Dave Swartz has long been obsessed with Albrecht Dürer, the giant of art history who was a painter and printmaker in the German Renaissance of the late 1400s and early 1500s.
So, when the time came for CP+B’s executive director of art direction and design to get a new agency headshot, he really went for it—embarking on what turned out to be a yearlong project to take a photograph that would look just like Dürer’s famous Christ-like oil painting self-portrait of 1500.
The result is pretty stunning. It’s a remarkable re-creation of the Dürer painting, from the hair and makeup right down to the custom-made coat. And the nerdiness of it is, frankly, quite charming.
Check out both images here:
Swartz tells AdFreak that he had the idea almost a year ago.
“I am a very huge Dürer fan on many levels,” he says. “He was somebody that, as a printmaker, I learned about. And once I became an art director, I really learned about his connection to art direction and commercial art—even the fact that the Art Directors Club uses his signature as their logo. He had this maniacal level of craft—just look at his woodcuts and his engravings. So, when it was time to think about a new headshot, it just hit me. I think I want to do this.”
Swartz had worked previously with photographer Bruce DeBoer, who happened to be doing a series of photos that look like oil paintings. The two quickly rallied around the idea. “As soon as I started talking to him, it became a huge production because he was really into it as well,” says Swartz.
DeBoer got a prop maker to re-create Dürer’s coat. Then, over Christmas break, Swartz traveled from Boulder to DeBoer’s studio in Raleigh, N.C., to sit for the portrait. DeBoer enlisted the help of Emma Carter from Beam Beauty Brand to do the hair and makeup. It was expected to be a relatively easy day.
See a behind-the-scenes video from Raleigh here:
“When I first sat down, it was like 8 in the morning, and Bruce said, ‘Yeah, we should be done around 12 and then we’ll shoot and be done,'” Swartz recalls. “Emma didn’t finish until about 6, and then we started shooting at night. She did an amazing job. It was everything, really, just getting that right.”
Dürer’s hair is interesting in the original painting. It’s very short on top, yet long and curly on the sides. To imitate it, a wig wouldn’t have worked. Instead, Swartz—who had very long hair at the time—had it cut short on top and curled on the sides, and then extended with weaves to give it volume.
“I ended up with a giant mullet when it was done,” Swartz admits. (He had it cut completely short soon after, which is how it is today.)
So much effort went into producing the photo that you would expect it to get prime placement … somewhere. But in fact, the only place it was intended to be used was on CP+B internal directory widget, which employees use to connect with each other. (A more traditional headshot of Swartz appears on cpbgroup.com.)
In a way, he says, this is in keeping with CP+B practice.
“It was a huge effort for a very small thing. And that was kind of fitting,” Swartz says. “I’ve lived in a world here at Crispin, and in my own art world, where it’s all about the details and the craft. And I love that we spent that much time and effort on a small widget photo. The DNA of this place was always about swinging for the fences on even the smallest things. So, there’s an interesting connection there.”
Swartz is clearly thrilled with how the photo turned out. And maybe it’s not the end of the line.
“I was thinking it would be great if Bruce could do a series of photos of creatives as their favorite [historical figures],” he says with a laugh. “We should get [ex-CP&B chief creative officer] Rob Reilly to be King Henry VIII or something. I’m going to try to push that!”