Photo by Tom Stirling
Tom Stirling admits that he did not know anything about Biz Stone, co-founder of the social media titan Twitter, before this month. The name sounded familiar, as it should for someone who works in the web design industry, but it was no where near as recognizable to the Salem resident as names like Eva Longoria or Jaime Foxx.
What ties all of them together, the mega-stars, the media mogul and Stirling, the unassuming photography enthusiast residing on the North Shore, is a unique film project by Canon called Project Imaginat10n.
The project has five celebrity directors, including Stone, Longoria, Foxx, Georgina Chapman (designer and co-founder of Marchesa), and James Murphy (founder of LCD Soundsystem), under the guidance of Ron Howard, creating short films using 10 photographs handpicked by the directors for inspiration in one of 10 storytelling categories.
Photos were submitted into a contest by photographers from far and wide, and something about Stirling's photograph, titled "Stairwell Entity," caught Stone's eye after a public vote chose his photograph as one of 91 winners from an unknown number of finalists.
Stirling says that because of his web background -he works for Kaspersky Lab, an antivirus software producer based in Woburn - he was able to harness his knowledge of effectively using social media to gain votes, which the contest rules allowed.
The photo was chosen for the aptly titled "unknown" category, and in a short video clip, Stone discusses what it was about Stirling's photo that made him want to use it.
"It has this fantastical appeal to it, but also electric, and electricity, and the potential for creating fire," Stone said of Stirling's photo in a Youtube video. "There's just so many different things going on here."
In a recent phone interview, Stirling, a Scottish transplant who grew up in the small village of Bargeddie, a suburb of Glasgow, before moving to Massachusetts around the time that his father-in-law gave him a camera as a gift, detailed how he created the mesmerizing image in the foyer of his home on Daniels Street near Salem Common.
"You know those little [toy] helicopters you can get? Some of them, they have these, lights on them, so I was just flying the thing up and down the stairs and taking full exposure pictures of it, and it came out like that," Stirling explained.
That's right. Despite what one might think at first glance, there were no glow-sticks involved, and it was not a collaborative effort. Just for fun one night early this past February, Stirling attached his camera to a tripod, set a timer on it, and flew the helicopter erratically up and down his front stairs.
After some brief editing to layer the multiple photographs, he wound up with the image above.
"You can actually see where the light is bouncing off the wall and stuff, it was crashing all over the place," Stirling said. "I think if I remember I actually had to keep a shade over the front door to keep some of the streetlights out, they were kind of muddying the shot."
Stirling says he had seen T.V. ads for the contest, but didn't really consider submitting his photo until he noticed a banner ad for it on Youtube. Now he gets to look forward to rubbing elbows with celebrities in New York during the premier of Stone's film at the Imaginat10n Film Festival this summer.
He submitted it to Canon's contest website in July, and was informed in September that he was one of the finalists whose photograph could potentially be chosen by one of the celebrity directors.
In October, he found out that he had won $500 to purchase equipment from the Canon store as a prize, and a pair of tickets to the film festival in New York, about a month before receiving word that Stone had picked his photograph for one of his 10 inspirational photos out of 91 choices.
Stirling says that Foxx, Murphy and Chapman have yet to pick their 10 photos, and his could potentially be chosen again.
"My photo would be potentially used again and they would have a different take on it," he said.
The rest of the winning photos can be found here, along with information about the contest and the film project as a whole.
Stirling says that moving to a new country, along with the camera from his father-in-law, who is a lifelong photography enthusiast, helped get him into photography. He keeps a portfolio of his creative work, which also includes web design and graphics, online. He gained citizenship in the U.S. this past January.
"It was kind of like the change of scenery," Stirling said of what inspired him to foray into a new artistic medium. "And the fact that my father-in-law was really into taking pictures, and he was keen enough to give me some equipment to get me started."
Ryan Mooney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mooney_ryan.