May Member of the Month
Glen WexlerMay 1, 2018
© Glen Wexler
Glen Wexler is a photographer and director best known for his elaborately staged digital photo composites of improbable situations. He began using his talents in the music industry while he was a student at Art Center College of Design and as a result, he created hundreds of album covers before turning 30, working with artists from Michael Jackson to Van Halen.
Legendary creative director Ed McCabe brought Wexler into the world of advertising for the reboot of the iconic Maxell campaign in the early ’90s. Since then, Glen has worked on award-winning campaigns for top international brands including Adobe, Samsung, Coca-Cola and more. He also created iconic photographic logos for The Star Wars Trilogy, Batman, Universal Pictures and Geffen Records
Glen seamlessly integrates film direction and production with print assignments offering visual continuity across multiple platforms. Based in Los Angeles with a world-class production team, Glen brings his expertise and creativity to a global market. His work has been profiled in many publications including Communication Arts, French PHOTO, Creativity, ZOOM, Los Angeles Times, Apple Pro Stories, and Adobe Photoshop Innovators Spotlight.
Peter Berberian: What made you first decide you were going to be a photographer?
Glen Wexler: I was given a Nikomat as a teenager and took a photo class in high school. I had a natural talent for photography but wasn’t particularly interested in it. Photography seemed to attract kids who were into gadgets and technical things, and that wasn’t me. I was into surrealist art, design and music.
During my first year of college, I had no idea what I wanted to pursue as a career but gravitated towards the art department. I was fortunate to have a couple nurturing instructors who encouraged me to pursue photography as a medium to express internal ideas versus documenting the outside world. After completing my general education requirements I was accepted at Art Center College of Design and went there with the intention of learning the craft to become a fine art photographer. My interests shifted as I became exposed to images from the fashion world, but I also had a love of album cover art, which I had thought was an unrealistic career path. I had the opportunity to shoot my first album cover while still a student for a multi-platinum band produced by Quincy Jones. I dropped out of school after completing 5 of the 8 terms and hit the ground running in the music industry.
PB: Is there a photograph you loved as a kid or an event that pushed you into being a photographer?
GW: The album covers by Hipgnosis were by far the most influential. These guys blurred the lines between illustration, design and photography to create surrealistic narratives. They pushed the boundaries further than any other photographic artists during the ’70s. I learned more from their album covers about photography as a narrative medium than I did in art school. Their cover art for Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here is a great example of the type of work I found inspirational. I later had the opportunity to work on an album cover project with Storm Thorgerson, one of the founders.
PB: What do you primarily photograph?
GW: Because much of my work is conceptual I’ve shot virtually everything from superstar celebrities to elephants wearing tutus, often as individual elements to be combined into a larger narrative. This is unusual because the commercial world mostly looks for specialists with a singular focus. As a result of these opportunities, I have a broad range of portfolios including portraits, landscapes, still life, animals (lots of cows), cars and logos. Much of my work involves creating environments that look real but are actually studio constructs. I love working with miniature sets and I often incorporate CGI models.
When I left school to pursue album covers I had two portfolios. One of pre-digital “improbable realities,” and the other was portraits. When my work became applicable to the ad world, my focus was more on fantastical or manipulated imagery, mostly because I had access to digital editing tools years before Photoshop. Lately, I’ve been doing more portrait assignments and directing. I’m also working on a book and exhibition of my portraits from the ’80s and early ’90s.
PB: Do you do anything before a shoot to prepare yourself?
GW: My work tends to be fully pre-visualized. Most everything is meticulously planned, sketched and prepped before the shoot. The exception is when I’m working with people. I usually have a mental image of the expression or gesture I’m after, but I allow for spontaneity and stay open for the unexpected moments.
PB: What is your favorite set up to shoot with?
GW: No favorites. The gear is part of a big toolkit and I choose whatever is best to capture a specific image. I’ve shot with everything from an iPhone to an 8×10 view camera.
PB: Who are your greatest influences in the art world? And why?
GW: Stanley Kubrick. Seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey at 12 years old was life-changing. There was a visual, visceral and conceptual connection that pushed me toward questioning conventions.
Hipgnosis. Their images demonstrated the possibilities of blurring lines and blending mediums.
And in the music world, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Yes, David Bowie, Frank Zappa and Miles Davis.
PB: What is your favorite photography quote?
GW: Maybe two of the most familiar quotes are from Ansel Adams. I heard them when I was 18 years old, which provided clarity at the time. Now, they continue to serve as a reminder of why I do what I do: “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” And, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”
PB: Who are your three favorite photographers? And why?
GW: Irving Penn. Penn’s continuity of vision beautifully embraced everything from fashion to cigarette butts found on the street. Penn is defined by his vision versus the subject matter.
Albert Watson. For me, he is the greatest living photographer whose images embody the breadth, spirit and essence I see in Penn’s work.
Edward Weston. Weston’s images were among the first to incorporate a modernist design aesthetic. For me, Weston’s images defined a modern visual vernacular in the same way the International Style defined the direction of modern architecture. My dad was a modernist architect and I grew up in a mid-century post and beam house. This design sensibility is part of my DNA.
PB: If you were to do anything else for a living, what would it be?
GW: I was asked to join a panel at Art Center a few years back about hyphenated careers. As a working artist, I’ve been privileged to make a living by extending my vision as a photographer, film director, creative director, graphic designer, digital artist, creative consultant and experiential designer. I would still like to make a feature film.
PB: What is your favorite photo that you have taken? Why?
GW: Let’s say instead, the favorite photo I have “made.” However, this is tough, because it’s like picking your favorite child. Perhaps one of the most memorable was creating the album art for “Balance” by Van Halen.
I was originally asked by Jeri Heiden, the creative director at Warner Bros. Records to develop concepts for the title, “The Seventh Seal,” one of the album tracks. We started to move ahead with a concept, but the band changed their minds about the title, switching to “Balance.” When I asked Alex Van Halen about the band’s thoughts surrounding the new title, Alex expressed the notion of exploring the duality of the human psyche. His direction was unexpected. Van Halen was perceived as a fun-loving party band, and in contrast, this was a very smart, introspective and challenging concept to visualize. That said, in terms of Van Halen’s growth and maturity, 17 years after the huge success of their first album, it would make perfect sense that the band would want to reveal a more complex side of their personality, including the reflection on the some of the deeper issues that they were experiencing.
I produced several rough sketches to illustrate the concept, including the conjoined twins on the seesaw, which would be created by combining photographs of an androgynous child who I found when casting for the “Seventh Seal” concept. Other than the obvious expression of inseparable male and female characteristics, the realization of the idea began to focus on a number of ironies…the impossibility of the conjoined twins actually playing on the seesaw, the “calm” twin actually being the aggressive one, pulling the hair of his sibling to create the appearance of an aggressive child, and no one else to play within the desolate post-apocalyptic setting. The unusable playground equipment is the only object in sight. I also had the opportunity to “design” the twins to mimic the shape of the “VH” logo.
In terms of recent work, I really like the portrait campaign with Kastner & Partners, and the collaboration with their senior designer Felix Broscheit. The “Your Move” images are currently on display across the street from The Broad Museum in Los Angeles. The series of eight large-scale outdoor images were commissioned by Brookfield Properties to wrap the construction site of their new Bunker Hill development. The portraits are intended to reflect the rhythm, energy and evolution of the people and businesses in downtown Los Angeles.