Three shots from the CokexAdobexYou challenge as interpreted by professional photographer Guy Aroch, who is known for his fashion, advertising, and celebrity portrait work

Guy Aroch Makes Nostalgia Modern

By Terri Stone

Professional photographer Guy Aroch is known for his fashion, advertising, and celebrity portrait work. Recently, he turned his talents to the CokexAdobexYou challenge. This brief for this challenge—which anyone can try—asks participants to create a work of art celebrating Coca-Cola, sport, movement, strength, and unity.

Create: Do you enjoy working with a brief?

Guy Aroch: Yes, it’s my space—I’m a commercial artist. Fine artists pluck things out of the stars and create around it. Their vision should never be diluted. I like structure, and a commercial assignment is like a house: The walls are the assignment details, the roof is budget constraints, the windows are the product rules of engagement, and the doors are the reality of what you’re being asked to create. Then come intangible elements, such as the mood of the subjects, the conditions on-set, energy from the creative team, even something as simple as the weather. I love to decode all of these elements and help the team meet all of these challenges. This brief gave us room to build and room to breathe. The pillars of the brief were solid, so we could be creative and bring in our own expression, and we had enough definition to know we had sight of the goal.

Create: When clients hire you, what are they looking for?

Aroch: They come to me because they’re interested in how I see the world and how I see their product in the world.

I love the art and culture of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. I often refer back to that time for its beautiful style and vivid colors. The cultural revolution of that time informs our collective thoughts. There is a strong emotional feeling in so many of us about the era’s photography, cinema, and television—we feel nostalgic about it.

I want to use this emotion for the 21st century. I always bring my work into today. It may be the light, or colors, the models’ clothes, or even the way the subjects are posing. 

I teach a class at School of Visual Arts about how to go from school to work. One of the biggest things I drill is to come up with your own voice and style. That’s easier said than done, though. I feel like I’ve been able to achieve it through a lot of hard work. It’s probably taken me 10 years to arrive at this place.

Click to watch an animation made by Anna Palma, Guy Aroch's wife. The two often work together on Coke assignments. 

Create: How much of what we see was done in camera—for instance, did you use Photoshop to map the Coca-Cola script onto the soccer ball?

Aroch: No, that was there; it really was a Coca-Cola ball. A lot of what you see is real, like the big red circles. Isaiah, our production designer, made these incredible props, huge circles on stickers and put them on set. These images were made with an array of talented creatives, including my wife, Anna Palma. 

Back in the day, everything would be “real”: on camera, in set, no retouching. Later, nothing was real in camera; everything was staged and retouched. Now, I love to mess with the viewers’ perspective and create real moments—which you could call flaws—using technology that is designed for perfection. A lot of what you see is in camera, but I may change color or make sure the subject’s hair is natural. That’s a modern way to create authentic situations.

Create: Are there other examples of how you gave a modern twist to your nostalgic aesthetic?

Aroch: When you see pro photos of athletes competing, they’re usually covered in this sharp, dramatic lighting. For most of the shots in this series, I was deliberately low-fi and used an on-camera flash or a hand-held light. That lighting feels intimate and human. The action shots look dynamic and the still portraits work as snapshots. I love that intimacy, like a bunch of friends hanging out. We used contemporary fashion styling from Celia Azoulay and an amazing hair and make-up team to create modern cultural cues. That’s so important in decoding how I made these particular pieces fresh and modern. 

Create: What Adobe tools did you use?

Aroch: I used Photoshop sparingly to retouch the images. Retouching needs to be done in a way that the photo still feels relatable and achievable. When something is too perfect, I lose interest. I love a little imperfection.

I also worked with Zoe Penford, a graphic designer, who used InDesign to create designs that subtly reference mid-century sporting event posters.  I do a lot of advertising for Coke and have learned the brand’s core values. For example, the Taste the Feeling campaign involves fun, authenticity, nostalgia, youth, all going back to Coke’s heritage. I wanted to inject some of that into this project.

Create: Did you use athletes for the CokexAdobexYou shoots?

Aroch: We cast models who could either perform sports or who could engage the viewer with their youthfulness and vitality. It gave the shoot an element of reality and attainability. We were looking at Coke as being tussled over or perhaps the reward for taking part in the sport. 

Follow Guy Aroch on Instagram for a visual reward. To try your hand at this challenge, go to the CokexAdobexYou website.