We love our local photographers. Their accomplishments never cease to impress us. They are proof that Columbus is a great city for photographers. Hometown Heroes highlights a Columbus photographer that we think is doing amazing work.
This edition of Hometown Heroes features Matt Reese, whose work from his recent photo project, Opulent Madness, is now on exhibit at Brothers Drake Meadery. More specifically, Brothers Drake is hosting a blowout of a Valentine’s Day party called A Circus of Matrimony (Thurs., Feb. 14 @ 8 PM), featuring a social hour and silent auction, a Live Art Auction hosted by Tim Fulton during which you can purchase Opulent Madness prints, and a concert with the kick-butt Columbus-based band The Town Monster. (There will also be an MPEX-sponsored giveaway and photo booth on location.)
We asked Matt a few questions about why he became a photographer, the interesting challenges and rewards that arise from a project like Opulent Madness, what he likes about being a Columbus photographer, and MOTIVE, a weekly networking meetup for the “creative class” (just read: it’s really cool). Also, check out Matt’s awesome write-up about the gear and lighting setups he used for Opulent Madness here. See more of Matt’s work at www.mattreesephoto.com and check out the giveaway for VIP passes to A Circus of Matrimony below.
When did you start taking photos? When did you decide that photography was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
My interest in photography began in my late teens, but I mostly used it as a tool for graphic design. At the time, I was a guitarist in a band and we needed things like a website and T-shirts. We didn’t have a budget to hire a designer, so we had to go the DIY route and I just sort of inherited that role. As I developed my design skills and grew my client base beyond my own band, I became interested in design work that used photography and photo illustrations to help convey a conceptual narrative. At first I relied heavily on stock photos and extensive digital manipulation to create my own elaborate composites. That cut it for a while but eventually I had to bring a camera into the workflow. The images I would find online just never quite satisfied what I had envisioned for the final designs. I needed more control. So even though I didn’t consider myself a photographer, photography was definitely a key component in the work I was doing in those early years as a musician-turned-graphic designer.
By the time my 21st birthday rolled around, I went through a transitional period where I put design and music on the back-burner in order to focus on school. A career in art didn’t seem realistic, so instead I studied business and marketing for three years. I mean, after all, you’re supposed to eventually get a “real job,” right? Ha… I think that inevitably led me to experience a bit of a quarter-life crisis. I took some time away from school and went on this neo-Kerouac, soul-searching road trip for a couple of months — as passé as that may be. But that’s how I realized I wanted to pursue a career in photography. I needed a job in the creative industry and a career that would allow me the freedom to work (mostly) on my terms. After that, I spent the next few years in academia intensively studying photography, fine art, and philosophy. Looking back, I guess it’s been an organic evolution.
Your photography, in general and specifically in Opulent Madness, is colorful, high-energy, fun, and a little weird (in a good way). What inspires your aesthetic?
Haha, thanks. A lot of my influence stems from other mediums, so there may be some weird cross-pollination going on. The approach I took with the Opulent Madness series, for example, falls somewhere in the realm of what I’d imagine a John Waters film would look like if Tim Burton remade it. I kept myself immersed in that strange world even into the post-production phase. I mostly listened to, like, “demented pop-music” and vaudeville influenced stuff while editing. That’s sort of a tough soundtrack to score, but of Montreal, Mr. Bungle, and Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn did a pretty great job of it.
In my personal work, I really enjoy exploring the idea of duality. My two-part “Gaia and Butcher (Creator’s Vision)” touches on this conceptually, where as “The Pitting of Lupercalian Brothers” expresses it through chiaroscuro. It’s safe to say there’s a lot of Caravaggio in my light. I rarely shoot without gelled strobes, so there’s a lot of color in my light too. It’s just something I obsess over, the expressive nature of light itself. I spend a lot of time thinking of light as a character. There are so many different ways it can affect a scene and tell a story. That definitely inspires a lot of my aesthetic.
I understand that artist Jefferey Steele created the concept for Opulent Madness. How did you get involved as its photographer, and what was your initial reaction to the idea?
Yep, that’s correct. I started coming to Jeff as one of his clients about eight years ago. He is such an incredible hair stylist, makeup artist, and creative mind. When I became serious about photography, he invited me to swing by the salon to shoot his live window displays during Gallery Hop. He was constructing these elaborate tableaux scenes with the level of production you’d expect out of a magazine editorial. That’s how I built a lot of my early portfolio, and our creative partnership continued to grow from there.
