Archive for November, 1997

David Gaz

November 22, 1997

“Raymond Matthews, a creative director at KSK Communications, Limited, in Vienna, Virginia, sees his share of computer-generated collage style images in the many portfolios and self-promotions that cross his desk. But when he saw the book of San Francisco Paris Based American photographer David Gaz, he took a second and a third look. Gaz layers found objects which he lights in washes of saturated color that result from his patented technique combining unique lighting and the use of gels with sandwiched negatives. “I could see right away that his style was fresh,” says Matthews. “A lot of people do things in Photoshop, but these weren’t digital manipulations. They were all done in camera. The colors he generates and the complexity of his images stayed with me.” So much that when Matthews found himself developing a whole new corporate campaign for Micro biological Associates, a Rockville, Maryland based high-tech biopharmaceutical company involved in gene therapy production and testing, Gaz’s images immediately came to mind. “They wanted a lot of elements brought together and they thought the only way to do that was illustration. Gaz’s metaphorical style was absolutely right for the project.”

Gaz’s work appeals to clients who are convinced they want an illustrator until they see his portfolio,” says Arlene Soodak, Gaz’s stateside rep. “He’s not only a photographer but an artist and designer who is comfortable working either side of his brain. He can illustrate a scientific subject or the music of a rock group.” Gaz has enjoyed remarkable international success, attracting advertising, corporate, and editorial clients like Sony Music, ITT, Xerox, KPMG Peat Marwick, Levis, Liberation and Biba magazines, Starr Surgical, Matt Star, Polygram Music, and EMI.

Studying graphic design at Pasadena’s Art Center College Design, Gaz learned to think conceptually, just as, he points out, the ads he deals with were also trained to do. “I’m very attuned to getting he client’s message across, it’s about ideas and how to communicate those ideas. It’s this approach that sets me apart from the bulk of photographers who were taught to be observers instead of creators.”

Gaz has an uncanny ability to work many different levels of information into a single image through a process he says is part association. “I’ll read the songs, the copy for the ad or annual report, or talk with the art director about what they want to communicate. I digest all this and come up with a symbol or metaphor that becomes the central idea. I make lists of information relevant to the subject matter, for instance with a song all the different visual elements that come through the lyrics and music, and make a number of loose drawings. Then I go back, reevaluate, and try to figure out how it all fits in with the subject matter. I like telling stories, layering descriptive things to create the entire story. The elements I end up including define atmosphere and often tell more about the story than the initial symbol does.” While Gaz’s design training emphasized a more minimal approach, it was advice that never fit. “I was taught ‘less is more.’ How can less be more? The more you have, the more you have.”

His philosophy also works out well for the client. “They often have limited budgets and can’t do the ten photos they’d like to include in their annual report or project. There is so much information in one of my photos that they can often take out elements and use them in a different place in the project.”

Gaz has a particular and unexpected affinity for visual clichs’, seeing overused concepts as a design challenge. “Using something like a heart is an opportunity to show off,” explains Gaz. “There’s no better opportunity to express your individual ideas.” Shooting the cover for a Jacques Dutronc recording for Sony Music, Gaz chose to illustrate “The Daughter of Santa Claus,” a song on the album about Santa’s daughter falling in love with the son of Father Whipper (the French anti-Santa Claus). Working in a red and green palette, he created an image of a heart bound by a whip.

Gaz began developing his trademark style after a move to Paris seven years ago. He first worked as an art director for a French cultural agency, but found he didn’t like the impact the client had on his designs. “The client was on my back, move this to left, move this to right. There were respect issues. As a photographer, I found people respected my decisions more.” He and half-brother Stan Gaz, a New York based photographer, began to work in Paris together sharing design and photography assignments. The incentive to shoot was higher from a survival standpoint; photographers were paid right away, designers were paid when the job was completed.

From the beginning, David’s photographs were collage-like with rich colorization. Not surprisingly, the work was graphic, the images high impact. “A lot of the problems you encounter in design you also see in photography,” says Gaz. “The posters I designed actually looked very similar to my photos. The point is to attract attention purely through the image.”

The big change in Gaz’s work came in 1992 when he was working on a series of children’s textbook covers for Hatier Press. “I’d done a lot of record covers at that point and they wanted a similar look to attract the attention of the kids. But the shots kept coming out terrible,” recalls Gaz. “I called the client saying I needed a couple extra days, you don’t tell them the shots look terrible. After three tries, the work still looked bad and I knew I couldn’t call him again. I started playing with all the bits and pieces of film I had. I put two pieces of film together, it looked fantastic, the client loved it. If it could make an ugly image look good, I wondered what the technique would do for a good image?”

