Photography + Set Design + Third Drawer Down! Meet Mel + Sam.

von Clear Water

This concept is called 'The Balancing Act', tell us about why you wanted to work on this particular visual idea with Third Drawer Down?
I arrived at this concept because I interpret Third Drawer Down's overall ethos to be about balance; where seemingly unlikely combinations of things – both physical objects and ideas – sit together, and to me that’s the defining characteristic of the store. I mean, where else could you find a serious piece of art that can be used to dry dishes? I love that idea, it’s so playful.

Your background is in styling, however, you have naturally migrated towards a beautiful hybrid of set design and do you describe to people what you do? 
Oh man, with a lot of difficulty! I think the best way to explain it is with a quick run-down of my background, which in reality is kind of an eclectic combination of disciplines. I think it all stems from studying advertising as a uni student.
Those three uni years inculcated in me the ad-world creative problem solving process – that particular combination of creative and analytical thinking. I loved that process, I still do. But the problem was, those three years had also revealed that working in an ad agency environment (the single thing I was qualified for) probably wasn’t for me.
So decided the answer was to combine those skills in creative communication with my affinity for making things, which naturally lead me to visual merchandising and within that, display design. What’s great about the VM industry is the scope and variety of the work you end up being thrown into: designing displays, illustrating concepts, sourcing props, drawing up detailed plans for merchandising units and fixtures, researching finishes and materials, climbing ladders with hand saws and drills (but probably not both tools at once!), designing window decals and signage…really, the list goes on! VM people are great because they have a pragmatic hands-on approach that prioritises progress over perfection; the learning curve is steep.
From this point, a doorway into styling opened. I enthusiastically marched through that door, with that disparate skill set following along in the background.
So these days I work on projects that vary from really commercial product-focussed work, like styling still life images for Target catalogues; to abstract set design for fashion shoots; to creative direction and prop styling; to the odd display design job. It’s a real mixed bag, and that suits me perfectly.

The Balancing Act revolved around the use of paper props, can you tell us a bit about how you started playing with paper and the process involved
building these sculptures? 
I actually play around with paper structures quite a bit – the exacting process of working out how to make something 3D from a piece of paper really appeals to my meticulous nature; I’d even go so far as to say I find it relaxing.
So for this set, I thought it might be interesting to combine these rigorously measured, seamless, coloured shapes, with other structures handmade from wood scraps that I hadn’t measured, planned, or polished at all. In other words, a balance between perfectionism (my default setting), and a more spontaneous ‘cut-and-paste’ approach (which is out of my comfort zone!).

What or who would you say influence your style? 
It’s a tough one to answer. I’m going to go with ‘what’: that is, probably my tendency to oscillate between thinking about things in a really abstract big-picture mode (exhibit a: my answer to this question!), to then thinking about things in the smallest, most concrete details pertaining to materials, methods and construction. And in conjunction…the fact that I’m bored by (and frankly, not very clever at) all the modes of thought in between those two!

Top four places you turn for creative inspiration? 
I know it sounds trite but I really think inspiration can come from anywhere. I think it’s just about keeping an open mind about what might be the answer to your brief. The old ad-world trick “look out the window…now make whatever you see the answer to your problem”.
In addition, I’d say I prefer to seek inspiration from outside my discipline. I tend to keep an eye on fashion trends, because those are changing so rapidly, and I think they’re a pretty good gauge of the trickle-down/bubble-up effect, across all areas of design and culture. I also get a lot of inspiration listening to other creative minds through podcasts – Design Matters with Debbie Millman is my favourite. Finally, unconventional materials found in thrift/hardware/recycling stores often trigger the best ideas!  

Any advice for budding creatives? 
Well, I think the best advice I could offer is to contact people whose work you admire, and ask to assist them. And if you’re procrastinating about contacting those people because maybe you feel intimidated or whatever (I’ve been there) – do it anyway! I think the vast majority of creative people are have the EQ and the humility to remember how hard it is when you’re just trying to find your feet, and would be happy to help you if they can.

Favourite product from the shoot?
I’ve long been a fan of David Shrigley, but I gotta say I think the Del Kathryn Barton Highway is a Disco Scarf is just beautiful…I didn’t want to part with it!


 OVER TO SAM! Budding Photographers keep reading!

What drew you to this project with Melanie and Third Drawer Down?
Having known Mel for a long time we have always meant to do something together. This seemed like a great opportunity to have some fun with light, shapes and quirky things.

How long have you been a photographer and what was the journey to Rufus & Cooper like?
I’ve been a photographer for over 10 years and the journey has been great. A lot of hard work but there have only been a few days that I’ve actually considered it work. Its just what you do and I love what I do. The constant nature of running your own business can be draining at times but that just makes the rewards sweeter knowing that you’ve earned it.

 Favourite part about being behind a lens all day?
Working and collaborating with different people to create great images whilst having fun along the way. Someone once described being a creative professional as “Solving problems and making people happy”. I think that is pretty apt and I enjoy solving problems and making people happy!

Dream projects?
To do what I do but on an international scale.

Any advice for budding photographers?
Everything you do is noticed. From the way you work as an assistant to the extra effort, you go to for a client. From the corners you cut to the way you make people feel. Always give you best and people will want to work with you again and recommend you to others.

Top four places you turn to for creative inspiration?
Music videos
Other photographers work
Art galleries

Favourite item from the shoot?
Anything by Mr David Shrigley

We absolutley loved working on this project with these two. The joy in collaboration is truly so rewarding! If you missed the final images you can see them here