Proud to be judging the
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2013
Robert Lands is Head of Intellectual Property at HowardKennedyFsi LLP
Robert is a highly regarded copyright lawyer, considered no.1 by many in London.
In this interview Robert talks us through recent developments in copyright infringement issues online.
Samantha Grocutt is Owner & MD at Essence PR
Essence PR is a top London PR agency with a focus on hair and beauty
In this interview Sam gives us the commissioner's point-of-view and what qualities she looks for when considering photographers for PR shoots.
Miss Snappish Tells You How it is - I'm an Agent, get me out of here!
Miss Snappish is a close friend, but a bitter enemy – to me she has been both. On many things, we agree, but on some major issues or approaches it can be handbags at dawn, especially after a few glasses of wine. She is old-school and likes to hang-out with the celebrated, Her purse is crammed full with private member’s club cards. This is where she most likes to conduct her business - wining and dining art-buyers, creatives, gallery owners and dealers. She wants to remain anonymous: On-the-record she says: To keep a professional distance and enjoy the freedom to speak her mind, Off-the-record: To avoid being bombarded by snivelling photographers, eager to pick her brains and drain her of time and a life worth living. She has agreed, however, to provide this blog with her insights on Best Practice in approaching an agent. Beware: She holds no prisoners…
How to approach an Agent –
- Be brief, succinct and confident.
- If you already have an Agent, or have had one, say so immediately: An Agent will always find someone who has been previously repped a more attractive option – it shows form, means you have been marketed already, and (maybe) understand an Agent’s role. Be careful though as the next question will always be: Why have you moved on? Did you jump or were you pushed?
- Clarify why you left and why you are looking again.
- Don’t tell porkys: Agents may not swap notes with each other but we often do with Art Buyers who are all-seeing and can make enquiries on our behalf!
- If you have just shot an amazing campaign, feature or project, say so briefly and list your 5 top jobs/clients. Photography is art, but our job is to make money.
- Attach jpegs of your work - three is a good number - and provide a live (http://) link to your website. If you don’t have a website, get one, and then approach an Agent - 8 out of 10 creatives prefer websites over cards; it is easier, quicker and requires less storage.
- Flattery works! If I think you are genuine and sincere when you praise my agency or photographers then I might just take the bait.
- Don’t send a two-line impersonal message saying, “Looking for Agent, here’s my website”. You would never walk up to someone you didn’t know and be so rude – especially if they could help you - so don’t be rude to me, I will remember you and will certainly shirk your work, publically.
- Don’t send the same message to me twice, or hit my agency more than 2 or 3 times a year. We do look at interesting work and we do remember images, names etc. If you haven’t heard back from us it is very likely a No, or a, Not Currently Interested. I log interesting work/websites, even when I haven’t responded. If I like your work I like it, and may keep you in mind for future jobs or future representation. If you pester me I may decide I no longer like it!
- Don’t try and be clever, witty or aloof in your introductory email. I can see right through it and it says a lot about you - which isn’t a good thing. If you approach me inappropriately then you are likely to approach my clients in the same way. I wont like that.
- Don’t send blanket emails. Do your research. I get fed-up being approached by fashion photographers who would never suit my ‘advertising’ photo agency, and even worse, photographers whose style is similar to someone already on my books. Unless you are approaching an agency specializing in a specific genre, such as interiors or children, do not approach a cross-genre agency because you see someone on the books whose work (you think) is similar to your own.
- Don’t send large files or lots of images. Make your edit and believe in it.
- Honesty is very refreshing. I once replied to an amateur who fancied himself a professional. He was confident about his work in exhibitions but hadn’t taken it any further. I responded and told him to stick to out-of-town exhibitions where he would likely find more money. The only reason I responded to him at all was because he mentioned he had been a literary agent and I wanted to know who he had repped!
- Don’t just send a message with a weblink. A weblink on it’s own is an unnecessary detour from my work. If I have the time and like your jpegs I will check out the webpage and probably give you feedback. Don’t take silence as a rejection; we’re busy, it’s not personal.
- Send one card, preferably one image. You have 6 seconds attention time so you have to make it punchy.
- Make your image choice commercial, not arty.
- Make sure your retouching and printing quality is up to scratch. Attention to detail is key in a photographer.
- Don’t waste your money on flashy packaging. We like it, it’s pretty, it may even give my team a few ideas, but it wont change the final outcome for you.
- Use manila envelopes and I might think it’s a bill or a cheque and open it! This is a trick I use on creatives and it seems to have some success. I view cold-calling cards, whether from stylists, studios, galleries (offering champagne and canapés) and photographers, as spam mail. If I am in a hurry and tired of junk mail I will bin it.
- Beware sending gimmicks through the post. A photography college took to sending their end of year exhibition invites out with plastic fruit. My 3 year old loved them, but it didn’t make me attend the open day. Another time a photographer sent me an image of sand dunes along with a handful of sand, loose in the envelope, it then got spread over my desk and onto my computer! Think about what you are doing.
- Don’t send a CV, you are not applying for a job.
- Don’t send personal images and then list 100’s of clients. I like personal work, but I want to see the money.
- Don’t send a card if you haven’t got a website.
- Well done! We are at a dinner party or social, in the foyer of an ad agency, or you have actually managed to get yourself through my door and into my office for a show and tell.
