On Set: Kate Owen and Sam Shannon on Inspiration, Accounting and Building Your Brand
PHOTOS BY KATE OWEN, WORDS AND SET PHOTOS BY CARA BEST
Finding collaborators who understand your brand and vision isn't always easy, which is why we're lucky to have found photographer Kate Owen and director Sam Shannon many moons ago. Their fun, minimal aesthetic and innovative methods come together to create the amazing campaign imagery we share each season. We just shot our Resort '17 campaign and got the down low on the dynamic duo just for you. Meet the team behind Brand Assembly's visual identity and learn more about their creative process, what they think every small business owner should know and get a sneak peek at our latest campaign!
CAN YOU GIVE US A LITTLE BACKGROUND ON HOW YOU EACH GOT INTO FILM AND PHOTOGRAPHY RESPECTIVELY AND HOW YOU BEGAN COLLABORATING TOGETHER?
Kate Owen: Well I’ve always been interested in photography since I was in high school really. I started pursuing it as a career basically midway through college. That’s when I got really into it. I started entering contests and contacting magazines and trying to do shoots and everything. After I graduated I moved straight to New York and just kind of jumped in the deep end.
Sam started doing documentaries at VICE and then when we started working together I quickly pulled her over to what I call the ‘dark side.’ I said, “Isn’t this just so much more fun shooting fashion and people and making it beautiful rather than documentaries?” So, we’ve been working together for about three or four years. Something like that. And it’s been really interesting seeing, for me especially and I think for Sam, we both really get inspired by the other and it’s really cool seeing what the other person is into and what they’re doing and playing off of that. Being able to work together on these projects and really bounce ideas back and forth is really cool. Now we’re attached at the hip, so it’s hard to work without the other.
WALK US THROUGH YOUR INSPIRATION FOR BRAND ASSEMBLY'S LATEST CAMPAIGN SHOOT.
Sam Shannon: We’re really interested in doing black and white as well as color.
KO: We’re interested in how when you’re pairing photographs together, the use of color shots with black and white shots kind of change the dynamic between the two of them. So you can have these single shots and then when you put them together they become something a little bit different. That’s something Sam and I are always really interested in - how images play off of each other. We’ll be doing the collages again that we did last season and thinking about how the photos and video relate together and combining them to create single images. It should be cool to see the black and white with the color and keeping the background really simple and letting the clothes tell their own story.
WE KNOW YOU WERE DOING SOME FUN STUFF WITH MIRRORS AND MANIPULATING THE SPACE, CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT PART OF THE SHOOT?
SS: In pre-production we’d come up with this idea of layering the photos. Taking one photo and other ones that were very similar, but let’s say maybe the girl’s head was just turned from profile to front and layering those two on top of each other. That was definitely the source of inspiration for the use of mirrors. I’m always really interested in how to capture things in camera as opposed to doing them in post. The more I work on fashion stuff the more I find the camera team and I really enjoy trying to capture the things in camera whether that’s color or mirrors. So, for this one using the mirrors was really about trying to make physically tangible that layering that I wanted to do in post.
SPEAKING OF INSPIRATION, WHICH ARTISTS CONTINUALLY LEND INSPIRATION TO YOUR WORK?
SS: We take a lot of inspiration not just from other photographers or directors, but really from painters and installation artists and artists all across the board. We really love Ellsworth Kelly and Dan Flavin and Donald Judd. Donald Judd is more than an installation artist, he’s an architect. We get inspired just looking at the different shapes that are unique and the color palettes that they use. Most of our stuff verges on the minimalist side and that goes for color and shape as well.
KO: I think that is a great selection. We’re always looking at those artists.
SS: Yeah, Ellsworth Kelly is huge, huge for us. The way that he plays with negative space I find really inspirational for me when making the collages. I’m constantly referencing his work for color and for shape and for the way he uses negative space. I think it can be really tempting to just throw a lot of things in there and layer a lot of things and get it looking really lo-fi or glitchy, which I do love, but I think there’s something really simple and really beautiful about using white space properly. And I really take a lot of inspiration from Kelly on that. I would say the collages we first started doing were a little more chaotic. It’s not that they’re not fun, they totally are, but I think I’m definitely moving in a more minimal direction and I think you’ll see that with the collages that we’ll make this season compared to last season.
