Commercial photographer Jake Armour is talking at a rapid clip,
like a man not only truly enthusiastic about his work, but busy at
While he's got some time to spare for an interview, as he rattles off the list of amenities in his brand-new studio in downtown Minneapolis ("6,600 square feet, 18-foot ceilings, parking for 16, birch wood details, curved windows, conference rooms, spacial function with great work flow"), you can hear in his voice that he's eager to get back to it.
"It's a happy new world," he says, by way of cheerful apology.
He is a busy man. In the 10 years since Armour first opened shop, he's grown from a solo operation into a fully staffed company that employs a manager/producer, a rep (Armour's wife, Hope), and a staff photographer. Along the way, he's transformed himself from a local product shooter into a seasoned professional with 12 major ad agency and design firm accounts—big regional clients like Target and Larsen Design—and a national marketing campaign almost ready for launch.
At a time when most of the industry seems to be grinding down, Armour is kicking into high gear. "In the three months since we've been in this new space," he marvels, "our clients have doubled."
ABOVE & BEYOND
As for the reason behind this tremendous success, it may have to do as much with what Armour Photography is not as with what it is.
"I don't like recipe photography," he says. "When I get a job I want to come out fresh. My goal is to create something that is above and beyond a client's expectations."
As an example, he cites a project for a fluid-technology company that "wanted to show 'fluid in motion,' but didn't know how." After a bit of brainstorming, Armour built a four-step waterfall in the studio and shot blue and green food coloring floating downstream. "It's all about problem-solving. You have to get into their heads and translate that into reality."
Armour himself seems unsure as to how he manages to pull this off. He talks metaphorically about "sweet spots" and "harmonics" and things being in tune. Like the art-school graduate he is—he completed a two-year commercial photography program at the New England School of Photography in Boston—he invokes Henri Cartier-Bresson and "balance" and "negative space."
He's more successful discussing technique and mechanics. For a Gucci watch he shot as part of a Marshall Fields holiday gift program, he explains: "I took a conventional photo with a Cambo 4X5 and Ilford XP2 film. Then we did what I call split-toning; we did a partial bleaching of the prints then through trial and error put some selenium tones back in—all the things you do when you want to destroy a B&W print. It was Science 101."
The result is a huge watchface swooning in and out of focus in almost infinite shades of white, off-white, blue, and gray.
This kind of experimentation is a large part of Armour's "game," as he calls it. For example, he'd never shot an underwater product before "Camera in Water," a picture of a 1930s Kodak camera diving in—as it were—trailed by a surge of bubbles.
For the shoot, Armour built a 30-gallon tank out of Plexiglas and "started tossing in watches," but the results were unsatisfying. He tossed in other things—a pair of jelly sandles and assorted fashion accessories—until he hit upon his collection of small cameras.
"I had an assistant throw them in and very quickly I saw what I wanted. We rigged a positioning arm and a kind of track for them to run on, then did some Polaroid testings. I could have used fast duration strobes, but I wanted some motion. Certain areas are blurry—that's where the kinetic energy is.
"The background was separately lit, and the tank was lit from the sides and front. How I treat lighting is what separates me from other shooters. I want to find the essence of luminosity."