Join Nick Onken for an in-depth discussion in this video Building a visual brand with Pencils of Promise, part of The Creative Spark: Nick Onken, Travel and Lifestyle Photographer.
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Adam Braun: Pencils of Promise is a non-profit organization, and we build schools in the developing world. A friend of mine was out in Los Angeles. He was working for a company and Nick shot for his company for the day. And afterwards, they were talking and Nick was explaining how he had some interest in working with different non-profit organizations. And my friend emailed me and said you've gotta meet this guy, Nick Onken. Nick, meet Adam. Both of you are young people and you're doing really interesting things. I thought, okay. And then my friend emailed me right after, but it was just to me.
And he said, by the way, you really have to meet this guy Nick. He's on his way to becoming one of the top photographers in the world. And he joined myself and our first staff member on the ground in Laos where we were breaking ground at the time on our second school. And he rode on a motorbike all around the country with me for six days and shot all of our initial imagery, which is now these really beautiful kind of iconic images that have helped Pencils of Promise grow as quickly as we have. Okay, so in three weeks is when I go down to Guatemala, and we'd love to have you come with us, and this is kind of the next step for the organization.
You know, our third country, but, you know, we haven't really been able to show to anybody what we're doing in Guatemala yet, because we haven't brought down anybody with significant ability to capture. And so really, what we want you to do is capture the sense of the Guatemalan people of Lake Atitlan which is the region we'll go to, where the schools are being built. And the kids in particular. I mean, I've seen you with kids in the field, and they respond to you in a way that just, they don't respond to most people. So I think one of the reasons why I know I and everybody on our marketing side of things is psyched to get you down there, too, is because thus far you've seen how quickly we've grown, and a lot of it over and over and over again, gets brought up is the strength of the brand, and how we've been able to kind of bring in design and visual aesthetic, and your photography has been a huge part of that.
And so, like, for example, obviously, our marketing brochure, people flip out about. And you know, right away they just, you know they know it's beautiful. And you know this is kind of our biggest selling tool. I mean, when I go to meetings, this is all I have with me is just this. And every photograph in here is just a knockout. Nick Onken: I don't even think I've seen this. Oh nice! Adam: This is the new one. We just finished this a week ago. Adam: I mean, these are all your pictures. So, we're now doing the Pencils of Promise, like, picture of the day. that we'll release through Twitter or Facebook to 200,000 people.
But I think not only do we want to kind of capture your aesthetic and expand the imagery past Laos, but for example like, right now, when I go to a meeting, I'll bring my businesscard. And this is hands down my favorite part of meeting somebody is I know, as soon as I give them my business card they change. Adam: They physically change in front of me. Nick: Wow. Adam: Because--and I've learned this over time-- I hand people my business card this way and it's no--so here's all the information, right? Nick: Yeah. Adam: That somebody actually needs.
Adam: But when I hand somebody my card this way and they look at it, it's yellow and says name and executive, they literally just, "Oh, okay, all right, great, thanks so much." Adam: but now I hand people it that way, Nick: Yeah, it's awesome. and they immediately stop and they consume the picture. And they most of the time will go oh, she's so beautiful or oh, she's so cute. And then they, they, you know, the conversation literally stops. They observe the business card. Then they flip it over. And then they kind of digest it. And they're thinking about me and about Pencils of Promise changes, right away. Nick: That's awesome. Adam: And they just go, wow, you guys have Adam: really just great branding.
And when I put these together, and it's same imagery, the same, you know? Immediately, I think we're able to convey that. And so what I want to do is take it up another level with this trip and start to get like different kind of branded imagery that can have the same iconic--within Pencils of Promise-- that iconic image for Central America. So almost like having multiple cards with multiple kids, and this way-- Nick: Yeah, well, that's good for me to know. Because that's something to think about when we go into it, as far as, like, kind of finding those--I mean maybe we pull, and do special portraits of people.
Adam: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I had actually forgot about that, but I remember the portraits that we did in Laos. Like those are, that's the photography on our walls at this point in the office. And when people see it, I mean, they just, they get the organization. Adam: It's helped us grow a lot, and so. Nick: This image is so hero. It's like you see it everywhere, it's awesome.
Nick was originally educated as a graphic designer but ultimately found that making images with a camera was more fulfilling—and you can see that he didn't leave his design skills behind when he picked up the camera. We follow Nick around New York City as he meets with Cosmopolitan's photo editor, photographs a fashion model, and returns to his home in Brooklyn to share his story with us. We also meet the founder of Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit organization that builds schools in underdeveloped countries, and uses Nick's photographs as the centerpiece of its fundraising efforts. Then we're off to Guatemala to watch him create his magic.
Nick shows us how he has evolved as an artist and how the business of photography has changed—for example, using an online portfolio as opposed to the traditional "book" that art directors review. He's energetic, motivated, and talented. We've captured him for the lynda.com Creative Spark series but it was no easy task getting him to sit still.