Success Stories : : Ron Berg Shoots for New York Magazine
Posted on 3rd June 2016 by Austin Gould

Photographer: Ron Berg
Sr Photo Editor: Roxanne Behr
Photo Editor: Raydene Salinas
Photo Editor: Rory Walsh
Line Producer & Casting Queen: Melissa Dean
Ron’s Rep & Casting Princess: Andrea Donadio
Location Scout: Dan LaBorde
Tech/Grip/Casting & Flirting: Steve Gibson
Casting Gentleman: Brian Gladowski
Tech/Grip: Nate Spicer
Grip/PA: Josh Elam
Client: New York Magazine

Success Stories is a blog series where we talk to artists on Dripbook about their recent successful projects, providing industry insights from top creative professionals.

Continuing with this series, we hear from Ron Berg, who was contacted by NEW YORK MAGAZINE to revisit a personal project that focused on the Kentucky Derby that he had first undertook back in 2012. The DERBY, Bourbon, & Kentucky culture were imbedded into his Missouri farm-boy psyche decades ago when he met his KY bride and her family. After attending his first Derby several years ago, he was curious why no one had done any official documentation of the Derby Fashion & Hats.

Of course there were red carpet and grandstand snapshots.... but Ron thought someone needs to document the spectacle of it all. “I am intrigued by it all. After some research I was unable to find any efforts to document / celebrate the Derby fashion. Sure there are snapshots galore but nothing extensive,” he says. So Berg made it his mission to document Derby Fashion for a new book project. Having had such an amazing time in 2012 that yielded such great results - Ron has always entertained the idea of returning. So when NY Mag asked him to go back to the 142nd running of The Derby this year he jumped at that opportunity to further document the fun hats and the amazing characters beneath them.

Ron’s approach is not that far different than Avedon’s American West. Although isn’t it always about how you make it your own? There was no staged composition or posing, no huge set up - the street studio was a simple white muslin backdrop and the lighting is a mixture of the ambient light and strobe lights. Ron tried to evaluate each person or group that he saw and photographed them differently. “Some were meant to be taken seriously in a classical matter, some more graphically or fashionable, while some warranted a more fun, free-style party approach,” explains Berg. Then pray like hell for no rain, which is an usual common Derby weekend occurrence!

With the help of Dan LaBorde, a location scout there in Louisville, Ron was able to secure permission and a spot that was a crossroads of where people either enter into the wild and crazy track infield or where they continue on to the more gentile grandstands. Creating a perfect storm of the wild, the whacky and the very high society. The derby attracts more than 160,000 attendees a year and you may wonder how did he get all these people...? If it were not for the awesome crew Ron loves to work with, most of these images could of never been created. Especially his go to producer Melissa Dean (who helped out last go around) and his rep Andrea Donadio. They were both people wranglers extraordinaries, and didn’t look too bad in their hats to boot! While the male members of team Berg were super helpful and got some amazing subjects in their own right - after all it was a team effort for all to persuade, cajole and even hand walk over some of the more unsure subjects. “Most people were on a mission to get to the races. I literally would spend less than a minute with some of the people or groups. I got a rhythm down and really learned to be able to judge people quickly, act swiftly and shoot quickly,” he explains. “However a lot depended on how much Bourbon is figured into the equation!”

Ron’s team not only received visits from a few of the same people from 2012, he also got a visit from Miss Kentucky and Bram Weinstein, former ESPN SportsCenter host. They both had heard of the project. We gave everyone the ability to download them for free. Which everyone would ask what’s the catch? By the end of two days we photographed almost 300 people and approximately 80 of them made the 30 spreads that NY Mag ending up running. Which both NY Mag and Ron thought was twice the amount that would of originally ran. As NY Mag said, if you want to, “See The Most Gloriously Over-the-Top Kentucky Derby Street Style”... click here for the slideshow.

When people see these photos and who don’t know much about the Derby, they almost always say, “do all of these people really dress up like that?!” Then I tell them that 165,000 attend, more than the Super Bowl, and I only ever see a handful of people not dressed to the nines. They are usually surprised. It is truly quite the spectacle of fashion and hat eye-candy everywhere. Everyone Ron has known that attends for the first time is usually hooked. They are then planning their next Derby fashion and hat for the following year! Someday Ron would love to see this as immortalized another way, as a book.

Head here to see Ron's portfolios on Dripbook!