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Best of 2011: Luke Copping


Luke Copping started with a simple idea — shoot a personal project featuring close-up portraits of his friends with colorful paint smearing their faces. Intended as self-promotion for commercial portrait assignments, the pictures went viral soon after Copping posted them to his blog and on Behance Network. Like ripples on a pond, requests to share these images have come from around the world, bringing Copping more notoriety and press than any other project to date.

Luke Copping, Buffalo, NY

Web site: www.lukecopping.com

Project: Personal project, Pigment, intended for a self-promotion campaign that got picked up by social networks.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

LC: I’ve been in business full-time for the past three years. I worked part-time before that, and prior to that I had even taken a hiatus from the industry altogether after graduating from the photography program at RIT.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

LC: I joined as a student member back in college, but let my membership lapse when I was away from the industry. Since coming back to photography, I think I have been a General Member for almost 3 years.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

LC: I focus mainly on stylized portraiture and utilizing my experience in fashion and beauty photography to capture interesting personalities in stylish and modern ways.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable tool or piece of equipment?

LC: A good pen and a little black notebook. I carry them with me everywhere, and ideas, notions and scraps of inspiration all go in there.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

LC: My work is very stylized, and the line between my professional and personal work is very thin. They seem to both be informed by the same aesthetic, influences and visual language, all feeding into each other.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.

LC: The idea for this project came about during a period when I was between studios. I had moved on from one location and was in the process of looking for a new space. I am not one to let something small like being between studios stand in my way, as I am a firm believer in using what you have at hand to find a solution. So we shot in a cleared out, spare room in my home for a few weeks, mainly developing personal projects like this and other portrait based work that could be accomplished in a very small space.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: Why you think such a straightforward, simple concept as Pigment caught fire on the blogs? How much of this had to do with your existing and adept Internet presence?

LC: There is nothing wrong with simplicity; a simple concept executed well, curated and edited well, and presented the right way can make a large impact. As for my pre-existing presence, I am sure that it helped turn a few people on to the project and brought in a certain base audience who helped advocate the work to others. Presence aside, if people did not connect with the images, it simply would not have gotten the traction it did based solely on my pre-existing digital footprint.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: Beyond the images themselves, please describe any additional elements (headline or body copy, graphic elements such as a logo, navigation or placement of links back to you, etc.) that contributed to this series a self-promotion piece.

LC: Various images from this project were sent out as print and web promos designed by Nubby Twiglet, which reflected my pre-existing visual identity. The images were also featured on Behance and www.first-stop.org, which also helped with the viral spread. It was a good mix of traditional marketing channels as well as viral spread and social media campaigning that included a Twitter campaign and advertising the project via Facebook.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: How did you choose the models for this series? Did you have a theme in mind or just a range of characters to cast?

LC: Most of the people in this series are personal friends of mine: other photographers, actors, models, artists, writers, musicians and more. A lot of them are the creatives I work with on a day-to-day basis in Buffalo, NY. I offered them invitations to participate because of my familiarity with them and because I thought they might bring an interesting and unique look to the project.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: What kind of paint do you use, how is it applied and who applies it? Also, how did you come up with this particular color palette?

LC: The paint itself was just a very mild children’s finger paint. The models applied it themselves based on their own ideas of the design and shape they wanted to express along with input from me on placement and color. Final colors were tweaked in post production for each image, mostly based around the colors available to me in the set of paint I bought.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: What kinds of relationships, if any, exist between the models’ appearance and the color or way in which the paint is applied? What about the models’ expressions — was this worked out before or after application of the paint? To what extent were the expressions prompted or directed by you?

LC: In many ways, that is a question for the subjects to answer. This project was as much about how they relate to and interact with color as it was about creating the final esthetic, though when I worked with each model there was not a strict imposition of ideas from either party. The atmosphere was casual and fun. In many ways, the shoot self-evolved and self-directed based out of the seed idea I built it around.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: What is your motivation in transitioning from fashion work to more commercial portraiture? Given that fashion photography is a niche that students and emerging photographers often aspire to, can you offer any insights or words of advice about pursuing, and more specifically, succeeding in this subject?

LC: My work has always been informed by fashion and beauty, and it is probably more apt to put me in the beauty arena than the fashion arena, but I like to bring the ideas and esthetics of that area to photographing other subjects. My portraits are very much style-based, but not truly or fully fashion. They continue to evolve along these lines, but they are also informed by the ideas of cultural archetypes, humor, minimalism, modernism and many other factors. As for advice on breaking into that arena, I just think it’s important for each photographer to find the path and method that works for him or her, rather than subscribing to the path that someone else lays out. Whatever genre, style, or outlook you work in or embody in your work, do it as best you can, always push yourself, and never be shy about showing your work to others. In fact, be aggressive about it; make work so good that you can’t be ignored.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: Can you provide further details about the attention this series received once it went viral? Has any of this attention translated into paid work? If so, please elaborate about those projects.

