The Making of
Welcome to Vörland, by Reed Young

Reed Young’s photography career has taken him from a sumo wrestler’s home in Tokyo to the sugarcane fields of the Dominican Republic to the halls of Fabrica, the Benetton-owned creative lab for young talent in Treviso, Italy. But he probably wouldn’t have gotten to any of those places if he hadn’t faked his way into art school. At 17 and a middling student at a Minneapolis senior high, Young, now 27, borrowed a photography portfolio from a friend and was accepted into his hometown’s prestigious Perpich Center for Arts Education on its merits. “When I arrived, I think they found it a bit strange that I didn’t know the difference between an aperture and a shutter speed,” he says.

In the 10 years since, Young has built a remarkable portfolio of what he calls “environmental portraits.” “I tend to focus on strangers and common people,” he explains. “I wouldn’t call what I do reportage, but some of my stories are socially driven. I set up the photos, and I usually interview the subjects afterwards.” It’s an on-the-fly journalistic style he learned at Fabrica, where a few years ago he was offered a yearlong scholarship for the center’s under-25 artists’ program. One of his first assignments was as a kind of proto-Sartorialist for an Italian women’s magazine, photographing “fancy young people” on the streets. “Professionally, it wasn’t the greatest job,” he says, but while doing it he began stopping other subjects as well, in effect learning his craft on the sidewalks of Italy.

As one of only two photographers at Fabrica, Young also had the opportunity to work for Benetton’s legendary Colors magazine. “The magazine was going through all sorts of changes. They’d gotten rid of the staff, and Enrico Bossan, who was head of the photography department, had taken over as editor. They had just started using people from Fabrica,” Young says. Young’s Vörland series, which we’re showing in part here, is from a special 2007 issue Colors produced on the theme of global warming, which was to be presented at Milan’s Triennale museum during an event featuring Al Gore. Vörland is the name of a fictional Swedish town, and the entire issue takes place 50 years in the future. “The idea was that global warming had gotten so bad that a formerly inhospitable Swedish town had become a beachy tourist destination,” says Young. On a shoestring budget, the photographer and his Fabrica colleagues created an alternate universe. “It was like an advertising project, in that every element was art directed by Fabrica students — set building, prop stylists, fashion designers, whatever.” We asked Young to offer us a glimpse into what went on behind the scenes.

Vörland project credits: Cosimo Bizzarri, Scott Heinrich, Patrick Waterhouse (creative direction); Miren Marañón and Maddalena Fragnito (set design); Amélie Marciasini (costume design)

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The first part of the magazine introduced the tourists and residents populating Vörland, as well as the strange devices and rituals they had come up with to deal with the searing heat. This young girl wears a special full-body swimsuit, hand-stitched by Fabrica's fashion team, designed to block out the sun.

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Two Chinese tourists who perform “air singing” — i.e., harmonies sung at low volumes so as not to promote noise pollution — on the beach. Some of the concepts were cornier than others, Young admits, but no one could resist the silliness of this photo. “For casting, we just went into places around where we were shooting, and paid people 75 Euros a day to pose. These guys worked at the local Chinese restaurant in Venice."

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“We did a whole series about tourists who came to the island and got massively sunburned. The burn was all make-up, applied around a one-piece swimming suit that was cut off before the final image was taken,” Young says.

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“This woman was a movie extra, and she was supposed to be completely naked for the shoot, but her casting agent had failed to tell her that. She was quite offended, but in the end, I think it would have been too much shock value anyway.”

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“In any case, it didn’t matter, because they ended up only using this photo of a young girl. The old Colors was really edgy and quite graphic. But this one was more conservative.”

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“We had this idea that regular buses would be obsolete and people would use a pedibus, which is like a Flintstones car where you have to use leg power. We didn’t have the budget to make a car, though, so we found these solar panels in Treviso and shot it there instead,” Young laughs.

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The idea behind this image was that the anti-ecological sport of golfing had been replaced by competition planting, a sport in which players compete to grow fruit trees over the course of several years.

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In reality, the subjects were Luciano and Maurizio, Fabrica groundsworkers and friends for 20 years. “When we asked them, they were apprehensive because apparently they’ve been photographed for Colors numerous times but never published. I made them a promise, and they agreed,” Young says.

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“A lot of the concepts stemmed from taking something that's terribly unsustainable and making it environmentally friendly,” says Young. 'Felix Vindsson' is meant to work at VörAir, formerly an airplane production facility and now a producer of wind turbines. “This guy worked at a small airport in Padova. We were just planning to do the shoot there, but he was so great that we asked if he could be in the shot.”

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The Fabrica team worked with a copywriter to develop each character. In the final shot on the right, ‘Klara’ is an award-winning clean-energy champion. A Fabrica prop stylist (left) made each of the trophies by hand.

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In Vörland, animals that formerly roamed the Arctic can now only be found inside the island’s Extinction Museum. “It was hard to find someone with a stuffed reindeer, but we finally heard about this guy who lived in Bassano del Grappa, a super rich town in Italy, who was required by law to open his home as a museum,” Young says.

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“Apparently he was caught having poached so many illegal animals that it was either make his home into a museum, or go to prison. When we arrived at his house, we realized that he had different rooms separated by continent and that he had killed a representative from almost every species. Above most of the animals was either a picture or a painting of him with the animal immediately after the kill. He was very strange about letting us come,” Young says of these scouting shots.

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The boy in the final photo — the son of the casting director — was apparently unaffected by the circumstances of the shoot. Says Young, “He was laughing the whole time.”