Todd Selby and The Selby are Red Hot

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Todd Selby Photo by Backyard Bill

Todd Selby Photo by Backyard Bill

Todd Selby is the talented young photographer behind a website dedicated to documenting interesting people, their creative spaces and their stuff usually in New York, London and LA. It seems to have hit a critical mass online recently with a mention in the NY Times (here) and all kinds of design blogs (here, here, here and here).

Todd has really found an underserved market in media and he stands to reap the benefits of not only by becoming known as a photographer who shoots creative interiors but also for serving an audience who’s hungry for this type of photography and any collateral he can come up with to go along with it. It’s quite inspiring to see someone forge a new path and then actually begin to see serious traction. I asked Todd a couple questions about it:

How did The Selby get started?

I have been thinking a lot over the past two years about wanting to work on a photo related art project that I could do on my own and distribute on the internet. When I started taking pictures professionally seven years ago I did my first portfolio solely of photos of my friends in their homes combined with a few still-lives of their possessions. It was a natural shift to just take that work and put in on the internet. From there the concept has evolved and I have started adding new elements such as paintings, videos and hand written photo captions and interviews.

It’s completely blown up online and even made an appearance in the The NY Times. Does that translate into assignments for Todd Selby or just calls from people who think they have a cool place?

Yes, I have been getting a lot more calls from magazines, tons of interest from advertisers as well as home and fashion brands contacting me directly. I also get a lot of emails from people around the world showing me their homes and their artwork.

Any thoughts on getting pigeon holed into the guy who shoots those hip interiors?

No thoughts of that until you just mentioned it. Ha, Ha.

How do you know The Cobra Snake? Do you know The Face Hunter? Any thoughts overall on the popularity of this type of documentary photography?

The Cobra Snake is an amazing photographer as well as a marketing and business genius who’s 5 to 10 years ahead of most photographers. He helped me realize the importance of distributing your work as widely as possible and building up content that is really interesting. I think this is something you already know as well Rob. This is a tumultuous time for photographers, and I believe that the people who are going to really succeed are the ones that think outside the box and really forge their own path directly to the consumers of photography. Cut out the middlemen, do it yourself and get it out there. That is Cobra Snake’s DIY ethic which has directly inspired me to do The Selby project.

Is there ever an end to a project like this?

I dont think it will end, it is too much fun.

Do you have anything else you’re working on?

I am working on doing more of my watercolor paintings and editing photos for an upcoming show and book release which will be at Colette in April 09. Also I am producing some extremely limited edition clothing, jewelry and art collaborations for sale on my online store, Also look out for shows in Tokyo, Los Angeles and New York for 2009.

There Are 29 Comments On This Article.

  1. todd huffman

    TheSelby is cool, and I dig seeing creatives types in their domains, but the future of photography is Cobrasnake? Online point-and-shots of harry guys @ Williamsburg backyard bar-b-qs funded by the sale of ironic t-shirts seems like something I want to get past, not look forward to, sorry. Its like those phat pants from the early 90s that won’t go away. Total bummer dood.

  2. The future is finding an audience of people who dig your photography. That includes Art Directors, Photo Editors and yes even consumers who live in Williamsburg.

  3. I’ve been a fan of Todd Selby’s really and simple portraits for a while. Glad to see this new project has brought him success. A shelter photographer I work with told me a while back that interiors are the new fashion photography and Todd’s project is proving that to be true.

  4. Todd’s a good hypester but I can’t say I’m a fan of the flat lighting look and I concur about Cobrasnake. I can’t tell any difference between his work and lastnightsparty or any other hipster kid with a point and shoot and drunk 20-something friends.

  5. it’s becoming more evident to me that the problem with photography today is not the lack of talent among shooters, but the twisted artistic judgment of so-called art directors and photo editors; the keepers of the gate so to speak.

    first there was actual publication and praise of that (expletive) fashion spread by Juergen in W magazine, now praise of point and shoot party pics being labeled as documentary photography. WOW!

    when did mediocrity and poor quality become the new standard? And we wonder why media is is in economic collapse?

    • @Tim,
      you clearly missed the point of a website that cuts out AD’s and PE’s to reach the audience.

      Regardless, I’ll take interesting subjects over interesting lighting any day. So will most consumers.

      • @A Photo Editor,

        Actually, I didn’t miss the point. In fact, I applaud Selby finding a direct audience for his work. That’s something I’m sure to which we all aspire. My issue is not with Selby’s work. I don’t have a problem with his work, but with a growing trend of poor quality images receiving critical acclaim among ADs and PEs. In most cases, the public thinks something is good when a ‘qualified’ person says it’s good. It’s like a bad song becoming a hit because it’s played on the radio 50 times a day.

