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A full-grown woman jumping up and down on a modernist bed — in full aerialist gear? Check. A guinea pig gazing into the sunset? Check. Bullhorns, trophies, pink cupcakes, and a mob of trenchcoat clad women? Check. Oh, and, of course, furniture . . . This is a furniture catalog after all. BLU DOT CATALOG: […]

A full-grown woman jumping up and down on a modernist bed — in full aerialist gear? Check. A guinea pig gazing into the sunset? Check. Bullhorns, trophies, pink cupcakes, and a mob of trenchcoat clad women? Check. Oh, and, of course, furniture . . . This is a furniture catalog after all.

BLU DOT CATALOG: PHOTOGRAPHY & DESIGN FAQ

Q. What is Blu Dot?

A. Blu Dot is a modern furniture design & manufacturing studio, based in Minneapolis, MN it was founded in 1996 by John Christakos, Charlie Lazor, and Maurice Blanks.

Q. Who worked on the two recent catalogs (from 2007 and 2008)?

A. The catalogs were art directed and designed by myself. Dan Monick was the environmental/location photographer. Medora Danz handled the logistics (furniture transportation, locations, etc. etc.) and was the keeper of the “ Blu Dot Brand” — making sure we didn’t disappear completely down the rabbit hole. The three of us were the main creative team — as far as the environmental photography was concerned. We worked with two stylists: Janet Gridley in 2007, and Matthew Stenerson (aka Mr. Chips) in 2008.

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Q. OK, so what’s the deal with the photographs — is there a plotline?

A. Yes, and no. To lead us through the weeklong photo shoot the creative team outlined a very loose structure. Each character and location had a specific role, and there was a story (at one point). But, I doubt I could re-tell it to you now even if I tried.

2007 Catalog Spreads:

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2008 Catalog Images:

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Q. So, did you storyboard the entire week out? Was there method to the madness?

A. Yes, and no. We had three, well, maybe four variables: (1) Locations (2) People (3) Furniture (4) Props. We knew which days we were at each location. We knew which days certain people could model. And, we knew the pieces of furniture we wanted to pair with each location. But, beyond that it was extremely stream-of-consciousness. One of my favorite photos, from the 2007 shoot, is of the aerialist jumping on the bed. We had set up the frame, with the furniture and then added in the two models. We weren’t quite sure what to do with them at first, so we shot a series of frames where she was just standing on the bed talking to the red jumpsuit guy. Then, someone (I can’t remember who) suggested she “ practice” her “ moves” by jumping up and down on the mattress. Which, by the way, was an air mattress. We told her to jump until it popped. It never did. I doubt we could have storyboarded that photo the way it turned out — some things just have to happen spur of the moment.

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Q. Is the viewer supposed to be able to figure “ it” out?

A. Well, not really. Even though there is a story in there somewhere, the photographs are not presented in order from the first shot to the last. The narrative that guided our workweek played out — in order — from day one through day five. But, the image sequence in the catalog was driven by the images themselves — pacing, color, composition, and image parings were considered while the original story was largely ignored. The resulting narrative is left open ended, allowing the viewer to come to their own conclusions. (And, hopefully they’ll fall in love with the furniture along the way).

Q. So, what’s up? Is there an idea behind the book, or are you just messing around?

A. Yes, there is definitely an idea. First, I knew from the beginning that I wanted the design to rely heavily on photography more than Blu Dot catalogs had done in the past. Beyond that simple notion it was a broader reaction to the furniture catalog genre as a whole. My criticism of the typical furniture catalog you see (in the US, at least) is that the photographs are generally very neutral and safe. Very seldom do you see people interacting with the furniture — it’s as though the human race was wiped off the planet and the only thing that remains are these very beautifully propped dining room or living room sets. They seem very unrealistic. And while I wholeheartedly admit that the Blu Dot catalog is not based completely (or even loosely) in reality, it’s unrealistic in a more satirical way. Which was inevitable since it had to carry the Blu Dot banner: it had to be fun, and slightly irreverent; there needed to be a life to it; it’s supposed to make you smile. Blu Dot is a different kind of design studio, so obviously their catalog needs to be a different kind of catalog.

2008 Catalog Outtakes:

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Q. What inspired the concept/idea?

A. I wanted there to be a twist to the photography approach — that was ground zero. And, of course, Cornell Windlin‘s Select, Arrange catalogs for Vitra were definitely an inspiration. But, I felt there was something we could do — something that we could add to the conversation — that would be inherently Midwestern, and thus, completely different. Beyond that there’s the whole loose-narrative idea and the mystery/mythology behind the images that was definitely influenced by the band Lifter Puller (which just happens to be Dan’s former band) who created an alternate universe within its lyrics that were based on real people, places, and events in Minneapolis. The spirit of the Coen Brothers’ films (Fargo was definitely talked about more than once on set) and the work of David Lynch (especially the Twin Peaks series) were also reference points throughout the process. When I was younger I was obsessed with Twin Peaks — trying to decipher all the hidden clues and such — so, for fun, we added in our own little secrets throughout the narrative.

