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February 17, 2016

Profiles

Meet the Photographer behind our Latest campaign—Christian Witkin's First time in Detroit

A group shot of some of our team members here at Shinola. Photographed by Christian Witkin
Profiles

February 17, 2016

Allow us to introduce you to the photographer behind our latest campaign who captured the candid portraits of Shinola team members. Christian Witkin shot at our Detroit headquarters over the course of several days last winter. Learn more about Christian's first time in Detroit below.

Christian Witkin (pictured). Photograph by Victor Gigante

Find a selection of Christian's photos along with employee profiles, here

Was this your first time in Detroit? What was a highlight?

Yes, it was my first time in Detroit. I came straight from the airport to the Shinola factory, so it was really more of the people I was introduced to who helped paint my view of Detroit. I have to say that having lived in New York city for 28 years, I really liked how nice the people were at Shinola. All levels of management and employees were so kind and that was the first thing that struck me. Throughout the shoot I learned about who some of them were, where they were from, and how much things have changed. The things I know about the current state of Detroit, I know through this group of Shinola workers, and that’s really quite beautiful and real. 

Your work includes iconic, beautiful portraiture defined by your refined yet approachable point of view—How do you keep each shoot unique and what drives your work?

My own upbringing was in Holland in the Netherlands. I'm Dutch and grew up in Amsterdam, and I think that’s important — the whole cultural context of an artist. For me, it was a very social, Democratic upbringing, so it was not cool to stand above the rest. It was more like, everyone is equal and you’ve got to be nice to everyone. I think that approach has definitely influenced my work. 

What inspired you to work with Shinola on this campaign and what made it unique? 

It was a match made in heaven. I love photographing people and this was a great opportunity for me to photograph real people for a campaign.

It's my job to find that confidence in people and I love that. I think this campaign is going to kick some serious a** because it's going to go beyond words and physical evidence of the people behind these products. This group was relatively easy to work with, I'd say. They were not just fun, some of them had been photographed before so that helped, but they were all confident — even the ones who had never been professionally photographed before. We shot in daylight with simple props, that’s my style and it worked perfectly for this. We also shot everything on analogue and I was pleasantly surprised to do this because that is my thing, but we live in such a digital world that doing a huge campaign like this all in film was fun and unexpected. We also improvised and created studios in the building, so it has this sort of homemade feeling to it.  

What was your favorite memory from your time in Detroit?

We would get there so early because our schedule was set that way and we'd start shooting at around 7 a.m. We would have to wait until at least 7:30 a.m. for the daylight to be usable for the portraits, so we would watch the sunrise every morning while we waited and there's something very special about seeing the sunrise in any city, but in this case Detroit. I have some beautiful pictures of that sunrise, and that really seems symbolic now that I think back to to watch a sunrise over a city that’s literally rising from the ashes. From the top floor of the building it was breathtaking, and so that’s the romantic notion that prevails from that experience in Detroit. It was a real pleasure for me to participate in this campaign and I felt really honored. 

Christian Witkin's shot of the sunrise in Detroit from Shinola's headquarters.

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