain look, but they don't make you want to commit suicide. I think the drab is mixed with a good dose of humor. It's a very British kind of satire - dreary, but it's done with a little wink of the eye."
Harriman's lens is currently winking at the banality of interior spaces, courtesy of Fallon/Minneapolis, for Timberland (he's repped here by CMP, CMPNational.com). Without overdoing it or really doing anything at all, the shots of empty rooms, bare desks and tacky wallpaper convey a feeling of utter ennui. Pithy headlines such as "Your mouse does not count as wildlife" and "Inside 'play' is a button," mock our current work and living environments. Only a small visual of outerwear and a tiny logo let you in on the joke and the brand. The campaign is in complete contrast to the usual shots of shiny camper types exploring the great outdoors. Says Fallon art director David Danman, "We wanted to turn the camera onto the environment of 'in' that we've been lulled into. And while everyone else is showing the places you can go, we're showing the places you are now."
For insurance company Liberty Mutual and Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, Harriman was able to add some incongruously exciting touches to his dull canvas.The ads, which mock safety in the office, feature such improbable scenes as a woman wearing a welding mask while photocopying; a man in safety goggles sharpening pencils; and two men using oven mitts to hold their coffee. But in true Harriman style, while the scenes are obviously humorous, the trademark drabness is there. The offices are sterile and utilitarian - no pool tables and funky furniture for these guys, just gray file cabinets and lonely little plants, everyone's Dilbertian nightmare.
Yet, while these scenes are so familiar it's no mean feat to capture them just right on film. Fallon's Danman says of Harriman, "he's the kind of guy you turn loose in your office when everyone's left and the next day when you see the pictures you're like, 'Fuck, that's our office!' " Kirshenbaum AD Aaron Alden agrees. "An ordinary fella can take a photograph of a cubicle and it's a snapshot. David takes a photo of a cubicle and it's suddenly a really funny joke."