Gaz applied his laboratory experience from his early premed study to the problem and began experimenting with lighting and color gels and charted his results. He found, for example, that shooting an image with a red gel to pop the reds and shooting the same image again with a green gel to make the greens glow and sandwich the two pieces of film gave his colors ultrahigh intensity.

Sandwiching also promoted contrast which created additional relief in the final photograph. Shadows were also emphasized and often came out lighter than the background which further heightened the focus on the objects Gaz chose to include in his compositions. Gaz continued his experimentation, saving his charted data for future reference so that successful colors in previous work could be repeated in new work.

When Gaz began to show the new work around, reactions were mixed. “In France, I was told Americans will probably like this but here we don’t like this stuff,” says Gaz. “Americans said the work looked more European. Ironically, I started to get a lot of work.”

One of the first major clients to employ the new style was KPMG Peat Marwick, a former fortune 500 accounting and business consulting business. “We selected him for a number of corporate capability brochures because of his interesting unusual style and his ability to put together ideas in a different way,” says George, Senior Designer at Enten Associates, Rockville. Gaz collaged elements representing symbols or tools that related to that particular client. For one brochure, for example, he combined a maze with data from the New York Stock Exchange, globes, and computer chips. “The client absolutely loved it. This was some of the first work Gaz had done in this country and they were pleased to be represented by cutting edge work.”

Gaz does all his own propping, trolling flea markets and antique stores for figurines, old postcards, and religious iconography. Recent finds include bowls of crosses stamped “Souvenir of Lourdes,” Bakelite cameras, mannequin parts, metal insects and a device used in medicinal leeching. “I hold onto things that I like the most – a cabinet which I’ve modified and used in several images, the globes. I keep them around the house, but I throw out alot too. I try to avoid using the same objects over and over again. The only objects in my studio are the ones involved with a current shoot.”A cover story in the January/February 1996 issue of Communication Arts generated new excitement in his country about Gaz’s work and coincided with the photographer’s move back to San Francisco. Melanie Fiacchino, Senior Art Director at Rapp Collins Worldwide, Chicago, saw his style as perfect for an idea the firm had just sold to new client Xerox for a direct mail package for Xerox’s outsourcing products. In outsourcing, Xerox brings in their staff and machinery to train their client’s existing copying department staff to increase efficiency. “We were trying to set up this problem that outsourcing solves,” explains Fiacchino. “We wanted to communicate the anxiety and pressure people in these departments are under. Gaz’s style was perfect. We wanted that collage effect of found objects, using elements from electronic and paper documents to create a face or person out of these materials.”
“There was alot of room for creativity in the Xerox assignment,” says Gaz. “They really wanted me to take the comp further and interpret it in my own style. I tried to go back to the root of the problem to figure out what they went through to come up with that comp. I walked through the exact same process but in my own fashion which allowed me to take the idea to a different level. Gaz found a stylized mannequin head and paper-mached it with pieces of business documents. Diskettes, keyboard keys, and springs like those in copy machines formed multiple arms around the head; antique china doll hands hold diskettes, a globe. The palette is rich and warm in reds, yellows and magenta tones.

“We had lots of ways to go with this project,” says Fiacchino, “including collage artists who do there own photography. But, Gaz’s work was exceptionally thoughtful. He seemed to have given the objects he selected for the images a lot of thought. He brought more to the table than photography, it was obvious he was a really good designer.”

Several years ago, Gaz’s father, a chemist who holds several patents, encouraged him to patent his process. Gaz received his patent earlier this year. “There’s nothing complex about my technique, it’s simply do one thing and then do another. That’s what’s patented, the process. I calculate carefully to get a specific effect. People have been doing film sandwiches for years, they’ve been using gels to pop colors. But, it’s doing the whole system to get this achieved result which is the enhancement of color.”

Gaz supported his application with the detailed notes and charts kept in the development of his technique. “Applying for a patent is an unbelievably complex process that takes years,” says Gaz. “The Patent Office has to do research all over the country to make sure no one else is doing the same thing. It protects my work within certain limitations. There are always people trying to copy your work when you’re doing fairly well and your prices are up. There’s always the client that says we like what he does, but can you do it for less? There’s a pretty good protection system in place for images in that someone can’t just Xerox something out of a magazine and use it in an ad, but there’s really nothing to stop someone from trying to duplicate what you’re doing. That’s why the patent really comes in handy. It will become advantageous if and when someone does a major job using what I do.”

While Gaz will continue to work in Paris on a monthly basis, his desire to expand into video and film influenced him to relocate to the States where he sees greater opportunities in these areas. He recently shot an ad for Levis and a music video for the French group Clarika (Sony Music). “I like making images. But, I would like to work more with people and film. It seems like a logical progression, the way I try to tell stories with my images.” Innovation is most obvious when ordinary things are done in extraordinary ways. Telling a story in a film with my visual vocabulary could very well be that.