We’re a photography duo specializing in portraiture, event, food and product photography. Our Mission Statement is simple… making the client feel as though they have a safe space to explore and create. As reiki healers, we know how important it is to hold space for people, and we know that by holding a safe space an artist can feel open enough to expose their authentic selves.
Film, fashion, dance: Clasped in the pangs of scorching Nevada heat, THEGINGERB3ARDMEN create an invigorating cocktail of avant-garde artistry
Styled with a vigor that evokes the late Alexander McQueen, Chad Wagner and Steven Trumon create eccentric cinematic portraits – wacky, freewheeling photographs that are radiantly bold-faced and brash. Amidst the bustle of New York City, the dynamic twosome fashion glossy, dramatic imagery, brimming with color and character. Colloquially known as ‘THEGINGERB3ARDMEN,’ they’ve shared collaborations and cameras for the best part of seven years, balancing the demands of a business that’s deepened bonds both professional and romantic. Their brand has attracted a healthy range of commercial clients, but now it’s 2022, and ambitions are more expansive. The scope is broader; ideas are bigger. Eager to survey California’s wildest national park, the pair inaugurated this newest chapter with a flight to the infamous Death Valley, fortified with buckets of sunscreen and a brand new GFX100S. In those forlorn wastelands, a canvas was framed, and the impressions left behind were truly extraordinary.
“When Fujifilm asked us to engage with a national park, we wondered how many were around us in NY,” Chad begins. “The closest we could find was Acadia in Maine, but it was freezing. With that off the cards, we went further afield. We wanted to get out of our comfort zone. We were excited to bring the diversity of the Big Apple to a more desolate space.” Accompanied by a dynamic team of fellow creatives, Chad and Steven ventured into the valley with a resolute support network. Japanese designer Sho Konishi would contribute a breath-taking array of clothing, as would Guvanch – a remarkable young stylist hailing from Turkmenistan. Whilst friend and makeup artist Hilary Shawn handled all things cosmetic, Joe and Amanda Vellekamp kept video logs of the day’s happenings. Chad and Steven would document a multitude of performative ideas, epitomizing their madcap spirit and frantic creativity. “It was such a concerted process. Everyone went above and beyond,” Chad continues. “The space is just phenomenal, but I think it’s stifled by certain stereotypes. All of the photos in our motel room were of typical cowboys, birds, guns. I thought we should bring our own feel to the desert… something a little more out of the ordinary. We were surrounded by shadow when we got there. Completely shrouded. When the sun rose, that was the invitation to experiment, and more importantly, have fun.”
For Steven, leaving New York was an integral part of the process. It permitted a sense of liberty, and challenged him to build within environs he wasn’t accustomed to. “I don’t think we would have been able to have such an amazing point of view if we didn’t come here,” he explains. “Our color palettes aren’t present because we’ve never been in an environment like this before. We wanted to avoid the traditional fashion editorial, and this was the perfect place to do that.” In conjunction with this freshness of setting, budgetary constraints would end up proving ironically beneficial – forcing the pair to use ingenuity and inventiveness. Fortunately, their equipment was more than up to the task. “The money placed limitations on us. Weirdly enough, I think those limitations made us more creative,” Steven continues. “In those circumstances, GFX100S was a godsend. If we wanted more warping of the subject, we’d use FUJINON GF63mmF2.8 R WR. If we needed more detail, we’d go telephoto with GF110mmF2 R LM WR. We can do close-ups, full body shots, extreme detail, whatever we need. With other cameras, when the shutter clicked, our entire perception wasn’t right. But when we switched to Fujifilm…”
“It felt like our world changed!” Chad exclaims. “We’ve never had this much cinematic prose in our work before. The dimensions are crazy. That’s lost on a lot of other systems. The 100S is very intuitive, and we don’t have to work too hard. The connection between us and the subject is foregrounded. We wouldn’t have been able to achieve these results with any other gear.”
“That sensor really is so intelligent,” Steven muses.
With numerous concepts at play, examining THEGINGERB3ARDMEN’s ideas is essential to understanding them. Without question, these are curious, abstract incarnations that warrant attention and exploration. We kick-start the discussion with ‘the haircut’, a stark procedure captured in sinister shades of black & white.
