October 18, 2022
High-end fashion editorial is an opulent event: a luxurious enterprise, replete with flashy designs and extravagant settings, striking icons, and polished portraits. Aesthetically, these glossy depictions are painstakingly structured creations, carefully assembled to generate clicks and cash flow. After all, it’s intrigue that stimulates attention, and attention that sets trends. This enduring rationale not only keeps the commercial sector relevant; it keeps it afloat.
Lavish scenarios uphold the machine. The industry brims with the allure of beautiful people and places, but in time, even this routine becomes banal.
Although his latest project occupies this realm, Pat Nolan is an outlier. There’s nothing generic about these snaps, and that’s precisely why his first ventures into the genre command consideration. Born and raised in New Jersey, Pat’s background is sand and surfing. For a man preoccupied with the ocean, garments and supermodels are a somewhat alien affair.
True to his roots, a swimming pool floor serves as Pat’s catwalk. A friend and fellow surfer models the attire, the underwater arena a gala stage for an arresting collection of images. The findings are a captivating mix of tradition and subversion, recorded with the characteristic luster of a deluxe photo session.
“I love coasting across the waves, and I love branding. I wanted to draw on personal experience, and breach the world of fashion with a totally new slant,” he says.
“I used to spend childhood summers at my grandparents’ place, by the shore, near Pine Barrens. You’d get these amazing winter swells – really dramatic contrasts. Snow on the beach… incredible dunes and impressions. Surfing became a part of that nest egg. I’ve had this obsessive desire to chase those environments ever since.
“Put simply, I’m keen on building up a marketable portfolio – while also staying true to the exploratory, great-outdoors ethos I’ve always cherished.”
Currently based in California, Pat spent years cultivating a body of work within the photo department of a local surfing publication. Over time, his efforts gradually compounded. Teaming up with an assortment of prominent brands, content was created for a variety of product launches, helping him form his singular perspective.
“The exciting part is that it’s constantly different. I often find myself comparing it to skateboarding, where I have to indulge a lot of set-up shots and strobe arrangement. With water, there’s more diversity. People wouldn’t necessarily think it, but you get a lot of variety. That’s what’s kept me excited all these years. This project feels like a culmination.”
Sourcing his clothes from a nearby retailer, Pat aspired to create a plush ambience, minus the defining logos and exorbitant price tags. Plunging GFX100S into the water was made feasible via AquaTech’s EDGE Pro Housing – an impermeable casing specially designed for the camera’s protection.
“They provide these remarkable solutions for immersing your equipment. It doesn’t matter if it’s the icy Atlantic, or the warmer climate of California. Their frames are totally waterproof, irrespective of where you are.”
Offering a host of bespoke solutions, the company caters to a wide range of Fujifilm equipment, allowing users to taste the full breadth of underwater photography.
“AquaTech gives you a complete scope of motion. You ideally want your camera to be an extension of your hand, and this kit delivers exactly that. The ergonomics are equipped for fast-paced, high-intensity shooting. It’s so secure. Even when I get banged up down there, the kit is unscathed… completely untouched, every time.
“As for the main body itself, GFX100S was just fantastic. It has such an incredible sensor, which lends the photos that added edge. This was actually my first time using Fujifilm. I was curious how medium format digital would feel, but the whole system was honestly mind-blowing. The colors, the detail, the functional design… I haven’t encountered a camera that’s impressed me this much in a very long time.”
Ensuring that images remained lively and varied, the shoot encompassed an eclectic range of ideas. Before taking the dive, Pat had to ensure he’d settled all relevant specifics.
Given the circumstances, all participating parties knew that communication would be constrained – those submerged become naturally attuned to their limited oxygen supply, and perhaps more notably, its steady depletion.
Operating in short bursts, Pat made sure his time was well-spent. Preparation was rigorous, with direction handled via pre-planned hand gestures.
“It was all about how many things I could do, per breath hold. When we both had the snorkel masks, it was easy. My stupid signals became the primary source of interaction. I’m lucky that Daniel – my model – received that guidance so well,” he sniggers.
“We only ended up using one lens – FUJINON GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR. I like the sharpness, the look, the feel. I prefer primes for video, but for stills, I like zooms more. In the short time you’re beneath, you need to adjust focal length on the fly. This lens was perfect for that.”
With lighting, a similar level of exactness was adopted. Forms and outlines were crafted with explicit application.
“The past two years I’ve obsessed over illumination patterns, and how they cut through water. That was a major source of stimulation. It diffuses light in this stunning way – beams shoot through in these weirdly biblical spotlight strips, unlike anything you’ll ever see on land.
“By the end of the day, all natural sources had disappeared – it was totally cloudy and overcast. We brought in these continuous lights, positioning them above the pool. I had my team hold them very close to the surface. The approach was motivated by an approximation of the sun, but stylized by the kit. I enjoy using off-camera flash and abstracted techniques, but I’m more of a fan of unaffected imagery. With that said, these snaps had a good mixture of both approaches.”
Light dispersals are but one ingredient in this gorgeous sunken concoction. Blue and indigo tinges splice the somber, isolated spaces – but then we’re quickly jolted by the pool’s distinctive tile patterning.
“At first, I thought I’d avoid aspects that disrupted the oceanic feel, but I think I ended up preferring them, included within the frame,” he explains. “It underlines the creative process, and how it’s all composed. It’s self-aware, and I like that.”
Following in the footsteps of many fashion-based photoshoots, Pat also integrates elements of the theatrical and surreal into his designs. In one, an introspective reading of a newspaper evokes the learned GQ gentleman, pondering the significance of current events. In another, an off-kilter amalgamation of reflections creates an outlandish body fusion – unsettlingly compelling in its avant-garde focus. Inverted frames reinforce this arty sensibility.
“The broadsheet stuff was centered around the traditional vogue editorial – sort of like the quintessential aristocrat, or landowner. With that one, I wanted to pay homage to the Slim Aarons school of thought. I adore what he did.
“As for the more experimental stuff, that’s caught my eye for a long time. I’m forever attracted to reflections – photography has this uncanny way of opening up otherworldly spaces. I’ve investigated a lot of those factors, particularly in post. I wanted to take advantage of that here, creating something that would really intrigue.
“With regards to the boundaries, you can’t see the walls of the pool, so I thought it would be cool to use the water as a spiritual substitute.”
In other examples, austere black & white contrasts punctuate Pat’s scrupulously shaped beam formations, highlighting a graceful interplay between liquid and light. The arrangements have echoes of Jim Marshall’s timeless contributions to the medium.
“As artists, we have passion and admiration for our influences, but it often doesn’t line up with our style. Black & white imagery – specifically Jim Marshall – I just dig that material. Over the past few years, I’ve taken that inspiration and ran with it, even when I know it’s not something I’d normally do
“I don’t want to box myself in. The lighting accentuates the shadows so exquisitely. It’s super sullen and intense, perfect for this kind of project. It’s a visual tool that evokes a lot of emotion, and in the end, that’s what I’m here to do.”
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