Whether he's capturing the fury of a charging bull or finding a way to make a toothbrush scream "innovative," John Urbanek uses his camera to catch life's most interesting experiences that often go unnoticed. Being able to get just the right shot has garnered him an impressive client list across multiple industries and an intriguing portfolio of editorial work.
"I pursued most of my projects because I had no idea what they were about and felt the camera was the best way to explore these things," explained Urbanek. "The camera allows you to get side by side with the subject; you aren't just a spectator at that point, and you're connected.
"Most people wouldn't even think about going to a rodeo, but when you get to stand next to a 1500-pound anxious bull in a cage, that's what makes it worth all the while. I wanted to capture moments like that and make people realize that it's okay to get out of your comfort zone. There's stuff out there that'll blow your mind if you're willing to really experience it."
Urbanek is one of two photographers at Black, White + Color in Warren. The Detroit-based photographer has worked commercially with a wide variety of clients such as AC Delco, Ad Council, Carrier, Citizens Bank, Detroit Zoo, Hyatt at Home, Lamborghini, Magna International, Mazda, McClure's Pickles, Pelle Pelle, PNC Bank, SSOE Architects, United Cerebral Palsy, U.P.S. Store, United States Post Office and the U.S. Navy as well as several local advertising agencies. His photography has appeared in Essence, Autoweek, Metro Bride, Detroit Home, Hour Detroit, Car and Driver, Robb Report, Winding Road and Road and Track.
Before landing his big projects after graduation, Urbanek found his biggest challenge to be building a portfolio of samples that were a high enough caliber to lure in professionals in the advertising business. By networking and becoming a salesman for his art, he has found a way to turn a passion into a solid career.
“Ad agencies really are filled with some incredibly talented people,” said Urbanek. “So when you do get that job, and you contribute and combine your work with theirs, it’s an awesome feeling. It’s what makes all the trials and tribulations of landing a job worth it.
“I love meeting new people and facing the challenges that go along with every shoot. The art directors I work with are artists in their own right. Putting our heads together on a project is what drives me. I know that with our talents combined, whatever we’re doing, it’s going to be good! I also love the fact that this isn’t a 9-5 Monday through Friday job. It’s 24/7. Sometimes I even dream about how to make a shot better for the next day. My mind never stops working. Needless to say, I don’t sleep much.”
Through teaching continuing education courses, Urbanek has been able to give back to the College that provided him with such in-demand knowledge and experience. As a sophomore, Urbanek had the chance to begin assisting professional photographers, many of whom were his instructors, at their studios and on location nights and weekends.
“No other photo programs in colleges around Detroit offered opportunities like this—
where professionals took time out of their own careers to teach in the classroom and offer freelance paid assisting,” he said. “It was great to come back in the fall and tell my classmates how I got to travel to other states to assist on shoots during the summer. Plus, the photographers gave it to me straight. ‘KISS it (keep it simple stupid!),’ was one faculty member’s frequent quote. It still sticks with me today.”
- Graduation Year: 1999
- Major: Photography
- Employer: Black White & Color Inc.
- Title: Photographer
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