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This Spring we’re going to start featuring a series of Akvo Show Cases on our website. These will highlight teams of people, using Akvo tools to do cool stuff, around the world. The binding theme will be a series of photographs, shot by local professional photographers, which frame these groups of people in their context. In essence we will be creating a series of photographs that act almost as an ad campaign for Akvo partners. These photos will be featured in a new “Action Hero” box we’ll be establishing on the home page, and they’ll link to content about that team – mainly in the form of blogs. We conducted a test photoshoot in London last Thursday to make real the concept we had in mind, shot by Robert Guy Baalham, and you can see a few highlights from the shoot in my Flickr set here. It was a moody London Spring day so the lighting is typical of the time of year. Given the variety of places these shoots could happen – from rural Tanzania to Nepal to San Francisco – I’m expecting quite a contrast in lighting and mood to emerge over time.
Photo above: This is our favourite from the two shoot locations, this being on a quiet stretch of the Thames near the office at Rotherhithe. We’d done the regular posed shots, and then a man and his bull terrier dog came past. The dog was so typically South London, and absolutely lovely – running straight up to Jo for a stroke. We all agreed that this is the ideal kind of result – staged but relaxed and spontaneous. They’re situations you just have to look out for – you can’t design them. Features me, Linda Leunissen and Jo Pratt (photo by Robert Guy Baalham) (Click picture for big size)
The content underneath will vary – I endured too many years of companies trying to shoehorn customer stories into a “standard” template. But we want the photographs to exhibit real consistency, while expressing how diverse and interesting our partner network actually is. We won’t be flying photographers around the world. So we’ve developed and refined a brief that gives clear direction but leaves the photographer with space to be creative in terms of location and character dynamics. Here’s the current brief (PDF 9.5MB) – which we’re going to revise slightly and probably post in WordPress instead.

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Above: This is an example of staging this in a location where people work. It’s the back of our studio workspace in Bermondsey and features Linda Leunissen (Akvo’s graphic designer), myself and Jo Pratt (our London-based comms manager). We’re each holding something related to our work, mine being the mount for our webcam. The aim here is to be straight but have some quirks, that give the thing personality.
We’ve taken influence from a number of places. First, we’ve been really interested for some time in the application of wide-screen panorama-style photography. This is especially since you can now do it easily on things like the iPhone. We also liked the idea of deliberately “staging” the people, in their context. So in every photo we’re going to get the photographer to put up a frame backdrop. I got this idea from an ad in Surfer magazine, which I was leafing through a few months back in Santa Barbara. I’ve seen the idea applied in a few other places since, but it’s still very new and fresh I think. Deliberately in-shot, this backdrop makes clear who we are highlighting, perhaps in a situation where other people may be passing by or in a situation that looks surreal. In fact, the potential for interaction between those being framed and those outside the frame could be part of the fun here.

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This is an example of the style being used in a straight posed photo in a location that is absolutely globally recognisable. This has a fairly wide crop, typical of what we’ll aim for.
I see these shots also having other PR applications – if we can maintain the fashion / magazine photography vibe that Robert achieved last week, I think it will help encourage media to feature Akvo partners. A picture makes all the difference. One final point is that this is the only time you will see Akvo staff members shot in this style. From now on, this technique will be reserved only for our partners – teams of people, using Akvo tools, to do great stuff. We’ll be working over the coming weeks and months to assemble some of our partners together in situ, and I’m excited to see how this goes.

Mark Charmer is co-founder and communications director at Akvo.