making the work personal

I was talking with a friend recently who asked if I ever shot personal projects when I'm overseas or on assignment in an interesting location. I quickly answered no, but after thinking about it for a few minutes, I concluded that I don't have that desire because I genuinely attempt to make every project a personal project. If I look back over the last few years, there hasn't been one assignment that I haven't found a way to approach personally. Not one that didn't line up with my personal creative drive. For this, I'm incredibly thankful. I Am Second, the Dallas Stars, Shutterfly, East-West, domestic, international, film, still, design, brand - somehow, it has all been story-centric and it has all been deeply personal.

Case-in-point, the recently launched iteration of a project for Shutterfly: Shutterfly. Family. Photos.

Sfly001 Sanders in Instagram, for Shutterfly

This year, I was commissioned to create 7 new films and re-work the motion graphics for all but one piece from last year's effort. The result is some work I'm tremendously proud of that comes from a deeply personal place. But I can't take all the credit. As a company, Shutterfly has it so, so right. They embrace story (complete with a Chief Storytelling Officer!) and, culturally, put their full trust in the vision of their creative partners - both internal and external. Combine that with a passionate & talented customer base and you have the recipe for a great project.

If you know anything about me, you know I've fully embraced mobile photography. I'm an avid Instagrammer and shoot almost exclusively with my iPhone when it comes to 'personal' stuff. In fact, our last two Christmas cards have featured nothing but iPhone photos. I love the way that mobile strips away the pretense and gets right to the simple act of making images. It's a technology that's leveled the playing field and takes away almost all barriers to sharing images. I've long believed that photography was the first truly social media - it's always been about creating, sharing and sparking conversations, thoughts or ideas. This passion for mobile photography was the genesis for one of my favorite films from this year's Shutterfly. Family. Photos.

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The motivation - the why - that drives any given project is personal, but so is the how. Wherever I am, I find that the subjects of the stories I tell become something more than subjects. When Michele opened her home to me for Capturing Photos on the Go we spent a little time talking about things that would ultimately inform the story, but we also spent a ton of time talking about things that seemed to have no relevance to Shutterfly or mobile photography. But, something important happened while we were talking: our guard came down.

I've written before about the importance of access, both physical & emotional, and this film - which is essentially a Shutterfly commercial - wouldn't connect with the audience like it does if I wasn't mindful of the fact that the act of creating it is a human exchange. Too often, the craft of storytelling is only spoken about in technical terms - in lens choice & frame rates, in work flow & codecs. Sure, understanding the technical aspects of the craft are important, but all are secondary to the personal aspects of telling a story. You have to be genuine and curious and vulnerable in order to tell a story well. You have to be willing to drop your guard and lead the subject of your story into a personal space. You can't expect them to go there if you aren't willing to go there first.

As personal as the motivation may have been, on a project of this size it's impossible to pull something like this off without an awesome team of people. I owe a debt of gratitude to Steve, of Four Man Furnace, for the hours spent on the front end of the project in creative development. Also, to Michele Bell & her family for letting me invade their home and lives for a day. Finally, nothing would have turned out quite as beautifully as it did without Jonah Ingram's (of Ditore Mayo) instinct for story, Kevin Shivers masterful motion interpretation of the recently re-vamped Shutterfly brand and Defacto Sound's ear for subtle sound design, not to mention the score, composed and preformed by Jeff Taylor & Doug Hale (of Air Review). These are all people I work with as often as possible and am happy to call friends - just one more place that the work was made personal.