March 25, 2020

Roth and Ramberg-About Photography III


(Dale Roth is one half of the photography duo, Roth and Ramberg. As writing is not his strong suit, he has asked his teenage son to correct his lack of punctuation and when possible, add in big words. However, Dale does know how to do a perfect scheimpflug.)

Over the many years of working as a photographer, we have explained to many students that one has to understand what they are willing to photograph and for whom. The advertising world of photography does not only involve taking good photographs, it involves morality and understanding of your comfort zone.

Thinking back to my youth, I could recite the jingles to a stunning amount of commercials. I loved advertisements. I also loved album covers. The photography, illustrations, and typography all worked together to create a work of art. In short, I think I found my passion which is creating advertisements. Now the advertising world if you step back is really, for the most part, trying to sell people stuff they don’t need. 

I’m certainly a sucker for it. 

I remember when we first started our business we were in the select few who had Macintosh computers. I loved having one, and hauling it out on photoshoots, beautiful design and prestige. The Hasselblad camera was the best camera out there except it shot a square image which at times made cropping troublesome, but hey, they were bold and stylish and sexy!. 

Over the years I’ve realized I am part of this machine that sells stuff to people in the hopes of making them happy or satisfied. I’m assuming all the products or services that I’ve photographed for were not the “best in the market” or the “most trustworthy brand,” but because of their advertisements, they were reputable. So I guess I believe in advertising, I’m okay with companies trying to promote their brand or cause or environmental impact and happy to be a part of it.

So what’s level of willingness in photography? In one of the first few years of our business we were approached by a sex shop. They wanted to do some artistic, tasteful, black and white photography of their products and I assume people using or wearing their products. We were fresh out of school and eager for work of any kind. The idea of shooting something artistic in black and white definitely appealed to us. However, the more we thought about it, the more we worried that this photography session might label our business or affect us if some of our newly found corporate clients found out. If we took the photos it wasn’t as if we could put them in our portfolio, so what was the reason other than artistic value? In the end we politely declined. It was then we decided our corporate line or mandate was, “If you can’t show your mom, then you shouldn’t take the photo.”

We’ve never really gotten into fashion photoshoots that much. Over the years we have shot a few, mainly for shopping centres and clothing designers. I recall a time we photographed some young kids for a local mall. I believe there were three or four children, both boys and girls. We picked our favourites and showed them to the client. The client singled out one particular kid for being a bit overweight and said they didn’t want to use the photos with her in it. It was a child and as far as I’m concerned, all children are wonderful and beautiful. The day we start judging children at 11 years old is a sad day. For that and a number of other reasons, we stopped working for that client. It was a moment of realization for me, realizing that I was a part of that “make everything perfect” world of advertising. It left a pit in my stomach. 

Those are some of the examples of what we were willing to shoot. What about who we worked for? There was a time when we shot for a magazine that was produced by a tobacco company.

Being a smoker at the time, I couldn’t have declined the job, given I was a user of their product.

Today I would reconsider, but back then it seemed to be okay. We’ve worked with many, many large corporations over the years and being partly based in Alberta, that would include oil and pipeline companies. I’m not here to debate whether it’s right or wrong, everyone’s level of willingness is different and what they are comfortable with is their personal choice. We’ve met many employees of those companies who are just hard working people like the rest of us, trying to make a living and feed their families. As far as I can see there is no great conspiracy out there. These employees want what’s safe for their families too, clean water and clean air. The times are changing for the better when we should all become a little more green, both big companies and individuals. We all will change and adapt as we are in these times now.

As you can imagine it’s always a struggle and our willingness level fluctuates. Sometimes I sit back and thing, “Do I want to be a part of this advertising machine that is constantly showing the perfect world, knowing that the world is far from perfect?” I loved, and still do love, photography and advertising but where is my comfort zone now? One of the first billboards we ever photographed was for the Youth Emergency Shelter in Edmonton. On a side note, when you photograph your first billboard, it is a requirement that you drive all over town looking for it, and once you find it, pose in front of it. As far as exciting in photography goes, this was pretty damn exciting. Not long after that, we did some photos for the AIDS network. It was a time when the disease was still very much dangerous and part of the community. I came to realize that if we were not in the commercial photography business then we would not have been asked to photograph those billboards. As commercial photographers, we are able to use our skills to help charities in need. Working for corporations and small businesses give us that ability to help. This became part of our company’s policy. We always give back with our skill and because we’ve been around a few years, we are able to ask for our friends help when a charity needs it. Many of our friends in the advertising business have helped us over the years with charities we are involved with. They come up with concepts and designs and use their connections to help raise awareness. 

Two of the most recent examples were The Beard and Moustache Club of Newfoundland and Labrador and the S.T.A.N.D charity. The Beard and Moustache Club contacted us to photograph their second annual calendar. We travelled all around Newfoundland and Labrador and photographing big hairy men wearing mermaid tails. The club flew us out and paid our costs and in the end raised over $250,000 for a local charity.

Our friend Erin Brassard asked us to take some photos for a charity she was starting all on her own. It’s called S.T.A.N.D Support, Teach, Advocate, Nourish. It is for survivors of sexual assault, run by those who have experienced sexual assault. Sadly Erin was sexually assaulted. We are happy she reached out to us to take photos and help her cause.