Posts by: A Photo Editor

5 Questions for Boda, WIB Agency

- - Photography Agent

Boda, Director of Photography at the WIB Agency has a 20 year career as an agent under his belt and in that time he’s worked with some very talented photographers at a few of the biggest agencies in town (NYC). He also has the good fortune to have one of the most memorable names in the business. I didn’t know about the move to WIB and he was telling me about it and I thought I’d ask him a few questions for everyone to read. I even found a couple photographers I like to add to my list (below).

1. Boda, you’ve been an agent for quite awhile now. Can you tell me how you got started in this business and why you’ve kept it up for so long?

When I first moved to NY, I met the Art Director Paula Greif and Director Peter Kagan, they were just editing the video of Chaka Khan and Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” I worked with them for about 2 years and always seemed to gravitate to the client, making sure that they were happy and they were getting what they wanted. From there I started at Art + Commerce assisting Jim Moffat with Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe and Steven Meisel. I knew then that my passion was making people happy, making sure things got done, and making sure that in the end everybody had what they needed and that nobody got hurt doing it. Paula Greif called me a “Gentlemen’s Agent” meaning one not to backstab or do anything malicious. Just a good guy trying to do good work with good people.

2. Tell me about your agency? How big is it (offices, number of agents, photographers)?

Our agency started in Paris about 13 years ago and then grew to Milan and London. A little over a year ago, it seemed only natural to open in NY, most of our artists had apartments in NY and Paris and were traveling often. In NY we have only 2 agents, our office is very minimalistic. We consider it to be a boutique, an agency that pays attention to the photographers. That when they call they talk to their agent, not the assistants. We want this to be our “Thing” a boutique, small, cozy and friendly.

3. You’ve got a top roster of what appears to be mostly European photographers. Do you find it difficult to convince clients to bring in someone from Europe to shoot in NYC?

We always tell our clients that travel should not be an issue, most of our photographers have places to stay when in NY and will fly themselves here at anytime. Dean Isidro, Mary Rozzi and Alexandre Weinberger live in NY and the same goes for them when they have to go to Europe.

4. Juggling a photographers schedule with fashion clients seems like it would be awfully stressful. Do you have any special techniques that keep everyone happy?

It is just what I do, I love to keep people happy, I don’t get stressed ever. Everything will always get done if you just breathe and do one thing at a time, lists are very important. You will never, ever hear me say to a client or photographer the phrase, “I AM SO CRAZY,BUSY,INSANE” I am so sick of hearing agents say that, the truth is if you are well organized it will all get done. And there are never EMERGENCIES, yes a belt or a lipstick may be forgotton or Salmon wasn’t delivered at lunchtime, but really, nobody is being rushed in an ambulance to the hospital.

5. What’s the best way for an emerging photographer to get on your radar for potential representation someday?

I love links to their work, I love seeing all work, personal, editorial, catalog, advertising. The more the better. If I like their work then I will always meet with them, but they better be a good person and have a genuine nice personality, because that is who I surround myself with.

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Derek Shapton- On The List

- - Photographers

As a follow up to the Clay Stang consultation I decided to talk with Derek Shapton from Toronto who’s not only on my list as the “go to” for that town but has transcended the local market to become a photographer people will fly to them.

1. I first discovered you in the American Photography annual. How do the awards and publications you’ve gotten help you market your work?

I think awards and annuals are as effective, if not more effective, than any other type of marketing out there. Mailers and bulk email tend to be thrown away or deleted, but awards annuals and juried books are very special in that they’re the only promotional vehicle that’s actually anticipated and even sought out by potential clients. Nobody looks forward to another stupid mailer, but everyone looks forward to the CA Photography Annual! The downside is that they’re unpredictable. I’ve served as a judge for a several awards shows and I can attest to the fact that brilliant work can sometimes be left out of the final selection for very strange reasons. You can’t always count on being included, so it’s hard to carefully plan an annual
marketing campaign around them. I think they work best as a supplement to more traditional promotion — although I know several photographers for whom awards are the only promotional venture they bother with, and they seem to do quite well by them.

