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In Another Lifetime Shawn Michienzi Would Be a Portrait Painter

In Another Lifetime Shawn Michienzi Would Be a Portrait Painter

Over the years you have built a reputation as an advertising photographer who is not about leaving a signature style but is more about finding what’s right for the concept, finding the best way to communicate the right message with the right technique.   With that in mind, if we were to gather all the images you have shot over time and put them in chronological order, what would we see?

First you would see the arc of my career — from journalistic street documentary to studio still life, to catalog and product photography. Then a move into advertising, the constant — with a mix of location, conceptual and studio work.

If you look deeper, you will hopefully see someone who is always working to hone my skills, trying to stay professionally relevant.

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@1991 Porsche // Fallon // AD Tom Lichtenheld, CW Bruce Bildsten

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@ 2000 Absolut // TBWA\Chiat\Day // AD Simon McQuoid

And speaking of staying relevant, we love the way that you have evolved your portraiture and the way people are responding.  What is it about photographing people that is interesting to you?

I think David Byrne really gets to the essence of it – “you got a face with a view.” Portraits capture a connection. We connect with a face around which we get to create a story, to which we connect our own stories. When I’m shooting a subject I get that connection too.

The other thing that I find really interesting about photographing people is that portraits become documentation of a moment. A little throw back to my journalistic roots, portraits are part of how we capture and catalog a time.

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@ 2015 Sri Lanka // Gal Vihara, Guide

By believing that photography should always be a lens on what’s happening in the world at any given moment — work that is in sync with the times, if not a little bit ahead, what are you seeing now that is reflected in your recent work ?

I have been seeing it for awhile now that portraits make up much of my recent work. With advertising now placing an emphasis on something larger than a product or service, portraits are a natural fit because they cultivate a narrative that viewers can hook into.

I caught a first-hand glimpse of how brands were evolving to connect in new ways back in 2012 when I was asked to work on Cadillac ATS vs. the World. Fallon was trying to break the mold of automotive advertising and connect Cadillac with a new generation of customers. We traveled to four countries around the world, the scope for me was pretty wide — a library of stills shot alongside broadcast, then on down days, I’d head out with my assistant to find the wider texture shots that would be used to pull the viewer deeper into each location to learn more about the culture and people. It was the largest and most important launch in the history of General Motors. The campaign picked up an Effie.

@2015 Cadillac ATS vs. The World // Fallon // Radia, Moroccan Berber Weaver

As you have said before, with every job now having very different needs and parameters, what used to be silo’d is now integrated; and that production can feel like you are hopping onto a moving train.  Because of that you have also said that you value the role that your experiences play in keeping you grounded so that you are able to respond wisely. How does this pertain to creating portraits of people?

I still believe that no matter what is required for these more complex and integrated shoots, at the core, I’m a photographer and the process of getting the shot or shots I need stays constant. It’s vital to make space, even if it’s just 15 minutes, to slow down and make a connection and react to subjects.

It’s a matter of finding the moment in the moment given. My experience drives me to grab on to a connection – and to always keep an eye on the end product. It’s a quick dance that involves knowing the art of leading – and following.

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@2018 // Breadband // Alison Brie, Actor

Tell us a bit more about your moving portraits.  Why moving ? What do you like about them ? And, why is this collection an important part of your portrait story?

These in particular were the result of a commission for another global library project. We traveled to Chile, England, Singapore, Korea, Dubai and Turkey. Two days in each city to find and capture 20 real people in each, both moving and still portraits that had consistency in framing, lighting and posing. It was one of the hardest and most fulfilling jobs I’ve ever done. And we met some incredible people who opened themselves to us. I also like these portraits because they represent my belief that it’s still about choosing the right technique to communicate the right message.

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@2015 // MetLife // Argonaut // Producer, Michelle Mintz

They also speak to the evolution I mentioned above because they capture more in a face, they relay not just a static moment, but the wider range of emotion for today’s stories.  Click here to see full video.  And here to learn more about this epic shoot from the producer’s POV

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@2015 // MetLife // Argonaut // Producer, Michelle Mintz

You have said that in another lifetime you would love to be a portrait painter.  Why is that?

Growing up the son of a contractor, I came to appreciate the process and physicality of a craft. It’s a quiet, pleasant daydream of slowing all the way down and getting lost in the work.

If you could choose, whose portrait would you like to take and why?

The Falconers of the Mongolian Steppe. I watched a piece on this group of people and it was captivating. The Falconers are a vanishing breed, a story that might be ending, and maybe it’s my journalistic roots again, but taking their portrait would be capturing a moment in time, in history,

https://notesfromarepsjournal.com/2018/11/05/in-another-lifetime-shawn-michienzi-would-like-to-be-a-portrait-painter/