Todd Baxter Is Chicago’s Best Photographer

Seriously.  At least to me.

Yesterday, the news broke that I was leaving Element 79 for the CCO job at OLSON in Minneapolis.  As part of this transition, I needed to take a press photo.  A tough gig given I’m a writer, not a model.

Despite my new employer hiring a big name photographer, the first shots didn’t work out so well.  I looked like a tired and overweight Mrs. Doubtfire, if Mrs. Doubtfire were an investment banker–not exactly the look I was hoping for to impress my new agency.

Panicked, I Facebooked a friend of mine who’s taken photographs of Element 79 staffers since we opened: Todd Baxter.  Basically, I begged him to save my bacon.

Todd found some time and asked if I had any ideas for the shot.  I thought of this photo which I’d seen online a few weeks earlier…

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON

Something about this legion of mini-snowment made me laugh.  So I attached this sketch and sent them to Todd…

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON

Todd jumped right into the concept.  Unfortunately, just as we shot last week, the three feet of snow piled on the deck behind his studio melted away during an unseasonable thaw.  Before it all disappeared, Todd found one lingering patch of icy slush down the street in a church parking lot.  His intern Ryan and studio manager Debbie packed it into ten jumbo garbage bags and lugged them back.

For the portrait, Todd sat me on some pillows covered with a white sheet on a white sweep…

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON
Unfortunately, I forgot my big Sorel snow boots.  And given the snowy setting, my wardrobe was a bit drab.  But Todd was undeterred.  First, he and his team started making snowmen.  Initially, their little snowmen faced in all different directions but Todd wanted them to engage the viewer with their creepy-cute gazes and direct the viewer’s attention to me.  Additionally, he thought these little guys needed to represent two ideas simultaneously; that I am both a creative worker as well as a creative leader.  Oh and they should also be fun, stylish, modern, and expressive while still feeling classic and homogenous. Me?  I just asked for snowmen.  Thankfully, Todd thinks on deeper levels.
Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON

The snowmen proved hard to form and almost impossible to decorate, mostly because by this point, they were melting quickly.  Somehow, he was able to get enough shots to mix and match bodies, eyes, noses, and mouths into an army of tiny snow people.

But there was still the matter of my drab dress.  Todd suggested changing my wardrobe, and created this PhotoShop sketch to show the color he was thinking: bright yellow, a color I never wear.  But I had to admit, he was absolutely right about its impact.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON

Essentially, through the wonders of Photoshop, Todd wanted to dress me far more stylishly than I would ever dress myself.  He ordered a coat online and asked me to drop off my boots at his studio.  This is the coat he ordered, as worn by a legitimate model.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON

Tuesday, Todd worked late into the night, modeling and shooting the coat and boots himself to make them match the raw portrait.  Then, overtop everything, he sprinkled large flakes of snow.  The end result is remarkable–a seamless portrait that is both artfully believable and a total fabrication.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising, OLSON

In the advertising business, we manipulate images every workday.  But when the image is your own, the stakes feel somehow higher.  Finding a creative partner who not only shares your vision but improves it markedly is one of this industry’s true pleasures.

Thanks Todd.  You made me look far cooler than I ever have.  Or will.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


PS:  Todd is currently up for an AMD Visionary award.  Check out his video and vote for him here.


8 thoughts on “Todd Baxter Is Chicago’s Best Photographer

  1. Poor Lucky Me says:

    So so cool! Chicago is losing of of the greats with your departure, but those of us who have been lucky enough to have you laugh at our jokes wish you great happiness and luck. Although you don’t need luck because you have talent. And good looks.

  2. producierge says:

    I knew yellow was never your color- and i’m not sure you
    are really the Iceman cometh, but the snow, the snowmen, you looking
    CCOish as always, it definetly worked.

    Mr. Ryan, again, you are a genius..You will be missed…

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