In a nod to the persistence of vision, AgencyRX and their pharmaceutical client Novartis awarded Tom Hussey a campaign based on his early image of an old man studying his much younger reflection in a mirror. The project called for ten images featuring elderly subjects reflecting on their younger selves. Careful consideration in casting and propping was needed to uphold continuity in photography. The completed campaign was so well received during legal review and professional vetting that each image was run full-page in brochures — a first for this pharmaceutical brand.
Web site: www.tomhussey.com
Project: Campaign for Alzheimer’s drug, the Exelon Patch, that won a gold Addy and ran in the 2010 Communication Arts Photography Annual.
All images in this article © Tom Hussey.
ASMP: How long have you been in business?
TH: Since 1994.
ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?
TH: A long time … I believe since 1990 or so. I have been a General Member since around 1995.
ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?
TH: I photograph people for advertising.
ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.
TH: We cast two people for each part — an older “Patient” and then another actor to look like the patient 40 years earlier in their lifetime. The images were all made on location in and around New York City. Each finished ad includes two images — one image showing the older patient in the environment, and a second image showing the reflection of the younger version of the patient. The two images were then combined during the post-production process.
ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?
TH: My producer. She never gets flustered and keeps things running smoothly so I can concentrate on making the images.
ASMP: What is unique about your style and approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?
TH: I love lighting — either artificial or natural. I have been doing this a lot of years now and it never gets old looking at, working with, and creating light. It is really a never-ending adventure because light never stands still. I also love directing people — especially actors — and I am really good at it.
ASMP: This advertising campaign was based on a portfolio shoot you did earlier in your career. Please describe that earlier image and your creative process in developing the concept of the older person looking at a younger self-reflection?
TH: I was talking with a WWII veteran, Gardner, about his life experiences. He was about to have his 80th birthday. He commented that he didn’t understand how he could be 80 years old as he felt he was still a young man. He just didn’t feel it was possible he could be 80 years old. I started thinking about a milestone age approaching for me, as I was nearing 40. I realized that everyone thinks of themselves at a certain age or time in life. I built a bathroom set and photographed Gardner staring into his bathroom mirror and seeing himself as a 25-year-old young man.
ASMP: How did your client on this campaign become familiar with your work and, in particular, with your mirror image concept?
TH: I used the image of Gardner as an ad one year in the WorkBook. The ad agency saw that image and contacted me.
ASMP: You were brought in during the preliminary planning stages of this project. What early decisions did you help shape regarding concept, style and production values?
TH: We worked through the casting and location aspects of the ads helping to determine what profession the patient had been in their youth so we could portray that in the reflected image. This profession drove what room setting and propping needed to be created to complete the image.
ASMP: Based on this experience, what qualities and insights do you as a photographer bring to the table, and what insights have the most value to the client during the early stages of a campaign.
TH: I think one of my strengths, as an advertising photographer is not losing sight of the end use for the images. I want to make sure I create compelling imagery, but those images have got to sell the client’s brand.
ASMP: Did this project’s planning stages involve any direct research into the symptoms or treatment of Alzheimers?
TH: I learned things about the disease primarily by working with the ad agency closely during the production of the job.
ASMP: Please talk about the particular concerns and needs of the pharmaceutical advertising market niche and how this compares and/or contrasts with other advertising markets.
TH: Pharmaceutical advertising can be quite different from general advertising. There are a lot of legal steps that have to be followed to make sure the drug is not portrayed beyond its FDA approval. We did a job for a diabetes medication where the actors had to have a specific Body Mass Index (BMI) — basically height-to-weight ratio. We had to have a certified and calibrated medical scale at the casting with a nurse measuring and weighing everyone who auditioned.
ASMP: To get a sense of the scope of this project, please tell us how many models were used, how many locations shot and how many days of prep, shooting and post-production were utilized?
TH: There were 19 actors used. We shot at four different locations in and around New York City. The prep time was about 10 days for casting, location scouting, and other logistics. Post-production was expedited along with all the other aspects of this job, lasting approximately two weeks after principal photography.
ASMP: Please describe your technique for casting. How important was the idea of matching a young model with a similar-looking older model? How did your client participate in the process?
