Category "Art Producer"

Paying Homage To Julian Richards, An Irreverent, Demented Master Of Ceremonies Disguised As An Agent

- - Art Producer, Artist Rep

Guest Post by Marni Beardsley, Director of Art Production at Wieden + Kennedy

the news spreading around for the last few months of julian richards closing shop was something you desperately hoped to be a silly rumor. even with his talented photographers asking my opinion on new homes and the website now defunct in such a bizarre way—classic julian—you still wanted to bury your head in the sand. for it’s hard to imagine the photo industry without its eccentric-visionary-genius-bigmouth-wizard in residence. i forgot how much i enjoy julian’s exceptionally unique writing style and musings. his pdn interview with amy wolff is without question the best i’ve read in years. no one to better sum up the industry so eloquently and brutally as julian—always with a healthy dose of sheer hilariousness.

i suppose it’s finally time to pull the ole head out of the arse and say thank you to this wildly captivating, twisted, hysterical, dirty, immensely brilliant man.

it’s long been a privilege to work with julian’s smartly curated roster including chris buck, michael mclaughlin, david barry, greg miller, sian kennedy and the late, great james smolka, among other gifted artists julian has represented over the years. he not only represented the highest caliber artist within his specialized niche, but he also knew the importance of vetting personality. in other words, no pompous assholes allowed. as such, you could count on every last photographer to be kind, dedicated and genuine, delivering nothing but top-shelf-quality content while ensuring an enjoyable, positive experience for all.

but the real treat was getting to watch a true genius in action. an irreverent, demented master of ceremonies disguised as an agent. yet we all knew he was much, much more than that. to say julian was a refreshing respite from the typical agent/art producer dynamic is a gross understatement. as you found yourself hanging onto every fascinating thought that left his crazy, often repulsive mouth, you knew you were gonna be in for one hell of a fun ride, a ride that would be filled with the purpose of achieving nothing but the finest picture taking and creative problem solving i’d ever witnessed.

there are countless stories of working with julian, but one in particular stands out the most. it credits his unconventional solutions or, perhaps better yet, his sheer insanity. and yet julian’s duplicitous plan worked beautifully; the work was off-the-charts exceptional, creatives and clients walked away extremely happy and i was left standing, jaw dropped to the floor.

the concept involved photographing the talent in some sort of bizarre-looking space suit in an environment that obviously didn’t make any sense for him to be in. visually it needed to have a bold, modern, arresting quality with a photojournalistic bent. i helped the art director pull some images from one of julian’s photographers who fit the bill perfectly. we sold the concept through to the client, who also loved it. the next natural step was to enlist julian and his photographer, begin estimating and have the almighty creative conference call.

before we get to that, let me just say my art director gravitates to the outlandish, the twisted, the deranged. edgy isn’t good enough. it needs to be completely fucked up. when the art director and i got on the phone with the photographer to discuss the concept and his approach, we found him to be surprisingly soft-spoken and very sweet, with a solid point of view about his vision and how best to execute it. but when we got off the phone, the art director said he wasn’t sold. “why the hell not? his answers to how it would look were spot-on,” i implored. more than that, it was this very photographer’s images that helped sell through the concept.

the art director questioned whether the photographer’s personality was outrageous enough. he wanted someone as fucked up as the concept. i did my best to explain that, more often than not, it’s the quiet, “normal” ones you gotta watch out for. their deviance is expressed through their work. still, he wasn’t confident enough that his energy would bring out the crazy in the talent. “he’s wearing a fucking hazmat space-suit thingy. how the hell are you supposed to bring out personality in that?” i just didn’t get it.

i immediately called julian and explained the situation. after a barrage of hysterical ricky gervais-esque retorts, he said, “i’ve got it! if he wants an outlandish, perverted personality, let’s give it to him. let’s do the call again after the weekend.”

“how would that change anything?” i asked.

