Friday, April 25, 2008

Artist Friday - Vincent Skeltis

Re-posted due to a few errors on my part and not completely conveying the entire artistic view for this piece.

Vincent is a talented photographer in New York City and in addition to sharing his photography; he is also sharing his insight on Art vs. Commerce. Vincent was great enough to send a plethora of his work but I did have to edit it down a bit. My question... In your mind what distinguishes art from commerce?

The Short Answer: Taste! Personal taste.

The Long Answer: Your question is very broad, and in answering it I think it's necessary to note how I ended up here on your blog; My public suggestion to APE, asking him now to run his Free Promo a second time, except this time breaking image groupings into "art" and "commerce," rather than jumble all 297 photographers into one group. Looking at Rob's edit, I think a great majority of the pictures would fall into a commercial or lifestyle genre. Art involves more risk, and more obscurity. Pictures that are used to tell stories that aren’t necessarily clear, and images that are open to more interpretation. His edit may reflect the current state of our marketplace that he and his colleagues are used to seeing on a daily basis.

(It's important to note the ambiguity in the word "lifestyle" used above. There is a photographer who I came up with named Ryan McGinley, who's work currently challenges the idea that lifestyle isn't commercially artful. His pictures in many ways are the epitome of lifestyle photography, yet he's a thriving art star simultaneously doing campaigns for Puma, Verizon, Converse and Wrangler. The question isn't whether his pictures would be artful if his models weren't predominantly naked... It’s rather, what do art buyers latch onto when considering the photographer for their campaign? Great photographic skill? A specific technique? A body of work that is consistently one thing? A photographer with high-profile clients? A photographer with an already existing and expansive following? An opportunity to work with a top-tier guy? Someone already proven or accepted? Someone "discovered?" A similar photographic style to "insert photographer's name here______", but cheaper, less revered and chosen only for budgetary reasons? Or, is it all about the assumed specificity of the particular brand they're shopping for?)

Having been on both sides of the table during creative meetings; working both as a photographer and a creative director, I understand the process, the often mile-long line of red tape, etc., all the while trying to better understand the intended viewer, market and target demographic. However, where I personally lose the thread to the decision making process is when the opportunity to think outside the box and take a risk is an option. I'd risk it all (the project or job as both the photographer or the CD) to say something new and fresh in an unconventional way, whereas some of the people I've collaborated with will not. This is where "art" for me trumps commerce. I'm willing to chance a job's success based on a number of things - the exact same numbers of things are present for me while doing my personal and commercial work. (Now before you jump to conclusions, this isn't to say I'm irresponsible, unwilling or cavalier with my clients - I just won't hesitate to start the conversation about different possible directions or executions. An open dialogue and full disclosure is something I practice, mainly as a rule of learning.)

The "things" I'd be willing to chance for both personal and commercial work, and why: The most obvious - affording anyone the opportunity to chop me down. I only know what I think I know, and that's debatable. The chance to be wrong certainly loses out to the chance to move forward. I believe everyone is more or less capable of a lot of the same things. "No," and "I don't know how" or "I can't," doesn't really exist, and if information is presented in a way where people can attempt something new, make decisions and form opinions on their own, without feeling forced, belittled or degraded - then that is powerful and successful work, regardless of whether those decisions or opinions are positive or negative. Hard to do within advertising specifically, but to me that should always be the goal.

A great example of this in relation to art vs. commerce would be an Op (Ocean Pacific) advertisement printed on the back-cover of Vice Magazine about 4 years ago. (Vice is a free, urban-style and culture magazine targeted to the 18-35 demo, and is not only read coast-to-coast, but very popular in the UK and Asia - it's not just New York.) On the cover was a still life, photographed as if the viewer is the seeing what the camera is seeing (in the first person, in other words.) "You," now as the viewer, have become Op's puppet, looking down at a mirror lightly dusted with cocaine - the line of cocaine "cut" or configured in the shape of the brand's logo. Crass and super bold, borderline irresponsible even, but memorable and certainly, in the very least - artistic. And, it was an ad! I use this example because it's the quickest and notably most extreme, for delivering the point. - Again, I do understand that you can't go into a meeting with a bunch of Gatorade execs and insist as the art buyer that their next campaign be a bunch of football players stuffing dismembered and screaming cheerleaders into 5 gallon coolers while celebrating their accomplishment with a winning smile, gulping their blue, electrolyte infused sports drink. (The ad copy reading... "Look out for our NEW! Heavier Plastic Container!")

Here's where I go where maybe one shouldn't, but Op did. Someone had to have pitched that concept for it to come to life on Vice's cover, right? Maybe the most important aspect of all of this is the conviction in our thoughts and ideas first, and not so much within the photograph or artwork

Some visual examples using my work to illustrate a few points (and questions.): The first two images below were shot for the IT industry server conglomerate, Tekelec. I have no idea how Sean LaBounty (the then CD at Hanft Raboy) convinced everyone I was the right guy for the job. This is a perfect example of a left-of-center conceptual approach, coupled with a questionable and risky shooter choice. Sean trusted I would approach the layouts and production with "disregard for what my books look liked" and knew I could grasp and execute layouts despite providing visual proof. His knowledge of my technical background helped, but even I had to squint a little to see the reasoning behind his thinking. My conclusion: Wanting to be a bit surprised, knowing the photographer's universal personal approach to everything, and some recklessness and hope. Oh, and small budgets and tight timelines help secure vigor in small time photographers like me too!
The results in my honest opinion are adequate. But so was what I had to work with, little money and time. We were able to produce VERY COMMERCIAL IMAGES with as artful a concept permitted by the client.

Now, work I consider useful from all three vantage points - ART, COMMERCIAL & LIFESTYLE: This entire thought is difficult to convey in scope without writing a book, and even then I imagine it all comes down to individual taste, personal history and experiences, early photographic paths and internal projection of ones own work. Either way, to further consistency, I think this work could be considered for all three categories. Not a favorite of grey areas.

I have many interests: photography, design, drawing.... so the work understandably has a life of it's own. Hard to see in a small edit, and hard to show in a convincing way, but I consider this (a mix of both editorial and personal images) to be artful. Stories not included.

Check out Vincent's work at and his blog, A American Family Man
©Vincent Skeltis, used with permission
all artwork is copyrighted and intellectual property and cannot be used without artist's permission.