If you want to know about Shawn Michienzi, don’t ask Shawn Michienzi. When the topic is himself, he is generally a man of few words. But his relationships, his longevity, and his work in the world of advertising photography have tales to tell.
Shawn was born and raised in Buffalo, NY, a city and people defined by hard labor and harder winters. Somewhere around age 8, Shawn was introduced to what happens at the intersection between creativity and work. His uncle, who did art and design for Fisher Price toys, would sometimes share what he was working on, illuminating the process behind the product. Shawn began to draw on his own and then took an art class in high school that included photography. Dabbling, wandering around and shooting pictures, his images ended up in the yearbook. A nomadic curiosity led him beyond the place where work and creativity meet to the space where journalism and photography intersect; a chance moment of photographing striking steel workers in Buffalo who had huddled around a fire in a 50 gallon steel drum to stay warm, the men came over and demanded his film. Shawn felt the power of a photograph. The possibility to see his work on the page, and the responsibility to his subjects cemented, a career path was born.
Putting himself through photography school at the Art Institute in Pittsburgh, Shawn worked the backstage door at Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts. At the time the incomparable Andre Previn was the conductor and Shawn got to know his personal assistant, Angela Taylor. He worked up the courage to ask her if Andre would allow him take a portrait of him. She kindly set up a time and Shawn shot one roll of 2 1/4 film; 12 frames, thanked Angela and got her a print and proof sheet. About a year later she contacted him to see if they could buy the image for the cover of an album, his first deal was struck for $700.
After graduation, Shawn headed to San Francisco where he took work as an assistant for some of the country’s most well known advertising photographers. San Francisco in the 80s was – as it remains – a creative bastion, and it was here that Shawn was held to a standard of work that reflected his own values about delivering on an idea. While something may look simple on the surface it is about paying close attention to everything in detail — every little piece must sing in order for the whole to resonate.
A family move to Minneapolis in the late 80s led to right place, right time opportunities. Shawn was soon working on award-winning campaigns with some of the ad industry’s most revered creative veterans from shops like Fallon McElligott & Rice, Carmichael Lynch and BDD. As timing would have it, not only was Minneapolis taking its place on the national advertising stage but Shawn was earning a national reputation as one of the industry’s most hard-working, problem-solving photographers. Soon his portfolio was filled with work for clients such as Absolut, Belvedere Vodka, BMW Films, Dunkin’ Donuts, Gibson Guitars, M&M’s, Progressive Insurance, Snickers, Southern Comfort, Subaru, United Airlines. The relationships forged during this time remain today some of the strongest and most lasting in the business.
In 2012, in pursuit of honing his Director/DP skills, Shawn moved to Los Angeles. In the LA ad hub and under the California sun, he finds himself inspired anew and taking on projects that tap into a passion for travel, people and portraits. His time spent recently traveling the globe with a small crew to produce video or image libraries for clients such as Cadillac, Kilz, IBM and MetLife, as well as returning to the rewarding well of longtime clients such as Subaru for Carmichael Lynch and The University of Minnesota for BDD.
Through it all, he continues to be most in his element doing what comes innately from his Buffalo beginnings, the labor, be it logistical or physical. No matter the technique, the client or the style, Shawn’s purpose persists - to make imagery that satisfies the art director - to deliver imagery, be it stills or motion that communicates their idea. His professional drive to see work through to its fullest potential fuels ongoing, and unparalleled trust and loyalty with his clients.