When you receive your L.L. Bean summer catalog in the mail this week, Randal Ford hopes you will pay close attention to the cover.

Ford, a Texas-based photographer, re-created the classic cover illustration from spring 1956 during a long and difficult photo shoot at Acadia National Park last fall.

It shows a father returning to camp with a tired girl on his shoulder and a couple of bass dangling from a line. He proudly displays his catch with an outstretched arm and a goofy smile, hoping to fend off a volley from his wife, who appears none too happy that he has come back to camp under the stars.

“I just want people to stop and notice the details,” Ford said by phone from his home in Texas. “Not everyone will notice the time that went into it, but I wanted to create an image that gets people to stop and absorb the story that is going on and the details of the shot. I want people to stop and look, stop and smell the photograph.”

The Freeport-based retailer hired Ford to re-create four of its classic illustrated catalog covers, dating from the 1930s to the 1960s, as part of its 100th anniversary celebration. The first cover came out in January, featuring a grandfatherly figure fishing in a stream with his grandson.

The second, the summer catalog, also has a fishing theme. The third and fourth will be out in July and November, respectively.


L.L. Bean opted to re-create the four covers as a way to pay homage to the original illustrations and to connect the store’s illustrious past to what it hopes will be a long and vibrant future.


L.L. Bean traditionally has hired artists, oftentimes Maine artists, to paint illustrations for its catalog covers. That tradition began with the earliest catalogs, and continues today as a way to link the outfitter with Maine’s rich tradition of art and culture. The paintings generally project inviting images of Maine and the lifestyles of people who spend time outdoors.

The four special covers will tell stories and convey images and values at the core of the retailer’s mission, said L.L. Bean’s creative director, Marcia Minter of Portland. They were chosen carefully, and reflect four of the most popular catalog covers over time, she said.

“L.L. Bean is not just about selling stuff. L.L. Bean is also about a set of values,” Minter said. “In each of these covers, you get a sense of those values. There is an element of family portrayed in every cover, of getting outdoors with your family and the special moments that happen when you do that.”

The retailer is holding back information about the other covers, because it wants to surprise folks on its mailing list. It hopes to create a sense of anticipation and wonder with the campaign.


“All the covers that we chose have a wonderful story to them and an element of wit,” Minter said.


Minter, Ford and their creative associates went to great lengths to get the images just right. Three of the photo sessions were held at Acadia National Park. The fourth, for the main holiday catalog, due out in early November, was shot at Sugarloaf. In each instance, L.L. Bean went into its archives to get authentic clothing and props.

For the first cover, from 1933, the smoking pipe in the mouth of the grandfather figure was the pipe of L.L. Bean himself, Minter said. The hip waders came from eBay, and the boy’s outfit came from the costume shop of the Metropolitan Opera.

The clothing in the current cover is more up to date, with a clean, classic look. The fishing rod, like the rods in January’s cover, are from the store’s archives. The other props in the shot — a cooler, a lantern and a tackle box — came from the archives and other sources.

Ford, known for creating classic Americana photographs, said every detail in the image is vital.


“The biggest challenge is that what we are working from is a drawing and not a photograph,” he said. “Sometimes, drawings are not representative of reality, so we have to create that reality photographically. That brings in the challenges of finding the right locations, the right wardrobe and the right talent that can get into that role. Paying attention to all the little details is what brings it all together.”

The biggest challenge was finding just the right expression for the model portraying the mom. Her hands on her hips suggest she is a little angry that her husband has returned home so late, and her eyes make it clear that he is about to get his wrist slapped.

The husband has a chagrined look on his face, as if to say, “I brought the fish home, so don’t be mad, honey.”

It’s easier to express those emotions in a painting than with a photograph, Ford said.

“The person we are working with is a human being and not someone drawn in a painting. I had to sit down the talent and talk about their role and talk about the story,” he said.

“I talked to the model about how she is back at camp, worried about her husband, worried about her daughter, but at the same time knowing that they were probably OK. I told her I wanted the expression to have a little bit of humor to it, but I did not want it to come across as sexy. She is a gorgeous model, and I wanted it to feel more family-oriented.”



For the first cover, Minter hired actors associated with Portland Stage Company. She worked with the theater’s marketing director, Carole Harris, to find an older man and a young boy.

Typically, L.L. Bean works with modeling agencies, but that seemed inappropriate for aspects of this project, Minter said. “I wanted character actors with faces who would look the part,” she said.

The man portraying the grandfather, Evan Thompson, played Scrooge in a production of “A Christmas Carol” a few years ago at Portland Stage. The boy is Nolan Smith, a young actor.

The principals in the summer catalog are professional models “that you have seen previously in the pages of our catalogs,” Minter said.

The holiday catalog offered a different set of challenges. Ford and the crew spent a cold and snowy day at Sugarloaf in February to execute that shot.


The temperature was 6 below zero when the day began.

“I am from Texas, so it felt even colder to me,” he said, laughing. “We had hand warmers taped around the cameras to keep the batteries warm.”

Ford called this project “a dream assignment for a photographer. It’s taking these old, retro paintings and reinterpreting them. They have this classic, timeless Americana feel to them.

“To take them and do it in my own photographically,” he said, “has been a really cool opportunity.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes


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