Photo of Bill Stockland & Maureen Martel © Kwaku Alston
Looking for Representation? Read this first.
Interviews by Heidi Volpe
We had a chance to connect with some of the most successful agency owners in the business. This candid interview is a must read for anyone searching for representation.
Stockland Martel, Inc.
What are some of the most important aspects you look for in a book when considering adding to your roster?
Deborah Schwartz: When looking at new work, I am hoping to see a unique eye toward interesting and relevant subject matter. Whether it is lifestyle or still life or portraiture or fashion - I want to see that the photographer has their own unique way of seeing things that comes through in their work, and that they are not just good technically or good at copying the current trends. And their presentation has to be both professional and artistic. If someone comes with just a laptop or iPad, then I see that meeting as simply an introduction. I also think that it's important to point out that although a photographer's portfolio or body of work is the most important aspect in potentially taking them on, it is only one of a few really important aspects today in what makes a viable new addition to our roster. A photographer has to be collaborative with us, willing to test and push themselves creatively, invest in promoting themselves, and getting out to meet with potential clients. They have to truly understand that we are a part of a team that they need to actively participate in, and it goes far beyond just shooting. It is also so important to me to know what a photographer is like to work with for the agency/client. On that side, they have to be able to navigate being collaborative while also sticking to their vision in order to give the agency/client something special as a final result. They also need to have the mindset and dedication to being organized, responsible business owners. They don't have to know all of the rules about business before joining us, but we need to feel confident that they will do all of the things that we tell them they need to do in order to run a successful and organized business.
Carol LeFlufy: I look for an original point of view that is developed and considered. I look for someone who has a consistent approach to their work and that the book is a good compliment or extension of the website and that the way the person reads to me - if I am seeing the book with the photographer in person ( like at a portfolio review )
Marilyn Cadenbach: What differentiates this photographer from others? Does he/she have a personal style? How cohesive is the book/work? Where in the marketplace do I see this work fitting? How saturated is that particular market?
Maureen Martel: We keep an eye towards the industry to see the emerging trends, what the market is responding to, but almost all of our photographers came to us through recommendations.
Bill is the gatekeeper; if he likes the photographer and his/her style, Bill will introduce the photographer to the team. That strong vision style needs to apply to our strengths as an agency.
We always review work looking for that extra layer of exceptional perspective. It helps if their vision applies to more than one of the photographic categories that we promote to: advertising, entertainment, fashion and editorial. There is so much great work out there, but we ask, “How does it apply to our client base?” And does that work also complement the work of the photographers we already represent.
Bill Stockland: An overriding element for us is people need to live and breathe what they do. Shooting and creating work has to be part of who they are; as if it’s a part of their life force. Walter Iooss and Nadav Kander were two of the first photographers on the Stockland Martel roster, and we still represent them. What struck us about their work was it was unequivocally their own voice, and we saw a strong application to the industry.
The expression of who they are is defined by their work, that’s a gift to truly express yourself via your images. There is no holding back, no fakery, no repeating the marketplace. It’s an honest expression of who they are as people. This is key for us as an agency. Walter has been shooting as a pro since he was 17! Our photographers have this thing that is not taught, again, it’s back to the essence of their true self.
Maureen Martel: When we take on a photographer we look at their entire archive and edit the photographer’s work with our marketplace in mind. Visually defining the photographer’s style is critical to the packaging of the talent. The art producers, and creatives need to immediately see the application of the style to their needs.
Besides visual style it is essential that the photographer have a professional manner.
We are not only promoting the style, but the photographer’s ability to execute the assignment with grace.
They don’t get to bid if they aren’t talented, but once you are in the bid, it is the understanding of how to express you is your ideas including how you would problem-solve the job. This includes how you conduct yourself on the conference call, how you prepare treatments, applying your experience to all phases of the job from the bidding process, to the production and very often through post production. The photographer has to feel proficient with all elements of the process.
If a photographer doesn't have a large existing client base, does this give you pause?
Deborah Schwartz: Not necessarily at all. Although if I really like their work, and they are that new in the business, I would probably work with that photographer on a freelance basis in order to see how well they do with clients and handling actual jobs.
