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Jody Dole Photographs Objects that Catch His Eye

Jody Dole is a Nikon Legend Behind the Lens.

Sticks. Stones. Shells. Bones. Not to mention glass, water and weeds. And, lately, boats. Anything he's interested in, anything that makes him curious. And, of course, anything a client hires him to photograph. All end up in Jody Dole's viewfinder.

His commercial images have appeared in national print advertising campaigns and editorial illustrations; on magazine covers and billboards; and television commercials.

Jody's personal work, which is often used in self-promotion material, stems from a combination of vision—"This will look great!"—and curiosity—"I wonder what this will look like?"

In fact, it was just that combination that launched his career. An art school graduate working in advertising and film production in New York City, he came in contact with a number of photographers and soon began to wonder what he could do with a camera. To find out, he rented a barn in Amagansett, Long Island, and photographed every day for nearly eight months. The subjects of his photographs were the common things he found at the seashore or bought at local flea markets. He shot against his own hand-painted backgrounds and used ScotchChrome 1000, a grainy film that he pushed four or five stops to make the grain even more prominent.

When he took the results to market, a career was born. One of the photos became the cover of the 1989 edition of Graphis Annual. American Photography Annual gave him ten pages. And when he showed the images at a New York City ad agency, the art director, about to begin a major campaign for Smirnoff, handed Jody a bottle of the distiller's vodka and said, "Why don't you experiment and see what you can come up with." What he came up with were photographs that made the Smirnoff campaign a worldwide sensation.

He never looked back—mostly because he doesn't like to repeat himself. He's constantly experimenting, not only with new subjects but new ways of photographing them. Lighting, surfaces, settings, lenses, diffusion materials, cameras—everything's fair game for change and manipulation.

For instance, Jody was into digital photography before there were digital cameras, back when digital meant scanning a photograph and manipulating it in Photoshop. He loved "the maneuverability of the image"—the ability to apply imagination and make changes. When Nikon introduced its first digital SLR, the D1, Jody got one of the first ones available. "Digital is like having a magic carpet," he says.

And a commercial photographer needs one. "A lot of my career," Jody says, "has been a client saying, 'Here, take this bowling ball and make it look beautiful.' They have problems they need to have solved visually, and that becomes my job—to find something in those subjects, and a way of picturing them, that made them appealing." It's this challenge to his skill and his creativity that motivates his commercial images.

Away from the studio, he's motivated by....well, everything. He recently moved from New York City, where he had a home and a studio for 19 years, to a town on the coast of Connecticut. "I literally cannot get out of my door and go 50 feet without shooting a dozen images," Jody says. "Architecture, details, people, the harbor, the boats.... There's a certain level of purity in New England design that I really love. No matter where I go and no matter what I see, whether it's a guy scraping the side of his boat or putting a holiday wreath on his house or fixing a shutter, there's a certain art to the way people do things here."

His recent interest in boats started when he bought one. For most of us, that would be it—we get the boat, we enjoy the boat, maybe we take a few photos of the boat. But Jody's curiosity led him to read about boats, study boats and learn about their construction. He began to take pictures of boats. Then he put together a promotional mailer and sent it to several boating magazines. "I got work right away," Jody says. Then boat manufacturers started seeing his photos on the covers and in the pages of the magazines and began calling. "I even did a helicopter shoot, with a gyro stabilizer on the D1X, shooting yachts for a manufacturer."

Ultimately, the subject doesn't matter. "I never limit myself-I'm just as happy photographing a stick or a stone as a Tiffany watch," Jody says. "There's no difference. I just say to myself, let's see what we can do here.

"Maybe the subject has a fascinating design or a great shape, great color or texture. If it's a mundane object, I'll create a setting for it, an environment, and that environment is my response to the challenge."

Sometimes the subject's beauty is at first entirely in the eye of the beholder, imagined in a place where art, craft and vision play in the same sandbox. Take the second photo you see here. How many of us would think of photographing a a studio...against a white seamless background?

"That's a story, that tumbleweed," Jody says. "I was on vacation with my family in Sedona, Arizona, and I saw the tumbleweed out in the desert, and I knew it would be great to photograph, but not out here. I wanted to get it back to New York.

"I called the UPS office in town and told them I had this big item that I needed to ship to New York—it was over four feet in diameter. They said, 'Just bring it over.' I was a little embarrassed, but I brought it in, and the guy there laughed, but he found a box big enough. He said it was going to cost 80 dollars because of the size. I said that was OK.

"About a week later we were in the high north desert past Flagstaff, and we picked up other stuff I thought I could use for photos—some stones, dried grass, bones from a cow skeleton—and I took all of that to the UPS office. There was a woman behind the counter this time, and I brought out these bones, rocks and clumps of dirt and grass that I wanted to ship. She saw that I was a little sheepish about it, so she said, 'Oh, don't be embarrassed. Last week some jerk paid 80 bucks to send a tumbleweed to New York.' "

To see more of Jody's work visit his website.

Jody Dole has been an NPS member since 1988.

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