Chris Buck

Go Dryer, with Jeff DryerI love the mind of Jeff Dryer. Always…

Go Dryer, with Jeff DryerI love the mind of Jeff Dryer. Always...

Go Dryer, with Jeff DryerI love the mind of Jeff Dryer. Always...

Go Dryer, with Jeff Dryer

I love the mind of Jeff Dryer. Always thinking, always parceling out the big questions. He would tell me, “I hate irony,†and then the next day post a deliciously strange (and very ironic) image on his Instagram. 

Of course I shouldn’t be surprised as I saw his complex and searching brain at work when we shot together for Southern Comfort with Wieden + Kennedy NY (see the third image here). We were casting for the perfect outlier genius, the philosopher stoner from high school who actually fulfilled his potential and changed the world (or just made cool stuff). It was super fun and very satisfying to work alongside the man. (See much of his work here.)

Jeff Dryer is now an Associate Creative Director at Crispin Porter and Bogusky LA. We recently sat down in the hopes of moving our culture one step forward once again, with advertising as our weapon.

Chris Buck: I want to know what are you up to – you moved to Los Angeles!

Jeff Dryer: I got tired of New York, all there was to do was go to brunch or drink. Or drink and go to brunch, and then go to museums and go to brunch. And then drink. New York is great but after a while I need to go hiking or for a swim. And I hate brunch.

Don’t get me wrong. New York is a wonderful city with so many varied cultural things to do but after a while you seem to stop doing them and get stuck in a rut. I guess that could happen anywhere though.

And if you are In LA you are also close to a lot of peripheral industries that you can still make your way into using your skill set. I don’t think my end goal is advertising. Most advertising is terrible.

My next question for you was “Why is advertising great?†But apparently it isn’t…

It’s not, it’s awful, and no one likes it. That’s not true. No one likes bad advertising. And most of it is bad.  I would say 99% of the ads on TV people dislike watching, they use DVR to skip them , or they can’t wait for that little bar on the right hand corner on YouTube to press “skip.†It interrupts what they are interested in. So you have to be what they are interested in. And try to make things that don’t feel like ads.

Then why did you get into advertising?

Because it’s a chance to make something provocative, that’s smart or funny that millions and millions of people will see.

What were you into when you were young?

When I was little we didn’t have iPads and iPhones, and we only had three TV channels. So when I wasn’t getting in trouble outside my time was spent drawing, coming up with designs, and re-drawing comic books.  At one point my parents figured out that I had ADD. The doctor’s  gave me Adderall to help me focus on my SATS but I had the exact opposite reaction – I got hyper-focused on drawing and painting. I pretty quickly got off that stuff but carried that focus into college and into my graphic design classes. I found something that I felt naturally good at.

What inspires you now?

I listen to music a lot when I’m writing or coming up with ads, it is an evocative form of art; it gets me into a good headspace. I am listening to a lot of Sammy Davis Jr. right now. I watch YouTube videos of him and he will just float across the stage in his bell bottoms. He will shuffle around like he’s floating, it’s so incredible.

Also I’ve been going to a shit load of stand-up comedy show’s since I’ve moved to LA. It’s everywhere. Every night. The Largo has become sort of a second home. God that place is incredible.

You can be intensely contrarian, which I think is why we get a long well. We both like the cultural stuff but we both like best the…

…the stuff on the fringe.

But not totally out there, not Avant Garde. The part of pop culture that is poking at the middle.

I think that it’s more provocative than just being as crazy and extreme as you can be. Having restraint, and twisting things a bit, which makes it relatable and people can see themselves in what you’re doing.

My attitude towards advertising is that I want 20% of the audience to get it. Most advertisers try for 80% of the audience, and that’s why ads are usually so flat. I want to speak to 20%, but have them fully engaged.

I am not sure I agree with that. I don’t care who you are so long as I can evoke some kind of emotion from you. Whether it’s “I hate thisâ€, or “I love this.†If you’re crying, good. If you’re laughing, awesome.

How do you deal with clients who don’t buy into that?

You have to make them believe, and you have to keep trying until they do. I always think of that Marshall McLuhan quote, “Art is anything you can get away with.†Well, it’s the same with advertising.

Sometimes a good client will see what you are trying to do and appreciate it and go along on the ride. And a bad client will fight you all the way on it and you just kind of have to judo move that stuff. The part of advertising that drains the shit out of me is working with bad clients. I didn’t get into this business to sell and become a door-to-door salesman. I got into this business to create great stuff.

But selling to your client is part of your job.

It is, but it wears me out and drains me to sell hard. You shouldn’t have to oversell your work. If it is good and different and scares you a little then it should sell itself. Unfortunately it rarely sells itself.

