Art Producers Speak: Erik Madigan Heck

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.sease@verizon.net

Anonymous Art producer: I nominate Erik Madigan Heck. I had the pleasure to meet him over a year ago. He has such a thoughtful process and is really going places.

How many years have you been in business?

I started photographing when I was 14, and finding my path in the industry around 23, and since then it’s been about 6 more years of photographing and clarifying what I want to say with photographs.

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?

Technically, I’m self-taught (although I’m not a very technical photographer). I did go on to study photography and film-related media in graduate school. (I received my MFA from Parsons.)

Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?

The photographer who I always credit for really whetting my appetite for photography over other mediums in art was Harry Callahan. He was able to create these supremely complex compositions out of very simple elements—and very few elements, I might add. He was the all-time minimalist. However, unlike most minimalist artists, his work retained emotion, and humanity, or a deep sense of love of life. I saw photography as a medium that was actually doing something new when Callahan took photographs, because he had perfected this space where reduction and minimalism were not exclusive to humanity.

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?

Honestly, I don’t really pay attention to what I think art buyers or advertising agencies are looking for (that’s who I assume you’re referring to when you say “creatives”). My work doesn’t adhere to a specific time or place, and I don’t think it belongs to a specific photographic and generational movement. In fact, it probably couldn’t be more different from my generation’s photography, which would be easy to argue has very much been defined by Ryan McGinley, and the beautifying and documenting of youth culture. What I think keeps my work fresh is that it isn’t contemporary in its aesthetic stamp, nor does it deal with youth culture. It aims for something much broader, yet at the same time it tries to deal with contemporary ideas about where photography is going and hopefully challenges the idea of belonging to “now.” I think underneath the purposeful beauty of the image lie a lot of questions that are worth asking. Art should always ask questions.

Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?

No, clients typically don’t hold me back. I’d like to think if they’ve hired me, they’ve already made a decision to take a risk and are willing to go all in. My work isn’t for everyone. It’s very specific, and it’s not necessarily what the mass public is used to digesting, and I think most clients I work with have come to me for that very reason.

What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?

I release new work almost weekly online on different websites. I’m a huge advocate of publishing online, as opposed to in print. As much as I love the printed object—the beauty of books, and zines, and seeing something in a magazine—the point is for as many people to see and be affected by my work, and the Internet’s reach is far greater any book or magazine.

What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?

Inherently, art buyers need to be shown what is contemporary by the artists, not the other way around. Artists have the unique position of defining what buyers need, and creating a new mode of thinking and desire. My advice would be to remember as the artist you always are in the position of power, even though it may not appear that way in the commercial landscape anymore.

Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?

Yes, always. Every project I do is for me, even if it’s a commission. I don’t differentiate from commercial and private work. I see them as always integrated. One ongoing project I’m always working on is photographing flowers, which I’ve found to be one of the most challenging subjects to work with.

How often are you shooting new work?

I try to shoot new work, or at least concept it, every week.

Erik Madigan Heck was born in Excelsior in 1983, to Croatian and Northern Irish parents. He earned his MFA in Photography and Film Related Studies from Parsons School of Design in New York in 2009- where he currently lives and works. Heck is a continuing guest lecturer in both the graduate and undergraduate programs at The School of Visual Arts in New York, and is the creative director of the semi-annual art journalNomenus Quarterly 

Heck’s advertising and editorial clients include Levis, BMW, Neiman Marcus, Eres, Vanity Fair, W Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, TIME, Le Monde, The New Yorker, amongst many others. His fashion clients include Ann Demeulemeester, Haider Ackermann, Giambattista Valli, Kenzo, Mary Katrantzou, and The Row. 

In 2012 Erik Madigan Heck was a recipient of “The Shot” award, and named as one of the top 6 “exhilarating new talents” by W Magazine and the International Center of Photography. In 2011 he received both the Forbes Magazine 30 under 30 Award, as well as the PDN 30 Award. Heck was also nominated for the prestigious ICP Infinity award in the applied fashion category. Heck is also a past National Scholastic Gold Medal recipient.

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.

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