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Brandon Jernigan Photographs Pete Lee for Comedy Central Special

Jacqui Palumbo


Brandon Jernigan large

© BRANDON JERNIGAN
Promotional material for Pete Lee's stand-up special on Comedy Central


Social networking Web sites have provided photographers with endless new ways to gain clientele, but advertising and editorial photographer Brandon Jernigan believes that the internet era should not devalue the importance of face-to-face interaction. Using both online and in-person networking are instrumental to his success, and he believes that a personable disposition is also an important asset to have. “A great way to distinguish yourself from the talent pool is personality,” he says. “There are many ways to share one's personality with the masses, including LinkedIn and Facebook, however, there's a certain tangible quality and comfort in physically getting to know people - in person.”

Jernigan, based in New York City, originally started his career with a background in finance. He was “desperate” for a more creative field and dropped everything for an advertising internship, sparking his love for commercial photography. His networking methods pay off greatly and are reflected in his impressive client list, which includes Smirnoff, Jet Blue, Only Vegas, Three Olives Vodka and Waterpik.

One of his most recent projects arose from a friend. Jernigan met comedian Pete Lee a few years ago at a social function, and Lee waited for the chance to work with him professionally. The opportunity arose when he needed promotional materials for posters and online content for his upcoming stand-up special with Comedy Central. The end result speaks enormously of Jernigan’s understanding of his client and the dynamic between them.

Jernigan collaborated with a small team that he frequently works with. They conceptualized directly with Lee, incorporating him into the creative process as much as possible. Lee’s humor, which Jernigan calls “candy coated with a dash of mean,” is the base for two sets of images that highlight two different aspects of his comic style. The first concept showcases Lee’s personality as a “likable guy” in person, but “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” on stage. His ability to blend in and attack unexpectedly is parodied in portraits where Lee’s clothing is camouflaged against the wallpaper. For the second idea, Jernigan employed makeup artist Ben Phillipp and retoucher Colin Strohm to achieve his vision. Originating from Lee’s punchline, “You look fat when you cry,” the second shoot explores various outcomes of what would happen to the comedian if he said the line to someone offstage and out of context.

In addition to still portraits, Jernigan and his crew incorporated stop motion and video sequences for the second concept. Lee is progressively more “beaten up” in each, ranging from being punched, to smacked in the face with a fish, to kicked with a hot pink stiletto heel. Ultimately, images from this set were chosen for their realism – Jernigan says, “You just can’t fake fear!”

The biggest challenge for Jernigan was the shoe-string budget he had to work around. Ideally, to capture still images and shoot stop motion and video sequences, he would have used different equipment, but he was able to utilize what was available without sacrificing quality. His total set-up included two Canon 5D Mark II cameras with 85 mm lenses, a strobe with a white beauty dish for the main light source, a small chimera to fill, a 20 degree grid for the rim light and a black v-flat to darken the opposite side of his face. For video and stop motion sequences, they opted to use the modeling lights on the strobes for continuous light sources.

Jernigan says the best part was how much fun he had, and he thoroughly enjoyed working with his hilarious, open-minded client and his tight-knit crew. Jernigan and Lee played off of one another’s personalities, making for a very efficient creative process. Lee comments, “He had a charisma and confidence that pulled me out of my shell and got me to produce photos that were beyond my capability.” Jernigan wears his passion for the photographic medium on his sleeve, and he views his entertaining personality as an asset to his inherent talent. “The portfolio must speak for itself - that's obvious and conveys a level of production, quality and professionalism that builds client confidence,” he explains, “but often times I find art buyers and art directors want a photographer/crew they wouldn't mind being stuck in an airport with for hours of flight delays.”

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