“because i’ll pretend to be the photographer.”

monday came, and we did the call again. this time “the photographer” appeared to have dipped into his secret stash of crack cocaine. he was explosive, spastically spewing all sorts of deranged nonsense at 150 miles per hour. there was no getting a word in if you wanted to; between his brilliant psychobabble he was panting profusely, as if he were simultaneously doing one-handed push-ups.

the art director LOVED it. ate up every word and the crazy energy behind it. toward the end of the call they exchanged some perverted absurdity, and the next thing i knew it was locked and loaded. i stood there in complete shock, desperately trying to contain my laughter. my art director didn’t seem to think it was odd that a person could do a complete 180 in personality. even more shocking, he also didn’t notice that halfway through the diatribe, a heavy british accent crept into the conversation. people often overuse the expression “peed my pants,” but i literally urinated—not in a toilet—from the hilariousness of it all.

sadly, with julian out of the business these ludicrous stories are now a thing of the past. thankfully i have the reminder of a six-foot blow-up doll bequeathed to me by lord richards—much to the confusion of my coworkers and my kids when they visit my office. i do, however, now semi-hide a photograph created by julian’s alter ego, a highly conceptual pervert who goes by the name perkin lovely. the photograph in question is a tightly cropped shot of a naked, pasty-white, hairy man with his package tucked between his legs. in its place is a ridiculously huge black dildo with a toy piglet perched on top, happily waving “hello!” “look, mommy, there’s piglet!” squealed my then-four-year-old daughter when she visited. i realized winnie-the-pooh would have a whole new meaning if i didn’t move it pronto.

better yet are the scintillating emails i’ve squirreled away that span 20 years. these unrestrained and dirty poetic reveries would be better served in the publishing world instead of a folder titled “fucked up brilliant shit” created just for him. if i could share one i would, but i don’t want to get sued.

as wildly successful as julian has been all these years as a photo agent, this legend is more than likely going to blow our minds even further with his next adventure—whatever that may be. i hope it fully utilizes his fantastical performing ability and enviable storytelling that are deeply rooted in this brilliant wordsmith’s dna.

as julian takes his well-deserved final bow, we are left with no other option than to applaud wildly with much gratitude and respect. and maybe even a little bit of urine in our pants.

—marni beardsley on behalf of the art production departments at wieden+kennedy

Art Producers Speak: Jennifer Whalen

- - Art Producer

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:

Anonymous Art Buyer: I nominate Jennifer Whalen because I saw an old soul within an emerging talent. Jennifer has the eye, the skill and the production chops of a much more experienced shooter but has the fresh approach of someone seeing things with a new viewpoint. She absorbs information like a sponge and applies it to her work. She’s got what it takes to go the distance.

I always keep my camera close because usually in between shots there are magic moments that happen. I captured something unexpected that I love. 

I always keep my camera close because usually in between shots there are magic moments that happen. I captured something unexpected that I love. 

This shot wasn't planned. We had too many people in the Jeep and she fell asleep in the trunk. I love this shot because it wasn't forced.

This shot wasn’t planned. We had too many people in the Jeep and she fell asleep in the trunk. I love this shot because it wasn’t forced.

Spontaneity. I have a background in photo journalism, so I always keep an eye out for  moments that only last a split second.

Spontaneity. I have a background in photo journalism, so I always keep an eye out for  moments that only last a split second.

Young dads can be hip and stylish, too.

Young dads can be hip and stylish, too.

This photo happened during a look book shoot. The outtakes are usually my favorites.

This photo happened during a look book shoot. The outtakes are usually my favorites.

This was a test shoot, and I couldn't help but take a detail shot of that pocket. She wanted to wipe off the sand from the previous shot and I told her not to. The sand on her legs is my favorite part.

This was a test shoot, and I couldn’t help but take a detail shot of that pocket. She wanted to wipe off the sand from the previous shot and I told her not to. The sand on her legs is my favorite part.

For me, art is about capturing a small part of a larger world. I love to take detail shots.

For me, art is about capturing a small part of a larger world. I love to take detail shots.

Part of capturing a feeling is capturing the fleeting movement.

Part of capturing a feeling is capturing the fleeting movement.

I love being inspired by other people and capture a photo that is truly them. I also like to add in a bit of humor whenever I can.

I love being inspired by other people and capture a photo that is truly them. I also like to add in a bit of humor whenever I can.

I like to take photos that have a graphic quality to them; either in composition or with my subject's body movement. In this case, both are graphic.

