On Assignment for Soiree // Aaron Reddin & The Van

When Marcus Boyce, one of the talented Art Directors at Soiree, emailed me back in January about photographing Aaron Reddin for a feature profile in their March issue, I almost laughed to myself. Aaron and I are good friends, and he's definitely my closest friend I've ever been asked to photograph for a magazine. I picked up the phone and told Marcus I would be honored to do the shoot. Aaron's work and mission are more than deserving of a feature like this. Hell, he should be on the cover of Time Magazine. 

Aaron is the somewhat infamous director of a local non-profit called The One, Inc., which is often better known by its street name, The Van. The organization exists to serve the needs of the unsheltered homeless community however it sees fit. Aaron always emphasizes the the word unsheltered when he describes his work - which means his focus is primarily on the vast number of homeless men, women, and children who cannot afford the $6 per night beds at the homeless shelter - or the ones who have overstayed their one-week welcome. The unsheltered are the ones who simply haul off into the woods with their few possessions and attempt to brave the elements as best they can.

As Marcus and I continued to talk about the creative direction for the shoot, he suggested a few ideas that would have worked wonderfully with just about any other subject, but with Aaron, all bets are off. He understands the social stigma surrounding homelessness better than most, and he is always careful to portray it accurately. If you don't believe me, just mention the words "cardboard sign" within Aaron's earshot sometime and watch what happens. 

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

We agreed to simply show up at the headquarters of The One, Inc. on the scheduled date and come up with a few ideas on the fly. I assured Marcus that we would have plenty of interesting options to work with once we arrived.

For our first shot (above), we set up in the main warehouse where thousands of articles of donated clothing hang on wooden racks waiting to be given away to anyone in need. For the main light, I used my large octabank overhead with a grid to keep the light from spilling onto the background, while my assistant Michael hand-held a small speedlight behind Aaron's left shoulder and just out of frame to camera right to act as a hair light. I also placed another small speedlight on the floor directly behind Aaron to give a little more depth to the background and to better show the vast size of the warehouse. We shot for about 30 minutes with this setup and tried several different variations, but this shot was the clear winner. 

After the warehouse shot we decided to go outside to set up another shot using the giant wood pile out back as a backdrop. One of Aaron's main goals during winter months is to keep homeless camps well stocked with firewood, and we thought the shot would work well for the story. We carried the big octabank outside with a power pack and I asked Aaron to stand on the logs for a few quick shots. It was incredibly cold outside - possibly my coldest outdoor shoot ever - and I didn't see the need to spend a long time setting up multiple lights. Sometimes the shot just looks cool without much effort. We positioned the octabank high at camera right, as close to Aaron's face as possible without being in the frame, and I took off the grid to give the light a more natural fall-off at its edges. I crouched down low to give the shot a little more "superhero" feel. 

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

My main goal with the lighting in this shot was simply to look like we didn't use any obvious lighting at all. I allowed the sunlight to peek out behind the trees to give the illusion that the main light was coming from the sun itself, which in this case, was only really lighting the back of Aaron's head. I also warmed up the octabank light in post to enhance the sunlight tone for the finished image, which they ended up using (slightly cropped) for the final magazine spread below:

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After the wood pile shot, I asked Aaron if we could get a few shots of him holding one of the organizations 50+ chickens, and although we were nearly frozen solid in the cold, he graciously agreed. We ducked into the chicken coop for a few minutes to get warm, and I snapped a few shots in there with just natural light (gasp!). Here's my favorite:

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

As soon as Aaron got his hands on a chicken, I could see him soften up a bit and show his tender side, and I really wanted to capture that for the story, so we went back to the wood pile to shoot a few more frames with the same setup as before. I love the way this shot turned out. I think it shows the truest picture of who Aaron really is deep down: Tender, loving, sensitive, and endlessly searching the horizon for anyone in need.

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

Aaron Reddin, founder and President of The One, Inc., photographed at the organization's headquarters in North Little Rock, Arkansas. January 2014. Photo credit: Jacob Slaton

As always, thanks to Soiree for bringing me in for another shoot - it's always a pleasure working with you guys. Special thanks to my trusty assistant Mikey Mike "Mailman" Hall for freezing your hands off for this shoot, and for not punching me when I remembered I had gloves in my car the whole time, which I forgot to tell you about. And double big thanks to Aaron Reddin, who offered up a grand total of two wardrobe options for himself, which consisted of:

  1. A yellow hoodie
  2. A brown hoodie

We went with brown, mostly because he was already wearing it when we arrived. I love you dude. You're ridiculous. Keep up the good work. Let's go play pool again soon.

To read the full article featuring Aaron, click here. To learn more about The One, Inc. and to find how YOU can help support their work with our unsheltered homeless neighbors, click here. You should also keep up with Aaron on twitter, if you're into that kind of thing.