“I had long hair at the start of the shoot. We knew we wanted a pompadour look at some point, but after that, I was just tired of it,” Chad recounts.
Steven smirks. “We had a heart to heart. He just doesn’t know what to do with his hair. He’s always wearing hats! We were trying to figure who was going to pull on that Japanese shirt dress. I didn’t think Chad’s hair would look right in that outfit.”
Chad nods in agreement. “I just find that hair is extra weight. Serious spiritual communities get rid of it for a reason. Stripping ourselves of ego, in the desert. That was the idea, which I guess is somewhat austere when you say it out loud. We didn’t have the tools, so we used my beard trimmer. It took a while, and I can’t say it was the most pleasant trim I’ve ever received!”
In combination with its symbolic implications, this abandonment of hair also served to underpin the otherworldliness expressed in the ‘monk’ photos. Self-described reiki healers, mysticism is an inherent characteristic of Chad and Steven’s imaginings, emphasizing their belief in the supernatural. Deliberately invoking Peter O’Toole’s star-defining turn in Lawrence of Arabia, they effortlessly blend the filmic with the figurative, creating a fascinating mixture of styles. “We shaved the head and went for a real T.E. Lawrence feel,” Steven describes. “Sho Konishi designed that one. His clothes are just incredible. We wanted an extra level of drama with all that wind, so we clipped an additional piece of fabric to the back, and Amanda kept throwing it up in the air. There’s something so simple about adding an extension of the physical body, to create a spiritual space. Both elements inform each other, and they exist beautifully in tandem.”
Chad gazes intently at his partner, pondering this transcendent dimension. “It’s how we approach our shoots. We come from a very spiritual place,” he interjects. “We’re not religious, but we both believe our being isn’t limited to our bodies. That energy is a huge part of our existence.”
Braving harsh sandstorms and sweltering temperatures, Chad and Steven would be at the mercy of the elements for their ‘cupcake’ photos – a poppy get-up inspired by the aesthetics of Harry Styles’ Fine Line period. For these pictures, Steven would exhibit his dancing abilities, draped in a banana chiffon skirt-suit, courtesy of Guvanch. “The unforgiving habitat made it so much more fun,” Chad snickers. “The ‘cupcake’ look was photographed during an actual sandstorm. I got about 40 shots and then we had to quit because of the conditions. It was weirdly exciting, though.” Examine this particular selection and one photo seems to personify the violent onslaught of weather: a light-hearted image of Steven suspended vertically in mid-air, frozen like a salmon in flight.
“That shot was really funny,” Chad remarks. “The humor that lives in Steven is catching. People love it.”
“I guess it does stick out,” Steven agrees, grinning.
“I kept telling him to straighten his body! It’s just sand. It won’t hurt!”
“I practically rebounded off the floor!” The pair clown and taunt each other, a warm reminder of their affectionate connection.
“I really love those colors, that vibe. The counterpoint of masculine and feminine elements is really striking,” Steven adds. “And, of course, we have to acknowledge Guvanch – his garments really made those photos sing.”
How does one shift the expected energy of Death Valley, and transform it into something refreshing and unseen? For THEGINGERB3ARDMEN, this was the goal with all images – but it’s especially noticeable in their ‘cyborg’ conceptualizations, modelled by Hillary Shawn. Reminiscent of Daryl Hannah’s turn as Pris in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, the cyberpunk influence is as undeniable as the beauty of Sho Konishi’s meticulously crafted designs.
“We thought of her as a time-traveler. An alien,” Chad confirms.
Steven outlines Konishi’s inspirations. “He’s very enthused by Mad Max, Dragon Ball Z. The futuristic, Barbarella vibe also played into that green sulfur suit I ended up wearing. I felt I was living out a childhood fantasy!”
Beneath the surface, everyone has a story to tell. We all hide behind fronts and facades, concealing authenticity with veils stretched thin and threadlike. For this project, THEGINGERB3ARDMEN found clefts in those barriers. Discovering the importance of expression, theirs was manifest and true.