I like to take photos that have a graphic quality to them; either in composition or with my subject’s body movement. In this case, both are graphic.

This is an outtake in between shots which quickly became one of my favorites.

This is an outtake in between shots which quickly became one of my favorites.

During our lunch break, I told her to bite it by the corner just to humor me.

During our lunch break, I told her to bite it by the corner just to humor me.

While in Kauai, I noticed that swinging on vines was a natural pastime among friends. I set up a shoot where I did stills and video with these gals because I loved the shapes they made with their bodies while swinging.

While in Kauai, I noticed that swinging on vines was a natural pastime among friends. I set up a shoot where I did stills and video with these gals because I loved the shapes they made with their bodies while swinging.

I had to balanced while standing on the canoe to get the angle I wanted!

I had to balanced while standing on the canoe to get the angle I wanted!

A cup of coffee goes really well with great tunes.

A cup of coffee goes really well with great tunes.

How many years have you been in business?
I have been pursuing commercial photography and video for about 2 years.

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?
I have a degree in both Journalism and Fine Art, but I am a self-taught photographer and videographer.

Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?
I don’t find myself having one specific source of inspiration, but I’m always inspired by people who create something out of nothing. For example, my dad is a carpenter, so I grew up helping him and seeing his ideas develop into something tangible. It was a good foundation that helped me to realize, with heart and soul, I can turn my ideas into something rewarding and profitable.

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 don’t shoot to get noticed or hired; I shoot for myself and I am constantly searching for that special thing, that weird little moment of simplicity in movement or expression that speaks honesty and truth. I am always trying to be attentive and develop my sensitivity to the world when shooting. After doing that over-and-over again, I end up with a body of work that is constantly evolving. I have an all-or-nothing personality, which pushes me to take risks and put my whole self into my work. Taking risks is about reaching my fullest potential and never staying in my comfort zone. It means never being afraid to try a new idea. If it doesn’t work out in the end, that’s fine, at least I tried. For example, exploring video has made me a stronger still image storyteller and has strengthened my overall artistic vision. When I am shooting personal work, it’s all about leaving expectations at the door. That attitude gives me an open mind and allows me to build off of what I am seeing around me and appreciate the idiosyncrasies of the people I am photographing or filming. Just like with playing music, it’s about tuning into the rhythm of other people.

Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?
There will always be times when the images that you and the AD love won’t make the final edit, whether it is due to composition of the photo or the overall satisfaction of everyone involved. When it happens, I don’t spend my energy on being angry or disappointed about that. The client chooses images based on what’s appropriate for their audience. It’s not about me; it’s about collaborating to get what is best for the client.

What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?
I send personal emails, mailers and set-up meetings. A relationship can’t begin until you meet with people in person, so I am a big fan of getting myself in front of people.

What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?
When I first started pursuing advertising, I spent a year building my commercial portfolio before pitching it. When I started testing, I was under the impression that creatives wanted to see a portfolio that looked like finished ads, so I took photos that resembled what I was seeing in the media. The problem was that it wasn’t my voice. I was creating work based on what I thought potential clients wanted to see. I was trying too hard to make something that had already been done before. Creatives don’t want to see a portfolio that looks like ads. I wished someone told me that earlier. Creatives want to see your unique vision and perspective of the world. I ended up eliminating about 90% of my portfolio and added a new set of images that showcased my voice and my point of view. At that moment, my work started to get noticed more and I was happier with what I was showing. My advice is to not worry about what you think others want to see. Make work that you like and showcase that with confidence.

Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?
I am always shooting for myself, and if I’m not shooting, I’m thinking about how I want to shoot my next personal project. There will never be a point in my life when I stop shooting.

How often are you shooting new work?
I shoot a new project once a month, maybe more if time allows.


I’m a lifestyle photographer / videographer residing in Los Angeles.  My approach is to capture life in motion – a feeling of realism.  I live for storytelling, and my work embraces the world for its humor, spontaneity, and adventure.  Whether it is trekking through a frozen waterfall or following adventurers into the heart of a rain forest, new experiences excite me. My passion toward collaboration fuels my momentum for each project. I stay inspired by my subjects’ charisma, idiosyncrasies, and the ability to connect with them in an authentic way.  I have a degree in Journalism & Fine Art from the University of Minnesota, and have been a full time creative ever since.  When I am not photographing, you may find me at my neighborhood’s diner enjoying pancakes for dinner.