There is nothing I love more than sitting on a couch with somebody who is also funny and writing down ideas, laughing and drinking coffee. Bullshitting for 14 hours – it’s awesome. And then you go and make that thing. As cliche as it may sound I do love the process. I think you have to because it takes up most of your life.

McAfee LiveSafe“Ask for a ‘Proof of Life,’ is my suggestion.” My…

McAfee LiveSafe“Ask for a ‘Proof of Life,’ is my suggestion.†My...

McAfee LiveSafe“Ask for a ‘Proof of Life,’ is my suggestion.†My...

McAfee LiveSafe

“Ask for a ‘Proof of Life,’ is my suggestion.†My wife is having lunch with our friend with a couple of Iraq tours under his belt when she receives a strangely chipper text from me in the middle of my photo session with man on the lam, John McAfee. What our friend is jokingly suggesting, a “Proof of Life,†is a document showing evidence that a person who has been abducted or kidnapped is indeed alive, such as a photograph of them holding the day’s newspaper.

Tech innovator John McAfee had gone rogue a number of years before and was now holed up in a fortress of a home in Lexington, Tennessee. McAfee fled Belize after the authorities arrested him for the suspected murder of his neighbor. I had assured my wife that I would check in once in a while during my Men’s Journal sitting with him so that she knew that I was alright, but then realized that if things got weird and McAfee became paranoid that I was giving out his location I wanted an electronic trail that was not going to get me into trouble. Hence, the cheerful text.

Funny enough as we got shooting, I couldn’t resist going darker and more intense with the pictures. There is something about having a camera in your hands that makes you feel invincible.

At one point, we were doing a setup against a blood red wall, with the light and color wrapping around onto McAfee’s face. After a few frames he came over and looked at the laptop screen, “Oh, this is very good. You’re the best photographer that I’ve shot with.†Oh, so he wants to look sinister. 

Kleber Menezes Runs SAPI recently met my friend and long time…

Kleber Menezes Runs SAPI recently met my friend and long time...

Kleber Menezes Runs SAPI recently met my friend and long time...

Kleber Menezes Runs SAPI recently met my friend and long time...

Kleber Menezes Runs SAP

I recently met my friend and long time collaborator, ad creative Kleber Menezes for dinner in Williamsburg and he choose an Argentinian restaurant; I thought perhaps that he was ill as he grew up in Brazil. He shrugged it off, “If the meat is good, I don’t care.â€

Kleber is fantastic, but a little eccentric. Of course in advertising a little eccentric is a lot of good. We first worked on Xerox together for Young & Rubicam, and most recently on SAP for BBDO. Perhaps most importantly he also contributed the key idea behind my Jim Parsons shoot for Rolling Stone. His generosity, his sense of humor and his boldness make for a great experience and great work.

Top Image: Art Director Banks Noel, and Kleber Menezes can’t resist giving us their take on our children’s dinosaur set-up. (And I appreciate their early support of my Likeness figurine series!)

Second and Third Images: Two examples from our SAP Hana print and OOH campaign.

Bottom Image: On the SAP set, left to right: Chris Buck, Kleber Menezes, Jasmine Batista, and Noel Banks.

The End of LikenessThe first picture was posted on my Instagram…

The End of LikenessThe first picture was posted on my Instagram...

The End of LikenessThe first picture was posted on my Instagram...

The End of LikenessThe first picture was posted on my Instagram...

The End of LikenessThe first picture was posted on my Instagram...

The End of LikenessThe first picture was posted on my Instagram...

The End of Likeness

The first picture was posted on my Instagram on April 15th, 2015, and the final one over four and a half months later, in late August. My first estimate of 75 photos and videos of the ten inch figurine of myself almost doubled, to 141 posts, one per day. The Likeness project had a fine run, but all things come to an end, and my figurine’s time was adventurous and well documented.

My favorites from the series will have a permanent home on my website and a limited edition 6×8 inch book will soon be available. (The run is limited to 50 pieces, costs $38.00 and is now available for ordering via my Paypal account associated with the email address chris@chrisbuck.com. Each book will be signed and numbered by me).

Likeness enjoyed some good press, including my first coverage by the Time Magazine photo blog, Lightbox. Wired.com also did an excellent piece. As well as Metro and Petapixel.

Third Image: Shooting the figurine on a motel roof, photo by Michelle Golden.

Fourth Image: Shooting at the Mynx Club in Groton, CT, photo by Demi Vera.

Fifth Image: Front and backside of a 20×26 inch fold out promo piece, designed by Todd Richards of TAR Studio.

Bottom Image: The kind folks at Doob 3D made me a new figurine, in the original pose, after my months of abuse of the first one. Shown side by side here one can see the scars and wear of being a Chris Buck figurine.

