Their stories are rich; their stories are difficult. They are successful, but not without their struggles.
Scott Areman specializes in bringing people’s stories to life through powerful images. He brings out the best in people; that’s why he’s good at his job. Known for shooting corporate photojournalism and portraits, both on location and in the studio, Scott has worked with UPS repeatedly over the past few years.
When they wanted to make a coffee table book called Black Voices from Big Brown: Untold Stories of African Americans at UPS, they knew who to call. This book would feature over two-dozen African American executives, in celebration of their legacy at the company.
With this client, I have worked on many projects around the world that were small crew, working within a tight time frame and producing a lot of images. But this project was different.
Scott, however, has a lot of experience with larger productions, so he had a few ideas of his own when they contacted him with the concept.
I wanted to do a series of editorial style studio portraits in black and white — they immediately loved the idea, and I essentially became art director as well as photographer for this project.
The shoot took place last fall, at the UPS headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, where Scott set up shop in an empty conference room. After a full day setting up the studio and testing the lighting, the next seven days would focus on shining a light on the untold stories of UPS’ black voices.
The biggest creative challenge was deciding how to light the portraits and fine-tuning the look; that’s why I requested a full day to set up and test out different lighting styles beforehand.
Scott wanted to have everything completely sorted out before bringing the talent in. This would help him focus entirely on making the subjects comfortable and help them ignore the fact that a stranger was photographing them.
The studio should be a relaxed environment, especially for people who don’t usually get professionally photographed. Also, I could focus more on connecting with them and being in the moment.
Through eight days of shooting and collaborating with these highly successful and impressive people we laughed, we cried, and we high-fived as they shared their time and their hearts.
This is Scott’s favorite part of making beautiful photographs — the opportunity to connect with people.
During the shoot, my goal is just to be myself, spend some time with them, and actually get to know the people I’m photographing.
Of course, Scott has some more tricks up his sleeves when making “real people” feel comfortable during a shoot. The music he brings along can sometimes make or break a shot — in this instance; it made it.
My assistant put on Michael Jackson and when Nikki Clifton walked in, she went, “That’s my favorite song!” She started dancing a little bit, and then I asked if she would sing it during the shoot. Nikki looked at me and went, “are you serious?” Then she just started belting it out!
One of the things I learned early on is that it never hurts to ask. People will set their limits and tell you what they’re uncomfortable with: but you have to ask first. If you do and they agree, it opens up all kinds of possibilities.
Scott does have an exceptional talent for making people comfortable enough to say yes. One of his most significant stipulations when shooting portraits for a client is that the subject should feel good about the end result.
I always say I want you to leave here happy, so we’ll look at the pictures together. I want to make art, of course, but I still want them to be happy with their portraits.
While this project is indeed artistic expression, it’s also a moment where, finally, some recognition and honor are being given to not only the achievements of African American businessmen and women but also their struggles.
These images capture the grace, strength, and dignity with which they have defined themselves. It was an experience I’m honored to have been a part of.
Launched in February 2021, Black History month, Black Voices from Big Brown is a stunning example of editorial corporate portraiture that puts these stories in the spotlight.
See more of Scott’s work at scottareman.com.
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