- If it is social, please don’t bother me! Even if it is a work social don’t bother me! Nobody likes working off the job, and I forever dread the words, “My brother, husband, sister, daughter is a photographer, would you mind….” - I do. Everyone does mind, even if the photographer is really good! If you must, be polite, discreet and pass a card, then make no more of it and preferably a quick exit.
- The foyer of an advertising agency is very boring with long waiting times, I quite like a bit of a chat with the person on the next chair, but I am on show and have my guard up, so it probably isn’t the best time to get much out of me. Pass the card and chat. I will look at your work later!
- So you’re in the office. I either like something about your work, or I am after something. Often, I will call books in if I can’t make up my mind from the website/cards etc. A portfolio speaks volumes about its creator, if I am still intrigued then you are onto something. Be polite, be on time, be professional and don’t be too eager. Bide your time and listen. Ask what it is that I like, or what interested me about your work. If I give you advice, act on it and come back in 3 months, showing me how you have altered things.
- Ask what the last job was that I worked on, ask which photographer on my books is busiest, ask me which area of photography I feel is most lucrative, ask me how long I have been an Agent, if I have children, if I live in London. Ask me who my preferred agencies or art buyers are, then go and visit them and ask them the same question!
- Ask for my agency cards. Look at my website before you come to the meeting: Know who I have on my books and what their background is. Don’t speak to my photographers about what I am like – you will get one answer, and one only - that is: I am great. Word will get back to me and I will think it an inappropriate move!
- Do take me to lunch, by all means, but don’t assume you are my friend and have an open invitation back to my office in the future – unless your work is great! Don’t make me pay for lunch either.
Common mistakes in seeking an Agent
- “I’m in my final year at college…” (You do not need an Agent)
- “I am an all-rounder photographer; shooting landscapes, people and still life…” (You need to hone your genre and probably your style)
- “I have had 3 jobs, working for a publishing company, and have now decided to get an Agent…” (Keep at it, you are on your way but still have a long way to go, wait until you know you need an Agent, not just that you want one)
- “I am so versatile I can work in many styles….” (Don’t kid yourself Sunshine, unless you are already up there and a master of aping others’ styles, you must find your own niche)
- Don’t approach an Agent unless you have a couple of good campaigns under your belt. An Agent isn’t a glorified Job Centre consultant, we exist to build on your blossoming career, not create it. A book cover does not count. A strong editorial presence does not stand up on it’s own. One campaign and some corporate brochures is not enough. You have to put in the legwork and jumpstart your own career; it is too competitive these days to take the risk grooming talent.
- Don’t think you have a chance without a website and properly printed cards.
- Your website is your shop window, your one chance, make sure it makes the right impression.
- Most photographers do apprenticeships as assistants with established photographers for years before they go it alone. If you work for the right photographer, and keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut, you will learn vital techniques, technical, social, psychological and critical, that will serve you well for your entire career.
- A definitive, commercially viable style is not something you can determine, only an Agent and creatives (within that city) have the slightest chance of determining the delicate balance between niche style and commercial demand, and that changes on a monthly basis. Concentrate on what you enjoy, what moves you and what moves others about your work. If you are lucky, you may stumble across a style of your own.
- Very few photographers make it commercially. It is a full time job, but seldom provides a full-time salary, even for photographers with the best agencies. It is tough out there and only the most committed will survive. Your commitment should be to money as much as to your passion, so there is no room for delusions of grandeur or ‘selling out’. Some of the most successful London Photographers are businessmen first and camera operators second. Technically they are adequate, but it is their social acumen and business strategy that has won them campaign after campaign.
- An Agent is not your parent, but your best ‘career’ friend. An Agent is not your employee, but your mentor. An Agent is not your enemy, but sometimes your reality check. An Agent is not your friend, but can be your lifeline. An Agent is not a punch bag and has feelings too. An Agent will always try and act in your best interest, for it is also in their best interest (or is it?).
Now, go away and try harder.
First day of judging TWPPP - Beware the cliche - A ditty
When editing on such a large scale as this the most powerful images truly sing out from the rest. I thoroughly enjoyed the selection process and, unlike constructing a portfolio or curating a collection for a book or exhibition, there was no requirement for a collective narrative. This was incredibly liberating allowing us to focus entirely on the impact of each individual image.
Repetitive themes and parodied styles were evident throughout and I yearned for images that broke the mould and demanded I look at an old subject through new eyes. Many of those short-listed carry a narrative beyond the immediate aesthetic, which for me is the essence of an award winner.
Beards tattoos and floating bath-babies,
Red-haired freckled and disfigured ladies.
Self-harming, piercing, arms and legs missing,
Breast-feeding, girl bleeding – nice big cat.
Wood sheds, dog-legged and artists in residence,
Rembrandt, Manet and classical reference.
White space, darkened face,
A pregnant pause, all in a good cause…
Rabbit masks - horse mask, face covered in clay,
Grief-stricken girlfriend and babies at play.
Shrubbery, reflected, another body dissected,
Clergymen, veterans, Shall we call it a day?
Some insider views
Q to Photographer - What's the most important trait in an assistant?
A to Agent - A pretty face.
© All images, text, film and content subject to copyright 2013.