The Tyranny of Statistics
One of the elements of commercial photography that I find most fascinating is the use of statistics. Here is an item for sale, along with a pretty picture. Now, here's the same item in a different scenario. Which one will sell the most, and why? How do creative considerations translate directly into numbers? All sorts of industries deal with this same question but it is the most measurable in catalogs because there is only one step from page to purchase: the photograph.
Big Leo's own Molly Fitzsimons
teamed with photographer Alec Hemer
to help create the new CB2 catalog. Their cover is an almost perfect mix of color and shapes, very striking and instantly identifiable as CB2:
So deceiving in its simplicity - from concept to execution to approval, I imagine at least 15 people being directly involved in the cover shot. Inside, the spreads are meticulously numbered and copy-written in the margins. The 'movie sofa' is not just a sofa.
'Forget about sitting upright uptight polite. Deep down lounge in walnut faux velvet invites curling up for a double feature, the bourne trilogy, a week of tivo.'
You might also need some anti-nausea meds to make it through the whole Bourne trilogy, but I can appreciate the idea of taking a normal couch and adding a story to make it seem more appealing.
But what are the elements of the photo above (also styled by Molly) that translate to more units sold? As a thought experiment, take a look at the 'movie sofa' from previous CB2 catalogs and think about which one makes you want it the most.
We're biased towards Molly's work, but the shot does have a great feel to it, with the large window reflected in the mirrors, the high ceiling, and the dramatic ray of sunlight draped so peacefully across the couch. Will it sell more? I have heard that the sunlight, or 'the ray' in art director parlance, will always move more units. So much so, that if you can't make 'the ray' on a dark day, you will never shoot interiors catalogs. Also, all 4 couches are at slightly different angles. The CB2 merchants could cross-reference the sales of all sofas with the 'couch angle.' There are an almost limitless number of different ways that the photos could be analyzed - it must be hell on the art director to have those numbers hanging over your head.
In the end, I do think that you can overthink a scenario. And while statistics are important for the merchants to see what is popular and why (I would hope it has a lot to do with the actual quality of the sofa), it comes down to the photograph, which is the direct interface between the consumer and unit. The light, composition, and styling all need to be in harmony. Something that numbers tend to mess up - so there must be a balance. Part of the reason why catalog photography, in my humble opinion, is such a fine art. Constraints breed creativity, and nowhere is this more on display than in the pages of CB2.