STILLS + MOTION
“While we aren't identical twins, we are on the same wavelength, going so far as to finish each other's sentences. Propelled by collaboration, we're quirky, inventive, and living proof that two heads are better than one.”
We've all seen the co-workers who show up to work dressed alike and the dogs and their owners who somehow resemble one another. While those might be examples of coordination and partnership — they are way off-base when it comes to Kremer/Johnson.
I'm Neil, he's Cory, and I'm Cory, he's Neil. While we aren't identical twins, we are on the same wavelength, finding we only have to say a few words to one another, to get a complex point across. We can confirm that when two people spend a ton of time together, they indeed begin speaking a shared language. We are guilty of using abbreviated words and making cryptic quips others might miss. Propelled by collaboration, we're quirky, inventive, and living proof that two heads are better than one.
A Vision Through Discovery
I believe that creation is born out of an observation, that with the right frame of mind, you can notice, reimagine and execute, making the ordinary extraordinary. When I was a kid exploring Rochester, NY, on my bike — whether rain, sleet, or snow, to today by car in sunny Los Angeles, I feel alive when I immerse myself in my surroundings, engaging with the world. I am who I am today because of what I have seen, heard, and done — and I am happily on a never-ending voyage to discovery.
For me, it all began in the hometown of Kodak, where photography was ever-present. From grade school to high school we learned about photography from a camera and film standpoint, including learning how to use the darkroom. Having taken a series of process-driven classes in high school from mechanical drawing to woodshop I found comfort from methodically working my way through projects, seeing visual proof of my efforts.
Sports presented an opportunity for me to create muscle memory, learn by doing, and take a hands-on approach to everything in my path. Wrestling, in particular, taught me grit, determination, and discipline — instilling in me the power of having a strong work ethic.
I worked hard at having fun too and friends played an important role in my life from the start. Finding my home life with my grandmother, mother, and sister claustrophobic, I instead chose to float around my Italian neighborhood. Gathering for “Sauce Sundays” at various friends’ houses, I learned what it means to be more than a guest — where mothers enjoyed seeing the food they prepared disappear; father figures modeled bluntness and passionate discussion. I like to think that my friends’ families raised me, giving me options of what to believe and how best to communicate.
I was the school prankster and neighborhood fun-maker talking my friends into skiing the streets while unobtrusively hanging from the car’s rear bumpers. Whether in response to my experiences at home, or the constant presence of Italian jokes, humor became my love language. But it was through my friends and their families, I observed the difference between self-deprecating humor, and questionable jokes, adopting the former as my go-to approach. I wasn’t afraid of sharing my point of view, often inserting subtle humor and presenting reality with a slant. By now, humor comes naturally, akin to whack-a-mole — the more observations I make, the more I see.
Through my Uncle, a collector of fine art photography, I learned about different artists and perspectives, punctuating what I learned about humor. There is more than one interpretation of what you see or hear. While other kids might view art appreciation as “eating your vegetables,” I was different. Photojournalists Margaret Bourke-White and Sebastiao Salgado opened my eyes. I studied imagery, admiring the lighting, teaching me the unlimited possibilities with strobes, entirely changing the photography game for me.
You’d think that was it, and I embarked on a fine art education and career. But no, I had a brief rendezvous with the straight and narrow, earning a degree in business, going on to work in sales for a sporting goods manufacturer. In what feels like forever, but was only 15 years, after having experienced travel, computers, and sitting behind a desk, I realized this type of captivity wasn’t for me. I returned to my roots, picked up a camera — read the manual multiple times — and started shooting.
It’s always been my aim to keep on shooting. After observing other people, I found that the people I respect most are those who perfected something. I find success because I put in the time, not because I got lucky. With time, I’ve worked to reimagine things that already are, to improve on what I know and see. Because I am fascinated by how things work, I approach photography as a problem to be solved — an experimentation — knowing there are limitless possibilities of getting to a solution.
While I pay credence to observation and reimagination, I always take the next step by adding rational thought to these abstract ideas. I ensure a seamless mix of examination, ideas, and planning when it comes to photography, art direction, and my work with color and retouching.
Recognizing that life’s journey is dynamic, I insert myself into it. My motivation comes from the process of photography, delighted that there isn’t an end to the race, just more opportunities to explore and improve. In learning by living, the learning never ends.
As a realist, I expect change. There will always be an advancement in technology, critics, and the like — I plan to improve right along with it. But, if you ask me about the future, that suggests an end-point. While I set business goals each year, overall, I’d rather enjoy this journey we call life. Along the way, I wouldn’t mind shooting a project in Africa or a TIME magazine cover. Cory will be happy to know that I would love to produce and direct a feature film too.
Most of all though, I want to continue working with Cory. We share a similar sense of humor and have no problem telling each other like it is, even if it leads to an argument. I’ll consider us to have won if we continue to improve as we go. And, because we always create work that has a point of view, I’d love to put something out there that changes people’s perspectives.
A Vision Through Ingenuity
Comedy has been a mainstay in my life since I was little. As a kid, when I wasn’t begging to watch Saturday Night Live, aspiring to be like actor/comedian John Belushi or writer, Tom Robbins, I was creating humorous content, and I wasn’t alone. One of my best memories was when my friends and I created a show fashioned after Not Necessarily The News, with our version of fake news recorded on cassette tape.
I thrive with someone by my side. From opening a post-production house with a partner, teaming up with another person to make a movie, to my partnership with Neil, I’ve seen success with collaboration. And, it has always been in the name of making what I want to see.
How I came to make what I want to see:
I grew up in a family of go-getters, and doers. Financial circumstances dictated that both my parents earn an income, where they modeled hard work, dedication, productivity, and commitment — I was destined to make things happen.
My dad was a mailman who also owned an auto body shop; a side hustle that allowed him to tinker and fix. While he was orderly and systematic in his approach to projects, I looked at things differently. For me, process seemed too cumbersome. I value time and resourcefulness and both influence how I work. To complete a project, I either reverse engineer it or use trial and error.
While my mom was technically a “stay-at-home” mom, she made it her job to create. From making Halloween costumes, and craft projects to earning income as an upholsterer, I saw what it was to be an artist, someone who makes things, and how to pave my way.
Instead of hovering over me, my parents empowered me by providing structure and setting rules, with the expectation that I would follow them. I was independent, and confident always digging in like I didn’t have anything to lose. When I did fail or was in trouble, my parents were there when it counted. My mom modeled bravado, one time, dusting off her motorcycle, and making a show of loudly pulling up to my school to speak to the Principal.
My hometown of Keokuk, Iowa, had a population of 10,000 and declining. As a blue-collar town, jobs were becoming scarce. My parents worked all year to take us on a two-week vacation, giving us a tour of new towns, as if a preview of possibilities that didn’t exist at home. When it came time to move away — because it was a matter of when, not if — I left behind the factories, churches, bars, and big box stores that were quickly killing the town. In seeking new experiences and lured by the possibility of learning about paranormalism, I landed at the University of Iowa pursuing a degree in sociology and a minor in religion. Here was an opportunity to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be.
I have never shied away from trying something because I didn’t know how to do it. From my first job out of college, presenting myself as a coder while lacking a prerequisite computer degree, to working in post-production and finding clever ways to both do the job and learn on the go was easy enough. The notion of “let’s make it work” is in my blood. When an opportunity presented itself to bid a post-production job for a Tony Hawk DVD and start a company, my partner and I did just that — raised seed money, bought the necessary equipment, and got to work.
After having a successful business for ten years, the 2008 financial crisis hit, prompting the closing of my business and a pivot to something new. With my dad’s voice in my head saying, “what have you got to lose?” and a partner by my side, we funded, produced, and shot a movie — from beginning to end — securing a script and director, casting and shooting the movie, producing and selling it.
It was while in the midst of production, I saw for myself, all of the possibilities that photography brings — that you can capture the essence of a movie scene in one frame. When it comes to photography, my imagination guides me; prompting me to “make what I want to see.” But, I feel that ideas don’t officially exist until I figure out how to bring them to life. I want to maintain the integrity of the creative vision while working out the logistics separately. In my mind, they need to exist in completely different realms.
Because I have always worked my way through a problem, I want to be fully engaged in a project, eliminating the “what ifs”, bringing efficiency, no matter how it gets done. I can't feel good about the work until I can physically stand in the space and figure it out. I still have a habit of putting myself in the shoes of the talent, to determine what they might be challenged with and if an idea would work. And, I prefer to problem solve with someone by my side. Today, my partnership with Neil is central for me finding success as I view him as a continuation of my childhood thinkers and doers, spit-balling ideas.
In terms of the future, I view it as two distinct time periods: when I am much, much older, and the here and now. If decades down the line, I am hired to delve into travel photography, spending ten days in Greece documenting the vacation lifestyle, that I must also live, well, I won’t complain. If by chance I am on a remote Polynesian island and passing by a tiki bar that is for sale, I might end up buying it, renting out scooters, and making tourists’ drinks. All told, I’d prefer to let my future naturally happen, with a little bit of invention as I go.
As for the here and now, creatively, I do have a wish. I once made a movie, whetting my palate for directing. While I often play a watered-down version of a director on shoots with Neil, I would love to make a short film, directing it with the goal of honoring the artist and how it was originally written. In my dreams, this masterpiece would be non-commercial, with narrative-driven content, and funded via crowdsourcing. I’d need to get Neil on board with this wish too.
Being one half of a duo requires flexibility and having an open mind too. I’ve found through parenthood and my own marriage that these same things with Neil are worth the work. I've never enjoyed arguing with someone more than with Neil.
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