Scott Lewis Photographs the Urban Renaissance of Asbury Park Waterfront

By Barbara Goldman

When Amy Levi, Creative Director/Partner of Strada Advertising, based in Denver, Colorado, went in search of a photographer for a new campaign about the renaissance of the Asbury Park Waterfront in New Jersey, she wanted to showcase the well-known, historic waterfront in a new and authentic kind of style. Levi and her team of Senior Copywriter /Partner David Lancaster, Art Director Andrew Hoffman and Account Manager Katie Mae Ward decided they wanted a more photojournalistic approach for the job. They chose Veteran documentary, portrait and lifestyle photographer Scott Lewis, based in Philadelphia, for the kind of honest and fresh approach Strada was looking to capture for client iStar Financial.

Asbury Park had been in a state of urban decay for several decades. Since the 1980s several developers had come and gone and left a wake of unfulfilled promises of renewal in the community. Despite a reputation for being a rough, gritty town and the home of the legendary music venue The Stone Pony where Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi got their starts, the Asbury Park Waterfront is now a vibrant area of local artists, small-business owners, urban pioneers, an active LGBT community and very pet friendly with a love of dogs.

© Scott Lewis

With the economic crash in 2008, iStar Financial, a commercial lender, ended up with nearly 30+ acres of land and a good portion of the buildings near the waterfront  in Asbury Park. At first they were just involved as a commercial lender, but iStar decided to form their own commercial real estate development business and work on the renewal project themselves. Over the past few years they have been building community relationships,  tearing down unsafe, old buildings, along with developing new projects from condominiums going up to planting wild flowers to creating new paved sidewalks. Although the ultimate goal is to lead a large-scale residential and commercial renaissance, iStar also wants to preserve as much of the community’s heritage and landmarks as possible.

With the first set of condos nearing completion, iStar needed an image library to promote their efforts and the renewed sense of possibility in Asbury Park. They wanted the images to show the real Asbury Park today with its newly rehabilitated side, as well as its fun and artsy side and small boutiques and businesses.   They wanted to produce an ad campaign that showed their understanding of the community and a new Asbury Park lifestyle that is relaxed, funky and affordable — nothing manufactured looking or artificial, so no posing and no models, just the real thing.

Lewis shoots documentary-lifestyle that was especially attractive to the Strada and iStar vision.  He was given a tremendous amount of freedom to fully interpret the place on his own terms and both agency and client were very hands off on the art direction. “Doing work in this more documentary fashion is so spontaneous and unpredictable. It's nearly impossible to sketch out too specifically what you'll come back with. You can do some loose ideas like families, play, etc. but beyond that you can't really overly orchestrate the content of the images or you lose out on the value of that spontaneity,” says Lewis.

Lewis’s first obvious challenge was working in a documentary manner, while also trying to get people to sign full releases. In most cases, the people he found were open and amenable to what he was doing and happy to help support the community. “It's one thing to have plenty of advance time to prepare real people vs. professional talent that we'd be doing a shoot like this, but in this case we had to pitch people as we met them on the spot while not losing out on the moments,” he adds.  His two assistants Dan Murphy and Sean Bolton were essential in helping to pitch the concept on the spot and get the releases explained and signed, while Lewis focused on shooting

Shooting took place during June and July of 2013 and weather conditions at the beachfront were always a challenge. On tough shooting days with rain and fog and crowds were light when he needed more people, he always had the support of both client and agency. He shot with a Canon 5DMKIII, 35/1.4 and 70-200/2.8 and a Canon Speedlite.  Some days he faced even heavier fog with almost no visibility, and he worked to back light as much as possible to try to overexpose it. He popped tiny bits of strobe in to break apart the soft, fuzzy light but still manage to have it look and feel like natural light.

© Scott Lewis

Lewis brought his brand of discovery, spontaneity and naturalness to each of the images. "We were looking for a photojournalist to capture the true, artful spirit of Asbury Park. Not the usual, clichéd “summer fun” stuff – but something more authentic and insightful. Specific to the place. Unpredictable. We wanted a shooter who could capture the real moments and the true character of this gritty New Jersey shore town, now undergoing a kind of urban renaissance. Fortunately, we found Scott Lewis. He nailed it in every way: the people, the place, the fresh attitude. He brought Asbury Park alive for us,”says Levi.

Currently Lewis’s images are being used on the Asbury Park Waterfront website  in a gallery of 30 images and have been used on their Facebook page. A new website is being planned for a late January 2014 launch that will be built around the imagery shot for iStar.

You can see more of Scott Lewis’s portraiture, documentary, lifestyle work and his blog at his site,  

Asbury Park Waterfront Renaissance Campaign
Client: iStar Financial
Agency: Strada Advertising
Strada Team:
Amy Levi – Creative Director, Partner
David Lancaster – Senior Copywriter, Partner
Andrew Hoffman – Art Director
Katie Mae Ward – Account Manager
Photographer:  Scott Lewis


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