8 minute read

Death Valley, De Rigueur

Uniting a raft of artistic mediums, THEGINGERB3ARDMEN create a thrilling concoction of style and substance

“Shooting high fashion in a dive bar. There’s something about that juxtaposition that appeals to us. We once photographed a drag queen posing around the walk-in freezer of a restaurant.”

“Both of those things were so incongruous. But they worked, in a weird way.”

Steven Trumon and Chad Wagner eloquently characterize the animated spirit of their vibrant back catalog. Operating with the madcap energy of enfant terribles like Alexander McQueen, the pair create unconventional cinematic portraits – zany photographs that impart genuine quirk and slick, artistic foundations. Teeming with color and charm, ‘THEGINGERB3ARDMEN’ have fashioned theatrical imagery for the best part of seven years, intensifying bonds both professional and romantic. Amidst the frenetic buzz of New York City, work has consistently engaging. But now it’s 2022. Motivations are more extensive. Possibilities are broader; ideas are bigger. Exploring the scope of their ambitions, the duo recently inaugurated this new chapter with a trip to the notorious Death Valley – shielded with stacks of sunscreen and a brand new GFX100S. Typically eccentric and beautifully distinctive, the outcome was exceptional.

“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, excited to bring the diversity of the Big Apple to a more desolate space.” Escorted by a crew of creatives, Chad and Steven were aided by like-minded, highly-skilled peers. Japanese designer Sho Konishi would contribute a remarkable selection of clothing, as would Guvanch – an extraordinary young stylist from Turkmenistan. While friend and makeup artist Hilary Shawn handled all things cosmetic, Joe and Amanda Vellekamp kept video logs. With this support network in place, Chad and Steven had the space to experiment with an assortment of performative ideas. “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.”

A man with a slick pompadour hairstyle poses against dusk in Death Valley

Photo 2022 © THEGINGERB3ARDMEN | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF110mmF2 R LM WR, 1/2500 sec at F6.4, ISO 500

Without question, examining THEGINGERB3ARDMEN’s ideas is essential to understanding them. These aren’t your standard portraits – they’re conceptual manifestations that warrant more reflection, more assessment. Beginning this conversation with ‘the haircut’, we discuss the bleakness of the procedure, and its wider significance in the context of the collection.

“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 details.

Cast in sinister shades of black & white, a man gazes intently at the camera, following a haircut in Death Valley

Photo 2022 © THEGINGERB3ARDMEN | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF110mmF2 R LM WR, 1/2500 sec at F6.4, ISO 500

Steven grins. “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.”

“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!”

As well as its figurative associations, this relinquishment of hair served to bolster the spiritualism conveyed in the ‘monk’ photos. Self-described reiki healers, mysticism is an inherent trait in Chad and Steven’s visualizations, highlighting their belief in the supernatural. Purposely referring to Peter O’Toole’s star-defining turn in Lawrence of Arabia, they effortlessly blend the filmic with the figurative, creating a captivating fusion of aesthetics. “We shaved the head and went for a real T.E. Lawrence feel,” Steven explains. “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 keenly at his partner, mulling this factor. “It’s how we approach our shoots. We come from a very spiritual place,” he agrees. “We’re not religious, but both believe our being isn’t limited to our bodies. That energy is a huge part of our existence.”

Enduring rough sandstorms and blistering heat, Chad and Steven were 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 demonstrate his dancing talents, adorned 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 40 shots, then we had to quit because of the conditions. It was weirdly exciting, though.” Scrutinize this particular selection and one photo seems to perfectly epitomize the weather: a comical 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 joke and mock each other, a warm reminder of their affectionate connection.

A man in a banana chiffron suit-dress comically flies through the air

Photo 2022 © THEGINGERB3ARDMEN | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF110mmF2 R LM WR, 1/2500 sec at F6.4, ISO 500

“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 made those photos sing.”

How does one change the anticipated perception of Death Valley, and transform it into something novel and unforeseen? For THEGINGERB3ARDMEN, this was the goal with all images – but it’s notably evident 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 irrefutable as the beauty of Sho Konishi’s meticulously crafted designs.

“We thought of her as a time-traveler. An alien,” Chad confirms.

Steven summarizes 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!”

Facing new surroundings with limited capital, budgetary constraints would end up proving ironically advantageous. Resourcefulness was a matter of necessity, and a sense of inventiveness soon followed. “The money placed limitations on us. Weirdly enough, I think it 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. For 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 shouts. “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. GFX 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 ponders.

Like all enduring partnerships, Chad and Steven’s alliance is built on the strength of their individual expertise, and shared ambitions as collaborators. “When I came onboard, I knew we had to revamp and grow together,” Chad follows. “We took my Instagram handle at the time – THEGINGERB3ARDMAN, and made it plural. It was quirky and catchy, which is undoubtedly what we are, and will continue to be,” he chuckles.

“You’ve always been the little bird over my shoulder,” Steven smiles.

A man tosses handfuls of sand above his posing torso, framed against the sands of Death Valley

Photo 2022 © THEGINGERB3ARDMEN | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF110mmF2 R LM WR, 1/2500 sec at F6.4, ISO 500


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