2. Can you tell me how you managed to transcend just being the go to guy in Toronto, Canada to become a top North American editorial and commercial photographer?

I think there were numerous factors that came together at around the same time. My entry into the American market was coincident with the rise of the Internet as a communication medium — it really has made the world a smaller place and opened people’s eyes to the richness of talent in geographic areas they might not otherwise have been aware of. The buildup to the dotcom bubble of the late 90’s meant that there was a lot of speculative money being invested in all kinds of bizarre ways — companies nobody had ever heard of were suddenly spending a lot on advertising and marketing, and there were seemingly hundreds of magazines starting up — in North America, at least, it made for a major spike in demand for commissioned photography. Th Canadian dollar was approaching an all-time low in relation to the US dollar, and it was suddenly very economical to work with talented artists outside of the US. And last but not least, the kind of work I gravitated towards — a naturalistic, quasi-documentary, “low-impact”
approach — suddenly became quite popular, possibly as a reaction to some of the more egregious, gimmicky excesses of the mid-90’s (cross processing? Hosemaster? Anyone remember the Hosemaster?). It was a combination of hard work and effort combined with a certain amount of right-place-at-the-right-time.

3. I’ve always had you on my list of photographers as someone with a dry sense of humor, vibrant colors and strong documentary skills. Can you tell me how you arrived at this somewhat odd combination of styles?

I’m very interested in many different kinds of photography, but I’m a terrible mimic. I’m always trying to figure out how other people do things, but it never really works out the way I expect, and so I guess I eventually arrived at something of a hybrid look — definitely influenced and informed by certain types of approaches but not quite nailing any of them on the head. I also think that the way I work — a minimal, “documentary” approach, for lack of a better term — kind of leaves a lot of things out there for the world to see; my feelings about my subjects, for example, tend to come across quite clearly, and I’d like to think that this makes for a certain
emotional content and sense of empathy that’s perhaps a bit lacking in other people’s work. As for the bright colors, I’m not sure what’s going on there. Maybe somethings wrong with my monitors?

4. Are there any career choices you that you either regret or were the best decision you ever made?

Biting the bullet when I wasn’t sure it was worth it and going to the time, effort, and expense of getting a US work visa is something I’m really glad I did. Buying a PC instead of a Mac as my very first computer was probably a mistake.

5. If you were an insect what kind would you be and why?

I’m tempted to say dung beetle, because I sometimes feel (particularly when I’m retouching) that I spend much of my time aimlessly pushing crap around, but I think I’ll pick a Monarch butterfly because they migrate 3000 miles twice a year, and I really like traveling.

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How to Manage People

- - Working

I consider myself a pretty good people manager but it took me a long time to become one. I’ve always been good at working with photographers but it took quite a bit of work to become good at managing the people under me and I only really figured it out in the last year or so.

The greatest piece of advice I ever read (out of 20 or so business books) goes something like this: Taking someone else’s idea and increasing the quality by 5% occurs at the price of a 50% decrease in their commitment to execution (here’s a recent explaination on the Harvard Business blog).

This is a huge problem in the publishing industry. Everyone tries to “add value” to everything: stories, photos, ideas, line-ups, headlines, cutlines, pull-quotes, captions, typefaces, colors and hairlines. If you’ve ever worked with an editor who makes slight modifications to every single effing thing that comes through the door then you know what I’m talking about. Your desire to execute is deflated because you no longer own anything thanks to the misguided idea that the readers will somehow notice a slight improvement in quality. They don’t. Half the readers were bought by the newsstand director anyways.

Photo editors know all too well of this phenomena that I call “shuffling the deck” where someone will come along and rearrange the photos and change singles into half’s and half’s into spreads all in the name of somehow improving the story. It’s not better, It’s different.

Some of my greatest accomplishments as a photo editor are a direct result of me doing nothing. See if you’ve got the sack to admit that.

