I was first introduced to the photography industry upon walking thru the door at Sandbox Studio, I remembered thinking to myself: "This place is amazing! This is where I want to be! Now... where are the hot models?" That's what the photography industry is right? Hot half naked models standing in front of a photographer who is yelling out commands while electronic music sets the mood. The parties, the cocaine, the polaroid pictures and of course... more hot models?
A very close friend of mine was kind enough to get my foot thru the door. By some miracle from the powers that be, I was put under the wing of Sandbox's Director of Photography. I vividly remember my first lesson from him on my first day of shadowing. A man of few words, he walks up to me and slams a notepad on the table in front of me: "You must always remember to write down everything!" It was his notebook of set diagrams. The book had been passed. Sean McCrary started feeding my brain with knowledge. We had a mutual agreement, I was ambitious to learn and he was also equally eager to teach. Although, at the time I couldn't understand why somebody I had just met was so open to pass on the knowledge of their craft. This was the man who started the Portland studio. In my mind he was a god. As soon as I started to work more at the studio (unpaid), he became less present. I was being called into the studio more and more for other work. While he, on the other hand, was becoming more absent. Unbeknownst, two weeks before I was offered a salary position as studio coordinator, he sends a mass email stating his resignation. He stated in the email that "the Studio and I are finding that it makes more sense for us to move to another working model" and that "I will be spending more time with my family, working on my health and working on more personal projects." Spoken like a true photographer. Two weeks later Sean died of the cancer he had kept a secret. It marked an end of an era at Sandbox.
It turns out that the photo industry is not how I imagined. Portland's main business is e-commerce, not high fashion as I had imagined ALL photo studios to be. No hot sexy lingerie models here... only shoes and doggy products on white backgrounds. E-commerce photography isn't the most creative of photography fields. As a matter of fact it is probably the most mind numbing and least creative of anything in the whole entire world! There is nothing exciting about it. For the most part it is an all around headache. BUT, it can be very technical and serves a very important role in the money making machine known as Capitalism. That being said, there is money to be made. Nobody else wants to do e-comm and that is the best part. This is what I do as my "profession" thanks to what I am about to tell you.
Cue Swingset. The beginning of a new era: Around the time of Sean passing away I was further introduced to two mad men who were also new to the company. These two men are part of a crew of higher ups in the company that drove Sandbox into being one of the leading studios in the photo industry. They work hard and play WAYYYYYY harder! Well... they are large guys who know how to throw down a ton of alcohol. They are technically geniuses, but almost to the point where they are on the level of a mad scientist. Think Frankenstein, "It's alive, IT'S ALIVE!!!" They push their workers on the brink of destruction as they give them a crash course on the most efficient/highly effective workflows out there in the industry. Not to mention a strict conditioning on their character and liver. It's hard work but extremely profitable. They waste no expense to make sure their crew is having a good time. In terms of being cost efficient for the company, their travel expenses make no sense! In terms of my mutual understanding as a photographer, the methods make perfect sense!
On one drunken night after a shoot in LA, the entire crew got together in a hotel suite that we did just about everything to besides nail the furniture to the ceiling! I specifically remember the boss man saying these few words to me that after expressing the stress of working for the man, "You see Matty... what I do isn't the most creative of professions. I'm not a famous high fashion New York photographer who parties all the time. My craft isn't the glamorous photography that everyone knows, but Matty, I am in a situation to create that! I have put my time in and busted my ass in this industry learning everything I needed to know to become successful. I will look back on this and remember how this was the time of my life!"
And so it goes... he has a hand picked crew that he flies back and forth across the country, from studio to studio, doing photo shoots. Some of these companies you might of heard of: Lacoste, Vans, TJMaxx, Coach, Bass, Tommy Hilfiger... the list goes on and on. The Swingset crew is still out there traveling all over the country for Sandbox creating the digital imagery that allows consumers to shop online. It's a fast pace life living out of a suitcase, traveling from studio to studio. Most of the photographers that shoot for Swingset are in their mid 20's and have little responsibility but a ton of heart and ambition. I feel all of it would be for nothing if I didn't tell the story to make you aware. If I didn't take Sean's advice and "write down everything." These photos tell a portion of the #SwingsetAdventures