Newman and TrumanI approached Arnold Newman after his lecture at…

Newman and TrumanI approached Arnold Newman after his lecture at...

Newman and TrumanI approached Arnold Newman after his lecture at...

Newman and Truman

I approached Arnold Newman after his lecture at my alma mater, Ryerson University in Toronto, in 1990. I had been out of school for a couple of years but continued to attend the photo lectures there as they were always entertaining and inspiring.

I gave Mr. Newman my best pitch, including mentioning that I had recently had a sitting with Joel-Peter Witkin. He almost cut me off as he excitedly described his own Witkin portrait. He laughed with glee as he described how strange and wonderful the image was.

I pulled him over into some flat and even light, as was my way of dealing with brief and difficult circumstances, and shot a few frames. As he was then off for the airport he me his number in New York, so that I could call him for a proper interview.

I mostly asked him about pictures connected to politics and history – his portrait of President Harry S. Truman, and Dr. Robert Oppenheimer were both iconic of the men yet also very Newman.

Arnold Newman: I photographed President Truman for Life magazine, in a hotel suite in New York City. I probably spent thirty minutes with him shooting. At the end of that time when I was getting up to leave, I had to ask him, “Why did you drop the bomb, Mr. President?” He said “Young man, sit down” and for a half an hour explained all of the reasons for his decisions. They were no different than those given in the papers, but he took the time to tell me because I asked.

Chris Buck: It’s an impressive range of people, like Truman and Oppenheimer, that you have photographed.

I was assigned to do those…it’s like a snowball after you’ve done one important person. It’s worked out well. There are two things in our work, one is to be an artists, the other is to be a professional. You may be a great artist but if you can’t get people to work with you, you’re not going to get those kinds of assignments – so my shooting those people is a professional, not a creative achievement.

It must be a little intimidating to photograph someone like an ex-president.

I’ve learned to put that behind me. I am more concerned about the circumstances of a shoot. I worry about a lack of time, everybody fluttering about the subject, distracting him. I’ve learned…to demand, or request, a certain amount of time and cooperation. My main concern is the picture.

If I had asked Truman this question just before we began to shoot, “Why did you drop the bomb?” he would have sat down and started explaining it to me and I wouldn’t have gotten much done in the way of pictures.

With the J. Robert Oppenheimer shoot you mentioned that the editors wanted something dramatic.

Well, they thought it might be appropriate. The editors were expecting a Dr. Frankenstein type of environment, with heavy equipment and lightning – very mysterious and spectacular. I got there and found a very simple arrangement; he just worked with paper and pencil. Even with the atom bomb much of the work was done on paper. He was in what looked like a very casual office, like a writer’s office. What was on the papers was different; what was on his mind was different.

What was he like?

Very warm, I got along very well with him. I met him again, bumped into him on a train years later. I was on my way to Washington from New York, and he was on his way to Princeton. He asked me to come down to visit him. He said he’d love me to meet his son who was interested in photography. Stupidly, I never did.

Did you talk about his problems with the Un-American Activities charges that stemmed from the Atomic Energy Commission?

No! There are certain things you don’t do, particularly in a crowded train. When someone accepts you to interview them he expects you are going to ask questions like that but at other times it becomes a social thing. You don’t bring up that sort of thing. But there are times when you take the bull by the horns and ask a question like I did with Truman. 

Top Image: Arnold Newman by Chris Buck, 1990

Second Image: President Harry S. Truman by Arnold Newman, 1960

Bottom Image: Dr. Robert Oppenheimer by Arnold Newman, 1948

I remembered my brother playing with army men while taking a…

I remembered my brother playing with army men while taking a...

I remembered my brother playing with army men while taking a bath as a young boy and that was the inspiration for this set up of Bill Gates for my Isn’t series, but while visiting my parents in Toronto recently I found this photo of me. Not only are the army men lined up in the same way, but I’m also making the same gesture that I asked our look-alike, Paul Cooper, to do. Memory is funny thing.

Domestic Drone CastingIt’s a cliché that casting is half the job…

Domestic Drone CastingIt’s a cliché that casting is half the job...

Domestic Drone Casting

It’s a cliché that casting is half the job when planning a conceptual photograph, but damn if this recent shoot about drones isn’t the perfect example. We cast the Adams family (seriously) and they were all great, but the daughter, Sydney, was magic. She hit her mark every time and delivered plenty of variations, but this select with it’s wonderful mix of horror and humor was the hands-down winner.

Top Image: Our talent Sydney and Darin Adams show us the potential dangers of drones in the hands of hobbyists.

Bottom Image: On set with GQ Photo Editor Michael Allin, while groomer Sacha Harford works with the prop team Christopher Stone and Ingrid to creatively mesh the drone into our talent’s hair. Behind-the-scenes photo by David Worthington.