If you want to make the magazine better do your job as well as you can and keep your mitts off mine.

Discusson on Portraiture Over at Conscientious

- - Blog News

Joerg and Miguel Garcia-Guzman asked a whole swath of the photographic community what makes a great portrait. All the different opinions makes for great reading.

Love this quote from Bill Hunt: “…My own take on this genre, after many years of looking at and collecting photographs, most always images of people, is that portraiture by and large fails to connect the viewer and the sitter in any sort of revelatory and meaningful way.”

Link (here).

More On Sartorialist As A Photographer

- - Blog News

This one was worth the wait. Robert Wright begins his Yale MFA dissertation (kidding) with “The Farmer, The Skilled Tradesman, The Woman, Classes and Professions, The Artists, The City, The Last People and The Sartorialist: an Appreciation or, Its the economy, Stupid.”

Money quote: “…it seems to be “attention aesthetic” is a good way to describe the style of The Sartorialists photographs. The photography only has to be good enough to create and keep your attention. It is not a photograph or a question of fine art but a kind of a conversation,…”

Read it (here).

Inside The Great Magazines

- - Working

I’ll be checking out this series entitled Inside The Great Magazines, Produced by DLI Productions (here). I love it when people talk about how great a magazine is by referencing the photography.

National Geographic

Vanity Fair

Via, Mr. Magazine (here).

Thomas Broening Interviews Art Buyer Jen Small

- - Blog News

A couple highlights.

On using her experience to suggest photographers:
“The art directors I know are not interested in having a photography education. …They want to own the whole process because they have to stand and say I made this decision. And they don’t care about my opinion. It would be naive to think that my opinion is the decisive one.”

On the conference call try-out with a photographer:
“…It is really hard because it boils down to a personality contest. I am sorry but there it is.”

Read it (here).

What’s Really Wrong With Newspapers

- - Blog News

From, Rogue Columnist:

… What’s less noted is how newspapers themselves contributed to the dumbing down of America.

… A startlingly conformist agenda emerged all over: design over content; short, uninteresting (but non-irritating to advertisers) stories, etc. The universe of different tactics, strategies and innovations that a competitive industry would have evolved never happened. The industry became strikingly inwardly focused, insulated from a changing world.

… Leadership collapsed under the weight of these forces. A generation of managers that would go along with these dictates rose, while those with other ideas were pushed out or aside. These surviving managers – of course with honorable exceptions – were singularly incapable of dealing with the historic turning points facing newspapers

Link (via, Boing Boing)

Consultation with Clay Stang

Photography Consultation Demo, Part 6 of 6.
See the other parts here: (1), (2), (3), (4) and (5).

Leslie’s Website
Clay’s Website

I’m pleased to report the consultation session with Clay went really well and I learned a few things about the business that I had no idea about. I think we really did help Clay but as Leslie said in her answers to my questions earlier it’s up to him to make the changes and implement the ideas that were discussed. If you’re a really busy photographer, working hard every day, it almost seems crazy to hire a consultant because they will only give you more work to do.

Here’s the mp3 for those of you who want to listen to the session and get an idea what it’s like.

Here’s the direct link to the audio:
Consultation with Clay and Leslie

For those of you who don’t want to listen to the 55 min. session here are the highlights:

It was a huge relief to find out that these sessions don’t have a lot in common with an Oprah show or Tony Robbins lecture. I was afraid that we would sit around and blow smoke up his ass and then he would walk down the street staring at his navel and get clobbered by a NYC bound bus. We discussed what we liked about Clays work and then what we didn’t like and ways to improve and then we hugged it out (kidding).

First off, filling out a questionnaire like the one Leslie gave Clay is such a good exercise for all photographers and not dissimilar to creating a business plan. Don’t forget you’re running a business. Identifying specific clients you want to target and your dream job gives you targets and goals to work towards.

