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Best of ASMP 2008

After a longtime creative associate was hired by the Minnesota Orchestra, Jake Armour was tapped to provide a new look for the company’s marketing portraits. Instead of traditional, formal portraits, Armour’s stark black-and-white images reveal a graphic tension between the players and their instruments. Armour’s key to capturing all 99 players in four days’ time was to stay real and connect with each subject in a strict time frame to keep the schedule on track.

Jake Armour — Minneapolis, MN

Web site:
Project: Studio portraits of musicians and instruments to rebrand the Minnesota Orchestra.

© Jake Armour
All images in this article © Jake Armour.

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

JA: I’ve been in the game for 26 years. 2008 is the 20th year of Armour Photography, Inc.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

JA: 9½ years.

© Jake Armour

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

JA: All of my work echoes my graphic approach. My strengths are people, objects and fashion. It’s all in the light and my connection to the subject.

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.

JA: When I shoot I look for the sweet spot: the architecture of an object or the form and energy of a person to produce an emotional connection.

© Jake Armour

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?

JA: Money can buy megapixels and all the technology that comes with it. I have come to realize that my team (producer, rep and staff) is the key to my kingdom. My Phase One P45 Digital back is pretty sweet though.

© Jake Armour

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

JA: I have dyslexia. My slightly whacked perspective may be an asset. I like to think that my ability to communicate and translate ideas into images brings a fresh spark to every project. People love my lighting and graphic approach to image making. Combine that with earned trust and the consistent delivery of imagery on budget and on time. They say, “I get it.”

© Jake Armour

ASMP: How did you become associated with the Minnesota Orchestra for this project?

JA: I have been working with the Creative Director, Scott Kneeskern for many years through several different creative shops and clients. When he landed at the Minnesota Orchestra last year he called and said we may have a real opportunity to do some great work together. When this project ramped up at the Minnesota Orchestra, Scott said he knew I was the one for the project.

ASMP: Describe your creative collaboration with the orchestra’s Creative Director and other contacts as you planned this shoot.

JA: Scott said he wanted to show the “individuality of the players” and not approach this shoot as a traditional formal portrait session. He had complete trust that I would work my magic and produce dynamic personal imagery that would reach out to any viewer and engage them.

© Jake Armour

ASMP: What promotional and editorial uses were planned for the final images from this project? Since the shoot was delivered has there been any interest in or discussion about usage beyond the original project scope?

JA: Yes, there is an ongoing brainstorm on additional applications like elevator doors and huge exterior banners. Print for marketing pieces and lobby banners were the initial use applications.

ASMP: Photographing 99 musicians in four days time requires significant planning. Please describe how the shoot was organized.

JA: We set the shoot dates and had the players committed to time slots. The Minnesota Orchestra Staff managed this. My requirement was that each person be 10 minutes early, dressed and ready to go with their instrument. Without tight time management, this would have been a train wreck.

© Jake Armour

ASMP: How much time was allotted for each portrait? How did you handle hair, makeup, and wardrobe?

JA: The client wanted the players in performance formals for wardrobe, and we decided not to bring in hair and makeup. This helped keep it real and let the people be themselves. We produced the shoot so I would have up to 15 minutes with each musician; I never needed more then 7-10 minutes.

© Jake Armour

ASMP: How was your set arranged to facilitate efficient work? Any special equipment that made the shoot move more efficiently?

JA: The set was very simple; nine-foot-wide white sweep and three lights. I shot tethered to a laptop into Capture One.

ASMP: What considerations, including budget, time constraints, or expected usage, led to the decision to capture images in black and white, against a white background?

JA: We knew we wanted to shoot black-and-white against white to create graphic tension between the players and their instruments. In this case, less is more.

© Jake Armour

ASMP: Did you have any artistic influences for the clean, energetic image style and the relationship between the musicians and their instruments?

JA: We didn’t have any scrap, just a mind-meld with the CD, Scott. The rest was spontaneous combustion on set.

ASMP: Describe the process you used to meet and engage with members of the orchestra.

JA: The key was to not give the subjects time to get uncomfortable. A quick meet and greet and onto the set. I engaged them on their terms briefly and then coaxed them out of their comfort zone. I made it okay for them to be real and then directed them to that happy place to get the shot.

© Jake Armour

ASMP: What skills or devices did you find most effective to get your subjects to relax and become more spontaneous in front of the camera?

JA: A big red ball on my nose. Actually, it’s all about the trust and connection with the subject. A few strobe pops is often all that it takes me to get some of my most rewarding images.

Scott Kneeskern: “This is just my opinion, but I think his reply should say something about Jake being a real person and that this helped the musicians be comfortable with him right away. He doesn’t come off as an uptight, artsy photographer because he isn’t. He’s a just a good guy who happens to have a fantastic creative mind. I think in our industry that there are too many creatives who take themselves too seriously and if that was Jake, this shoot couldn’t have been pulled off. I don’t think this comes out enough in Jake’s answer.”

ASMP: What advice do you have for coaxing a reluctant subject to open up?

JA: see above

© Jake Armour

ASMP: Were other portrait subjects present or near the set while the shoot was in process or did others have any influence on the interaction between you and the individual subjects?

JA: A few times. I kept the musicians on task and connected to the lens. It was just me and the subject on set.

ASMP: Have you received any new assignments or clients as a result of this project? If so please describe the type of client and/or project.

JA: It’s hard to measure. I do know that this project is getting a lot of attention locally and nationally. We have only been showing the work for a few months so there is plenty of time for future projects to be influenced by this work. This project was extremely well received by my client. Many of the musicians sought out the CD after the shoot to express their pleasure with the production and the outcome. Happy is good.

© Jake Armour

ASMP: Did this project lead you to any new insights about musicians and their relationship with their instruments? Or about the art of portraiture?

JA: Being around and occasionally handling 400-year-old works of art (the instruments) was wonderful.