Sneakerhead culture chat with award-winning Carlos Jiménez.
Building a sneaker is really challenging. Surreal or nostalgic silhouettes? Little color or too much color? What's the best material? (you know, we know).
But what will make you want this?
A big part of a release is in post-production, especially with the importance we place on social media nowadays. You don't just want to see the shoe, you want to experience the idea behind it long before you put it on.
Designers like Carlos Jiménez are responsible for making this magic happen, and the award-winning creative director knows all about the necessary immersion in sneaker culture. For him, surrealism is an essential aspect, and it was with his abstract point of view that Jiménez won more than 35 awards in the areas of advertising and creativity, including the 2021 Latin American Design Awards.
To understand what's behind his art in which sneakers are bigger than anything, we spoke with Jiménez about his contributions to sportswear culture and the creative process for Puma Suede. Don’t stop scrolling. 🖱️
Why Godzilla-sized sneakers?
Sneakers have been a part of my life for a long time, but they became the focus of my photo composite work rather recently. Only a couple of years ago. I used to do a more classic surrealistic type of work. What happened is that organically my surrealistic work took a commercial detour when I started incorporating certain objects or products. Sneakers happened to be the one that clicked and resonated the most with a lot of people, so many work opportunities came from that.
So, I decided to dive into the sneaker culture a lot more and try to develop this style of sneaker art. I love sneakers and Photoshop. I enjoy what I do because I get to do both at once.
About the size. You see, surrealism is a very complex concept, and it has many different interpretations. But mine is very simple. For me, surrealism is the disruption of reality as we know it.
For us humans, there's a common point of reference which is the reality that most of us perceive through our senses. We are all very familiar with it. But for a scene or image to be considered surrealistic, there needs to be at least one disruptive element that doesn’t play by those rules of reality like color, form, scale, gravity, etc.
The large scale of the sneakers featured in my work defines it as surrealism. To summarize, the size is really a continuation of my previous surrealistic work with commercial connotations since the main subject is products from world-famous brands being portrayed in a prominent and rather epic way.
What do you consider when choosing backgrounds, lights, textures for each pair?
It’s all about context really. For example, if the pair happens to be a Japan-exclusive release, the context for that pair needs to be set within a Japanese reality. I have been to Tokyo, a beautiful city, but the magic really happens at night over there. The city comes alive after dark with all the neon lights, sounds, food, people, and fashion.
So, I often borrow from my own experiences to decide which context will fit the sneaker best. Not only for the shoe to look beautiful but also for it to look like it belongs there.
On the technical side, the background photos need to match the perspective and overall light direction of the product shot for the composite to look natural. Usually, the available product shots from the brands, taken on a white background and plain lighting, allow me to tweak the lighting and contrast in Photoshop. But sometimes I need to take my own product shots to match the lighting and perspective of certain backgrounds that I want to use.
What was the biggest challenge in the Puma campaign?
The PUMA Suede has been a fashion staple in streetwear for generations. The idea was to portrait the shoe as a monument of fashion in three of the main fashion capitals of the world: New York, Tokyo, and Paris. My job consisted in executing the brand’s vision in my specific style of photo composite which obviously fits perfectly for that purpose.
Coincidentally, the biggest challenge was matching the perspective and lighting for the Tokyo execution. I had to go to the mall and buy a fresh pair of red Suedes in order to take the picture myself. The available product shots from PUMA worked very well for the New York and Paris executions, but the Tokyo one was tricky. There was no other way but to take my own product shot for that one.
PUMA is very particular about their product shots, even in the way the shoe needs to be laced and stuff like that. All brands are picky, really. And they should be. They all want their products to look their best. I get it. They are right, so I comply.
I still have that red pair of Suedes. I wear them all the time and I love them because they are a memory now, not just a pair of shoes.
This one will probably be tough, but what's your favorite muse?
It’s not tough at all. Artistically, there's a clear winner for me in terms of references: Jeff Jordan’s work. His paintings have been a huge inspiration to me. He used to be a traditional landscape artist turned surrealist. In an interview, he said that he got tired of painting what his eyes saw from the outside and he started painting what they saw from the inside. I love that. To be honest, I consider most of my body of work to be a digital photographic derivation or indirect manifestation of his work.
Now, in terms of drive to create, I take inspiration from my own mother. She loves orchids and grows them in her indoor garden. They are exotic flowers, but here in Costa Rica, they are ubiquitous. However, those plants are delicate. They require a lot of work to flourish. It takes them about eight months to do so.
One time, I asked my mom if she thought of the flowers as the reward for all those months of hard work. She said that she didn’t care about the flowers at all. She had seen them all before, she knows how they look, feel, and smell. For her, the reward is the time she spends taking care of the plants.
The reward is the process and that’s what I try to do with my own work: enjoying the process of creating these images. That’s what drives me to create the next one, and the next one after that.
That quote about “work with what you like” was probably inspired by some of Jiménez's creations, and it makes perfect sense.
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