        “Interesting subjects,” is subjective and that’s the beauty of art. However, there should be minimum standards of quality. I believe that those standards being lowered plays a large part in the devaluation of photography among the public. Anybody can take snapshots.

        In my humble opinion, the standard should always be the combination of interesting subjects captured with technical quality.

        A case in point is the collection of images of Barack Obama in his suite on election night. An extremely interesting subject capture in nothing more than snapshots.

        • @Tim,
          You missed the point in that you’re using a post about Selby to rant about point and shoot photography which is silly because the technique has already been accepted by everyone as welcome relief to lifeless technical perfection. It’s just as difficult to produce compelling point an shoot photography as it is to achieve high technical quality so I don’t see how it contributes to the economic collapse of media. The same low quality argument can be made by writers against blogging.

          • @A Photo Editor,

            Once again, I don’t mean to sound like an indictment against Selby and I applaud him finding his niche. But since the point and shoot craze is a part of the subject, I felt it appropriate to comment on that aspect as did others before me.

            This craze has NOT been accepted by everybody as, once again, evident by other’s comments. As a photojournalist, I’ve been capturing, ‘real life’ my whole career. Technical quality has always been a standard that seems to be fading with the point and shoot trend.

            But hey, if someone has the ability to market his work to an audience and become successful at it, more power to him. We’re all on that journey.

            Some people have more appreciation for the fine art of jazz, others are heavily into acid rock and gangster rap. I’ll stick with the jazz.

            • “Technical quality has always been a standard that seems to be fading with the point and shoot trend.”

              Should Robert Capa’s pics of the landing at Normandy be discarded because of “Technical quality?” I agree with PE, make sure you get a compelling picture, technical quality or no.

              We’d be without so many of our iconic images if we all worried about image quality all the time.

              Often point and shoot is just another aesthetic experience, use it if you like it, leave it if you don’t. Put it in the toolbox for a later date if you think it may come in handy. It can be achieved on any camera and can be just as difficult to reproduce in certain situations.

              Good photography is all about providing the audience with something compelling, whether it stacks up technically with your standards or anyone else’s is completely subjective.

              Good on ya, Todd Selby, Cobra Snake, Terry Richardson, Pawin Susilavorn.

      • @A Photo Editor,

        And I’d rather see an interesting way of shooting something banal (think: Lee Friedlander, Martin Parr, Juergen Teller) than a boring way of shooting something interesting, if contrived.

        I definitely agree with Tim about the combination of subject + technique (think: Arbus).

        I’m not saying the lighting makes the image, but the point of view of the photographer does, and it just ain’t here.

        Of course this is all subjective – that’s the point – but I’m saying his style (or lack thereof) doesn’t interest ME, nor does Cobrasnake and that whole gang of kids. It’s a lot like reading about something interesting in language fit for a stereo user manual.

        • @ mr dude,

          i understand some of what you’re saying about the technique — a softbox on either side of the camera, set to the same power, and just blast away, is not my cup of tea either.

          but let’s not miss the larger point here — in my opinion, this guys is carving out the beginnings of creating his own “brand”. i see this very similar to The Sartorialist; this Selby guy is like the Apartment version of The Sartorialist.

          consumers are not looking at the lighting ratios. consumers are looking at the content. and what they see here, they like. i could see this guy really evolving over time. he gets the big picture, in that, it’s really about what’s IN the picture, rather than what camera it was shot with, or how it was lit. Look at the overall culture snapshot mentality going on right now; no one cares about the technique. they just wanna see how people live, and how people dress. i’m not passing a value judgement on it, because it doesn’t interest me that much either, but don’t discount the power that this approach has, to build a brand, and to really capitalize on this approach.

          the stuff is also real, which is kinda refreshing, compared to all the overly-retouched stuff you see on the shelf lately. his stuff feels honest and fun, which to me, is a bit refreshing.

          again, think about it from the consumer standpoint — not from the photographer standpoint. (however, if he upped the ante slightly, with his technique, i think he’d blast off).

          this guy, to me, is photographer 2.0. he gets it about creating a niche. people will remember his name, whereas they’ll forget 99% of the photographers who haven’t carved out a unique approach. i also think this appeals to a female in general, and we all know that advertisers want females; they spend the money. appeal to females, and you’re on your way to success.

          • @Reader,
            “i see this very similar to The Sartorialist; this Selby guy is like the Apartment version of The Sartorialist” as well.

            And both seem to tap into the reality-tv voyeurism — “why were they picked?, are they cooler than me?, they are! I want to be their friend!”