Clay described his dream job as something that already happened (time for a new one) and was very general about his target markets which Leslie pointed out as a common mistake with photographers. I do think it’s really important for everyone to go after a specific jobs and agencies and magazines and not just throw yourself into the “I take pictures for a living” market.

Leslie talked about the best way to do that, which is to find the people who already hire photographers like you. That seems so intuitive to me but I’ve never really thought of it that way. Why go around pimpin’ your style to people who aren’t interested in it. Find creatives, art directors, photo editors and art buyers who like your aesthetic and target them with your marketing material. The best way to find them is the contests like PDN Photography Annual, SPD (society of publication designers), Communication Arts, The Kelly awards, Graphis and Lurzer’s Archive. In a follow up email Leslie says to find projects that make your brain think “I would have LOVED to have worked on that project” and note that “I could have shot that” is not enough. You need to feel that real creative/vision connection.

We talked a bit about some of the problems Clay was having, much of which stems from his specific style of photography. He was feeling pressure to change the style and to use more digital to accommodate the tastes of his local market. Also, Clay has a bit of a dark sense of humor which turned off a few potential clients in his area. The key for him solving these issues is to look for clients outside of his local area and find more that are in tune with the way he wants to shoot. Ok, I know, that sounds like duh, who wouldn’t want clients all over the world but I think he’s at a major crossroad in his career that many photographers face, “Do I change my style to accommodate the local clients that make me money or do I go and look for new clients that like what I’m doing” not an easy decision and certainly one that can lead to disaster if those new clients never materialize. I honestly think Clay can make the jump but it’s gonna take some time and serious effort.

Something Leslie pointed out that I really found interesting was that photographers should use general naming categories on their website. I was really surprised to hear Leslie explain (she has a linguistics background) how people attach meaning to words and when your meaning doesn’t match theirs they get offended. Wow. This is big for me because I’m always saying to people “why are you putting those lifestyle photos in with the portraits and why are you calling those photos portraits when they’re clearly not.” That’s smart. Avoid that conflict of meaning.

Next we got into the actual website and Clay had a few problems with his navigation that we discussed and that he didn’t know weren’t working properly. He admitted to throwing a few random photos into the portfolios to demonstrate his ability to shoot other styles which we both pointed out as a mistake and somewhat of a distraction. If you’re going to demonstrate several styles of photography (not advised) then they all need to be complete bodies of work. I’m not really going to hire someone to shoot a style based on 3 or 4 images.

One more thing Leslie said that I found interesting was that some photos just don’t look good on the web and you should keep them off your website. I think it’s really smart to think in terms of what looks good and not, what am I trying to demonstrate or what jobs am I trying to show off.

Well, I hope everyone finds this useful, interesting and informative there’s certainly more advice in the audio of the session. I really want to thank Clay and Leslie for participating in this very public forum, I know I learned a few things from it.

Consultation Questions

Photography Consultation Demo, Part 5 of 6.
See the other parts here: (1), (2), (3) and (4).

Leslie’s Website
Clay’s Website

Here are the questions Leslie asked Clay to answer before the consultation:

What do you see as your target market(s)?

Commercial and Editorial. Unfortunately PSA’s because there is no money. In Canada the market is fairly conservative and safe, it’s been a difficult fit. My reps are finding it very difficult to convince AD’s that throw a Honda car in the background and you got a great advertisement using my style/look. You really have to spell it out for them.
As for Editorial, I’ve found it difficult to break into, again being in Canada, there is not a ton of options, and those that do exist are fairly conservative.
I have been trying to make contacts at US mags, but I constantly hear that budgets are becoming smaller and it’s really hard to justify flying me out to shoot something when there is already someone there.

Which 3 images are your favorites, and why?

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At first I went into explaining each of them, but soon found out there is similarities to all of them; story telling. Each image tells a story, and the viewer is compelled to either try and figure it out, or make up their own (I hope). I’m really drawn to photographers like Roger Ballen, Gregory Crewdson, Taryn Simon, and Nadav Kander. I’m also drawn to the disconnect of the subject matter, however this style is what’s killing me (besides PSA’s). It’s a tough sell. I think that’s why I also really respect the listed photographers, they’ve all been able to express their voice and have been really successful without having to compromise their vision.