Eventually he approached me about Opulent Madness. The concept was so weird, yet familiar in a strange way. It was the classic boy meets girl love story, but the boy and girl happened to be a ringmaster and clown in a traveling circus. His storyboard was so well developed. He had even cast many of the models and production team already. I could see it all so vividly in my mind. And there was plenty of room for visual interpretation on my end. I think I sat there for a moment (he was cutting my hair at the time), slightly dizzied by the absurdity and scale of production, and finally said something to the effect of, “Weird. So, when are we shooting this?” Not that I ever really had a choice: I’ve never turned down any of his projects, and vice versa.
What were some of the specific challenges to the Opulent Madness shoot? Have you ever worked with makeup artists and designers on this kind of scale?
Opulent Madness is still to date the largest production I’ve worked on as a photographer. It took 29 people to bring this thing to life, 30 if you include Banner the zebrapoodle. There are 13 models in the main piece. Now think about the number of people it took behind the scenes. That’s a lot of model prep for the hair and makeup team. All of the wardrobe and set design was custom made for the shoot too. Fortunately, we had an incredible production team, everyone knew their role, and it all went smoothly.
As for some of the specific challenges for the shoot, most of that came in pre and post-production. We went into this shoot very well prepared. Pre-production began about three months before the shoot date. Jeff had everything covered on his end; he brought in the talent of Kelli Martin (featured on Project Runway, owner of Anti-Label), Betsy Stevenson, and Josie Wills – all amazing, local fashion designers. It was cool to see their rough sketches eventually turn into wearable clothes. I still have the groom’s jacket hanging in my closest.
Location scouting was done well in advance too. We decided to shoot in Goodale Park under this tree canopied clearing called the Magnolia Grove. As soon as we saw it, we knew that was it. The scene didn’t look like it was in Columbus, OH — it didn’t look like anything immediately recognizable or dated for that matter — and that was key to creating a convincing illusion. That being said, the location was kind of remote. I had to run 300+ feet of extension chord to power the strobes. There was also a tennis court to the immediate right of the frame that annoyingly threatened the integrity of the shoot but after a few simple test shots I learned it wouldn’t be visible at all. Had we not been prepared for those logistic issues, the whole production could have easily fallen apart.
What are some of the advantages of being a creative professional in Columbus, besides being able to work in a sweet shared studio space?
One of the great things about Columbus is that we’re a relatively small community with a big city mindset. You could easily transplant the Short North and all of its residents to New York City and we’d fit in just fine. That being said, I feel we appreciate our homegrown talent much more than a major market would. This city is an amazing incubator for new ideas. Establishments such as the Workshop Co. (where my studio is based) and Small Business Beanstalk stand as proven testaments to that statement. I’d strongly argue that Columbus serves as a test market for the rest of the nation. If it works here, it’ll work in the entire country.
As a newcomer to the industry, I would never have the opportunities I’ve experienced here this early into my career as I would in major markets such as NYC or LA. I truly believe Columbus, OH will eventually be one of the major creative capitals of the world. There’s just so much raw talent here, we’re home to some pretty serious colleges and universities, and we’re all hungry for the career opportunities. This city will always be my home base of operations, but I do eventually want to expand into other markets.
What kinds of things are you working on now?
Once again, Columbus is such an incredible incubator for new ideas. One of my big projects at the moment is a movement called MOTIVE. which serves as “Social Motivation for the Creative Class.” It is a weekly networking event hosted at Brothers Drake Meadery by Charles Erickson (The Clampdown, an indie-rock dance party of eight years, and co-founder of Small Business Beanstalk), Gregory Turner II (owner of FRiNGE Boutique in the Short North), and myself. I’m also the house photographer of The Clampdown, shoot many of (614) Magazine’s fashion editorials, and work with a number of local businesses developing their visual marketing. Beyond that, I’ve been serving as Creative Director of a very serious professional hobby that has quickly turned into a full time profession. We’re not ready to discuss that project fully quite yet, but we’ll be making a public announcement of our launch very soon. It’s a project that marries the breadth of my marketing and photography background into a powerhouse of a media and promotions company.
Fill out the form below for a chance to win two (2) special early-access VIP passes to A Circus of Matrimony at Brothers Drake Meadery: