"It's all of these things that represent who we are and what blood is and represents to the bike because he is the bike, the bike is him," Finlay explains. "So it's the personification of the individual and that's held in the essence of oil. I imagined it dropping onto the ground and splattering and then putting him inside that space because he is that space."
These are all individual works that Finlay says he couldn't duplicate. Some take him an hour to complete; others, he spends a couple of days on, depending on how elaborate the process becomes. Telling a story within a single frame this way allows the seasoned photojournalist to cover different territory, putting his head in a new creative space where he can push his boundaries. Finlay has documented the human condition with a kind of compassion, empathy and dignity that's hard to do when confronting the grim nature of war, conflict, famine and genocide. A searing collection of work showing what starvation looks like at a refugee camp in the Sudan is so jarring, it's a challenge to not look away.
He fuses the same intensity and passion for visual storytelling into his commercial work. Bringing a sense of realism to Madison Avenue, Finlay is known for applying his documentary approach to the advertising campaigns he shoots. While working on a project about disappearing father-and-son traditions, he was photographing gauchos in Argentina when clothing retailer Ocean Pacific took notice of his work and asked him to create the same type of imagery on the North Shore of Oahu with their clothes draping surfers and models. The project helped launch him into the popular "lifestyle advertising" genre.
Bouncing from, say, the "killing fields" of Cambodia to Frank Sinatra's house in Los Angeles for an ad campaign may sound like tough space to navigate, as Finlay admits when he recalls sitting in the legendary singer's old abode while looking at the fresh mud on his boots. But for him, this is just how he works. His very different worlds blend together, and that's his preference because in operating this way, he's constantly pushed, both creatively and technically, and so is the emotional range of his images.
When DPP caught up with him earlier this year, he had just returned from spending two weeks hanging out of a helicopter in Arizona to document a copper mine and was looking forward to shooting a new ad campaign, while cataloguing about 25 years of scans and discovering some long-forgotten work along the way. Add to all that the work he's creating for his blog, which is taking him in a whole new direction.
"Everything exists in the same creative spirit," he says. "A lot of the money that I do make in advertising really crosses back over into the documentary work, which characteristically is never that well funded, so one hand washes the other. The core of who I am is a documentary photojournalist, a guy who's going to be in the Arctic Circle photographing polar bears or hanging out of a helicopter over Lake Magadi. Thankfully, I can explore some of these new spaces creatively and photographically. I'm focused on everything."
Finlay's work has been featured by Vanity Fair, TIME, U.S. News & World Report, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Asia Week, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Communication Arts and Discovery. He has earned honors from the Lucie Award/IPA, POYi (Picture of the Year International), New York Art Directors, International Center of Photography, and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
To see more of Colin Finlay's photography, visit www.colinfinlay.com or www.colinfinlay.net.
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