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Lars Topelmann didn't have to set one foot in the sand to shoot the quirky characters of the "Bahamavention" effort from Fallon/Minneapolis, a campaign that brings an offbeat twist to the tourism pitch, characterizing vacation deprivation as a disease and recommending a trip to Bahamas as the cure. Devoid of scenic porn, the print ads feature goofy, dated-looking studio portraits of travellers giving testimonials about their recent "Bahamaventions," grinning broadly before muted tropical backdrops. "We had some early '80s photography guides that show you how to pose senior portraits and family photos," explains Topelmann of his references.
Although Topelmann says the project "felt very natural for me because it's my type of humor and I loved the characters," studio work was a bit of a departure for the"43- going on 16-"year-old Chicago native, an admitted outdoors enthusiast and windsurfing fanatic. He says he's most at home shooting lively, spontaneous lifestyle photography, evident in earlier work for W+K/Portland and Cole & Weber and clients like Nike, Pioneer, Reebok and Doc Martens. There's also the recent Nissan Xterra "Show Us your X" campaign, via TBWA/Chiat/Day/L.A., a print series for Pacifico beer depicting rustic seaside scenes, and ads for Visa's "Life Takes" campaign.
This is advertising, of course, so many of his on-the-fly moments are still staged, to some degree. But "I think there's a certain reality to my work," he says. "I really try hard to make it look true. I hope people believe it's a real scenario instead of thinking, Who lives like that?" His most challenging recent job was last year's launch of 10 Cane Rum, via Mother/N.Y., in which he and the agency creatives went on a 17-day shooting tour of Trinidad, taking the grainy black and white photos that became the visual foundation for campaign's fictionalized history of the local rum production scene. The photography's classic elegance and understated humor is about as far away from the campiness of the Bahamas work, but what connects it all is "more of an attitude, really," he says. "I don't have a visual style and I don't want one. I would rather someone look at a picture and wonder if I shot it not because of the look, but because of the feeling or the humor."