How do you self-define your work? (for example “I shoot people in their environments, using mostly natural light and do not use digital manipulation”)

Most of my work is people in environments, with artificial light, sometimes a mix of natural and artificial. I rarely use digital manipulation, however I’ve been experimenting with it more and more to try and keep up with the market.

Describe, in detail, your dream project.

Pretty much any Nadav Kander job. It’s funny, my dream job (the only reason it wasn’t is because it was a freebie) happened a few years ago for the Alberta Ballet. I was given carte blanche, and everything was in sync and just came together. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of hard work but what I had imagined had organically come together. The same year Nadav did a similar campaign for the London Ballet, and at the IPA show my images took first place and his was second. I was floored, it was the biggest compliment.

What else are you doing for your marketing? (Mailers, emails, etc.?)

I’m terrible for marketing. I came from a small market and a lot of the people in the industry are my friends, so it was easy. Since I’ve moved to Toronto I’ve been doing mostly email promos, which I think, the same as mailers, are only successful if they are seen. I’m not a big fan of traditional marketing – but I’m told it works (especially by my reps). The main objective is to get people to your site or call in you book. That image has to be pretty amazing to get a PE or AD to take a minute out of their busy schedule, let alone take a look at your work. Also the industry is changing with Youtube, Facebook, etc. and there is a number of ways to get your name out there. Enter a contest that gets you a free photo consultation – that seems to be pretty good exposure.

How do you select your targets?

Mostly award shows and PE’s and AD’s at magazines. I try and find people that I respect and hope that we’ll have a similar aesthetic and either call them or email them. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Because I don’t have an American or European rep, I feel that I’m pretty limited to the fairly conservative Canadian market. My biggest fear is that I find the older I get and the more responsibilities I have, the more safe my work is getting. To be honest, I feel like I’m starting to get somewhat confused because I’m starting to feel that I’m going to have to change my look in order to get work or continue to struggle. So my approach, is changing to conform with my industry.

Why did you choose to be a photographer?

To be honest, I wanted to be a sculptor or a furniture designer but thought photography would be an easier way to make a living. A close family member has been very successful in photography, so I thought it would be an easy transition for me. In the city I was living in it was fairly easy. I worked my butt off and struggled to find my own voice but photography just came naturally. Now it’s all I do, all I think about and it’s my life. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Photography Consultant- Leslie Burns-Dell’Acqua

Photography Consultation Demo, Part 4 of 6.
See the other parts here: (1), (2) and (3).

I wanted to ask Leslie (Her website here) a few questions in advance of the consultation demo because, to be honest, I know nothing about her profession. This whole project came about on a whim. I was quizzing Leslie to see how she goes about consulting with photographers because I get asked to do it once and awhile and I thought, why not let the readers in on this conversation and luckily she agreed.

Why did you decide to become a photography consultant?

Cause Wal*Mart said my teeth were too good. <giggle>

Seriously, when I was repping I got lots of questions and as the
forums came into being, I got even more. I realized just how many
photographers were in need of good info and help, so I started
consulting. It quickly became clear that I had to make a choice
between repping and consulting, because there was the potential for
conflict-of-interest as I get intimate knowledge about my clients’
businesses which I could use against them if one of my photographers
was up for a project against them. I chose consulting because I could
help more people. It was a cut in pay, at first, but the satisfaction
of helping so many others made up for it.

Are there any myths about the profession you would like to expel?

The consultant profession? Well, I’d have to say the biggest one is
that any of us can fix your (any particular photographer’s) business.
We can’t do a damn thing beyond offering our best advice–it’s up to
the photographer to act on the information s/he gets. If the
photographer doesn’t work the plan I make for him (her), if s/he sits
on it and never makes the changes needed, nothing will happen.

