Several of my readers have asked me how you get started as a photographers agent. I put the question to Caol LeFlufy owner of LA based agency Eye-Forward who handles photographers Patrik Giardino, Sam Jones, Frank Ockenfels 3 and Christopher Wray-McCann.
APE: How did you get started as an agent? Walk me through the beginning of your career.
My brother and father were both amateur photographers growing up and I spent time in the darkroom with my Dad when I was very young. Then I studied photography in high school with an inspiring and encouraging teacher who I am still friends with. After high school I traveled taking pictures and then returned to Vancouver, Canada where I grew up and started working in a camera store and freelancing as a photographer. In that regional market I did a little bit of everything to stay alive but mostly did editorial portraiture. I started to work for national publications and was successful marketing myself as a West Coast photographer that the magazines could hire instead of flying someone out for assignments in the Western Provinces. After seven years of earning my living that way and also teaching photography at a local community college in Vancouver, I moved to Toronto to expand my business but with my sights really set on getting to NYC. I loved magazines like Vogue and Rolling Stone and I figured that sooner or later I would have to challenge myself on that level.
After some struggles in Toronto I started to feel like maybe taking pictures for a living was ruining my love of photography somehow and I started to think that I was a good photographer but not a great photographer. I began to realize that not every photographer is suited to being a working commercial photographer day in and day out. Then I was visiting friends in NYC one weekend and one of them was assisting Steven Meisel. On a Sunday night there was a call that Steven’s other assistant had put his back out and my friend had to find a new assistant right away for the shoot in the morning. I got the job, loved it and got a long with Steven, so he said if I wanted to stay around and assist I could. Being around a photographer of that level and working on shoots for the major magazines thrilled me. For a while I went back and forth to Toronto still shooting and then coming back to NY to assist.
Steven was represented by Art + Commerce and they represented Annie Leibovitz who was one of my heroes at the time. The agency was very small then and two of the three partners came to Steven’s shoots and I got to know them. Annie’s studio manager quit suddenly so I asked to be considered for the position and with their help and Steven’s I got the job. This was one of the most important work experiences of my career. I realized here that I loved the business of photography and could use my organizational skills as well as my other strengths and work with a photographer and not be one every day. I was thrilled and challenged in a way I had never been.
I began to work closely with Jim Moffat one of the partners of Art + Commerce on all of Annie’s jobs. After working for Annie for several years I went to Art + Commerce to be Jim and Anne Kennedy’s assistant. In addition to helping with them with all the photographers I started to produce Annie’ s American Express portrait campaign because there were no print producers in those days. After several years doing that I went to work for Outline Press to run the NY office and start a representational wing for the company. Outline had tremendous growth over those years in both the stock sales and the assignment work. Art + Commerce had been asking me to come back to be an agent so I eventually returned and brought Frank Ockenfels along with me from Outline. I worked at Art + Commerce for ten years as an agent representing Frank, Mary Ellen Mark, Taryn Simon, Ellen von Unwerth, Max Vadukul, Perry Ogden, Max Vadukul and Richard Burbridge. During this time I began teaching at ICP and actively collecting photography and photography books.
APE: What was it that made you realize it was time to start your own agency?
I moved to Los Angeles for personal reasons and that was why I started my own agency.
APE: For aspiring agents out there what are the essential skills to have? What things should they be working on?
The skills I think you need are in no particular order:
-A knowledge and love of photography – the history of etc. (seems obvious but you would be surprised…)
-Be an organized person
-An ability to multi-task
-An ability to solve problems and think outside of the box
-Good people skills and good communication skills
-Be a good listener and not just to the clients but to your artists (Some times you may feel like you are a therapist)
-Be an effective negotiator
-You have to be a pro-active person not a passive person
-You have to be willing to work hard.
-You have to really want to do it.
APE: This is going to sound insane but how do you land jobs for your photographers?
Hard one to answer…
I think I land jobs by representing good artists and developing good relationships with clients and promoting my artists effectively and trying in every job to make sure that not only the client is happy but that the artists has all that he or she needs (support of all kinds) to do a great job so that we continue working with the client.
There is also a huge element of luck and I am not joking.
APE: What advice would you give aspiring agents?
To carefully research and select the artists that they decide to work with and understand it is a partnership and hopefully one that will last a long time. I would also give the advice that it may take a while to build your business and that you have to be patient. A lot of your time will be spent planting seeds with clients and sometimes the results are not as quick to come as you would like. The whole business is about forming good relationships with your artists and your clients.