Tue, 15 Nov 2022 18:00:00 GMT
Rog + Bee are a multidisciplinary creative duo - and married couple - based in New York. Known for their immaculately crafted portraits of the likes of Solange, Pharrell Williams and LeBron James, and detailed, original visual stories, the artists use their photography and other mediums to pay homage to their communities and personal upbringings in immigrant households.
As well as specialising in various forms of visual storytelling, including editorial photography, studio portraiture, film directing, commercial, and documentary coverage, Rog + Bee are also highly sought-after thought leaders. The pair have used their art, workshops and editorial appearances to promote emerging Black talent, capture authentic Black voices, and invite honest dialogue about racial injustice - notably through the groundbreaking ‘The Legacy of Lynching’ exhibit at Brookly Museum of Art and through collaborations with The New York Times.
Earlier this year, the duo signed with HOUND, a music video and brand messaging creator, headquartered in Los Angeles. Saying that this new development helps to add context to the creatives’ work, allowing them to create more freely, this move presented the perfect opportunity for LBB’s Ben Conway to catch up with Rog and Bee and discuss their creative partnership so far.
“Working with HOUND allows us to focus on the story,” says Rog. “For a long time, we’ve had to do everything - all the production, all the reach-outs. While that’s helped us sharpen our skills and our eye, having a partner in HOUND allows us to be great in a focused way and allows us to grow to the place of being great.”
Judging by their existing catalogue of work, however, it might not be too far-fetched to suggest that Rog + Bee have already achieved greatness - an aspiration that must have felt worlds away when the pair first met 11 years ago. Meeting at a mutual friend’s event in downtown New York, they have worked together ever since - beginning their journey of photography and storytelling together almost immediately. Looking back, Bee says they met at a time when everyone in the scene was growing and finding their voices; her only regrets being holding onto insecurities… and letting go of her old camera collection.
“I found Rog to be so poised and well-dressed,” she says. “He was also super intense, spontaneous, and driven. All those impressions are still accurate.”
Also reminiscing on that time, Rog adds that - whilst instantly romantically attracted to his now-wife - he was intimidated at first by her intelligence, recently having enrolled in a PhD program at the time. This, in the end, would be no obstacle. “We’re at our best when we work together. My tendency is to step back and allow Bee to come to that place on her own. But I’ve learned that she responds best with a nudge, and it’s best for our partnership for me to lead in that way, rather than be afraid to make direct suggestions.”
Beginning as a personal relationship, the pair spent (and still spends) almost every minute together, sharing creative work and helping each other with projects. However, starting even before Rog proposed on the one-year anniversary of their meeting, all aspects of their lives, professional and personal, quickly became intertwined. “Even in our home life, I’m a father, a brother, and I don’t see those as separate areas of my life,” says Rog. “They make up the details of my whole life, and it’s the same with Bee. I don’t see a separation of our work and family. It’s all one thing, even if they happen at different times. It’s all just a part of our relationship.”
The first creative projects that the couple collaborated on included ‘Speaking Pixels’, a multimedia interview series featuring New York artists, and one of Rog’s photo interview series concepts, called ‘¡IDENTITIES!’. “We dressed up, travelled to interview fellow creatives, and took photographs in odd locations,” says Bee. “It was great. I loved chatting with the artists and getting a window into their lives. After that work, we started ‘Speaking Pixels’, which was our first true collaborative project.
When evaluating why they get along so well - despite having vastly different interests outside of visual art - both Rog and Bee bring it back to their similar upbringings. Bee says, “We are fundamentally in sync when it comes to our values and upbringing. We’re both foreign-born, from former British colonies, and Black immigrants in America. We had different experiences, but we share so many fundamental life perspectives.”
Now using their innate chemistry to their artistic advantage, the duo has worked across a variety of mediums, from photography to commercial directing to documentaries. “We work so differently depending on the project,” says Bee. “On stills, Rog is behind the camera and I’m art directing and directing the sitter. When we direct motion and have a DP, Rog stays close to the camera, and I’m between the talent and the client. We also produce and direct our own work where we wear all the hats.”
While Bee enjoys the structure of commercial work, Rog says that he is more drawn to documentary work and thrives in the creative freedom that comes with it. “Each of us are better in those spaces,” he explains, “so as a result, we defer to one another when we find ourselves in spaces where the other one is stronger… It’s just great to have someone to share ideas with. I don’t take in a lot of media, and Bee does, so she gives me insight into things I would have no idea about, which in turn feeds my creative process.”
Reciprocating this sentiment, Bee adds, “I like having a friend and a partner to work with. Directing requires so much decision-making. It feels good to be two minds and two sets of eyes on a project.”