WHEN YOU'RE FREELANCING AND WORKING WITH MANY DIFFERENT CLIENTS AND SEEING TRENDS COME AND GO, HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN A SPECIALIZED BRAND IDENTITY?
KO: That’s something that’s always in the back of our minds. We have so many different inspirations from different artists and photographers and directors and everything and because, obviously, you see these trends changing. With social media they change that much faster and it’s always really important to us that we have our own voice in the images that we create even as we go through shifts in what we’re working on and what we’re feeling inspired by.
SS: I think you have to just trust your own instinct in what you like beyond what’s trendy. Obviously, if you want to do something that happens to be on trend that’s fine as long as you like it. I think that keeps your brand consistent. Kate and I are always trying to balance commercial projects with editorial and everything in between. I think the editorial ones you get so much more creative control over and that’s what helps you push your own brand forward. At the end of the day you choose what’s on your site and you choose what you show clients in meetings. It’s really up to you to curate your own work as well. As long as you’re doing stuff that you like it’s gonna be on brand for you.
KO: That’s what we love about working with Brand Assembly. They’re all about following our own vision for what we want to do and they give us a lot of creative freedom and that’s what makes it really fun working on these shoots
SS: They’re a really unique client. Basically, any idea we pitch, because they like us and trust us, they’re like “Go for it. Do it.” And I mean I don’t have any other clients like that.
GOING OFF OF THAT, HOW DO YOU INSERT YOUR BRAND'S VOICE INTO SUPER COMMERCIAL PROJECTS?
SS: I think anybody who’s an artist of any sort is not just going to do as they’re told. You know like clients that come to you and are like, “I want everything in yellow!” And you’re like, “I hate yellow!” You’re always gonna try to find a compromise between your own brand and that commercial client. At the end of the day they’re paying for something and they should be happy too and that’s really important to keep in mind.
KO: That said, I think if you go to our sites and look through our portfolios we do have a specific voice and style. That also means that the brands that want to work with us know that. So, they’re coming to us with our brand in mind as well as their own. There are times when brands come and it seems like they’ve never even seen our work.
SS: Yeah, they’re like, “You’re perfect for this!” And you look at the mood board they have and it looks nothing like any of our stuff and you’re like, “Are you sure?”
KO: Those are sometimes relationships that just don’t end up working out in the end or don’t work on that specific project. Because it does need to be a meeting of the two brands coming together. So, it’s important that even with those super commercial projects that we really try and take only the ones that we can collaborate on creatively.
AS TWO PEOPLE WHO HAVE SUCCESSFULLY NAVIGATED THE WORLD OF FREELANCING AND CREATING YOUR OWN BUSINESSES, DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR OTHERS LOOKING TO DO THE SAME?
KO: I think it goes back to what we were saying – as long as you like the work that you’re creating you should just keep pushing it because whether it’s on trend right now or not maybe someday it’ll be the thing. You have to just trust yourself and believe in yourself and work as much as you can. Never give up.
AND ANY WORDS OF WARNING FOR THOSE WHO DON'T NECESSARILY KNOW EVERYTHING THAT COMES WITH GOING INTO BUSINESS FOR YOURSELF?
SS: Always have a contract and find a really good accountant.
KO: Yeah, know how to do your own accounting. If I could take an accounting class that’s all I would do.
SS: Contracts are super important. Little jobs, big jobs, you need to very clearly define your terms, define the price. I mean, you hear so many freelancers that are like, “Oh, my client is asking me for fifteen rounds of notes” – just something crazy. You know if they had a contract that would never have happened. Or they would make more money off of it. I just think that people are afraid to send contracts because they want to be casual and they want to be easy to work with and they don’t want to seem too scary with this huge legal contract, but it’s so so important. And I think it actually makes you look more professional.
EVEN PEOPLE IN CREATIVE FIELDS NEED A BREAK EVERY NOW AND THEN, ARE THERE ANY OTHER CREATIVE OUTLETS YOU TURN TO WHEN YOU NEED TO CHECK OUT FOR A BIT?
KO: We do a lot of dancing around our studio. What other creative stuff do we do? Oh, we started exercising a lot. We’re doing boxing classes and self defense. I wanna learn how to flip someone! We’re working right now on this project where we’re going to be building physical installations of our collages that we’ve been making. That actually is a whole other step. It involves woodwork and metalwork and painting and all these things that we really have no experience in so that’s really our other big creative outlet we’re working in right now.