How a Blogging Duo Is Changing Fashion Photography With Animated Cinemagraphs

05 Oct

A cinemagraph created during New York Fashion Week last month.

Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg comprise the rising star duo behind the wildly popular Tumblr From Me To You.

(One might argue, given recent campaigns with Ralph Lauren and Juicy Couture, a photo editorial in The New York Times and an appearance in Lucky Magazine, that their stars have already risen, but we firmly believe the best is yet to come.)

Beck, 28, and Burg, 30, combine an unusual set of talents that have attracted not only the notice of the Tumblr community, but also of a growing roster of brands and editors.

Beck is the photographer and the blog’s primary model and stylist. She leverages her pinup figure, makeup and hair-styling skills, and a wardrobe of vintage finds to create spreads that connote the glamor of American icons such as Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly.

Burg is the more technical of the two, leading the blog’s design and the creation of their signature (and trademark-pending) cinemagraphs — animated GIF images that look like moving photos. He also — from what I observed in meetings with one of their clients and their manager, Karen Robinovitz of DBA — heads up business relations, jotting down notes on clients’ expectations and deadlines for deliverables.

The two met in 2006 through mutual friends, and are now engaged. Before they began working together at the beginning of this year, Beck — who says that from the age of 13, photography is “all [she's] ever done, and all [she's] ever wanted to do” — was still shooting in film. Burg encouraged her to purchase her first digital camera with which to begin blogging and tweeting, and more recently, to begin uploading her iPhone snapshots to Instagram. (“I’m obsessed,” she discloses.) He also designed her Tumblr.

Burg had, for some time, been taking frames from Saturday Night Live clips and turning elements into looping animations on a still background. These became the prototypes for the their first cinemagraph “Les Tendrils,” which was published on Feb. 13, 2011.

Beck and Burg’s first cinemagraph, “Les Tendrils,” published on February 13, 2011.

After they published their first cinemagraphs, Beck recalls that no one wanted to book her for photographs anymore. They wanted her to create “that moving thing you do” — which is when they decided to coin the term “cinemagraph.” The two felt they needed the term because what they created was unlike an animated GIF.

“There’s a cinematic quality to it … like a living photograph. It’s always a photograph first and foremost,” says Beck.

How They Create Cinemagraphs

Jamie Beck.

Model Coca Rocha wearing Oscar de la Renta.

A rainy evening in Savannah, Georgia.

A cappuccino.

Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta.

Inside the Brooklyn apartment of a couple who designs jewelery.

A row of swaying lights.

A swinging necklace.

A summer concert.

A cinemagraph for Juicy Couture.

A cinemagraph for designer Katie Ermilio's lookbook.

A handbag swings on a Manhattan rooftop.

Backstage at Prabal Gurung.

Backstage at Prabal Gurung.

Photographers Scott Schuman and Garance Dore at Burberry's S/S 2012 collection show.

Beck and Burg never know for sure if a cinemagraph is going to work out, which makes it difficult when brands hire the pair. “We can be 90% sure,” Beck discloses. “When we shoot from the street or at [New York] Fashion Week, and I can’t control the environment, it’s never a guarantee.”

To create a cinemagraph, Burg and Beck focus on animating one object: a swinging chain, for instance, or a spoon moving around the rim of a coffee cup. In a studio setting, the pair will employ pinpoint light to create sparkle, and fans to tousle hair and garments. Beck directs the camera, a Canon D5 Mark II, while Burg controls the props that produce the animation.

Beck and Burg will then import and edit the files in Adobe Photoshop and After Effects. The number of frames they use depends on the medium. For Gilt Taste‘s website, they were able to create much longer loops and embed their work on the site using HTML5 video layers. A cinemagraph that appears on their Tumblr will end up being between 25 and 100 frames; a banner ad is even more constrained.

Shooting a cinemagraph doesn’t take any more time than shooting a photo, roughly speaking, but the editing process generally takes a day, says Burg.

Both Beck and Burg expressed frustrations with the limitations of connections speeds and file sizes, which necessitate the use of GIF files, and consequently reduce the quality. Beck expects that in a year they will able to distribute cinemagraphs that look so lifelike that you could touch them.

At a test shoot for Juicy Couture in August.

The Added Value of an Audience

A cinemagraph commissioned by Juicy Couture.

It’s not just Beck’s and Burg’s photography and cinemagraphs that make them appealing to brands. The two have also amassed a large built-in audience — a series of six cinemagraphs they did featuring model Coca Rocha in Oscar de la Renta gowns merited around 55,000 notes and more than 2,000,000 impressions, Tumblr fashion director Rich Tong revealed at a conference in Paris earlier this month. That exposure makes the duo a valuable distribution force.

Take a recent campaign Beck and Burg did for fashion brand Juicy Couture. They were commissioned to create a series of cinemagraphs using Juicy Couture products, some of which appeared as banner ads across a range of fashion sites, and some of which — like the one above — appeared solely on their own Tumblr, racking upwards of 15,000 notes (reblogs and likes) apiece.

“The great thing about Jamie and Kevin is that they’re not just artists, but they also have a distribution portal,” says Robinovitz. “Why would you just hire a photographer when you can hire a photographer who has a place to share photos… [and] a hungry audience?”

Robinovitz’s question was rhetorical, of course, but also a good one to pose.

In a recent interview, Scott Schuman, the photographer behind street style blog The Sartorialist, says that he earns somewhere between a quarter of a million and half a million dollars per year running ads on his blog, in addition to the assignments it has earned him. Will photographers who don’t blog and market themselves online stand as much of a chance? And will blog coverage be written into assignment contracts?

Beck says that while she has not negotiated blog coverage into any of her contracts directly, it is discussed with brands during an assignment — namely, she says, to figure out timing and what she’s allowed to post. Brands don’t control what goes on Tumblr, and she is careful to only accept assignments true to her aesthetic.

“If I am going to work with somebody, it has to be part of my life, something I want to share,” Beck explains. “I can be hired to make banner ads, but I want people to see the whole 360, and hopefully my readers will be amused or inspired.”

More About: coca rocha, fashion, features, jamie beck, juicy couture, kevin burg, trending, tumblr

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