Tadd Myers: New Zealand Sheep Farms
Tadd Myers is a photographer based just outside of Dallas in the city of Grapevine, Texas. He has traveled extensively documenting handmade goods and their creators under the banner of The American Craftsman Project and recently completed a project in New Zealand for the SH8 Merino farms cooperative that yielded an impressive body of work and a new promotional mailer in the form of a 36-page booklet that is sure to earn a prime spot on any recipient's desk. We got the chance to talk with Tadd about how he approached the original project and ended up turning it into a fantastic promo piece.
First off, can you tell me about how you got involved with this project and the original goal?
I was contacted by SH8 Merino on a referral from a graphic designer friend of mine - Jessica Gavit of Gavit Design in Dallas, Texas. I met her and her client for a meeting to discuss this possible New Zealand trip. During that meeting, we discussed production, travel, the farms we would cover, and cost options. SH8 Merino is a co-op of family-owned sheep farms on the South Island of New Zealand that was starting to develop and design their website to help promote the farms that they partner with. They were looking to create a library of images that tell the story of these farms to the world to expand the market for their high-quality merino wool.
What was involved in planning/preproduction?
We had two pre-production meetings prior to our travel to New Zealand. It was decided that my assistant and I would meet the client in New Zealand since he is a native to the country and grew up in the same area of the South Island where these farms are located. He was an invaluable resource as far as travel and our connection with the farms we were scheduled to visit. Once we decided on a schedule and timeline for the shoot, he reached out to each of the farms to notify them of our visit.
What was the shoot itself like? Tell us about some of your experiences.
The shoot itself was very “editorial” in style as we moved from farm to farm during the two weeks we were there. I’ve found that these types of shoots are best achieved when we have a small production “footprint” and utilize a very mobile workflow. Since many of the activities that the farmers were working on were actual farm duties for that day, we had to be flexible to shoot around these activities and times of day.
It is this “free-flowing” shooting style that allows for spontaneity and in turn creates an extremely diverse image narrative of the day. On this type of shoot, it is also very important to have a focused and attentive assistant because they carry most of the gear as we move around the farm during that day’s activities. It’s best to be able to have lenses, camera cards, batteries, & such always available and ready to change out.
As far as interesting experiences… there were so many! One part of the trip I will never forget is riding up the side of a mountain on narrow dirt roads barely wide enough for our land cruiser truck. Walter Cameron (one of our farmers) was driving on the “wrong” side of the truck (since we were in New Zealand) and I was in the front passenger seat. I guess he’s traveled up and down these mountains so much that we were moving like a “bat out of hell.” The front windshield is all caked up with mud and dirt, and the sun is streaming in so it seemed like we couldn’t see anything ahead of us, but that didn’t matter since we were going up at such a steep angle that all we could see is the sky. Then I can remember looking to my right and seeing Walter casually chatting away about the land and sheep as I turn my head and peer to my left and look down. I swear half of our tire was off the road and it was straight down several hundred feet. And by the way, the road was not straight - as we swerved left and right I kept thinking that he needed to please hug that right side of the mountain a little more! At one point I did look back, and my client was just smiling and laughing. Since my assistant was behind me, I couldn’t tell how he was coping. We proceed to drive around like this for much of the day all over his property. All I know is it was an experience I’ll never forget!
How much gear did you bring with you to New Zealand? Did anything come in particularly handy?
We didn’t take a huge amount of gear because of the nature of what we were shooting. However, we did bring a couple of lights and stands, a couple of modifiers, flex fill, and of course my Canon case with all my prime lenses. I’ve found that I truly love shooting with prime fixed focal length lenses. These lenses are the sharpest available, and they force me to frame and shoot differently than working with a range of zoom lenses. I love how bright they are in the viewer because they are so fast as far as aperture and when you nail focus…they are so very sharp! Of course, if you go to NZ don’t forget your power converters to charge everything. We took several different options, and they worked out beautifully.
