How many photographers have ripped their teeth out for a campaign?
About a year ago, when asked to shoot the Deadliest Catch ad for Discovery, I was told of a campaign of violent, spontaneous portraits. The concept was images of fishermen captured the moment catastrophe struck. The shots included giant ropes wrapping around the fishermen (which means death aboard a crab boat), one of a massive wave, and a final image of a large hook crushing in a man’s face. All of the shots would have to be composited as my insurance is not good enough to crush models with hooks (and neither is my conciseness). To say that I was excited for this shoot would have been a great understatement, right up there with, “a couple people bought that new iPhone.”
We went ahead and did the shots, and they came out as planned, some near out of camera. However, none saw the light of day. You see, this campaign happened only days before the passing of Captain Phil. In consideration for him, it was deemed poor taste to release such violent images depicting certain death on a crab boat. I remember the call from Discovery telling me that the campaign I had shot would not be released. It was disappointing, but I also completely understood and respected their viewpoint.
With much time passing since this all occurred, I decided that the images should be released and I started looking into producing the finals myself. I contacted my friend Paul Hill to assist in retouching the plates we had made almost a year prior. Not long after we started going through the files to make the images, we found that there had in fact been behind the scenes video from the set that was shot by a couple of my assistants, Mike and Paul. The video is overall coverage and is actually more of them learning how to use the video mode on their Canon 5D Mk2’s.
Now by this point you’re probably asking yourself, “what about the teeth?” During the negotiations the idea of a crab fisherman getting his teeth knocked out kept coming up. It made the action, it carried the frame, and frankly, it sounded awesome… I was sold. I was so sold that I moved up an appointment to have my wisdom teeth removed so that I could use them for the shoot. After all, what says, “hey, great idea” better than giving up part of your body for it? (A funny little side note: Our prop stylist on set mention that the teeth looked real and asked where I sourced them and I said, “they’re mine”. He didn’t believe me)
So with teeth, models, hooks and crab gear we went to the studio.
OK, the tech side of things… For set we had to use all Profoto bi-tube heads, as we needed the smallest flash durations possible. Also, we found that deforming the face with 3 high powered leaf blowers achieved the effect that we wanted for the final image, but that it was brutal on the ears, so we had the models wear ear plugs and removed them in post. Here is the lighting diagram from set drawn a the napkin while brainstorming.