From the moment a person learns their name, Carioca Studio stands out from the pack. The reason: this studio is less of a physical place (though it’s that, too) than a state of mind. Carioca is a Romanian based collective. They privilege their group identity over individual—in fact, even this article only quotes the studio itself. The concept is not unheard of but not many collectives have risen to the professional level of Carioca, which has shot for Nestle, Kraft Foods, Snickers, Toyota, Hyundai, Renault, Sony, Mercedes, Yamaha, and Honda. They’ve received top recognition too, being listed among the 200 Best Ad Photographers worldwide with ten images published in Lurzer’s Archive.
Major benefits of being a member of this cooperative are being able to talk collectively about works in progress, share ideas and the ability to simply accept more work, says a member of Carioca (who requested to remain anonymous). Details are also easier to see with another set of eyes, says a member of Carioca. “When you are by yourself you can easily get carried away with a dumb idea. Working together gives us more power. When an agency or client is in a big hurry and says, ‘okay, I’m desperate, give me a solution,’ we can work more quickly,” a member of Carioca says. “It’s a very good organization, but I don’t know if this would work for everyone. We have known each other for a really long time.” Because of this, trust is essential. “You really have to know the people and trust them,” he says. He adds that there’s nothing about Romania, a former Soviet bloc country with cheaper production costs than western Europe or the U.S., that makes it especially nurturing to a cooperative model. “After all these years of forced togetherness everybody wants to do things on his own without anyone else telling him what to do.”
It’s spoken like an artist who “mainly [does] advertising with fantastic big stories.” That aesthetic may not come as a surprise when you learn of Caroica’s origins. “Like any famous rock band, we met in high school and then went to the Art Academy in Bucharest. After working in advertising for a few years we started Carioca Studio,” a member says. (The name, incidentally, is Romanian for “felt pen,” a slightly absurd fact the founders seemed to appreciate). The original quartet of three photographers and a producer has grown to a group of 12. “Now we have more people and started a production department, a building department and a post-production department. We mostly take the photos and supervise the post-production.”
That post-production skill was evident in our featured image, shot for the World Wildlife Federation. After collecting junk from across Bucharest, they spent nearly a week shooting and producing the pelican and the surrounding junkyard from dozens of individual images. They didn’t use any artificial lighting in any of the shots, just ambient light. “We like to shoot on sunny days because we can see the contrast of the details. We can make it as gloomy and dark as we want in post-production and still see all the details.” They photographed all this junk using a variety of lenses and exposures but the individual captures weren’t that important, the extensive post-production was what brought it all together. Hours spent in front of glowing computer screens and a detailed approach to compositing is the real magic behind this image.
The global economic downturn has not affected Carioca as badly, if only because from Bucharest, they had little access to major accounts to begin with. A member of Carioca noted that many western production companies have moved in recently, due to the lower cost of doing business. Even in assessing the industry, the collective member we interviewed began speaking as the group. “Our personal opinion is that it will be not that bad here,” says a member of Carioca. “The economic growth will slow down, but things will still be moving.”
Carioca Studio was interviewed by our Editor Zack Seckler about their company and their craft:
Carioca Studio: We spoke with our director to determine our vision for the image. From there we made sketches and did photo treatments before shooting. We chose to do a lot in post-production because it offers us greater liberty composing.
F STOP: Did you just go to a junkyard to find all of the trash in this image?
Carioca Studio: Not only junk yards, but chop shops and really nice deserted landscapes on the edge of the city.
Carioca Studio: The landscapes weren’t shot in a single day. Given the amount of post-production involved, it doesn’t really bother us. The combination of the elements gives the atmosphere. Also, we like to shoot on sunny days because we can see the contrast of the details. We can make it as gloomy and dark as we want in post-production and still see all the details.
F STOP: There wasn’t any concern about the lighting coming from different angles?
F STOP: Tell me about the decision to go with a cyan yellow and green palette. Is that something that the art director wanted? How did you execute it?
Carioca Studio: We talk with him about it. The campaign had two images. The deer photo was shot with warmer browns and yellows, the pelican was cooler.
F STOP: How much time was spent on post-production for the pelican image?
Carioca Studio: About four or five days.
Carioca Studio: Four associates started Carioca. Three photographers and one production guy. Like any famous rock band, we met in high school and then went to the Art Academy in Bucharest. After working in advertising for a few years we started Carioca Studio. Now we have more people and started a production department, a building department and a post-production department. We mostly take the photos and supervise the post-production. We only do post-production for our photographers, otherwise it could be a conflict of interest.
F STOP: How many people work at Carioca total?
Carioca Studio: Twelve with three senior photographers and a junior photographer.
F STOP: When did Carioca start?
Carioca Studio: Carioca was started in 2005, but we worked together for at least four years before.
F STOP: Why did the three of you decide to work together instead of individually?
Carioca Studio: We deliver visuals with post-production solutions and felt that we could build this more efficiently together. We don’t physically work together, but we talk about each project and I think a better product comes out of this collaboration.
F STOP: Have there ever been any conflicts or differences of opinion?
F STOP: When you get a job for an ad agency, do all three of you go on set and shoot it or does one of you do one shoot?
