Photographer Matthew Jones isn’t afraid to get a little dirt under his fingernails or on his lens, gladly sacrificing his cleanliness and even his safety for the sake of his art.

“The closer I am to breaking my camera, the closer I am to getting the shot no one else has,” he says.

Mello Yello hired the up-and-coming, Atlanta-based photographer in 2016 to capture a library of images after coming across his Instagram handle, which included shots of rugged guys thrashing through the mud on “scrambler”-style motorbikes.

Fortunately for Jones, the scrappy project didn’t break a single camera. And fortunately for Mello Yello, it didn’t break the bank.

The team saw Jones’ style and subject matter as a perfect fit with the look-and-feel of the brand’s refreshed visual identity.

“Something about his photos and the way he captured people and moments struck me – there was grit and rawness, yet cinematic and beautiful,” said Michael Gluzman, former senior design lead for Mello Yello. “His work had the right mix of all the traits that fit the new Mello Yello positioning.”

According to Ashley Summers, former Mello Yello brand director, the citrus-flavored soft drink’s core target is a modern twist on “unapologetically real” men who embrace – but are not defined by – their working-class status.

“Salt-of-the-earth guys who might be millionaires, but also have a family farm,” she explained.

Photography for the new campaign – which would feature primarily in out-of-home and in-store advertising, and on social media – needed to capture this hybrid lifestyle. “We wanted to see callouses and tattoos,” Summers said. “We didn’t want anything pretty or posed. It had to be authentic.”

The Mello Team originally planned to simply use Jones’ photos as visual references to define a photography style for the brand, but Gluzman ended up meeting the now-29-year-old photographer through a mutual connection.

“Within a week, we were sitting down at a coffee shop in Atlanta and discussing the project,” Gluzman said. “And it became apparent to me that Matthew was the right photographer for us based on both his talent and awareness of the culture. He and his friends were embracing the lifestyle we wanted to capture. They walked the talk.”

Working on a tight budget, Jones recruited a few of his friends to serve as models for pop-up shoots at a local motorbike repair shop (owned by another friend) and the red clay-laden former Atlanta prison yard.

“What you see in the photos are real guys in their own clothes doing their own tricks,” Gluzman said, adding that Jones has since produced additional work for Mello Yello and glacéau vitaminwater.

Jones remembers the time he first saw the fruits of his labor on the “big screen” while driving home one night on the Atlanta interstate. 

“I’d just passed the 17th Street exit when I saw one of my shots pop up on the digital sign,” he recalled. “Then a little further up, at 14th Street, I saw another one on a billboard. That’s when I knew it was for real. There’s no greater feeling than seeing work you put so much effort into out in the wild.”