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.

Anonymous Art Buyers Blog: Art Buyers Are People Too

- - Art Producer

When I started blogging anonymously over 5 years ago the point was to blow off a little steam, check out this blogging thing everyone was talking about and communicate with other Photo Editors about very mundane things that made up our jobs. This turned out to be much more interesting for readers than I ever imagined. That part of my blog life was short lived unfortunately, but I always expected others to pick up the reins, so I was delighted to recently find a group of Art Buyers blogging anonymously under the title Art Buyers Are People Too. I fired off a few questions and here’s what they have to say about themselves:

APE: Why did you start “Art Buyers Are People Too“, do you think people don’t know it or are you just having fun?

ABAPT: It started off as just a little fun. In the beginning we were just posting silly things that people within the industry said to us. But it quickly changed. Honestly, it sometimes feels as though people don’t know what we do exactly; even those we work with on a daily basis within the agency walls and outside as well. Agents, photographers, photo assistants, stylists, and producers have all said to us, “You do that?”. It’s such a multi-faceted position that we wanted to put it all out there in the open. What started off as a fun spoof, turned in to much more. We began to post about our likes, loves and occasional dislikes and lately we’ve been posting more about what we handle. We see the blog as evolving and we’ve made tons of goals for 2013. You’ll see a lot more from us very soon!

APE: Are there more than one of you? Do you all work in the same agency?

ABAPT: We are a group of Art Buyers at the same agency, but very connected within the Art Buying community. We reach out to other Art Buyers on a daily basis.

APE: Do you plan to remain anonymous?

ABAPT: For now, yes.

APE: I’ve seen your hands, promo wall, mail stack, inbox and feet. Do you realize someone will put the pieces together?

ABAPT: Of course! Some people already know who we are, but are respectful of our privacy.

APE: It seems that you are talking to your fellow Art Buyers, what is your message to them?

ABAPT: We are really speaking to the photo/illustration community as a whole. We have so many friends, business partners and acquaintances who we are communicating with as well. We don’t have a “message” per say. We just want to share our experiences and thoughts and hope that it helps demystify what our role is and to show the different responsibilities of being an Art Buyer.

APE: You have very rich tastes in photography. Do you work for very important clients?

ABAPT: Aren’t all clients important? ;) We love all levels of photography and have taken a real interest in emerging photographers in the past two years. We believe that anything can be produced and we look for the right people and teams to accomplish whatever comes across our desks.

APE: Is there a difference between photography you love and photographers you love to work with?

ABAPT: Yes and no. We certainly have photographers whom we admire and would love to work with someday. Of course there are the greats and the living legends and then there are those with the amazing energy and vision. We love rewarding those who have great attitudes. It bums us out to push for and hire someone who gets on set with their own agenda or just looks at ad work with dollar signs in their eyes. We have been incredibly fortunate to work with some of the best out there. We believe in asking anyone if they are interested and love being surprised by a willingness to collaborate and those who simply bring it and kill it. There is nothing like the perfect fit.

APE: What does the future look like for Art Buyers?

ABAPT: We hope it’s full of big, bold projects! We are lucky to work at an agency that involves us heavily in the creative process. They insist on an Art Buyer attending each shoot, which can be grueling during busy season, yet so rewarding to see the final product. Many believe that with print usage dwindling, the Art Buying world will follow. We’re much more positive than that, and It’s our hope to evolve with new media. We’ve been working on video, cgi, animation and so much more and we welcome every project that hits our desks. It’s all about a willingness to change with the industry.


Agencies Who No Longer Accept Printed Promos

- - Art Producer

A reader sent me the following question:

I wrote to you a while back regarding some agencies who no longer accept printed promotions from photographers. I just came across another agency who has started that policy. It’s really silly when you consider an ad agency not accepting advertising.

