Animism A primitive belief whereby animate and inanimate things are held to possess an innate soul. Webster's II New College Dictionary
While followers of the Japanese Shinto religion may have believed that only natural objects contained life and spirit, Natasha V. sees it as her job to summon these elements in every product she shoots.
"Product photography tends to be dry and not so exciting, so I just try to add something a little bit more to each of the products I shoot; I do my best to turn a dead object into an animated thing and get it to look alive," says Toronto-based Natasha V.
Finding the right personality to bestow on the product she's shooting is usually Natasha's biggest challenge. It requires a great deal of collaboration by the photographer and creative director. Fortunately, it comes naturally to Natasha. According to Tracy Jones, creative director for Yield Integrated Communications, and a repeat client of Natasha, "It's really nice to work with someone who's very strong creatively and, at the same time, has a rare openness about her that allows her to ensure that the client is seeing the picture that's inside his or her head, as well." Once the look is settled upon, Jones says, "It's a matter of getting out of the way as creative director and letting Natasha make it come to life."
Take the image of the overcoat (top, right) taken for Toro, a Toronto-based magazine. Together, the creative director and Natasha had to decide who would wear the overcoat, which happened to be part of a new series of similar men's wear. The answer was someone very powerful and strong, someone who feels good about himself, they deduced. Now comes the next hardest part: creating a personality using just the products. "We came up with the idea of laying out a complete outfit—using several of the new clothing items—and using that strong top light to give our deflated man a look of authority."
A Compact Workspace
But not every shoot gets "laid out" so perfectly. The amount of creative freedom Natasha is allocated for individual assignments varies and the process of getting to the final image unfolds in different ways. "Sometimes clients will come to me and say, ‘Okay, this is the story lets see what you do with it,' but there are other times they say, ‘We want to target this specific audience, and we want this particular look,'" says Natasha. As it happens, some of her favorite products to shoot are perfumes and cosmetics because "you can not have 100-percent control over how you style them." Natasha says, "You can crush an eyeshadow, but you won't be able to predict how it will break apart."
Therefore, her assignment from Cossette, an advertising agency in Toronto, was a welcome one. She was asked to create an atypical look for their Quo Cosmetics account campaign (gearbox). The creative director she was working with was also female "so it was really just two girls on the set playing with cosmetics," says Natasha. "We had fun experimenting to try and create something visually striking. We smudged the lipstick over and over, and a lot of the lines looked good, but only one of them looked amazing."
When permitted to do so, Natasha will juxtapose subject matter to add life and personality to the product she's shooting. According to Jones, she has quite a talent for this. "Natasha has a knack for putting two things together so they are more interesting than the individual parts that went into it. She'll pair a squid with mandarin oranges and it will create something a little quirky and bent that you really want to keep looking at."
And whether the products are playful or pricey, it's always appropriate. For example, the white space chair with red interior (p. 39) was an amazingly beautiful, but highly recognizable, object, so Natasha wanted to shoot in a way that would really make people stop and think or laugh. "Just by adding flippers to the shot it created a totally different feel for the chair," says Natasha. Not to mention it leaves an entire person sitting in scuba gear to the imagination.
She also did this for the portfolio image of the Christian Louboutin shoe that opens this article. "You know that shoe was almost a thousand dollars, so I added jewels to exaggerate the richness of the object itself," says Natasha. She shot the image using her Mamiya RZ with a Phase One back, Speedotron lights in Chimera softboxes, and a Profoto Ringlight.
Success in site
While Natasha's unique approach is what ultimately sells clients like Bell, Toro, Colgate, Fashion, and Quo Cosmetics, her website, www.Natashav.com is what usually gets her shoe in the door. Just last year it received the award for best website in Applied Arts and according to Natasha, it's usually the first contact potential clients have with her images. Volunteering her secret, Natasha says, "I think photographers tend to put images together to be viewed as someone flipping through a magazine or portfolio would view them, but you have to make it feel more like your site visitor is walking through a gallery." She also admits to putting a lot of her own personality into the site; the ketchup-bottle loading bar and catchy French-accented music just sings Natasha—literally.
Currently, she is working with Dan Lim on a 16-page promotion piece to appear in Applied Arts, which will be distributed throughout North America. Not only is she looking forward to the increased distribution, but the project will be one of the first to allow her the creative freedom to include human elements—such as body parts—in her images. Now there's an easier way to add life!