My Alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been around a long time. When a department within a university celebrates a 200 year anniversary, the word “longevity” is an understatement. Our commercial photography studio was commissioned by the UNC Arts and Sciences magazine to illustrate the cover story celebrating two centuries of the chemistry department’s influential history.
Our studio frequently takes on editorial magazine photography assignments in addition to the marketing photography we do for companies. Steve Exum has been a contributing magazine photographer working for the UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences for more than a decade.
After a few conversations with the editor Kim Spurr and writer Patty Courtwright, our team did some research on early successes of the chemistry department looking for interesting nuggets and possible imagery of significant early faculty. We learned that the founding father of Carolina chemists and early President of UNC Francis P. Venable helped in the discovery of a process for making acetylene gas in 1892. UNC’s Venable Hall is named for this chemistry giant.
With the portrait of Francis Venable and information about the successes of current faculty, we proposed a portrait concept combining a historic image of Venable with a portrait of senior faculty and younger faculty within the department. We wanted to illustrate the huge span of time in one magazine cover image. A lot of what our studio does I call “conceptual photography” or more specifically “conceptual portrait photography.” We worked on some mockups and got approval from the magazine. Next, we shot a series of portraits of four UNC chemists mentioned in the story … Royce Murray, Maurice Bursey, Jim Cahoon and Bo Li. Below is our final mock-up with the image of Francis Venable behind a portrait of senior chemist Royce Murray and rising star Bo Li.
Ultimately the editorial team decided to eliminate the image of the founder behind the portrait for the cover. Sometimes less is more. The final magazine cover features chemists Bo Li and Royce Murray. It is simple and successfully conveys the central theme of a department’s longevity within our nations oldest public university.