Luckily, creative disagreements come few and far between for the pair, and are easily resolved through a simple conversation. With the conceptual lead having the final say on their own ideas, any disputes are quickly quashed, although Rog tends to avoid engagement and become more insular in moments of conflict. “He can either say things plainly or he won’t say them at all,” says Bee. “I sometimes push for feedback and then get my feelings hurt if it’s something I don’t want to hear. I’ve had to learn to still ask for his perspective and be open to his honest, direct communication style.”
Apart from - of course - their daughter, the collaborations they’re proudest of include a project they did for Google’s 2022 I/O conference and an audio-focused production called ‘Halfway North’.
Google - Monk
Bee: “For Google’s 2022 I/O Conference, we directed a piece on skin tone and AI that was a thrilling experience from start to finish. I loved working with our production team and crew. I felt that we were both in our element, and I’m really happy with the final spot.”
Rog: “The collaboration that makes me most proud is deeply personal to me. I’m most proud of ‘Halfway North’ which is not a visual work at all, but an audio story set to original music. I really enjoyed, in the midst of the pandemic, pulling people together and bringing people out of our individual homes to make this together. To make that was just a beautiful achievement and personally, hearing the stories moved me deeply.”
More recently, a project for Vaseline with a limited budget provided the duo with an interesting creative challenge, as they had to direct, take photography and do the art direction themselves, all from their small photo studio. Balancing these responsibilities with managing the agency voices and talent and producers on set, Rog + Bee overcame the restraints to create a film that won a Bronze Cannes Lion. “We brought the leanness, agility, and resourcefulness that we honed as independent artists to make a solid spot with limited time, space, and resources,” says Bee. “We secured a trusted DP and handled the bumps with grace. Rog is great at working with and around restraints, and he always has a creative solution.”
Representation of BIPOC people in the media and creative sphere has been a pressing topic, and with the industry calling more and more for diversity and authentic representation, Rog + Bee’s work stands out as an excellent example of Black talent creating award-winning work that also honours the creatives and people of colour that inspired them. This, however, is more a natural by-product of the pair’s creative output, rather than a conscious approach that they take, as Bee explains. “I just do my work, tell the stories that matter to me, and I let the industry stuff fall where it may. Whether I’m important to the industry or not, isn’t a factor that’s going to determine the stories I’m drawn to and want to tell. I’m focused on what I’m drawn to, being the best storyteller I can be, and accepting whatever comes from that.”
Referring to the painter Andrew Wyeth, Rog adds, “He was asked why he painted the Black residents in his community, and his quote was this: ‘I didn’t paint them because they were Black, I painted them because they were my friends.’ That’s what it comes down to for us. We meet people. We’re in a world. I grew up in a town where everyone was Black. I grew up around creatives of colour who were wanting to tell their stories. It’s about honouring the community that allowed me to explore myself, my identity and my interests. That’s why they show up in the work because they are the foundation for everything I am as an artist.”
Especially in projects involving celebrities, Rog + Bee’s work can put them in high-pressure moments. Never had this been so true than when they had the opportunity to photograph Solange Knowles’ wedding. Remembering the day, Bee says that photographing in an environment without much natural light was initially a struggle, but that she was eventually put at ease by the social interactions with the guests. “We photographed an intimate, family-only, pre-wedding event where I was able to document lighthearted, unguarded moments of the family in natural light, and that was my most exciting experience. I love knowing that they’ll have those photos forever. Some of my favourite moments were just connecting with other women in line for the bathroom. There’s nothing more equalising and casual than that.”
Because of the intense public attention that a celebrity wedding garners, Rog says that the pressure is unavoidable in such situations, although repeated exposure to the ‘fast and frantic’ scenarios helps to build somewhat of a tolerance. "The reason the wedding was one of the most exciting times for me was because of all the years of practice, running around on the street, flying through rolls of film, and documenting friends. It came to the forefront and allowed me to perform at my best even in a high-pressure situation.”
Outside of work - away from the busy, high-pressure creative world - Bee says that getting involved with her daughter’s imagination is a favourite way of relaxing and decompressing. Using building blocks, drawing, painting and reading are all parenting activities that Bee enjoys and clearly shows how the creative spirit certainly hasn’t skipped the next generation. For Rog, exercise has become a vital part of his self-care process, as well as audiobooks and mediation before bed.
Meditating on their career and partnership together, Rog parts with a lesson from his creative partner and wife that has influenced his journey to date. “I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from Bee is that the bus driver shouldn’t talk to me like that - a joke from comedian John Mulaney, which essentially boils down to 'respect yourself and demand that other people respect you as well'.”