Quad/Photo's commitment to digital,
its "can do it against all odds"
spirit, and network philosophy
are teaching the industry some
mighty powerful new tricks. TEXT BY LELA NARGI • IMAGES BY QUAD/PHOTO PHOTOGRAPHERS
© R.J. Hinkle
© Scott Anderson
© Dave Hermann
© Dedjora von Jutaz
© Karineh Gurjian-Angelo
© Deen Wanek
© Deen Wanek
© Christopher Zweifel
Pewaukee, Wisconsin, is located almost mid-way between Milwaukee
and Madison. Waukesha County has the largest concentration of
printers in the state and has become known as the Silicon Valley of
the printing industry.
This quaint-sounding township is also the home—and here's the surprise—of Quad/Graphics, the world's largest privately held printer, founded by the late Harry Quadracci with a $35,000 second mortgage on his house, and a large dose of single-minded Midwestern gumption. Thirty-one years later, the company still prides itself on a "can-do-it-against-all-odds spirit," which is deeply infused, too, in the culture of Quad/Graphics' subsidiary, Quad/Photo. Since 1987, Quad/Photo (www.quadphoto.com) has been teaching the industry some new tricks, and in the process, establishing itself as a photographic force to be reckoned with.
The basic premise behind Quad/Photo is relatively simple: provide a client with a complete range of photographic services—digital and conventional equipment, relevant technology, sets, stylists, and of course, the photographers themselves—and couple that with "seamless access" to Quad/Graphics' imaging and print-production services. Make the whole package even more enticing by offering one studio with seven locations—Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Dallas, Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, and Saratoga Springs, New York. Finally, make this enormous operation a streamlined, flexible, lean machine that can weather an economic downturn, and do so with panache.
And there's no doubt about it, says Cal Newby, Quad/Photo's
director of photography, "In this economy, the ad world has been
shaken up. But we've been fortunate—we've been relatively
safe." The reason is due, at least in part, to the company's
revolutionary cross-training program, in which Quad/Photo employees
of every variety and stripe are taught other aspects of the
When the studio is functioning optimally, photographers work as
photographers, imagers work as imagers; when there's a slump, the
studio shuffles, and photographers may be found working in another
capacity. This system allows the company to keep costs under
control, and ultimately enhances the skills and value of each
photographer. And it goes a long way to rectifying what Newby sees
as a huge photo industry weakness: the ability to work as a team.
"In our culture," he says, "two can do more than one. There's no
model for this other than pure, common sense."
Another reason Quad/Photo finds itself well-positioned in this
downturn is its commitment to digital and developing new
technologies. Insists Newby, what any good photograph features,
above all, is good lighting. Quad/Photo hires people who are
established photography—not computer wizardrs—then
teaches them about the imaging and printing processes, so they
"know how what they're shooting is going to print, and they don't
have to correct for it."
The result is a less than .5 percent re-shoot for technical problems; with less time spent on the overall process, less of a client's money is spent as well. Says Newby, "The impact digital can have on business is remarkable. But it's a skill set that has to be learned."
A host of Quad/Photo-designed resources also keeps the studio competitive. StudioVue, an Internet-based collaboration tool, allows Quad/Photo's clients—over 125 in all, including Figi's, Rapidforms, Kohl's, and Stumps—to approve sets for shoots and give remote direction and input. This way, "our clients can stay current without having to travel," says Wisconsin studio manager, John Niedermann.
QuadColor.com, their newly launched Web-based business, is a
full-servvice color resource, offering short turns for RGB
conversion, retouching, and contract proofing.
"The power of our 900 imaging employees, with 20-plus years of
color and photo experience and print knowledge is what this service
is all about," says Niedermann. "Think of it as an extension to
your business, your imaging quarters.
"It's a brand-new world for a lot of people starting out in digital. If a small studio gets a big job, we can offer them all our knowledge in imaging, and our 1,000 technical people, at a reasonable cost."
Both Newby and Niedermann concede that it's the photographers and stylists who are their biggest resource. Quad/Photo has a staff of 22, with diverse talents and backgrounds. Photographic knowledge and—yes—lighting skills are "of primary importance" in considering hires, says Niedermann, "but we also spend a good amount of time sharing our network philosophy and looking for personalities that will work well with clients. Everyone has a style whether they realize it or not. We need to recognize those strengths and try to marry them to the [clients' needs] as best we can."
Dedjora von Jutaz, who has a
background in art direction and photo consultation, works from
Quad/Photo's Hudson Street studio in New York City. She achieved
her contemplative, dramatically lit image, of a young tattooed man,
during a beta test with a single-capture back. "The process of
photographing people, whether for editorial, advertising or retail
purposes, is always an intimate one," she says. "It makes
photographing people a challenge and a pleasure."