I reached out to Anne Maureen McKeating a Toronto-based freelance Project Manager, Art Producer and Consultant, because she worked at an agency that started such a policy. Here’s her answer:

In the spirit of “going green”, a well-meaning senior creative team at my former agency decided that we would no longer be accepting photographers’ promos. It would be a-ok if a promo came directly to me, (the art producer), but any photographer who sent multiple copies addressed to others, would be asked to come to the agency and pick them up.

So what was this new policy really about? In my opinion, it was less about “going green” and more about managing the daily onslaught of sameness. Our mailboxes were crammed full with mailers depicting frosty mixed drinks, smashed cosmetics on plexi and fit, relatable moms made even more aspirational with a sun flare. The promos were showcasing the already familiar and as a result, most ended up in the recycling bin. It was disheartening to see photographers waste their money and resources on a strategy that just wasn’t appreciated.

Agencies are complicit in the creation of the uninspired offerings that set the tone for mailer expectations. However, Art Directors don’t need a rehash of past campaigns – they need to be inspired for the next. As a result, they are turning to social spaces like Instagram, Compfight and tumblr in a hopeful pursuit of the new. Perhaps social media is the new promo?

Some printed promos do manage to achieve the illusive breakthrough. But they do so because they are targeted toward a specific audience and crafted with intelligence. Recently, Toronto-based photographer Derek Shapton sent a promo to a select group of contacts. He had shot four portraits of people sneezing and had them printed onto a box of tissue. The promo was deceptively simple conceptually: sneezing = tissue. But it was the promo’s self-referential commentary that stuck. He was remarking on the “throwaway nature of mailers and the ephemerality of promotions”. Shapton understood that his audience would appreciate his take on the promo conundrum while ensuring that he remained memorable.

I had initially found it ironic that an advertising agency was attempting to regulate the advertising of its potential suppliers. But when I really thought about it, some truths became clear. I was defending the rights of photographers to advertise, while filling the recycling bin with their efforts. I had never awarded a job based on a promo. And even if I liked a promo, it was rarely displayed because I didn’t have room.

Advertising strategies in the current market are branded, social and integrated. It’s vital that photographers also embrace this approach. While the printed promo may still occupy a place in an overall campaign, on its own, it’s passive, old technology.

My hiring practices are influenced by repeated exposure over varied platforms. I become aware of a photographer’s work if they are showing on the gallery circuit, shooting editorials, garnering blog mentions and posting regularly on social media. These multiple exposures have direct impact on my decision-making. The net-net is that yes, integrated marketing takes time, effort and patience. But it is an active strategy that will entice Art Directors and Producers to meaningfully interact with your work on an on-going basis – thereby keeping you top of mind.

Anne Maureen McKeating is a Toronto-based freelance Project Manager, Art Producer and Consultant. Her work is informed by her experience as Senior Art Producer at TAXI North America and as Photo Producer at Instil Productions. Anne Maureen is Board President for Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography and also sits on the Exhibitions, Strategy and Branding Committees. Her integrated marketing efforts are a “work in progress.”

LA Art Producers Discuss Industry Topics At Community Table

- - Art Producer

How cool would it be to get a group of LA Art Producers in a room and pepper them with questions about the business? And, not one of these panels where everyone is on their best behavior, but a cozy room filled with like minded professionals, where you can seriously discuss the state of the industry when it comes to finding and hiring photographers. Well, that’s exactly what Community Table, a series of blog posts based on a lunch Matt Nycz, Kate Chase of Brite Productions; Heather Elder, Lauranne Lospalluto of Heather Elder Represents; and and Alison McCreery of POP Blog put together.

So far there’ve been two installments: Part I: The Appetizer and Part II: The Main Course

Here are a few highlights:

There is a rise in the “pay to play” events where photographers pay a fee or pay into a program that allows them direct access to creatives and or art producers.  The organizers sometimes offer compensation to the reviewers in an effort to elevate the seriousness of the event and show a respect for the reviewer’s time.  What is it about these types of events that are most successful and what do you feel could be improved upon?  Do you see this as a positive trend and if not, why?

Here is how Jigisha got everyone thinking:

“In the past few years I’ve thought about this a lot because I’ve needed to strategize as my role as an art producer in an ad agency and as a department head. With regards to the pay-to-play events, I’ve thought about what is a conflict of interest and what is acceptable.

