For our July 2011 cover story, “101 Gadgets That Changed the World,” we needed an opening shot that unveiled the top gadget on the list, without falling into the conventions of product photography. The opening image had to match the boldness of the headline. And complicating the issue was the fact that the gadget in question has to be one of the most iconic and over-photographed product categories in recent history—the smartphone. Phones such as Apple’s iPhone and HTC Evo are such glossy and polished products that any image of them can automatically seem blasé and promotional.
What the photo needed was a sense of atmosphere and perspective. So we needed a photographer who could add context and tell a story in the process—that’s when I called, Jamie Chung. I’d worked with him before on other still life shots, and he has a unique ability to bring emotion and context to intimate objects, I knew he was the one.
The article is as much about history as technology, and I wanted to address both in the image. What we found in reporting the article was that none of the gadgets we profiled just popped into existence, they evolved. So I felt it was important to show the evolution of the smartphone. I explained my idea to Jamie and he listened quietly, then drilled down to the essence of the idea. This is what drew me to him in the first place—his ability to wrestle simplicity from complexity, while still remaining true to the vision of those he works with.
Jamie envisioned the photograph as a kind of art installation capturing both the ubiquity and history of the phone. The phones should spill forward through time towards the reader, from the earliest Bell prototypes to the modern iPhone. So instead of a single iconic and overly familiar portrait of a product, we would create a photo that almost buried the modern phone in its own lineage.
This type of ambition is a logistical nightmare, somebody with serious creative sensibilities needs to find and deliver just the right mix of relevant objects to make the shot work. We went to Megan Caponetto. I’m not even sure how she does what she does, but if you need 150 phones from 120 years of history, and you have less than 72 hours, she can deliver. That’s impressive.
At the shoot, Jamie proved to be as talented a technician as he is an artist. He wanted the photo to be lit as if from an overhead skylight, but knew that the shoot would probably progress well into the night, so he recreated the effect with a large soft box and a fill light to create the softness and subtlety of a gallery space.
Jamie is young for someone so incredibly competent, and he obviously has a big career ahead of him. It was a pleasure working with him and the team behind this shoot. Beyond that, the photo speaks for itself. See more of Jamie Chung at www.jamiechung.com.