Cover buzz

Rufus Isaacs, Tom Gennara and Kraig Ehm talk about the inaugural cover photo for In the Field, how it was achieved and what it felt like to be pelted with pollen -- or cornstarch -- for a few hours.

March 29, 2016

Rufus Isaacs and Tom Gennera take photos.

Rufus Isaacs, Tom Gennara and Kraig Ehm talk about the inaugural cover photo for In the Field, how it was achieved and what it felt like to be pelted with pollen -- or cornstarch -- for a few hours.

rufus and tom_smaller


In the Field, Cover Buzz with Rufus Isaacs and Tom Gennara - Transcript

Kraig Ehm: Welcome to In The Field, a podcast originating from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. I'm Kraig Ehm.

Tom Gennara takes a photo: Let me see that sparkle, right? Just like that. Then ever slightly, just if you tilt your head to the right, just a hair. Less than, yeah. There it is. Close up. You don't want it in your mouth, so give me ... Yeah, just like that. There you go.

Ehm: In this episode of In The Field, we will take a behind-the-scenes look at a photo shoot for a magazine cover. It's not your typical photo shoot and the magazine is In The Field from Michigan State University's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Joining me are Tom Gennara of Gennara Photography and Dr. Rufus Isaacs, professor in the department of entomology at MSU. Thanks for joining me. Tom, you were provided with a concept. Explain what they wanted and how you accomplished the shoot.

Gennara: Red Head Creative came to me and talked about a photo of Dr. Rufus researching pollen. It initially started with honey bees. We thought that he had done research on honey bees. They had this concept of how to have a swarm of bees, him engulfed into a swarm of bees. Once we started to analyze and figure out how that was gonna happen, then we found out that indeed it wasn't honey bees. It was bumble bees and it was really more about the pollen than the bees.

Gennara takes a photo: All right. Here we go. Let me see a little bit of a smile. Just like that. We're gonna go on three. One, two, three.

Gennara: So from there, we started playing a little bit with their concept and ideas, bouncing them back and forth, and came up with the idea that we'd use cornstarch and toss him in some cornstarch and have this cloud of pollen around him for the cover.

Gennara takes another photo: Just a little farther. Try to hit his temple or right off his ear. There you go, that's the sparkle. One, two, and three. Go. Have you ever thrown out a first pitch? That was good. It needs to be either everywhere, or it needs to be down here. I know we can move some things, so that's not too worrisome. To do the crop-They're not here. I want some of that to happen. If that means that we have to put the person offset and not center the person, I'm good with that.

Ehm: What did you find was the biggest challenge in this type of a shoot?

Gennara: The biggest challenge in this type of shoot, I think just the logistics of it all and working with something like that. The powdery cornstarch flying around and the timing of making that image happen. The patience of Dr. Rufus to endure pollen cornstarch being thrown at him.

Assistant: All right, I'm gonna just get your arm too. Then you can go back out. If you take that washcloth, you've got to grab another one, whatever. Get your face really good.

Gennara: Just a lot of complications and a little bit of testing. Jen from Red Head took one for the team as a practice trial. It looked good. Dr. Rufus here today was a champ in allowing us to keep covering him with the cornstarch. It turned out really well.

Assistant: No, I'm looking at it here. That's perfect.                             

Assistant 2: Is that perfect? Okay.

Assitant: That is perfect.

Ehm:  Okay, Rufus, I understand bumble bees were mentioned early on, but you passed on that. You took the cornstarch instead. How was the cornstarch?

Rufus Isaacs, Ph.D.: It was a little dry.

Gennara: I'm shooting this just so I can get in a rhythm, so one, two and then it's gonna come on three that she's gonna throw it.

Isaacs: It didn't get up my nose or in my mouth too much, but it seemed to work out pretty well.

Ehm: What was the biggest challenge for you in this shoot, since you stood there for quite a long time having cornstarch chucked at you?

Isaacs: Keeping a straight face. Trying to be in the right place when the photographer needed me there.

Gennara: There you go. Looking right at the camera. Ever slightly, just tilt your head to the right a little bit. Yep, just like that. Just like that.

Isaacs: Just trying to follow instructions and keep focused on staying in the right place, I think was the hardest part.

Gennara: While he's still in there like that, let me just have her just throw it more toward his shoulder and see if I can't catch it there.

Assistant: Okay.

Gennara: He's already caked. We'll see how that looks as one.

Ehm: There is more to a photo than being just a picture. The saying is a picture is worth 1000 words. Talk a little bit about your profession and what you hope to accomplish with this one photo.

Gennara:  As a photographer, each photo shoot offers its own set of challenges. Each one you approach differently and look at doing it in the most creative efficient way. With today's photo, I think to take Red Head Creative's vision and put it on a cover, that then people will look at that image and be compelled to open the magazine and look at the article.

Ehm: Rufus, you've been involved in research projects for a number of years. Anything that you can think of in your background that helped make this easier for you to do today?

Isaacs: I remember when I was an undergraduate student in university in London and there was a ritual where we all had to get painted, but that was actual real paint. I was thinking of that today as I was having cornstarch thrown at me, that maybe that was something that I practiced many, many years ago.

Ehm: Now you're a bumble bee guy, but you were talking earlier about the honey bee folks and what they do when they get together. Do you want to explain a little bit about that?

Isaacs: Yeah. One of the early ideas here was for the photo shoot, there would be a bee beard, which is where pheromones of honey bees are used to entice them all to gather together on a person. You've probably seen photographs of these bee beards. But I wasn't really comfortable with that, not only because I'd have honey bees swarming around me, but also because a lot of our research is focused on wild bees, the many other species of wild bees that are out in landscapes and trying to understand how they can be manipulated to benefit farmers and crop pollination, so it didn't seem to be such a good fit. That's where we came up with more of an idea of doing the pollen focus today.

Ehm: To be honest, Rufus, I see a side gig in your future. That would be a male model. I've known you for years as a researcher out in the field with the blueberries and the bees, but now I see you as a male model. Maybe you can practice your runway walk in the lab while you're examining samples.

Assistant: All right, let me see that sparkle. One, two, and three.

Ehm: I would like to thank Tom Gennara of Gennara Photography, Dr. Rufus Isaacs, professor, department of entomology at Michigan State University, for being with us today. Tune in next time for another episode of In The Field.