At first, I would get an offer to come look at and critique portfolios that came with a stipend. I knew the people putting the shows together were also charging the photographers to have their books reviewed, but I would do them. However, in the last couple of years, the books that came to me were photographers who didn’t need my critique, who were already quite successful and could call me and get a showing

Acknowledging that the pay-to-play events present a valuable opportunity to emerging photographers, Jigisha continued, “Then alternatively, there have been other reviews I’ve done for beginner and emerging books where I could be constructive and helpful. In this case, my time was worth it for them, if the photographer uses it as a critique to make their book better.”

Based on an evaluation of how much each side gets out of it, Jigisha now only participates when she feels it is not a conflict of interest. “I made the decision not to participate in events where the caliber of photographer is good enough to come in to my agency and be seen. But I will participate in the ones where I can use my experience to help them and they can maybe do a little more work and see me at my agency the next time and not have to pay.”


But back to eBlasts. “I like them and I don’t like them,” offered Melanie. “A lot of time I have to delete them every morning. But the email trend has helped cut down on the mailed promos. It now takes a week to get what I used to get in a day. I feel better about the impact on the earth.

“I’m the total opposite,” said Kristine, “I love promos and am guilty of not opening every email blast. Promos have always been a favorite part of my job. I just love them.”

And in conclusion, one final bit of advice from Cara.One thing the creatives ask us over and over is how they can make the eblasts stop. The eblasts should be targeted directly to the art producers.”

Make sure you check out both posts and look for future updates.

The Art Producers Photographer List, Now Online

- - Art Producer

For the past year Art Producer Jenny Barnes has been cataloging her favorite photographers on her posterous site (blog) A reader sent it to me recently and I immediately wanted to post it, because I knew other AB’s, PE’s, AD’s etc. would not only find it useful, but possibly they would be inspired to start their own. I’m surprised more of these don’t exist, blogs make it easy to categorize and find things. I decided to ask Jenny a couple questions about it.

APE: Tell me a little bit about yourself?
Jennifer: I hold a BFA in media arts from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and have also studied graphic design. I worked for many years in the commercial photography industry and later moved agency side. I currently work full-time at an advertising agency as an art producer. I live outside Minneapolis with my husband, three kids and two dogs.

Tell me why you started the project?
Research is my favorite part of working as an art producer. There are so many talented artists and when the right job comes up, I want to be able to find them. Over the years I focused on bookmarks, printed promos, picture archives and then a database that held pictures. The database was too big and kept crashing, so I had to delete the images. This is the best system I can pull together at this time to keep track of the artists. The categories and the quick view into the artist portfolio work pretty well. Now, I just need to keep adding artist’s work to the site.

Talk to me about categorizing photographers, how important is it that
 you can find a category for someone so you can recall them later?
Categories are extremely important. They are a quick way to organize a large body of work and a large number of artists. It’s subjective and not an exact science. Having the artist defined in a category helps to find them when a looking to hire an artist for assignment. Without categories, I’d never be able to sort through the thousands of artists in my database.

I’m also curious about the format. A lot of effort goes into logos,
color palette and design for photographers websites, but you’ve
completely stripped them down to just pictures. Is there a reason for 
That’s a fantastic question. I’ve never thought about it from that perspective. You’re right, the choices made regarding a company logo; the look and function of the artist’s site are major considerations. The decisions made ultimately reflect upon the work which can have a positive, neutral or a negative impact on the imagery.

When looking for talent, a buyer can review hundreds of websites. All the differences can be exhausting. Not only are you processing the images, you are also trying to extract them from the context in order to evaluate the work. In the end the images need to be the focus.

What I have learned while working on the site is how nice it is to see the subtleties when the images stand alone. Having a similar format for each post is comfortable. I hope visitors to the site feel the same.

What’s the ultimate goal with the site?
To create a space dedicated to inspiring work. Over time, I hope to build a useful research tool where buyers and artists can find inspiration.

