Magazine Article


Jay Carlson


Much as the Ancient Mariner retold his tale to those who would listen, Connecticut-based digital shooter Jay Carlson doesn't mind telling everyone he's living the American Dream. . . and loving every minute of it!
Arriving on America's shores from Korea in 1965 at age 10, he soon discovered photography was his passion. His adoptive parents, amateur photographers, let him tinker with their Rolleicord Twin Lens Reflex camera. One trip to a friend's darkroom to develop pictures and he was hooked.

Graduating from the City College of San Francisco, he broke into commercial photography as an assistant to David Tise, from whom he learned more than the basics. Recalls Carlson, "Since Tise rented his studio to other photographers, I had the opportunity to assist Annie Leibovitz, Bob Stone, and Albert Watson. "Watson asked me if I had any interest in working in New York. Did I! I took the next plane out. His sense of graphics and design, his sense of texture, and incredible work ethic are still with me and my work today."
Back in San Francisco, he hit the street running, with a dynamic commercial portfolio. Prestigious clients like Apple, Intel, Atari, Clorox, Christian Brothers, Hexell Medical, Smith Kline, and Cutter Medical kept Carlson busy 24/7.
Longing for New York, he returned east, where he met a photographer who introduced him to the catalog studios. In 1988, he opened his own studio in New York, relocating to Norwalk, Connecticut, by 1994. His clientele now included Ames Department Stores, Inc., Guideposts, Readers Digest Young Families, Insignia/ESG, Mercedes Benz, Stanley Works, Capri Albums, and Lightwave Communications.

When Joanne Magadan, creative director for Ames Department Stores was once asked, "What is Jay Carlson known for?" she replied, "He is an extension of an art director's creativity. I can say to him, 'these are my thoughts' and he'll take it to the next level. It's a collaboration, rather than a battle of egos."
Carlson considers himself a still-life photographer who can problem-solve and have an image tell a story. "I believe in simple lighting solutions, always starting with a single light source to see its effect on the product, moving to create shape by blocking areas with cards, next adding the fill, refining with mirrors and reflectors, and finally adding any gels or accents to create a finished look."
Recently, Munroe Creative Partners commissioned him for a Mercedes Benz of Greenwich ad. The art director was looking for a sunny, relaxed feeling. He shot in studio, with a rented hand-painted backdrop (Sandro La Ferla) of a beach scene, driving the Mercedes into the lower level of Carlson's 5,500-square-foot studio.
To create the warmth of sunlight, he mixed tungsten and strobe lights and selected a slower shutter speed to create slight motion in the model's feet, which were resting on the dashboard. "I shot a 1K Mole-Richardson through the windshield and balanced the rest of the scene with Speedotron bank fills. For the background, I added warming gels to the strobes to create a late-afternoon look."
Carlson created his trademark pool shot for a promotional piece, the first in a series on games. The challenge, he explains, was to create a pool of water with the pool balls floating in water and yet in racked formation.
"First, I built a 4x8-foot trough, sealed it with Fiberglass, and lined it with plastic. To color the base of the water, I took spray paint and modeled and shaped the background. I then filled the trough with bottled water." How to float these heavyweight balls in the water? Carlson created cylindrical clear plastic stands for each ball to sit on, immersed in approximately 1/4-inch water.
"I wanted the water to 'move,' so with one assistant in the front and one in the back, we swirled the water, dropped objects in, and finally got the right look with air." He used a directional tungsten light with bank fills, adding blue gels to the background for additional interest. Fuji Velvia 8X10 film intensified the colors and completed the shot.
The wonder of digital photography, for Carlson, is the excitement he gets previewing the final image on screen. "It's back to my B&W darkroom, watching the image appear on paper! Shooting digital is instant gratification. Each and every image is a shot of adrenaline. The possibility to improve and experiment is endless. Digital lets you give the art director a chance to alter the shot, eliminating reshoots and saving money and time."

Carlson networks to a Mac G4 workstation, where each and every image is reviewed for leveling, sharpening, or minor retouching with Photoshop Monaco software profiles their monitors and papers. The studio uses an Epson Pro 5000 with Fiery Rip for soft proofs and, adds Carlson, "for clients who need photo-quality, multiple, high-resolution prints instantly, we use our in-house Fuji Pictrography 3000."

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