TH: As I’ve mentioned, good casting was paramount to the success of this project. The younger talent had to look like they could have grown into the older person over a period of 40 to 50 years. Casting was done in New York City with a lot of direction and oversight from myself and my producer in Dallas. There were several late night conference calls with the art director and creative director discussing matches and feedback from the Novartis client. We were also trying to portray specific professions for the patients and tried to choose talent that looked appropriate.
ASMP: Please describe the process used for location scouting. How many locations were scouted for the ten final choices? Were you looking for a specific location that fit the concept or were you allowed to match the image concept to a unique location?
TH: The locations were initially scouted online through various location companies in New York City. Once the locations were narrowed down, a location scout was sent to a few locations to make photographs of the specific areas of the locations we were interested in. During the pre-production scouting trip to New York, we went to eight locations photographing possible shot locations within each location. We wound up shooting in four locations making two finished ads in each location.
ASMP: Small propping touches played an important role in creating an authenticity to the images. Who from the creative team was involved in suggesting and picking props, and how were the final props selected?
TH: The props were added to the rooms to reinforce the profession of each patient and to make the rooms feel age appropriate. We also asked each older actor to bring photographs of themselves when they were in their 20’s which were utilized on location either in frames or in the fireman image simply stuck into the mirror.
ASMP: The final images all have a similar high-key look, with an almost monochromatic color palette. What lighting and post-production techniques did you use to create this style? Is this a signature look for you or did you develop it for this project?
TH: I grew up in the business using film. During that time, I used to abuse the film, cross processing it, bleaching it, pushing it, anything to get a unique look. The final look of this campaign is similar to a bleached look. I felt it would lend a feeling of age, but at the same time feel current and edgy to the viewer. In some of the initial creative conversations with the ad agency and the Novartis client, the images were to be black and white. Then there was talk of a hand-colored black-and-white look. I felt the black-and-white look would make the images too removed from the viewer. It was too obvious to me.
ASMP: After shooting the campaign, your images went through testing and a legal review. Please describe the review process and the results.
TH: I received a call from the Novartis client directly after the mocked up brochure went through the medical-legal review. He was ecstatic because there was not a single issue raised by the legal review panel — there were no legal changes needed. The images were also tested with medical professionals and the feedback to Novartis was extremely positive. There was specific positive feedback praising the fact the images were shown so large and prominently within the various print materials.
ASMP: You are represented by two different agents, one based in Texas and one in New York. What role did either of these entities play in your work on this campaign?
TH: I was not represented by the New York agent at the time of this campaign. My rep at the time of the campaign was national for me. She is also my producer, so obviously she was intimately involved in all aspects of the production of this campaign.
ASMP: Please talk about the media buy for this project. In what print and electronic media were the images used and for what time period?
TH: The initial media buy is trade ads, trade and consumer collateral, convention panels, posters, premiums, and electronic media for a period of three years. Due to the success of the campaign, there has been a request for an estimate to use the images for consumer marketing as well.
ASMP: Has your work on this campaign resulted in other potential clients asking for a similar concept or style?
TH: I have had clients ask for the color treatment, but not the concept.
ASMP: This campaign has won several awards, including a gold Addy and inclusion in the 2010 CA Photography Annual. Have you received any feedback or results from this extra visibility?
TH: Yes. Our Web site traffic is up significantly and people have been calling my New York rep in particular.
ASMP: Does your assignment agreement allow you to make other use of these images beyond your Web site and contest entries?
TH: Novartis has a non-exclusive license to use these images. Therefore I could use them in other ways. I have used these images for promotion for myself and have no plans to use them in other ways until the license expires.
ASMP: The photographs for this campaign, dealing with youth and aging, include significant emotional content. What effect has creating these images had on you?
TH: I have always been interested in history and preserving history both globally and personally. I documented a group of Vietnam Veterans for my MFA thesis — photographing the veterans and having them add their own words to the images. The Exelon Patch “Reflections” campaign is really all about preserving history. The drug is trying the preserve the history of the patients for them. The images are all about history — remembering yourself in historical context. I think the history and memory aspects are very important to me and my interest in this helped make the campaign a success.