How Art Producers Find The Right Photographer For The Project

- - Art Producer

canadian clubI’ve always thought this Canadian Club print campaign was genius, partially because of the vibe but mostly because I couldn’t figure out if the images were 40 years old or shot recently. When I discovered that Liz Miller-Gershfeld, VP and Senior Art Producer at Energy BBDO (the agency that made those ads) reads APE I asked her to tell me how the photography for that campaign went down. Here’s what Liz told me about the campaign (Robert Whitman shot it btw) and the important steps that go into finding the right photographer for any project:

When the creatives approached me about this project they told me they wanted to use real snapshots from the 50’s and 60’s. They were committed to these images feeling absolutely authentic and felt they needed to be historic. The challenge with that was twofold:
1. Liquor advertising has to depict models who are a verifiable 25 years old or older.
2. We already had specific headlines so the images had to match those.

We found some great images on Flickr, but they weren’t fitting the headlines and I couldn’t verify the subjects of the photos were 25 when the images were taken so, we decided to produce photography.

APE: Ok, hold on lets talk about Flickr for a second. Did you immediately go to Flickr when you knew you wanted authentic shots? You’re basically looking for old album shots and shoebox shots so I guess that’s the only source for that kind of material. Right?

I can understand why the topic of Flickr is a contentious issue. Thousands of photographers are in business struggling to create some stability in a marketplace and Flickr is largely made up of amateur photographers, so why are we looking there? I don’t generally look for stock photography on Flickr although a lot of creatives do. With this project in particular we looked everywhere. I reached out to a lot of photographers, but they were looking through their shoeboxes too; we were looking for snapshots that probably would have been taken before a lot of them were pushing a shutter release button. In the end it was too problematic to use Flickr images for this because of model releases and the 25 or older issue.

The Flickr issue is a bigger one however. When we need stock, creatives want access to a wider range of photographers’ work; they don’t always feel the way the big agencies curate their collections fit their visions. In the past, every time we had a project requiring stock I would reach out to as many photographers as I could in the time I had, in addition to larger stock sources. This problem inspired me to start an all-photographer Twitter network that I use to Tweet my stock needs. It’s cool because I really enjoy the chatter, the references and the images people post in an informal way. A lot of equipment chatter I follow to get more informed about, for example, the Red camera, etc. No one really hears from me unless I need stock and then I Tweet it over and over. In theory it’s an attempt to democratize the access to our buying needs so more people get a shot. It’s still an experiment, but why not?

APE: Ok, fair enough. What’s next?

Step one is the creative conversation. This is a step we go back to again and again. The initial creative conversation between art producer and creative attempts to flesh out the nuances lacking in a layout. Layouts convey an idea, but rarely the entire visual story. This conversation gives a map for the search.

Next step: photographer search. This project in particular needed a photographer who had the production chops to authentically pull off a recreation of the past, not only in content but also in the look of the photography. They needed to have a dynamic enough range that it would be believable that different people authored the images. The next piece of criteria was perhaps the most important to us, the most difficult to ascertain and reminds me of a recent APE post when you wrote that you were a fan of luck and unexpected results in photography: we needed someone who had a portfolio filled with lucky shots which were no accident. At its heart, and this is something I look for a lot, I wanted to find someone who is masterful at creating conditions that allow for real human moments to happen.

Next, I look at portfolios and cull what doesn’t apply. Often this process occurs online, but for this project we called the books in first. I then review portfolios with the AD. This isn’t always possible, but I think it is an important step. It tends to slow down the flipping of the pages, gives me a chance to express what I saw and why I’m showing it and most importantly lets me hear honest feedback about what is working and what is missing. With Canadian Club this process went on for a few days; not because the books weren’t hitting the mark, but because there were some really good ones that all went in different directions.

The next step is the creative call with the photographers and it plays a crucial role in deciding who gets the job. It’s really like a job interview. I’ve been a part of many calls where a photographer who was a front-runner disqualified him or herself. I’ve also seen the opposite. It is important to note that to get to this stage a creative team has usually been back to a drawing board several times, has given up weekends and evenings, has sometimes been through focus group testing and has often had strategies and creative briefs changed. They would like to hear that you would like to do the job. They would like to hear what you like about the project. No obsequiousness, just a positive word or two to set a tone and communicate sincere interest.