What challenges did you face with this project?
Many of the challenges on this project - like most - are solved in the pre-production and planning phase. However, I have to say it did take a little while to get used to driving on the “wrong” side of the street. Another funny thing was getting to drive the manual transmission farm truck from Glenbrook Station. My first car at 16 was an old five-speed Nissan hatchback, so I was used to driving a standard transmission, but when you are on the other side of the car, other side of the street, and having to change gears with the left hand instead of the right… it can get a bit odd. Luckily the gas, brake, & clutch are in the same place as ours here in the states, and I can proudly say that I didn’t “kill” it once. It was a blast!
What inspired you to use this specific project for your own promotion?
I had shot several days for a good friend of mine at O&H Brand Design in Dallas about six months earlier. We photographed their portfolio pieces as well as images of them working in their art deco-era office on the top floor of the Meadows Building in Dallas (You can see some of these images on our site in the gallery “ Branded by Design”). Once we delivered the images to them to incorporate into their new website, I asked them if we could do trade out for their time to create a new promotional piece for me at a later date. I wanted to utilize their impressive design abilities for something special. As soon as I heard about this project and shooting family owned sheep farms in New Zealand, I thought, “this could be it.” Once I got back from the trip, I created a gallery to show them and set up a meeting to discuss it. That meeting was in Sept. 2017. They presented me with three different concepts for the design of the piece, but I liked their first version best, which had this fabric tag hand-sewn on the cover.
The production of the booklet was somewhat challenging and took a bit longer than I had hoped, but we wanted to make sure everything was “just right.” I’m so pleased with the design and printing quality of the booklet. I still feel what makes it so unique is the merino fabric tag hand stitched on to the cover. We partnered with Global Merino who purchases wool from those actual farms on the S. Island of New Zealand and then uses that wool to manufacture fabric in Bangkok to sell to companies all over the world. Global Merino was fantastic to work with. They provided us with several printing tests for us to see the reproduction quality of the type and then printed the text on the fabric and shipped us 5000 tags. We also partnered with Mohawk Paper & Clampitt Paper Co. who discounted the paper for us as well as purchased 500 booklets for their own sales use. Global Merino also bought 300 copies for their sales team. These partnerships helped reduce our per unit cost.
Have you sent out the promo yet? What has the reaction been so far?
We mailed 2700 booklets in the middle of April, so I think all of them have been received by now. So far the reaction has been unbelievable! Several of the images will appear in the upcoming Communication Arts and Graphis Photo Annuals as well as the PDN Photo Annual and several others. We’ve just begun entering the actual promo piece into the various design/print competitions. I’m very proud of this booklet, and I’m thankful to everyone involved that helped make it such a unique and beautiful piece. It was truly a team effort.
What was your favorite part of the project?
I guess I’m a people person. My favorite part of the project was talking to the farmers and families that we met while we were there. We got to know several of the families very well while we were there. I went rabbit hunting with one of the boys at Glenbrook Station and got to see them play some “little league” rugby one cool crisp Saturday morning. New Zealand is just a really interesting place to visit. Everyone we met was so nice and eager to have a pint and watch some rugby, either on TV or the local kid match. My client’s parents live in Twizel, and we really enjoyed their home cooking and generosity. We felt very welcome!
Anything else interesting you'd like to share?
Little known fact...there are NO snakes in New Zealand! I found this out on the first day walking through the tall grassy brush while following our first farmer. It was tough to believe, being from Texas, and slightly ironic since many of the most deadly snakes in the world are just across the ocean from New Zealand in Australia.
The New Zealand Sheep project has been honored in the 2018 PDN Photo Annual Advertising/Corporate Work category.
Photographer: Tadd Myers
Creative: O&H Brand Design
Print Production: Ussery Printing
Retouching: Jeff Whitlock
Farm Coordination: SH8 Merino
Fabric Tag: Global Merino
See more of Tadd at taddmyers.com!
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