            This is the American consumer, which ADs and CDs are somewhat at the top of the consume chain and thus arbiters or what should be eaten.

            If you can feed them for a few seasons you can retire!

            Where’s RW on this?

            • @ Christopher Wise,

              In terms of branding, it’s about branding CONTENT, instead of how most photographers think about it, which would be branding a STYLE of shooting. You think Guy Bourdin — you think ringlight. You think Roversi — you think BW 8×10 Polaroid. Style issues.

              But with this Selby guy, or The Sartorialist, it’s about What’s In Front Of The Camera. It’s about their Content.

              And it’s about taking what they’ve created, and really being able to capitalize on it, whether from assignments from ad agencies, or editorial jobs, or even YouTube videos. Check this story today in the Times — this guy making real money producing videos for YouTube, (where YouTube partners with the producer and shares ad money).


              It’s about taking charge of your life, and about changing the photographer’s life of waiting for the phone to ring.

              I think about it this way: If you could take what you do, and make a TV show about it, you’re on to something. Sartorialist, yes; Selby, yes; hell, even Hobby with The Strobist would qualify.

  6. different strokes for different folks… some niche of clientele will find this appealing, and naturally someone will rise up to market to them. Is it a fad? Probably…and what isn’t? There may or may not be much money to be made marketing to this segment, but who cares? Be young and have fun.

    My clients tend to sell products that cater to older, wealthier people. I don’t think they’re going to be heading in the cobrasnake any time soon with their marketing. From a technical standpoint – they get out the rulers to make sure the lines on the furniture are straight enough in the shot…. its very demanding from a technical standpoint, and that will always be in vogue, somewhere.

    I like this Selby fellows stuff. Nice and fun. As for the “interiors are the new fashion” idea, I see this as being good ole environmental portraiture… and thats been around quite awhile :)

  7. Scott Rex Ely

    It’s refreshing to see photography that’s not the perfect verticle 6×7 format with room at the top for the cover logo and copy.

  8. There are a lot of bitter people in the photo world, a lot of people who are more concerned with not liking the Cobrasnake that making their own quality work. The kid is killing it, shot over a dozen ad campaigns this summer, has his own talent agency. What were you doing when you were in your early 20s?
    Start something of your own, please.

  9. The point is, these guys are creating their own fan base, independent of magazines and established media outlets, and that’s a great way to get a career off the ground. In fact, that’s how I started getting paid gigs in a market that didn’t value photography. I built a fan base, and those fans created value for electronic music promoters.

    Quality and technique is great, but in the end, it’s about what real people like to see. Quality is very subjective. For me, it means photographing people in ways that I find compelling, maintaining low noise, and using light and color to enhance the subject. To somebody else, it might mean a more candid documentary approach using only available light.

    I personally hate the look of on-camera flash techniques, but I love the energy captured in Cobrasnake’s photos. I also happen to really enjoy The Selby portraits.

  10. It is interesting this whole branding idea and photography. I guess it comes down to how one wants their work to be viewed in the long run. In the long run does creating a brand for your photography decrease its artistic merit and value? Can a photographer create a brand and then sell “limited edition” prints to keep the artistic value there?

    • @Grant, All photographers have a brand whether they know it or not (assuming they’re well-known). People have a natural tendency to categorize you and your work. I know the artist in all of us hates that, but if you’re a smart photographer, you take control of your brand and shape it to drive your career in the direction you want it to go.

    • @Grant,

      Karsch of Ottowa, Weegee the Great, Stieglitz, K√§sebier, etc. were all brands, whether they would have chosen to call themselves that or not. It’s part of the shameless self promotion every photographer does.

      Not to mention the all time grandaddy of all photographer brands, AVEDON (even his collateral was as consistent as any other “product” – the BIG block type, linen-covered hardcover books, studio letterhead, letters written on a rickety manual typewriter). So iconic. Probably the best photographer branding ever.

      • @dude,

        also ann geddes ( would take the cake in any category of branding.
        are Arbus coffee mugs next?

  11. oh shit…all is lost?????????????????????
    ART? His work is now considered art? His work is mediocre at best.
    Nice ironic kitty cat shirt though…H e looks like some magazine cubical worker who finally got the confidence to become a photography because of the advent of digital….feel sorry for you all…branding yourselves silly……I want out now!
    In the mighty words of Capa..”if your work isn’t good enough , your’re not close enough”…that’s what I get from looking at The Selby…who calls themselves that anyway??????? He doesn’t know light, he doesn’t know composition, he knows the blog…style over substance…..