Archive for February, 2000

Jody Dole

February 22, 2000
Jody Dole will never suffer from equipment envy. His vast West Side Manhattan studio overlooking the Hudson River is crammed with every imaginable gizmo and gadget a techno-savvy professional photographer could hope to own: Iris color printers, drum scanners, CD-ROM burners, high res digital camera backs, and computers galore. But for Dole, these items are not merely toys to be tinkered with, then discarded, like kids do with too many gifts on Christmas morning. Instead, he is among the rare breed of professionals who value the traditional craft of photography, but also recognize the opportunity for technology to up the ante for their art and livelihood. This blend of the old and the new, the cherished and the unexplored, is indicative of Dole’s work as a preeminent commercial photographer. He can, with equal vigor, pontificate about the beauty of ancient botanical drawings as well as gush over the merits of the latest Mamiya 7 series camera. Fueled by the emergence of the technological age, he is like a walking strobe light, bursting with energy and enthusiasm about his life’s work.

“There’s so much to do!” booms Dole as he ricochets through his work space, beckoning towards a bank of humming computers. The monitors cast a blue glow on a color printout bearing a series of photos of a streamlined Sea Ray power boat cutting its way through the water against the Manhattan skyline. Images are everywhere: exploding from tightly organized drawers and piled on shelves, all indicating that the demand for Dole’s images is matched only by the prolific output of his camera.

Dole’s work in the advertising world is easily recognizable. Open up virtually any national magazine and you will find clients such as Ralph Lauren, Victoria’s Secret, Phillip Morris, AT&T, and Jaguar, among others, who use the photographer’s images to bring life and recognition to their products. His work, a delicate blend of art and commerce, entices the eye rather than overwhelms it. Clients seek him out based not only on his past successes, but also because his palpable and contagious enthusiasm spills into every project he tackles. He brings with him a wealth of ideas and suggestions to make a project vital and original.

Dole first exhibited that passion for a Smirnoff campaign in 1990 that would catapult him from working as a photo agent and line producer only two years before to gaining a global clientele that clamors for his unique style. After a three-hour haul from Long Island, Dole arrived at an art buyer’s office in New York to show a slide carousel of still lifes that he had taken in a converted antique barn/studio near East Hampton. At the last minute, the agency’s art buyer became unavailable for the appointment. “This turned out to be one of the luckiest breaks in my career,” he recalls. With trademark tenacity, he secured an art director list and began calling around the city until he found someone to look at the slides. That someone turned out to be creative director Bob Cole who was impressed enough to hand him a bottle of the well-known vodka and asked him to come up with a unique way of presenting the product.

Returning to his studio in the barn with a flurry of ideas, Dole created a series of images and returned with a wholly original way to showcase the product. Upon seeing the results, the creative director presented the photos at a meeting with the client.

The result? Within days, Dole was hired. The campaign featured Smirnoff in a stylized, elegant manner. The brand name was not the central focus of the image, but rather the ad stood out because of its artistic approach and subtle presentation. The photographer’s work for Smirnoff was analyzed and hailed in numerous publications including PDN, Graphis, Advertising Age, Ad Week, Art Direction, American Photo, and The Wall Street Journal. The New York Times called his images, “…masterpieces of photography, design, and printing.” “And then the parade started,” remembers Dole with a chuckle.

Finding success as a photographer overnight can easily pigeonhole one’s career before the photographer has an opportunity to grow as an artist. Though Dole found that sudden recognition jump-started his passion, he resists such limitations, thriving off the prospect of turning out something fresh and new to constantly challenge his past.

Since then, the photographer has created countless images using a similar aesthetic, focusing on the lighting and color to emphasize a mood or sensation. Still-life photography became his forte and Dole’s unique approach helped revolutionize the way objects are presented in advertising. Because he was relatively new to photography when he worked on the Smirnoff campaign, he had no preconceived notions about the “right way” to present a still life.

Throughout his career, Dole has maintained the mantra of shunning convention in favor of innovation, often finding his work copied by others looking to inject creativity into their own images. His desire to constantly branch out and try something fresh and untested also fuels his continued interest in the realm of digital photography. He sees technology as the next logical step in the progression and growth of the industry.

Dole has been in the business of recognizing opportunities since electronic imaging first started to gain prominence. It is hard to believe that the first version of Photoshop was readily available to the public less than a decade ago. At first, recalls the photographer, clients weren’t sure what he was up to. “I got this call back in 1991 from an art buyer who thought I was opening up a photo shop. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was using software called Photoshop. In 1992, when many clients heard I bought an Iris printer, they thought I was making pictures of purple flowers!” Dole still has his first Macintosh, an Apple IIc, as a reminder of how far he and technology have come since the days when merging computers and technology seemed like science fiction. “Back then the learning curve was steep, and learning how to use this equipment was a challenge. My friends and I must’ve spent thousands of hours in front of the computer trying to learn all this stuff and, of course, nothing ever worked.”

For Dole, the technology available to the professional photographer must be utilized in a way that does not diminish the role of creativity from the process. He bemoans the loss of originality that has been prompted by the sheer number of people who have access to equipment without understanding how to bring themselves or their passions to the medium. “If you know how to play the piano you’re going to make sweet music. If you don’t, you’re going to create some harsh sounds. I could do the same thing with a pinhole camera that I do with a phase one camera. If you know what you want out of your photography it (i.e., technology) is tremendous, but if you’re just using it for the sake of using it, then technology, not you, is steering the ship.”

The photographer has certainly not lost sight of the role conventional methods play in creating an image. He is mindful of photographic history and traces his influences back to his days at Pratt, studying art and photography as a social force. “I like looking at photography before it was influenced by imitators or by popular culture.” Dole still relies on his Nikons and Hasselblads and is currently swooning over his acquisition of the Mamiya 645, RZ and Lightphase system which he finds brings clarity and texture to his photographs.

Over the years, in maintaining his dual vision of the world, keeping tabs on the emerging future and recognizing the value of the past, Dole has become a serious student of the history of design. He owns and cherishes a rare collection of first edition books dating back to the 19th Century about subjects ranging from botany to insects to archaeology. He is fascinated by early drawings of plant and animal life used in science reference books and draws from the intricate detail and realism as a means of inspiration. A naturalist at heart, the photographer often utilizes his knowledge of plants and animals in his work. Still lifes of piranha, crustaceans, and sculpted flora have been used for clients and many of the objects have come directly from his own collection of artifacts. Boxes of butterflies, bones, and unusual insects are meticulously preserved and Dole displays many of his finds as a showcase of his intense interest. Dole goes to great lengths to acquire rare items (rare at least in New York). One of Dole’s most intriguing acquisitions is a collection of tumbleweeds he had shipped from Northern Arizona to the East Coast at high cost and aggravation. He recounts how he is still known at a Fed Ex office in Sedona as the eccentric city slicker who wanted to ship a very unusual package back home. He photographs most of these artifacts as a means of documenting his own personal tastes. Much of this work has never been seen and many clients don’t realize that, in addition to his still life work, he is also an accomplished landscape artist. His drive to constantly create images, whether on location or on vacation with his family is indicative of his artistic ambition.
As photography becomes increasingly competitive, Dole sees his place as the standard-bearer, producing work that is equally profitable and enriching. “I truly don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t a photographer. I’m unemployable for anything else.” Yet the photographer also is venturing into television production, directing and shooting commercials as an extension of his visual work. “Essentially, I do what I do as a photographer, but now the print moves.”

It is an understatement. Dole’s combination of artistic and commercial photographs will continue to push the boundaries of advertising into the future while the photographer keeps a keen eye on the past.