Tom thoughts

Wry humor paired with preposterous stock photos fuels a cheeky ad campaign for a luxury spa.

Emerson Place Spa and Resort was situated 80 some miles from New York City. Because of my background in fashion, and various connections into the New York fashion world, I was given the assignment to do a branding and ad campaign to catch the attention of the New York fashion world.


Emerson Spa ads

In order to set Emerson apart from most typical “luxury” destinations, I created an approach that was both familiar and fresh. Using old stock images, I paired them with sayings that highlighted an absurd explanation of the image, meant to elicit a smile from the viewer, as well as start them on a fanciful journey of their own.


This campaign never got to run because the spa burned down just as the campaign was to launch.

In 3 days, 1246 people wanted to show me their history.

The director of the Putnam Museum, Kim Findlay, met me at the American Alliance of Museums convention, and knew this would be an engaging experience for her guests, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the museum. She added he own twist, asking people to bring object of “historical significance” to them, to include in their photo. And, wow, did the people respond to that request. Old signs from past family businesses, tools of their trades, pictures and artwork, hobbies, past and present. When given the chance people wanted to show what they were about, and what made them unique.

A sampling of the images created for the event.

A sampling of the images created for the event.

Two of my favorites

Two of my favorites: L. Susan Mc Peters brought a photo of her in the crib when she was brought home from the hospital as a baby. There was a stuffed animal next to her in the photo. She brought that actual stuffed animal that she had kept over all her life. R. John C. Anderson brought the newspaper clipping about him swimming the Mississippi, handcuffed! He had the original handcuffs also.


She did extensive publicity on local TV and radio, and in the local newspapers. It obviously captivated people’s imagination because at the end of the 3 day event a total of 1246 people had been photographed!

At the end of 3 days, 1246 people were photographed.

Me photographing in the upper right.


The original space allotted to display people’s photos was filled by the second day, so new display space was added on the mezzanine.

The display had to expand into the mezzanine.



As with all my ONE by ONE Community Portraits the “community portrait wall” proved to be a captivating display for visitors.  

People captivate by the community portrait wall

“The images are still up on our walls two years later. They are so popular that we can’t take them down!”

-Christina Kastell
Curator of History and Anthropology
Putnam Museum and Science Center



After the event the museum used to images to announce to the world their anniversary, and the unique close connection to their guests.

Images displayed outside the museum.


See more about this, and other ONE by ONE Community Portrait experiences at the dedicate website here.

Before the internet a store concept that simplified a woman’s shopping experience.

The internet changed everything about shopping. But before it was ubiquitous, I, along with my partner Deborah Exum, came up with a store concept as a way to shop for a woman who was interested in fashion, but with family and work obligations had little time to actually shop. See what we did to RETHINK shopping.

MYA ads

How many clothes really need to be in a store

From my time with The Limited stores, and my “chapter 5 experience in retailing, I knew that clothing presented as outfits sold better than individual items. Working with merchandise expert Dennis Horstman, we crafted a complete collection of a wardrobe using 20 items.

In MYA store, how many items?

In MYA store, how many items?

Focus the customer

To focus the customer on our offering we redesigned the typical mall store to have 15 complete different outfits clustered in the “3rd window”/AKA the front of the store. Even walking by, a woman could scan our offering and see if something caught her eye. If she was interested enough to come in to the store, information tags told her what items made up that outfit. Those individual items were clearly displayed on the nearby wall, with additional colors to offer the customer more selections.


Mya store layout

Mya store layout

MYA merchandise identification system

MYA merchandise identification system


Acceptance of the concept.

Focus groups we did gave rave reviews for the concept. Mary Lou Quinlan, who had been CEO at N. W. Ayer Advertising, then led a woman-centered marketing agency JUST ASK A WOMAN, singled out the concept with the quote, “No other store talks to women this way.”

MYA no other store talks to women this way

What happened to it

Timing. Our first store was set to open in Spring of 2002.The terror attack of 9/1/2001 essentially stopped any new business concepts while we all readjusted our priorities. Our backers decide that they would not be willing to test this concept in that environment, so MYA never got to see the light of day and be tested.

I still believe it would have revolutionized shopping. But then that was just before the internet started to be the tidal wave that would truly revolutionize shopping.

By |2022-09-02T12:24:59-05:00July 26, 2022|5th chapter, rethinking retailing, Tom thoughts|

I can guarantee that your company group photo will never be obsolete.

I was inspired by the Richard Avedon photos of Pentagon officials during the 60’s. That sparked me to use the individual photos I’ve been taking of executives and create a group of them in my computer. I loved the result, but then I realized there was another, more opportune us for this method.

Richard Avedon group photo

Richard Avedon group photo







An endlessly adaptive group photo

With this method I could create a group. I could create a group with just some of the members. I could create different configurations of the same group.

Merrill Lynch group 3 different configurations

Merrill Lynch group 3 different configurations

The REALLY golden use

The BEST THING I realized is that I could add or subtract people from the group! If a company added a person, I could add them to the group. If someone left, I could delete them from the group. All with a click of my mouse.

Steps to create a "never obsolete" group

Steps to create a “never obsolete” group

OK, it’s not quite that easy

No, anyone can’t take a number of full length shots of people and throw them together. It takes me a while to adjust everyone’s position, slightly forward or slightly back, to make it look like they really are standing together. And height! That’s so important because when I have a photo of a person on a white background I have no reference as to how tall they are. I’ve developed a method where I have a reference point recorded in the original photo which tells me how tall anyone is.

Here’s a few examples, but there is a whole section on my website, here to see more versions.

This works for families too

Oh yes, this works for families too. I’ve done several using this tehnique, including one with 29 people.

Family group photo

Family group photo

Museum uses photos of over 300 of their guests, created during my ONE by ONE Community Portrait event, to populate an entire branding campaign.

On the 3rd of July I got a call from Mary Beth Smith, Director of Marketing for the Oakland Museum of California. They were throwing a museum wide party to kick off their 50th anniversary, and she wanted me to capture as many portraits of their guests as possible, for use in the accompanying branding campaign. 

Only catch was, the event was NINE DAYS AWAY! No problem. Loaded up all the gear and got on a plane to Oakland a week later!

Big event was setting for my Community Portrait

Big event was setting for my Community Portrait

Working with their design agency, Image Design Works, I tried to explain what they’d get, saying I would provide them “over 300 photos” to use for their branding campaign. Their creative director replied, “Our photographers always give us 300 or more photos.” “No,” I corrected her, “we were going to give her over 300 photos of 300 DIFFERENT PEOPLE!!!’

Later, during the actual photographing she came to me and apologized, and said she had never seen a photographer capture so many great photos of people so quickly.

Photographing over 300 guests in one evening

Photographing over 300 guests in one evening

I shot the photos in color, for their branding campaign, but delivered black and white prints to the subjects, and for the wall.

Photographed both in color and black & white

Photographed both in color and black & white

I came back two months later to do a follow-up Community Portrait and I was amazed by how far reaching the branding campaign was. Street banners, subway posters, website, video, a picture filled brochure. The images seemed to be everywhere, which provided me with quite a fulfilling thrill.



Here was and organization who found use for the immediate community building results of the photos and the “wall,” but extended their value by asking the subjects if the museum could use their photos for the branding campaign. Everyone wholeheartedly agreed, so the museum ended up with this extensive library of photos that underscored the museum’s mission of being “the museum of the people.” 

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