L.A.-based director and producer Nate Townsend explores the power of channeling pain into art in a new branded short for camera company Leica.
“Limitless” tells the story of Terry LaRue, a photographer living with a rare pain condition (CRPS) who uses a Leica monochrome camera to channel his pain into art. In the three-minute film, Townsend’s direction and LaRue’s voiceover take the viewer through the artistic process of creating one of LaRue’s black-and-white photographs, not shying away from the pain on LaRue’s face or the hitch in his step as he produces his art.
“I’ve found that my greatest limitations can be my greatest strengths,” LaRue’s voice says over the video of his shaking hand developing his photograph using a laborious 19th century printing technique. The film concludes with LaRue hanging a finished print on the line to dry and opening the door to his darkroom to walk into the light. A title card then encourages viewers to “Lean into limits.”
The film, produced by Offbeat Seattle and Townsend’s production company Townsend Hurst, was created to shine a light on artists navigating loss, disability and suffering, while still finding strength in those limitations. Townsend lost his brother during childhood and his father Tom, co-founder of Rodgers Townsend/DDB, in October 2019, and saw a chance meeting with LaRue at one of Leica’s galleries as an opportunity to channel his pain as LaRue does.
“His story is a testament to looking at the things that prevent you from being your best self and finding a way to lean into those to create and give meaning to loss,” Townsend told Ad Age.
LaRue wanted to work with Townsend to show how difficult life can be with chronic pain, but that it can be lived with. He helped Townsend plan, brainstorming for the script and the best ways to capture his story.
“There are so many things I can't control in my life, but I can control how I react to them,” LaRue said. “No matter how big or little the struggle, there is always an option for creativity to bring purpose and meaning to your life.”
In an effort to embody what it’s like working with limitations, Townsend set some boundaries of his own for the project with encouragement from Kiran Karnani, Leica USA’s VP of marketing.
The camera LaRue uses is the Leica M11 Monochrom, which only captures black-and-white film, so Townsend’s spot does the same. The production period was also kept short—sometimes having only one chance to get a shot—and locations were changed to help navigate LaRue’s increasing pain.
For authenticity, LaRue avoided getting treatments until filming was completed. By the third day, his left thumb was dislocated, and he could barely walk. By the last day, he struggled to pull himself together to shoot the scene, LaRue said. “It was important to me that it be real and never overly dramatized,” he said.
“Limitless” is a continuation of Townsend’s previous work with Leica. In 2021, he created the short film “Do It Justice” as an homage to his father.