Even for a photographer who specializes in photographing “real people,” Christian Peacock was given a very unusual assignment: find the “Hard-to Reach”
The client, The U.S, Census Bureau, was determined to reach out to groups that have been under-represented in past census counts. This could result in a disproportionate loss of Federal funding.
DraftFCB, the advertising agency of record, was responsible for the broad base awareness campaign and assigned IW Group of Los Angeles the Asian language advertising segment. Christian Peacock Photography was awarded the job of creating the photography because of his expertise photographing “real people talent” that had been central to campaigns for Lilly, Genentech and PG&E.
As a Pacific Rim nation there are many diverse Asian populations. The campaign focused on twelve different groups: Asian Indian, Bengladeshi, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Hmong, Lao, Pakistani, Thai and Vietnamese.
Over 2,300 people auditioned for 360 roles. It tool several months traveling throughout So. California for Peacock and his crew to find a cast of photogenic people that would represent a cross-section of society – infants, grandparents, young lovers, blue collar workers, and business professionals.
Traditional methods for casting do not work when your talent can’t read English nor use a computer. Emails were replaced by outreach to religious organizations, cultural event planners, and community centers. To reach the Hmong and Lao the casting net was thrown out as far as Fresno California where these cultures had immigrated when fleeing their homelands back in the 1970’s.
Christian recalls how some groups were not as responsive as others. “We were not getting the numbers needed for the Pakistani population until Cathy Eng, the casting agent, found out about a Pakistani pop concert. We set up at the concert and did the casting call right there.”
Finding the people is stage one. The next step is directing this diverse cast and getting the shots. Christian Peacock and his producer Connie Conway know how to run a smooth shoot even when twelve different languages are being spoken. The stringent requirements of government approved layouts also had to be accounted for to the degree that one day the creative director, John Lee Wong, was in Washington DC presenting final ads to a Congressional sub-committee rather than on set.
This was a large-scale production and almost the entire 360 member cast had never been at commercial shoot. The goal is to make everybody feel comfortable and relaxed.
Christian needed them to trust him and not get distracted by the crew of assistants, stylists, translators, pet handlers, digital techs, producers, site reps, police and fire marshals. On the census shoots there was always additional family members accompanying the selected talent making for a family reunion mood in the backstage area.
IW Group had created a multi-tiered campaign with the message that completing the census form was a way to help their communities. It was Christian Peacock’s job to take this message and put it into photographic form by having his cast convey pride in participation in the census.
A long shot list was repeated twelve times, switching out for each language group. One layout called for twenty people in one shot. They would be standing by a mailbox proudly holding up a census envelop while Christian made sure that everyone’s face could be seen clearly. There were babies, dogs, children and seniors. Christian juggled all these components and had all twenty people cheering toward the camera.
Getting the talent involved is one reason why Christian is successful with real people.
He encourages curiosity about the process whether it’s a technical question or a young girl’s fascination with the make-up stylist.
When discussing the project Peacock says “I am moved by the basic humanity that gets expressed without language. I saw strangers become family in front of my camera.” The final photos were used all across the USA in Asian communities. For the first time many of these people will feel a part of their new homeland. The census has been done, now is the time for tabulations. These diverse groups will be recognized and weaved into the American fabric.