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.email@example.com
Anonymous Art Buyer: I nominate Erik Umphery. I love him not only as an artist, but as a person. He has an unique style and was great to work with.
How many years have you been in business?
Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?
I worked in corporate America for 9 years prior to becoming a professional photographer, and when the recession hit a lot of my friends lost their jobs and decided to pursue their passions. I was doing extremely well in my career, receiving accolades and a level of financial success that I had not believed I would have achieved at a young age, but I was unhappy. And the more friends I saw doing what they loved, even with the stress of booking that next job or knowing how everything was going to work out, the more I desired to pursue my passion. I guess it was like one of my favorite quote’s from Marianne Williamson, ”As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others the permission to do the same.” For me, my friend’s light gave me the permission to leave my comfort zone and being really living and pursuing something I love.
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?
Traveling is a big part of my life and it influences how I create. I think the biggest thing for me is being visually stimulated, so when I’m given the opportunity to go somewhere new I always jump at the chance. Living in Los Angeles, is the perfect place for me, because California has so much visually to offer, and it is accessible. I can hop in my car and in a few hrs, I can be on a mountain, in the desert, at the beach, on a cliff, etc…, so I’m always traveling being inspired and recently I’ve developed an appreciation for other types of arts (writing, acting, illustration) which has opened my eyes to an entirely new world of inspiration. The way I translate all of that into my own creativity is by taking everything that I see or read, and I try to do my best to translate that to my own experiences, to create something how I see it from my own perspective, so if I read something that inspires me I say how does that look in my mind, or if it’s a location I’ll ask myself what would be something I could see happening here.
Pushing the envelope creatively for me is always about doing something that I feel uncomfortable with. When I have butterflies in my stomach about something or I start hearing that little voice in my head questioning what I’m doing it let’s me know that I’m pushing myself to refine my true vision and creating something truly unique and from my perspective. I look for those feelings in everything I shoot.
Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?
I’ve been really fortunate that the assignments I’ve received early in my career the clients have given me a lot of flexibility, I’ve heard that isn’t always the case in this industry. I learned early on that you should focus on accomplishing what the client is looking for first then push the envelop with your creativity and typically the images that I find myself pushing the envelop on are the clients favorites, so it’s a win-win, I give the client what they want and I’m able to use the resources/production they have to create something I love.
What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?
I make it a point to travel to NY once a month and meet with agencies and magazines. I’ve been doing this for about a year now and it’s really been paying off. I do not have a rep, so I have to beat the pavement myself, but for me it is fun. I get to travel to an amazing city and meet so many interesting creative people. Not starting my career in this industry I look at as a positive and negative when it comes to reaching my buying audience. The positive is I don’t know how people in the industry reach their buying audiences so I’m not restricting myself to any industry norms that may exist, so I’m not tied to doing things a certain way because “that’s how things are done traditionally”. The negative is since I did not go to arts school, I do not have the network already of art directors and producers that I would have attended school with, but that’s ok I just have to work harder to build that network now.
Outside of face to face meetings, I attend Adhesive as often as I can to connect with creatives and sending personalized emails vs the typical email blast have help tremendously in starting a dialogue that will ultimately lead to new opportunities down the road.
What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?
I know about this all to well, simply don’t do it. When I started I knew I wanted to shoot campaigns, so I’d shoot what I though art directors wanted to see. That did not get me far at all, and luckily I had a decent relationship with an art director that helped guide me as far away from that as possible. People want to see something different than what they have already seen and we all have the ability to create something different if we show things from our own experiences and perspective. You want the work you create to represent you, and to be work you are passionate about, which ultimately leads to you booking work that falls into your sweet spot vs work that you are not passionate about, and it definitely has away of showing.
Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?
I try to shoot for myself several times a month. At times when I’m really busy it can be challenging but, in order for me to continue growing and developing my vision/style it requires shooting a lot. Even though shooting jobs is great and required to sustain a living, there is nothing better than being able to create something that you have full creative control over. I plan to continue shooting for myself several times a month, 5, 10, and 20 years from now, because I love photography as a medium to create.
How often are you shooting new work?
This year has been really great for me both commercially and personally. I’ve been able to create new work that I’m extremely proud of every month, both personal and commercial.
I’m originally from Baltimore, MD. I was introduced to photography by my Mother at a young age and developed my love for it. She passed when I was 11 and I stopped shooting. As I got older I had the desire to get back into photography, and even signed up for a course when I was in college, but you had to purchase a SLR camera and I could not afford it at the time. I graduated with a degree in Finance and went of to work in corporate America, several years into my career a friend posted on facebook, “who wants to take a photography class with me”, I went out purchased a camera and signed up for the 6 week class. This pretty much sums up my life now:
Running shoes, check. Camera, check. iPhone, check. I’m good. Gave up suits & ties for a camera and a hell-of-a-life. My mantra is to live, love, travel, eat and along the way capture these moments.
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.