We emailed Art Buyers and Art Producers around the world asking them to submit names of established photographers who were keeping it fresh and up-and-comers who they are keeping their eye on. If you are an Art Buyer/Producer or an Art Director at an agency and want to submit a photographer anonymously for this column email: Suzanne.firstname.lastname@example.org
Anonymous Art Buyer: I nominate Timothy Archibald
How many years have you been in business?
I’ve been doing Timothy Archibald as a commercial and editorial photographer since 1999. Previous to that I spent 8 years as a newspaper photographer for The Phoenix New Times. It was the golden era of the alternative press: 1991-1999. The paper hired me to do all the photography for a weekly paper- two picture heavy stories a week as well as restaurant review photographs and live music photos. I worked all in black and white, shooting TMax and processing the stuff at my apartment. It was myself and 9 writers, and I really learned the power of storytelling from those writers. That job taught me how to tell a story, develop a voice, yet still package it to look like something that would fit in a newspaper. A very important 5 years in terms of figuring out how to make a living. Before that job I was just kind of a guy who took cool arty photographs. After that job, I felt I had something that just might sustain me.
Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
I had the greatest education I could really ever hope for I think. As a teenager I was allowed to take college photography classes taught by Martin Benjamin at Union College in Schenectady N.Y. That was four solid years, ages 14 – 18, and then continued working for him on my summers home from college. He teaches photography as expression- he introduces it to the students as a tool to learn about the world and to let the world learn about them. Powerful stuff from the very start….and at an age where I wanted it badly. After high school I went to college at Penn State and was an Art major, really just wallowing in all of the arts…something I had no inherent talent in at all! But it was a small enough art department that simply by taking it seriously, I was able to define myself. If I did attend some big art school at that time, I know I would have been crushed like a bug.
I am a big believer in that lesson I learned there in college: you may not be the best at something, but if you find a place where you can thrive, or be comfortable, it will allow you to be your best. And sometimes that place is left of center, or small, or corporate, or not what you were expecting. And it’s not really about competing, or being the best, but it’s about being able to create a space to be able to grow, to nurture your skills.
Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?
Well, I always thought of myself as someone who had a long relationship with photography, rather than someone who really “got into this business”, but of course I am in the business.
I have a really vivid memory of being a senior in college and standing at a newsstand looking and being riveted by the work of photographer Brian Smale. He was working in only black and white at the time, had a hard flash in his images that suggested darkness of a sort, and his people…the vibe from the people in his pictures was just really emotionally three dimensional. I felt I knew these people, and Smale’s style packaged it all for maximum effect. I remember looking at that work and saying “ Wow…he is doing it all, and it looks like it’s his job too…!”
I’m sure that moment led me to see the editorial market as one that would reward you for having a strong voice. Now at didn’t have that voice myself at the time, but I felt that if I could cultivate one, there would be a market that would appreciate it.
How do you find your inspiration to be so fresh, push the envelope, stay true to yourself so that creative folks are noticing you and hiring you?
I am a big believer in the idea that your photographs should grow with you, they should mature with you, and they should reflect you like any art you’d create would.
Our work, commercial or not , is something that if you do it right, and listen closely, your work can grow as you grow…and recede as you recede as well. Right now I’m a big believer in trying to listen to the shift that work may need to take, and I think it is evident in the work we show to the market place. But it did take a while to reach that point of making something, creating some product out of all that “listening”.
Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?
For me, if I am brought in on a commercial job, corporate job, editorial job, anything really, it seems that it’s already past the point of everyone accepting the quirky nature of the work. That fight has already been fought. The tricky part, of course, is delivering the image with all of the unique human qualities everyone is expecting, but amidst the confines of this commercial production. Because of course, you want everyone to get what they are hoping and dreaming of from your work. By the time the photographer is called in on a project, the creative have lived this thing for months. I think it’s my job then to bring their dreams to life in a way, get them excited about this thing that was exciting in the beginning, but may have gotten a little stale to them in the process. And of course, if your work is a little bit off base, you tend to view your supporters, clients, anyone really, with such a strong sense of loyality…you want to really bring them what they hoped for from your work in the first place…you want to let them have the magic.
What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?
My personal projects really are the things that seem to resonate with the creatives. Now it doesn’t mean they can really hire me to do work that looks like that…but it is the thing that gives me some traction. And really at this point, I wish it was my commercial work that everyone was gaga over…but that really doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards…or stars…or anywhere really. But with that knowledge, it does allow you to abandon some markets and try to passionately pursue other markets. I am a big believer for setting yourself up for success- getting yourself in the position to do the work that just flows out of you, whatever that is.
