Q & A With Dwight Eschliman


Dwight Eschliman is a San Francisco advertising and editorial photographer who counts among his clients Apple, Palm, Audi, New York Times Magazine, Dwell, Details, and Scientific America along with many others. In addition to a very busy commercial career, Dwight has also gained a high level of recognition for his personal work which focuses on the meticulous disassembling and reassembling through photography of familiar objects (think Legos and the unexpected beauty of a simple roll of toilet paper) and that includes the recently published book 37 or so Ingredients in which he photographs each individual ingredient contained in a Twinkie.

Bringing this level of attention to his commercial work results in elegant conceptual solutions, beautifully styled and gorgeously lit still life and environment images and some very cool motion graphics. I was very excited when Dwight agreed to answer a few questions about what inspires him and the relationship between his personal and commercial work.

So a very big thank you to Dwight who took time from his very busy schedule to share his thoughts and images with us!

Klein Residence for New York Times by Dwight Eschliman

Recycle for the New York Times by Dwight Eschliman

POP: Has your personal work helped to refine your vision or been an important part of the evolution of your personal vision?

Definitely. Much of the studio’s work that I’m most proud of has come from personal shoots….or shoots that have been such a good fit that they felt like personal shoots. I suppose that’s the goal, in the end, to attract commercial projects that feel like personal projects.

Audi Curves by Dwight Eschliman

Slot Car (Personal Work) by Dwight Eschliman

Audi Straight Road by Dwight Eschlima

Soccer (Personal Work) by Dwight Eschliman

POP: Can you tell us about your process for example with the Paper images? The Twinkies and Legos? What interests you about disassembling objects and photographing their parts?

I suppose I’ve always been a bit obsessive compulsive. When I was a kid I used to organize the toys on my dresser and then photograph them. I guess that’s kind of weird.

I’ve been organizing objects into grids for a few years now. Ever since an art director I was working with about ten years ago (Todd Richards, now of TAR Studio) suggested doing a grid of organic objects for a Mohawk Paper promotion. That got me started and I can’t seem to stop.

….and curious. I mean, how many squares make up a roll of Toilet Paper or how many tissues are there in a box of Kleenex?

UltraSofty Black Grid (Personal Work) by Dwight Eschliman

The LEGO images were the first personal images executed in this format. Originally I organized all the pieces included in a LEGO set, took a picture and that was that. Over time, I ended up developing a system of organizing all the pieces and taking a photograph of the finished layout. That photograph is then used as a map to help place all of the pieces which are individually photographed. This system allows for added control of layout and scaling flexibility. We can now make very large prints of very high quality.

POP: You have a new book, 37 or so Ingredients, in which you photograph each of the 37 ingredients in a Twinkie. This is a fun yet poignant idea.

Again a combination of OCD and curiosity. I’m pretty fascinated by consumption.

…hmm. I’ve been thinking about packaging a lot lately. Overpackaging. It seems everything we buy is so incredibly overpackaged to prevent damage, theft, etc.

It might just be me, but I feel like I’m drowning in packaging. It seems to represent the incredible level of consumption in our society.

Don’t get me wrong, I love consumption! I don’t necessarily intend to put 37 ingredients in my stomach or 47 tech gadgets on my desk, but sometimes a lot of ingredients taste great and, well, it seems like there’s always a new gadget to buy.

Twinkie Grid by Dwight Eschliman

POP: What role has your personal work played in helping you to land new clients?

It’s difficult to quantify, but I do think the personal work has helped to create interest and valuable name recognition. Recently we just completed a video for Esquire Magazine’s “Car of the Year” that was inspired by a personal video we produced. That was a great feeling.

The Esquire video isn’t out until the November issue, but we can show you the soccer video that Esquire used as inspiration for the car of the year video.

Soccer from Dwight Eschliman on Vimeo.

We also just did a story on Humphrey Slocombe ice cream for the New York Times Magazine that I was really happy with and just finished shooting a little slot-car video. More personal work!

POP: Are you given more creative freedom/input now that your personal work is more well known?

Sometimes, yes. People do seem to ask for my creative input more often. I thought it might be because I’m getting older.

POP: What have you seen recently that you’ve found inspiring?

There’s a TV spot right now for the new Dodge Charger. Static camera angle, extremely simple…and amazing. I’m lucky enough to work with some amazingly creative people which is very inspiring.

Almost any Irving Penn photograph is inspiring to me.

POP: Your personal work obviously takes a lot of time. How do you find the time between running a studio, commercial work and family?

Oh, man. It’s taken me weeks just to answer your questions.

I’ve got amazing help in the studio, which is a critical aspect to both starting and finishing the non-commercial projects we take on. Staying up late is helpful, too!

2 Responses to “Q & A With Dwight Eschliman”

  1. the work of a true genius

  2. I really like the work Dwight did for the NYTimes piece about Humphrey Slocombe.

    (And I’m still chuckling over the wordplay in the Dodge Charger ad: “American craft. Man ship.” Man ship!? It’s almost enough to make me overlook the stupidity of the Big Bad American Car… Almost.)

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