LC: I can’t say that it has translated directly into paid work, but it has definitely been an indirect benefit in growing my business. Like any marketing effort, very rarely is there a magic bullet that turns you into a success overnight. This project, like all my marketing efforts, has become part of an important mix. I have definitely had the experience of having an editor or art director flip through my book or Web site, come across one of the images from the series, and expound on how they had seen it online and how much they liked it, or be surprised that this familiar image was now staring up at them from a portfolio. It’s all about developing a reputation that is consistent and grows on people. Rather than saying that it was the sole reason I got a specific job, I am much happier to say it is one of many elements of my whole marketing mix that has been a part of getting all of my jobs.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: Please talk about the Behance Network and your relationship with this service. When did you sign on with them and how often do you post content there? What other creative service sites do you utilize and which ones do you find most effective?

LC: I have used Behance for a few years now. Their service, especially their well-curated section “Served,” in which they feature notable projects, has been instrumental in developing the kind of attention this project attracted, and other projects of mine have developed to a small degree. I think the idea of curated advocacy is often under-utilized by photographers. As for other services I use, there are many, but one that has really caught my eye as of late is www.first-stop.org. It is a curated service that allows illustrators and photographers to cut down on the number of paper promos they send out. Its a very eco-conscious initiative and one that I truly enjoy using.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: What was the most interesting or compelling feedback you received from social media about your project? Did you get feedback in different languages or anything that was just totally perplexing or off the map?

LC: Yes, there were some foreign language comments and blogs, as well as many foreign tweets, It was always a nice surprise to see something new pop up even long after I thought the buzz had died down. It seems these images are still making their way around the world. It was also uplifting to see how many blogs have contacted me to ask for permission to share the images, or helped spread the information in very respectful ways, like linking back to the original blog post or Behance project, rather than just taking them.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: What kinds of press did you receive about this work and what forms of media coverage did this take (written text, audio or video interviews, etc.)? Is this archived online anywhere or are you taking steps to compile this for future reference?

LC: Most of the press has been in the form of blogs, written pieces, and text interviews. I have been featured on blogs in Asia as well as interviewed for a design magazine in South Africa solely based on the press I got from this project. I have bookmarked and collected a few of the more notable ones, and there are others that have not even been published yet. I have been more focused on trying to interact with these sources through comments and follow-ups to make myself accessible to anyone interested in the work rather than collecting my own press. I’m more concerned with what’s next and what I can do with the attention this project has gotten me, rather than hoarding press clippings or becoming complacent about my work based solely on the success of one project.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: What kind of analytics did you use to track the spread of this project? How much time do you devote to tracking the response to your work online and how do you structure these activities?

LC: Because most of the traction I got from this project was from blogs, linking back to either the original post or the project on Behance, Google Alerts was extremely useful in following the spread.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: What’s the general time frame between your receipt of a request about this project and your response? Do you have specific workflows or strategies for efficiency in this regard?

LC: Not really. I just sort of take it as it comes. There are some questions that pop up here and there, but it seems that there are always some interesting interpretations or lines of inquiry that I hadn’t expected.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: Do you have a marketing strategy that already points to your next promotion, or is your strategy determined by when the next great idea hits you?

LC: I have a definite strategy in how I market myself, a mix of elements and channels that I utilize in a scheduled and targeted manner throughout the year. But as for the content itself, that is very much defined by my present work, influences, and obsessions at the time. I do sometimes use my blog and social media channels as a testing bed before releasing work for marketing use to wider audiences in its final format.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: Do you work with anyone to advise you on marketing, and are you doing any other marketing initiatives at the moment?

LC: I work with the most wonderful designer, Nubby Twiglet (Shauna Haider) based out of Portland, OR, who has been instrumental in not just helping me define my visual identity but has, through her own example and blog, been a great influence in how I view myself and my own personality and quirks as a vital part of my brand. I also worked closely with consultant Amanda Sosa Stone over the past year; she really helped me understand the role I can fill in the photography market and the unique vision and outlook that I can bring. Rather than trying to pigeonhole myself into a very strict genre (fashion), she helped me understand that in my market and with my outlook I had so many other paths I could pursue without compromising my esthetic or outlook as a creative. It has completely changed my business for the better. Then there is Rhea Anna who has long been a mentor and huge influence, right from the beginning of my career and continuing to today. These three amazingly talented people have been a huge boon to me, not just in how I market myself, but in how I view myself as a creative person.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: As ASMP chapter president are you aware of any particular issues unique to your part of the country, that offer particular challenges or successes for Buffalo-based photographers — the death of the Rust Belt, for example?