APE: I’ve heard some grumbling about the creative call, so I just have to ask, what does the phone personality have to do with taking pictures? Have you actually had situations where you went with a photographer who performed miserably on the call and the shoot was bad. Is this truly an indication of something important?

It is a fair question to ask what the phone personality has to do with taking pictures. The first part of what I mentioned, about finding something positive to say really has nothing to do with taking pictures. What I have observed more than once is that it created a competitive edge because it communicated to the AD an emotional investment in the project.

I’ve never had a situation where the call went miserably and the shoot was bad, because if the call goes wrong they don’t get the job. That is why I prescribe listening; many photographers express themselves more eloquently with a camera. Less is more on the call. If you have ideas you want to share at this point do so, but listen first.

You asked if the call is truly an indication of something important. It can be. If it is just a personality showcase then it is a worthless call. If the call is done well then it can elicit responses which indicate creative compatibility and a willingness to collaborate…on both ends. In addition to giving the photographer the information they need to generate a smart estimate, those are the biggest things for everyone to get out of the call.

I have been in situations where we are deciding between two photographers. When we had the calls one said, “Hey, I really like this ad. I’m happy to have a shot, I think it’s going to be great.” The other did not express that sort of sentiment. At the end of the calls the AD said, “Hey, that one guy was fired up, let’s work with him!” It is a good idea on these initial calls to ask the AD to take you through their vision for the project. Layouts don’t tell the whole story and it is a good opportunity to hear what is important to them. Listening also demonstrates collaboration skills. Ask the AD what they saw in your portfolio or what it was about your work that brought you to this phone call. It is a good way to bring the conversation to look and feel in a way that is relevant to the project. It is also a good way to gauge true interest. If they don’t have an answer they aren’t really interested. Ask questions; it shows how you are thinking about things. I have heard more raves after calls where photographers deeply listened and asked intelligent questions than when they did all the talking. It is not that the agency is not interested in the artist’s vision, but it raises the comfort factor that what is important to us is being taken into consideration. If you went into the call with ideas you wanted to share this is a good time for it. If not, that is fine. Tell them you want to think about what you’ve talked about and you will follow up with an estimate and treatment.

APE: A treatment? You think photographers should provide a treatment?

Absolutely. It is not expected of photographers, (it is of directors and with motion and still colliding it is probably a good idea to start that habit) but some photographers do it and if it lines up with and pluses the idea it helps to sell yourself in. I have seen several people move from last to first by submitting a written treatment. A treatment which actively incorporates what was important to the AD (further reinforcing that this will be a collaborative process). It is also important for us as an agency to have confidence that you have thought through the process and the potential problems and that you have solutions. This is not to say you should include proprietary information like lighting specifics, but speak to the look, mood, what you hope to capture with the talent, etc. A treatment also is a clear way in print to attribute your unique ideas to you.

The next step in the process is analyzing the estimates. This is the blueprint. It is important to me as an art producer that the usage language is clear and up front, that there are no hidden costs (with disclaimer language in a very small font size telling me expected items are not included in the bottom line) and that everything we discussed is represented. It is important that the estimate goes into detail. It is important that whoever would be producing the job is involved at this point and can answer my questions which will be very detailed. I have learned the hard way that sometimes agents or other third parties generate estimates. This is making a promise for someone else to keep and almost always leads to a conversation where a producer tells me that they would have put a different plan together and they are just trying to move things around to try to make it work. We no longer work with 10 -15% variances allowed, a sad victim of the economic “downturn.” Those tolerances are gone so it is important to me that you have a stellar producer and that they generate the estimate. (unless the job is small or of limited complexity).

OK, this is the point where people often start calling. Make sure the art producer is clear and specific about when they will award the job so you don’t drive your self crazy waiting to hear. Last minute declarations of enthusiasm are no longer appropriate. Meetings often get moved so give the agency a day, if you haven’t heard send an e-mail for a quick decision status. If you submitted an estimate it is always appropriate to receive a call saying “congratulations!” or “thanks so much but we’re taking this in a different direction.”
I really hope all your readers get a “congratulations” call for projects that fit their talents.