Detroit Diary, Part I: AutoWeek, SMZ, Union Adworks

Aug 23, 2013
Portfolio Events

by Wesley Kays-Henry

Hello! Welcome to this month’s Portfolio Event Diary, where our heroes Craig Oppenheimer and Wesley Kays-Henry (that’s me!) travel to the Motor City of Detroit to share photography portfolios. We had a lot of ground to cover, with six meetings scheduled in two days. Although we didn’t make it to Canada (spoiler alert!), we had a blast seeing the current and former beauty that is Detroit. It’s a city that doesn’t have the option of sugar coating the truth, and I find serenity in that.

Hello, Detroit.

Hello, Detroit.

Craig and I rolled into Detroit with about 30 portfolios late on a Tuesday night. Although our hotel was in the heart of city, there wasn’t a soul in sight. Empty streets and steaming sewer grates gave off the surreal feeling of a zombie apocalypse, or a dream sequence—Vanilla Sky anyone? Shrugging the eerie aside, we hit the hay, knowing we had two very long days ahead.

The next morning we arose to a bustling city filled with amazing art deco, neo-gothic and neoclassical architecture. Even the suburbs are old and beautiful. I surveyed the scenery while Craig drove us to AutoWeek, a Crain Communications publication. AutoWeek’s offices feature a lovely atrium-lobby. After some amazing glamor shots in front of yours truly, we headed in to meet with the creative director.

AutoWeek's lobby

AutoWeek’s lobby.

It was no surprise that their CD wanted to check out automotive work. Most of our local guys had shot for, or were at least on the radar of AutoWeek—including Jeremy Deputat and Roy Ritchie. But, surprisingly, the CD asked to see some fashion work as well. We weren’t expecting this, but luckily had George Kamper’s portfolio on hand. Together the CD and photo editor looked through his book and kept talking about models leaning on cars, or replacing the models with cars entirely, but keeping the high gloss/fashion feel to the images. They said that they tend to shoot about two assignments per issue, and enjoy shooting outside of the city whenever possible. After our brief meeting, we packed up for our next review at SMZ in Troy, MI.

Discussing photography at AutoWeek.

Discussing photography at AutoWeek.

SMZ is a medium-sized agency with clients all over Detroit. These include The Lottery, The Tigers, and The Michigan Dental Association. We discussed how the automotive photography world works, stock backgrounds, CGI cars, and more. They also have a lot of lifestyle clients, so we tried to switch it up from the typical Detroit automotive pitch. Stacy Zarin-Goldberg‘s work was a definite favorite—particularly her photos featuring pets.

SMZ review.

SMZ review.

Next, we headed further out of Detroit to a town called Clarkston, home of Union Adworks, an agency with Chrysler, Kellogg’s Brand and Scott Shuptrine Interiors as clients. Union is located in a suburban neighborhood, which backs up to a small lake. The old building they occupy was originally a schoolhouse that Henry Ford bought in 1913 to sew Jeep interiors.

Outside Union AdWorks

Inside, we set up in the hearth of the business. Their Creative Director looked at all the books (quite a feat I assure you!), and chatted with us about their recent move into the building, their clients, and again, using backgrounds for CGI with automotive ads. The manufacturers do so many redesigns, they would rather have the option of switching it out last minute than holding off the ad. As creatives wandered in and out, they checked out the work of Tim Klein, Janko Williams and more.

Union Adworks portfolio review

Union Adworks review.

Tim Klein’s portfolio video:

Eventually, we packed up and headed to meet with some of our photographers at Bookies Bar for happy hour. We talked with Joe Vaughn and Roy Ritchie, along with their wives and CJ Benninger about the spirit of Detroit photography, and checked out CJ’s new book (totally awesome, by the way.)

Detroit photographer happy hour.

Detroit photographer happy hour. From right: Roy Ritchie, Craig, Joe Vaughn, C.J. Benninger, Amber Ritchie and Cari Vaughn

CJ Benninger’s portfolio video:

After a couple of pints of Molson, we paid our tab and headed to the hotel to prepare for the next day of meetings! Check back Monday afternoon for Part II of our Detroit adventure.