Carioca Studio: Only one of us goes on the set. We all do all kinds of photography. We don’t promote individually, so we always appear under the name Carioca. It’s very important for us to be presented under one name because even if I do a project I cannot say it is entirely mine. During the course of a project others were involved in one way or the other. It’s really teamwork.
F STOP: When you get an assignment, it’s only one photographer who goes and shoots it, right?
Carioca Studio: Usually we do it by whoever finished a project last gets to take the next one. This is the basic principle.
F STOP: So you just rotate?
Carioca Studio: Yes, exactly. When there are periods with more work, usually each person has at least one project underway. It’s hard to do otherwise.
F STOP: How do you promote yourself?
Carioca Studio: We promote our work through festivals and our website. Plus, if you do good work for someone it promotes itself.
F STOP: What do you think are the positive aspects of working with a group of photographers?
Carioca Studio: When you are by yourself you can easily get carried away with a dumb idea, Working together gives us more power. When an agency or client is in a big hurry and says, ‘okay, I’m desperate, give me a solution,’ we can work more quickly.
Carioca Studio: Up to this point, I don’t see any. It’s a very good organization, but I don’t know if this would work for everyone. We have known each other for a really long time.
F STOP: Do any of you ever want the recognition individually?
Carioca Studio: Up until now, no.
F STOP: You’re mostly involved in advertising right, do you ever do editorial?
Carioca Studio: Yes, but mostly for art or culture magazines. We want to do it but magazines don’t have big budgets. Our visuals can be spectacular and complicated and aren’t easily done without some production involved.
F STOP: Do any of you do fine art gallery work?
Carioca Studio: We have some plans to do this under the Carioca name.
F STOP: You’re based in Romania. Are most of your clients based in Romania or in Europe?
Carioca Studio: In the beginning all of our clients were in Romania. Now we also have a European portfolio.
F STOP: Anything in the United States?
Carioca Studio: It’s mostly Eastern Europe, Russia, Italy, Spain and so on.
Carioca Studio: We wanted to have a funny name without any specific or philosophical significance. In Romania Carioca means felt pen.
F STOP: So there is no real meaning behind it?
Carioca Studio: No, it’s just to have fun. If we had a meaning people would hold us to it and we don’t want that. But we want it to be memorable and easy to spell.
F STOP: What are the pros and cons of being based in Romania?
Carioca Studio: In general it’s a good climate to work in Romania, particularly in photography. It’s advertising, it’s very dynamic. Things are developing quickly and there is room for many people. Budgets are growing. Perhaps a con would be not always having access to big campaigns. Big productions are rare here. Also, clients are sometimes concerned the first time they work here because they don’t know what the people are capable of.
F STOP: Are there a lot of ad agencies in Romania?
Carioca Studio: Yes, and they appear, continuously. All the big multinational agencies are here and also a lot of local agencies.
F STOP: Why Romania?
Carioca Studio: I don’t know. It’s a pretty big country in the region.
F STOP: Are you looking to expand?
Carioca Studio: This year we want to promote more in Europe and within Romania. Our main focus will be working more abroad.
Carioca Studio: No, not yet. Our personal opinion is that it will be not that bad here. The economic growth will slow down, but things will still be moving. My personal opinion is things will be not as good as last year, but will still be okay.
F STOP: Do you think Carioca will stay in Romania for good?
Carioca Studio: I’m not sure. There are some advantages, for example production is less expensive than Western Europe. It’s easier to deliver the same quality in terms of production and the cost of locations and workers at much lower prices.
F STOP: Do you have access to the same level of talent as in other places?
Carioca Studio: Given the much lower prices in terms of personnel, lots of European and also American production companies have made movies here and we have a lot of skilled people. We have some big studios which work mainly for American and Western European production houses.
F STOP: When you are approached by an ad agency and they want you to bid on a project do they ever request a specific person?
Carioca Studio: It’s happened a couple of times, but we are very firm on this. We say ‘look guys you work with Carioca, all you see in our portfolio is Carioca.’ As I said before, it’s very important not to have preferences.
Carioca Studio: It’s about not looking for personal glory or pride. It’s also pragmatic because you cannot load someone with more work when the others have less and their skills are the same.
F STOP: Was your school in Bucharest specifically for advertising photography?
Carioca Studio: No, we went to the Academy of Fine Arts, the best school for fine arts in Bucharest. We started in graphics then took photography courses. We started working as art directors and mixed that with our graphic design and photography experience. It was helpful when we started Carioca because we could talk to advertising people in their language.
F STOP: Are any other Carioca-type studios that are big in advertising?
Carioca Studio: There are some in Europe as far as I know, but not very many.
F STOP: Why not?
Carioca Studio: It’s not very easy. You have to really know the people and trust them. Understanding is important because producers and photographers sometimes have conflicts because usually a photographer and a producer will want more efficiency, but if you are well organized and know each other well then it is okay.
F STOP: Do you this has anything to do with Romania’s political past? Being a more group-oriented culture?
Carioca Studio: I never thought of this. I don’t think so. The result in Romania is pretty much the opposite. After all these years of forced togetherness everybody wants to do things on his own without anyone else telling him what to do.
To see more from Carioca Studio visit their website.