Two Weeks Ago

By Barbara Goldman

Home is where the heart is -- words that are especially meaningful when you want to get back home as quickly as possible and back to a normal and routine life after having any kind of heart surgery.

Branding advertising agency Northlich in Cincinnati, Ohio understood that idea right from the start with their latest campaign for client Good Samaritan Hospital/Tri Health, also based out of Cincinnati.  Northlich is not just an advertising agency, they are a brand engagement agency in that they try to reach consumers on every level and platform and inspire consumer actions that drive engagement to a brand.

Northlich’s campaign for Good Samaritan Hospital was called "2 Weeks Ago" with the concept of getting back to your life, family, fun and physical activity after heart surgery quickly.  Art Directors Dan Rapp and Aaron May wanted to show off the client’s new technology and procedures that Good Samaritan Hospital is using in their cardiac department for faster and better recovery.

For this project, Rapp and May worked with Jonathan Robert Willis, a commercial and editorial people and portrait photographer also based in Cincinnati, OH. Willis has done work for Northlich over the last few years, but this was his first time working with Rapp and May. "I find that relationships and history are extremely important though I don't rely solely on them," says Willis. They brought him on board because he has a reputation at the agency for delivering a project within budget and on schedule. "

A lot of talent was needed for this particular assignment, and Willis is an expert at hiring the right people with the right look for each job. "The first major wall we ran into was talent. Cincinnati doesn't have the deepest talent pool so I often find my own real people," explains Willis.  For his first shot, which involved a grandfather who is giving his granddaughter a piggy back ride in the park as part of the family-fun-life-physical concept, he found the little girl as she was walking off a soccer field just before his own daughter's game. He stopped the girl’s mother and explained the project that he was working on and that her daughter would be a great fit. Nia, the young girl, was very interested but a little shy until Willis pulled out the camera and started photographing her. She began to open up and with his direction, got the exact expressions he needed.

Since the nature of this assignment was rather intimate, and Willis was using young untrained talent-- real people-- he wanted to pair them with their actual family members if possible.  He asked Nia if she had family in town and would her Grandfather be interested in participating. He too was interested and was perfect.

For his second setup he found the talent in a similar way, but the second image came with a different set of challenges. The comp he received was a great image of an older round man in an amazing bowling outfit bending over at the waist picking up the bowling ball under a very unusual green light. "I loved the image and it is what initially got me very excited about the project.  

The client changed the gender specs so that the bowler was now a woman and with that everything else had to change. "The question in my mind was how we pull this off in a way that is flattering for a female subject," explains Willis. His solution came when he turned the vantage point of the image completely. Instead of shooting down the bowling lanes from the backside of the subject, he turned it into a profile.  This solved a number of issues both technically and conceptually.  As Willis explains, "It was easier to light the entire space, we removed a huge amount of clutter and only had a few graphic elements to work that ended up working really well with the layouts." He tried a number of options to communicate the values of the campaign. The woman who was in the image now had to do the actual lifting and bowling, and the shot also needed to include a child. The final shot showed a woman at a bowling alley with her grandson. She had to be shown throwing the ball because chucking a 12-pound ball down a lane is something that a cardiac patient could never do so soon after surgery. He captured the idea of the initial comp, created a perfect moment, and the client fell in love with it. 

In addition to casting the talent, Willis had to find locations, get wardrobe and build his team which included a digital technician, two assistants, a stylist and producer. But in twist of fate as everything was coming together, life began to imitate art when Willis got a call that the grandfather talent for his first setup was actually being admitted to the hospital. "Yikes, so I got directly on the phone with Aaron [May], we teamed up, scoured the internet to find a replacement. I am not one to pull the plug and it is amazing what you can do when you are in a pinch," says Willis. But again he found his own replacement that turned out to be great. "One of the big reasons we chose Jonathan was because of his approach to casting. Instead of going through talent agencies, where you end up with a lot of people who look like models, Jonathan finds real people who look like, well, real people," says May.

The final images for Good Samaritan Hospital/Tri Health are contracted for one year in print, out of home and for Direct mail (2,500 pieces) and five years for Web usage.

Willis is proud to point out that he is Cincinnati based, has an amazing wife, three great kids and no plan B. He loves his work and is living his dream job. He is represented nationally by Kevin Schochat in New York City. See more of Jonathan Robert Willis and his A-list work and clients at

Client: Good Samaritan Hospital/Tri Health

Agency: Northlich, Cincinnati, OH

Creatives: AD Dan Rapp, AD Aaron May

Photographer: Jonathan Robert Willis



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue

PhotoServe Membership Portfolio





Sign up for our free monthly PhotoServe e-mail newsletter.


Contact PDN | About Photo District News | Camera Reviews and Gear Guide | Photography Blog | Photo News | Photo Magazine- Print Subscription |
Photography RSS Resources | Free Photography Newsletter | Photo Magazine Advertising | Photographer Features & Resources | Stock Photographs
© 2016 Emerald Expositions, LLC. All rights reserved. Read our TERMS OF USE and PRIVACY POLICY