It all started with the pistol, if only because it was “the simplest to do,” says photographer Adam Voorhes. He first studied the gun, looking for ways to segment it, then he took it apart so that its innards were exposed, right down to the bullet casings. “Some objects can be separated like a technical drawing, while others look more organic, like a football helmet with its straps weaving in and out,” he says. The pistol was squarely in the former camp. He took its disassembled parts and built a kind of 3-D installation, each part hanging from a fishing line in proximity, so that the gun would appear to have exploded in mid-air, a bit like the artist Damián Ortega’s axonometric Beetle or this iconic ad from the ’60s. The wires could be erased in Photoshop once Voorhes got the final shot. After the pistol he did an Etch-a-Sketch, and an old-school telephone, turning the studio experiments into his best-known series and then selling commercial clients like ESPN and Spirit magazine on the technique.
This is how Voorhes works — he is a commercial photographer. He’s not interested in gallery shows. He tests ideas, and then he sells them. “The exploded photos seemed to communicate to people, but the idea was just sort of an accident,” he insists, noting that he’d done loosely related work in the past for a technology magazine. “I was thinking of art directors I wanted to reach out to, just trying to figure out what they’d be interested in. I don’t do art for art’s sake. I like stuff being used, I like it being published, I like it having a purpose.” Voorhes fell in love with photography after taking a class in high school, and he ended up studying it all the way through his graduate degree at the Brooks Institute, which is where he discovered commercial photography. “Before then it never crossed my mind that the pictures in magazines were people working in studios making a living doing this,” he says. He began shooting beauty products while still in school, then moved to L.A. to assist the likes of Jack Andersen and Trevor Pearson. From there, he built a business. He’s constantly asked to be creative — especially when dreaming up novel ways to illustrate magazine stories — but what he really loves is using his camera as a way to study an object.
Based in Austin, Texas, since 2004, Voorhes now works with the art director Robin Finlay, who also happens to be his wife. Together they style and shoot ad campaigns for companies like Sweet Leaf Tea, Texas Monthly, and Full Throttle, a new energy drink by Coca Cola, often building intricate small- or large-scale sets from scratch. The exploded objects series has raised his profile and gotten him so much attention on the blogs that he’s begun working on a way to codify the approach: an online outlet for self-generated photo and illustration concepts with a thought-provoking slant, intended to help them go viral and their creators attract clients. Called Society for Thought, it should launch in six months. Meanwhile, we took a trip to Voorhes and Finley’s studio to learn more about how they work. Here’s the grand tour.
Hearing Sam Schonzeit talk about the dog sculptures he’s been making in his spare time — their faces clipped from an old breeders’ yearbook for Cavalier King Charles Spaniels he found at a thrift store — you can’t help but wonder if he catches the irony of it all. “These dogs look so nervous,” says the Marfa, Texas–based 37-year-old, a trained architect whose current day job is teaching at a local elementary school. “They’re pretending to be something else, and they’re sort of embarrassed that they’ve found themselves in this position. But that’s very human, which is why people like them — because everyone can relate to the feeling that you’re not where you’re supposed to be.” Ask Schonzeit if he ever considered pursuing a career as a conceptual artist, and sure enough, you get almost the same expression.
There’s something charmingly mysterious about the 24-year-old Lithuanian photographer Kimm Whiskie. The name alone sounds like an alias (turns out the second half actually is — Whiskie did time in a rock-and-roll band) and its gender is ambiguous (an embarrassed email straightens this out). A request for an interview is politely downgraded to a Skype chat; when a portrait arrives, it’s a grainy Lomo shot of the photographer lying face down on the pavement.
Sighted today on The Morning News: Taking inspiration from Dutch vanitas paintings, photographer Justine Reyes’s latest series “Vanitas” creates still lifes from contemporary objects, getting the composition, textures, and colors so precisely “right,” it’s a wonder we’re not seeing some 17th-century Flemish take on contemporary life.