But for me, the large personal projects have been the things people always want to see and discuss: Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews (2005 ) and ECHOLILIA / Sometimes I Wonder ( 2010) are the bigger ones that have become books, but I’m always working on smaller ones that never get beyond my website and spam mail, but they do give people something to grab on to, something to follow.
Now we have, of course, the free social networks at our disposal. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr…and what is next? Though I laugh about these things, I do embrace them and really think they have allowed me to extend into an audience in a way I never was able to before. Via my blog and the various social networks, I’ve tried to create and maintain a persona that gives people a good feeling for what it’s like to work with me. I’m a true photo geek, I totally love sharing other people’s work, I’m fascinated by the history of photography ( and it’s seemingly diminished importance) and I like to be a busy working photographer and a curious Dad to my two boys. I want these concerns to come through in my online persona and I feel they help others relate to me as well. Now this is a lot to communicate, but over time online, it can come to the forefront. In the past our attempts at sharing anything from our life was so few and far between, it just wouldn’t happen. It was then all about the work, but the barriers between creatives and photographers were immense. Now, it’s a bit more slippery, in a good way.
All that said, we just were offered the opportunity of spending a week “taking over” the Smithsonian Magazine Instagram page. It was my first shot at playing the Instagram game, and I gotta say it was a manic constant and total blast.
What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?
Oh, well that is the million dollar question that will haunt photographers to the day they die…or the day photography itself dies! Work needs to speak the language of the marketplace, that is true, but then it also needs to be GREAT and unique as well. Add super consistency to that, and a nice personality, let’s say some physical attractiveness maybe…and well…maybe that it the key to success? Really, anyone who answers that question with confidence I’d be immediately suspicious of. But we do see people who have cracked that code: their work is intellectual and visceral and they are still doing massive campaigns and printing money. Now…some people may say my work has those first two elements, but those last two points have been elusive to me. But I’m always working on something, so I really can not complain.
Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?
I go in phases: each super serious personal project seemed to take 3 years of shooting and then two years of blowing it up into the media stratosphere. Then after those periods I seem to put the self expression aside and focus on my career with a bit more intention. Right now I’m putting a lot of energy into shifting the work into this new phase that is just a bit more human and less ironic. I wanted to find a way to tap into the raw energy people responded to in the ECHOLILIA work, but try to speak that language in my assignment work. And only now, three years past the book publication, does it seem like I learned how to do that. And even that is like…oh, trying to tap into some emotional rawness that is kind of an intangible. It’s not like you can just rely on a technique. But I’m 46, I’ve been doing this for a while now. I think I can tap into this stuff I searching for, but I really couldn’t have done it earlier.
How often are you shooting new work?
This summer I had an intern, first time ever, and her marching order was to produce commercial looking work with me using her energy and enthusiasm…and a tiny non existent budget. Summer’s coming to a close and it is exciting for both of us to see these images blossom. So here a little structure did help it all come to fruition and most likely was more productive for everyone then some make work project like working on a data base or something that we’d all rather not do.
Now I should note that this first ever intern is a mom of 3 pre school kids and went to NYU as well. She’s got as real a life as anyone and talked her way into creating an internship that didn’t exist at all. So there was a drive there, and it would have been silly to not think that she would bring something startling to the mix. I knew there was something there. One of our first pictures from this internship is included here.
But the point I’m trying to make here is don’t stop listening to life. Don’t feel you’ve heard it all before, you’re bored and jaded, there is nothing new and you can’t get out of a pattern. When I was younger I feel like I needed my work to shout and be extreme, to find things people have never seen before. Now I feel there is a lot to come from simply listening and seeing the wonder that sometimes comes out of what is right in front of you.
Timothy Archibald ( b. 1967, Schenectady, N.Y.) is a commercial and editorial photographer living and working in San Francisco, CA.
His commercial clients include Crispin Porter Bogusky, TBWA Chiat Day, American Express, Skittles, TIME, National Geographic, and Scientific American.
Archibald’s personal projects have appeared in the collections of Videotage in Hong Kong, The Australian Center for Photography, The Museum of Sex, NY and The Catskill Center for Photography in Woodstock N.Y. He is the author of Sex Machines : Photographs and Interviews ( Process, 2005 ) and ECHOLILIA / Sometimes I wonder ( Echo Press, 2010 )
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter fed with helpful marketing information. Follow her@SuzanneSease.