Q. Clues? Secrets? Like what?

A. I can’t tell you.

Q. Who is Dan Monick and how did you decide to hire him as the photographer?

A. Dan is known (around Minneapolis) as the drummer of the seminal Minneapolis rock band, Lifter Puller. But, nationally Dan is known as an LA-based rock n’ roll/fashion photographer. Around the time that we were searching for a photographer Dan happened to be putting on a solo exhibition of his art photography at the SooVac just a few blocks from my house. While looking at his work again — in person and all at once — something clicked. His approach to photography was exactly what I was looking for — his work is fun and raw, but it’s not amateurish, in fact it is quite the opposite and extremely well crafted. It was perfect. The only thing that was missing was the furniture. My main collaborator from Blu Dot, Medora Danz, was at Dan’s opening as well — and that night she had the same epiphany. We knew we had found our photographer.

Q. So, you had a fashion photographer shoot furniture?

A. Yup. Luckily, at the time I was making the pitch for such an unlikely combination Dan had just published a series of architectural photographs in Dwell. I presented his rock photos as one end of the spectrum and his Dwell photos as the other end, saying simply: I want the Blu Dot photos to fall somewhere in between these two points. The rest is history.

Q. What was it like working with Dan?

A. One word: Awesome. Dan weaves these amazing stream-of-consciousness narratives for the models in order to extract the expression or mood out of them that he wants. These stories are so amazing I can’t even begin to explain them. I took a bunch of video footage on my digital point-and-shoot this year, but the videos do not do Dan’s amazingness any justice either. Although, it’s still kind of fun to watch:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHcTVbMMlmM[/youtube]

2008 Behind the Scenes:

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Q. Where are the locations? Those are some sweet houses.

A. With the exception of one location, they are all houses or businesses in the Twin Cities area. The one exception is John Christakos’ modernist cabin, which is in Wisconsin. In 2007 we shot at five private residences, the Walker Art Center, and Bower Brothers in NE Minneapolis. In 2008 we shot at three more private residences, but we also added a few commercial locations into the mix: Nick & Eddie and Jetset.

Q. Can I have the names and addresses? I’d like to go check them out for myself.

A. Nope. Sorry . . .

Q. Who are all those people?

A. Everyone in the two catalogs are friends with either Dan, Medora, or myself. There are a slew of local artists (Ben Olson, Jennifer Davis, Todd Norsten), local musicians (from bands like Dillinger 4, The Dynamiters, Roma di Luna), and just plain locals (who you may recognize from your favorite hang-outs: the Walker Art Center, Bryant Lake Bowl, Caffetto, Nick & Eddie).

Q. Is that Ralph Rapson I see in there?

A. Yes, it is. Ralph won the Dwell/Blu Dot Lounge Chair Design competition last year. Blu Dot then worked with Ralph to put his winning submission into production. Mr. Rapson was gracious enough to come hang out with us and get his portrait taken. He was a total sweetheart and an extremely good sport. Sadly, as you know, Ralph passed away just a few weeks after the photo was taken. Here’s to Ralph, a local legend.

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Q. This seems to be an ongoing series. Will you continue it in 2009?

A. I have no idea. . . Ask me again 4 weeks before we’re supposed to do the next photo shoot.

Q. You mentioned the Midwest earlier. Does the fact that you are based in the Midwest play into the look and feel of the catalog?

A. Yes. We all take great pride that we are situated here in Minnesota. And, we are all here by choice. So, of course, the quirkiness and mythology of the Midwest is celebrated to the nth degree in these photographs. I see these two catalogs as a love letter from myself, Dan, and Blu Dot to Minneapolis (and the Midwest). So, here’s to Minneapolis! Now, let’s go enjoy the spring weather before summer hits.

Q. Wait, one more thing: I totally want one. Can I have one?

A. Yes. Go to bludot.com and sign-up for the mailing list.

  • Andy says:

    Matthew: Thanks for going behind the scenes. KM brought me a copy and it’s a really great book. My first thought was that it looked and felt exactly like Minneapolis. The portrait of Rapson is a treat. Well done!

  • Sherry Akbar says:

    I love what you’ve done with your catalog. I’m an interior designer and prop stylist and would love to work with you at some point.

    Very best,

    Sherry