LC: Percentage wise, we are the fastest growing chapter in ASMP right now. We have an amazingly vibrant photography scene and some very enthusiastic young photographers who are just starting out as well as many established photographers who are reinventing themselves and how they do business. We are all learning from each other and sharing information as well as reaching out to new photographers and helping to continue their education in the field. We also reach out to and work closely with other creative organizations, like the Advertising Club of Buffalo. This openness and sense of community has, in my opinion, greatly improved the level of interaction between client and photographer, as well as enriched the creative community in Buffalo as a whole. Economically, Buffalo and the Rust Belt cities have suffered from a certain stigma left over from the faded glories of the past, but in my mind this puts these cities in the position a great rebirth. I think some of the most interesting photography in North America is not coming out of NYC or LA right now, but out of cities like Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Chicago and Milwaukee. One of my goals as the head of ASMP WNY is to increase Buffalo’s reputation as not just a provider of creative and professional photography, but a vibrant center for it too.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: Please talk about the business climate in Buffalo. Are you doing more client work locally, in Canada or in other US markets? Does your ability to work in Canada differ substantially from American colleagues in your marketplace?

LC: I find that I work a lot less in Canada these days. I spend most of my time focusing on the US market. I don’t feel limited by region, though. We are working in a time where the walls of regional work have broken down and the ability to market nationally and even globally is more attainable than ever before. I find that I’m a lot less concerned with the geographic location of my clientele and more about their creative outlook and views on creating amazing imagery for their project. It may seem like I’m in the middle of nowhere being in Buffalo, but in reality I feel that there are some exceptionally talented creatives here and I feel that Buffalo will soon start to be respected in that regard. I am also extremely close to some major cities, with Toronto, Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, all being reasonably short drives or flights.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

ASMP: Your project submission mentions the importance of personal work to working as a photographer today. Has personal work always been an important component of your output? If so, please tell us about past personal projects you’ve done.

LC: No, it has not, and that is one of the major reasons that I burnt out on the photography industry after college (as explained in the blog excerpt below). I had no connection to my work on an emotional level: I could turn out technically good imagery with no life, outlook, or passion behind it. It may sound over dramatic, but it left me felling very empty and unfulfilled. When I rediscovered my love of photography, I did it from a personal viewpoint first, creating work solely for fun and for myself. I then integrated that into my professional work more and more as I reintegrated myself back into photography in a professional sense. Personal work is very important to me now. I have many plans for upcoming projects in the near future in both the still and motion arenas.

© Luke Copping
© Luke Copping

 


Copping recently wrote about the interesting course of his career for John Early’s blog, an excerpt from which is included below.

Near the end of 2003, I decided to leave the photography business. I had graduated from the photography program at the Rochester Institute of Technology earlier in the year and had been doing what I could to find work; assisting, shooting products, helping out on food shoots, and doing some styling. I was treading water at best and burnt out. I never picked up my camera to shoot anything unless it was for a job and I found myself caring less and less. I found what I was shooting to be boring, pointless, and unfulfilling. Looking back now I realize that I felt this way because I had completely disconnected the personal and professional elements of creativity from each other. I treated what I did as a purely mechanical exercise and had become nothing more than an uncreative technician that was capable of taking very well exposed and very boring images that were completely devoid of passion. I thought maybe I had made the wrong choice and decided that I needed a change.

I took a job with a manufacturing firm, starting out in their signage department. I spent my days engraving industrial signage, making vinyl decals, and doing the occasional bit of graphic design work. Not the most exciting job, but it was stable and I eventually advanced into a more important position in the marketing department over a few years. At the same time I still has this nagging feeling that I was just running in place. I wasn’t happy, and I knew I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing.

Suddenly the relationship I was in self-destructed, and one of the things that helped me get through some major changes and upsets was to start taking pictures again. I picked the camera back up and suddenly found that a switch had been flipped. I loved taking pictures again. I had an enormous hunger for it and I was so excited to be able to explore it all over again from the beginning. I was grateful for the technical education I got at school, but I started my creative re-education over from scratch from this point on. I pored over articles and books and started to shoot every second that I wasn’t at work, to the point that my images were better than they had ever been before. I had completely re-discovered and re-defined my passion for photography and my goals for my own future.

I had started making plans to transition back to photography as a career when the rug got pulled out from me again. The economy had begun to change and the job that was once stable was no more. I was basically in a position where I needed to reboot my photography career from scratch, and rapidly. I was lucky enough to be able to assist some amazing photographers who served as major mentors and influences to me while I began building a client base and earning recognition as I started to grow my business to where it is today.

I don’t think I would have the same outlook and passion for what I do if it weren’t for the temporary exile I had from the photography world. In many regards these negative situations are responsible for my desire to work so hard and passionately at what I do. I learned the hard way to appreciate the second chance I got to do what I love.