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Beneath The Surface

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The marketing campaign for ABC Carpet & Home’s latest rug collection Alchemy proved to be a true adventure. Denna Jones reports on the subterranean project.

Mwah!’ That’s the sound a ‘cave kiss’ makes when it meets its bullseye. Clammy ‘kisses’ of water falling from cavern roofs are one of the perils of deep-earth exploration. Multiple unexpected ‘mwah!’ moments added a surreal layer to the novel experience of photographing ABC Carpet & Home’s new Alchemy Rug Collection marketing campaign deep within New York’s famous Howe Caverns.

When ABC Carpet & Home’s VP, Marketing & Creative Angela Gruszka and photographer Jason Madara conceived the Alchemy campaign, the hook developed from the collection’s materials—sheared wool and silk fibres gleaned from previous weavings. Marketing copy became an invitation to ‘experience the genesis of design’ and to ‘venture beneath the surface to the origin of influence’. From there an inspired decision was born. ABC abandoned the metaphor and instead literally ventured ‘beneath the surface’. Howe Caverns became the surrogate ‘birthplace’ of the sustainably-sourced rug collection, providing a backdrop in tune with the collection’s organic and elemental origins.

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A three-hour drive from ABC’s Manhattan HQ, Howe Caverns was discovered in the 19th century by a herd of cows. Observed to cluster around the same location on hot summer days, the cows’ owner Lester Howe discovered a hole expelling cool air. Deep beneath was a ‘living’ limestone cavern system. The site’s vast landscape—formed before dinosaurs roamed the earth—of lakes, rivers, tunnels and cathedral-sized limestone ‘rooms’ was developed into a tourist attraction.

Assisted by Howe Caverns staff led by Adam Shaw, Madara and Gruszka precision-planned the shoot like an expedition. Access was limited to out-of-hours which meant the two-day shoot began in the evening and ended well past midnight. Challenges beyond cave kisses included enforced knuckle-walking for those taller than 6’2” to avoid a cavern craniotomy, limited food and drink to avoid ‘nature’s call’ (no bathrooms), and litheness to navigate tight passageways while clutching expensive lighting kit.

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Six rolled rugs were packed into two deep-shaft elevators. Crew, staff, and equipment (including essential battery power packs) followed. Two sets of stairs were descended followed by a two-hour march into a subterranean landscape akin to Jules Verne’s fantasy novel Voyage to the Center of the Earth. The cavern’s uneven floor meant Shaw’s crew had to lay padding to make the rugs appear to lie flat. Madara shunned ambient exposure and instead lighted the cavern using lens filters to match and complement colours in the rugs and rocks. A ‘Winding Way’ passage no wider than a phone booth required the limbo prowess of Shaw and his team. In a prolonged ‘mannequin challenge’ they held light rigs and packed themselves in the tight passage while Madara photographed a rug around the corner.

The ‘Mwah!’ moments are just memory, but the outcome of the photoshoot lives on in a series of evocative shots. ABC’s bespoke washing process creates a silk-like watery sheen on the surface of each rug in the Alchemy Collection, an eternal reminder of wet cave kisses, Mother Nature, and the power of a genius marketing campaign.

All images: Wool and silk rugs from the Alchemy Collection, ABC Carpet & Home, shot at the Howe Caverns

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