How I approached a series of portraits from a visual branding perspective.
Spotify states: Any artist who thinks they can build a career just on the merit of their sound would be wise to take a glance back at history. From Elvis’s hypnotic hips to the Rolling Stones’ impudent tongue logo to Madonna’s outré Jean-Paul Gaultier cone bras, popular music—a genre born alongside television and shaped by mass media—has never been just about sound.
Bands, musicians and artistes are all about image, and when done right, the image enhances the music. The visual brand of a musician is often based on the story they want to tell, which is why the imagery evolves with musical style – think again about Madonna and her musical journey.
Oxford based Julian Sharples, is a musician and song writer of long standing. He’s performed on the big stage and at the local pub. He’s performed solo and part of a band. Like many artists, he is always pushing himself creatively, which means that his musical style evolves over time.
In late 2022 Julian started work on his latest album, Dark. When it is released this Spring, it will mark a change in musical direction for Julian and therefore required a different visual style to complement the music.
When I first met Julian and discussed his need for new photography he wasn’t really thinking about visual branding because in his world, it is the sound that dominates.
After numerous discussions we agreed that his visual brand was a metaphorical door into his music and therefore the door needed to be labelled correctly and deliver the expectations promised by its looks.
If any of us is confronted by a 10ft tall oak door that looks to be weathered with time and adorned with large brass furniture, we immediately conjure-up some pre-conceptions about what we’ll find behind the door. We might then be disappointed if we open it to find a store cupboard full of mops and buckets. Similarly, we might be pleasantly surprised if we come across a plain white door with a simple twist handle that opens into an opulent, bright and cavernous ballroom. However, if the door is too plain it might not arouse our curiosity and we may never find out what lies behind.
Therefore, Julian’s metaphorical door needed to encourage people to listen to his music, and be pleased that they did.
Julian was keen on black and white photography with a film noir style, which is why he approached me. We then talked about the style of music he was making and his influences. As we talked words and phrases started to enter our conversation: isolation, intimate, piano bar, smokey, dark, mysterious, complex, traditional and many other that contributed to the story he wanted to tell.
These words then informed the style of visual brand that we wanted to create together.
The first step was to find a suitable location, and we identified a great basement cocktail bar in London that was closed during the day and available to hire. It had the intimacy we desired and because there was no natural light, it was the perfect photography studio.
I then had to recommend the types of images that we needed to create and some of the results are below – a new visual brand for Julian that complements his new album.