What can photographers expect to get out of a consultation?

Continuing on the previous answer…whatever he or she is willing to
put into it. For me, each client is different and each project is
different so the expectations and deliverables vary greatly. I think
that generally speaking, a photographer should get a better idea of
her/his goals, where s/he is in relation to them, and concrete steps
to help get them closer to those goals.

What kinds of changes have you seen in your profession as a result of the digital revolution?

To answer that would take a book! :-)

Short answer is that when I started in the creative industries,
clients hardly had email and websites were things a few geeks had.
The portfolio was the most important marketing tool for a
photographer and it cost so much to make because of the prints, with
postcard mailers (and other print mailers) de rigeur and sourcebook
ads pretty much necessary. Now the site is the most important tool,
portfolios are much less expensive and printed on (good) Epson
printers, print promos have changed with email ones becoming as
ubiquitous, and print sourcebooks aren’t used much at all anymore
(though their web “versions” are).

All this, combined with the technology enabling pretty much anyone
the ability to make a decent image, means that low-end photography is
now off-shored like any commodity and the projects remaining are now
going to the right photographer, rather than just some “good enough”
guy with the technical know-how to use a good camera.

The good side of this is that talented, creative photographers can
live anywhere and get projects with clients across the globe; that
is, they don’t have to be a “just” a local guy with limited success
or move to NYC for any chance at significant success.

Please note that I said “talented, creative photographers.” That’s
important.

Copyright Overhaul

- - copyright

Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing fame has a story in the Guardian (here) yesterday about distinguishing between cultural and commercial uses of copyrighted material. He makes a good case for creating an exception in the law for low end cultural use of copyrighted material, stuff that goes on everyday that’s tolerated by everyone because there’s really no benefit to going after violators. Of course, this would never be a problem if we didn’t have the internet to distribute all this material to millions of people.

Through most of copyright’s history, we had two de facto systems: industrial regulation (governing what big companies did with each others’ stuff) and folk-copyright (the rules of thumb that most of us understood to be true).

[...] We need to stop shoe-horning cultural use into the little carve-outs in copyright, such as fair dealing and fair use. Instead we need to establish a new copyright regime that reflects the age-old normative consensus about what’s fair and what isn’t at the small-scale, hand-to-hand end of copying, display, performance and adaptation.

This makes sense to me for a couple very important reasons. Your average citizen doesn’t understand or care about copyright and when an overhaul comes in the form of either a vote or some type of legislation we’re going to have a hard time convincing people that they shouldn’t do what they’ve always done. Also, giving up low end fan violations will prevent the erosion of fair use and keep other less desirable uses from getting in that door.

A commenter on Boing Boing (here) pointed me to this excellent article published in the February, 2007 issue of Harpers (here) by Jonathan Lethem.

It’s worth noting, then, that early in the history of photography a series of judicial decisions could well have changed the course of that art: courts were asked whether the photographer, amateur or professional, required permission before he could capture and print an image. Was the photographer stealing from the person or building whose photograph he shot, pirating something of private and certifiable value? Those early decisions went in favor of the pirates. Just as Walt Disney could take inspiration from Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr., the Brothers Grimm, or the existence of real mice, the photographer should be free to capture an image without compensating the source. The world that meets our eye through the lens of a camera was judged to be, with minor exceptions, a sort of public commons, where a cat may look at a king.

[...] A time is marked not so much by ideas that are argued about as by ideas that are taken for granted. The character of an era hangs upon what needs no defense. In this regard, few of us question the contemporary construction of copyright. It is taken as a law, both in the sense of a universally recognizable moral absolute, like the law against murder, and as naturally inherent in our world, like the law of gravity. In fact, it is neither. Rather, copyright is an ongoing social negotiation, tenuously forged, endlessly revised, and imperfect in its every incarnation.

The bottom line here is that it’s not going to be long before we see either legislation or a court ruling and photographers need to do whatever they can to achieve the best possible outcome.