Carol LeFlufy: No - not necessarily. It all depends on whether the photographer has a more developed career - really for me it would be if the existing clients like him and want to continue working with him - and if they did that would be a positive element.
Marilyn Cadenbach: A large existing client base is obviously great. I’ve signed photographers who were established in another country but who didn’t have a client base in the U.S., and I’ve signed photographers who have an established client base, so I wouldn’t emphatically say it’s one or the other. If I meet someone whom I think has all of the right elements but who doesn't have a big client base, I would still explore the possibility of working together.
Maureen Martel: Stockland Martel is known for our ability to broaden the markets of the photographers we represent. In the past we’ve taken fully mature international talent and brought them to the US market place. We’ve redefined US talent, repackaging and expanding their territory: editorial photographers into the advertising market, and advertising photographers into the editorial market and the entertainment industry. Liz Von Hoene had a large retail base and we brought her to into the advertising market for example.
To bring a new talent into this market place without an existing client base is challenging today. The photographer needs to be prepared to work diligently on all creative opportunities whether or not there is a big payday. Building their name recognition through new editorial and personal work is essential to cross them over into the advertising, entertainment, and fashion markets.
Stockland Martel has a skilled and talented sales and marketing teams, but the photographer today needs to also be managing their own social media and networking opportunities.
Bill Stockland: Today’s market place requires some kind of base be it editorial, advertising, retail, or commercial. We keep an eye towards the body of work the photographer is creating, and the repeatability of such great work.
The time required to build name recognition of new talent makes it much harder of late since the talent pool is so deep and expansive.
So yes, we look for a photographer’s client base whatever that may be, we look for an opportunity to take their base and morph it into a new market.
Creation of work is important to us. New work is essential as the market needs to have a steady base of great work and it’s vital to continually to push that work out. If you can’t, then you will not be able to compete.
How do you like to be pitched for new talent?
Deborah Schwartz: If someone emails me with their work, I will look at what they send. If their email has the right tone, doesn't have spelling or grammar issues, and their work is good - I will write back. I don't have a lot of time to look at new work though - and if I let someone know this, I am happy when they are cool about that and stay in touch in a way that is subtle and not pushy. If an Art Buyer friend or other colleague who I respect asks me to look at someone's work, I am more inclined to find the time even if I am buried - but I would still hope for a level of subtlety of approach by the photographer. Sometimes I am just too buried to meet with someone. But if they stay in touch over time with new work that I relate to, eventually it can work out.
Carol LeFlufy: I like best to meet people at reviews or be recommended to people by someone I trust. For an artist to reach out to me direct - and email is best with samples of his or hers work and a link to the website. Phone calls do not work.
Marilyn Cadenbach: I’m open to all forms of introduction/interaction. Most people obviously reach out via email, whether it be a personal email or an eblast. Personally, I’m a fan of direct mail because I love seeing images printed. Some people are referred to me by someone we have in common, and they’ll actually pick up the phone and call me. Novel, I know.
There was a young photographer who started contacting me when he was an intern at an ad agency. He was teaching himself photography, and one day he stopped by my office. I wasn’t able to meet with him at the time, but he emailed me from time to time and eventually we sat down and looked at his work.
All of this is to say that I don’t think there’s one preferred way for me to be ‘pitched’. Sometimes it takes time to make the connection, so I’d say to be persistent without being annoying.
Looking for an agent is like looking for new clients - know whom you’re reaching out to. If you’re a fashion photographer, you generally aren’t trying to show your work to an agency that has primarily food and financial services accounts. Same with looking for an agent - have some idea of what their roster is like and whether you’re a good fit before getting in touch.
Bill: Most of our new talent comes to us from referrals. We are always on the lookout but I generally don’t go out and call on talent because I don’t want to poach anyone.
For example Timothy Greenfield-Sanders had photos from his Mary Boone Gallery show featured in New York Magazine. We contacted him because we loved those photos; shortly thereafter he was shooting a campaign of celebrities for Barneys, because of that show and his amazing 20x24 Polaroids.
If we do get pitched, we want them to know who we are, what we are about, have a strong understanding of the agency and how they may fit.
What is your best advice in prepping a book for meeting with a potential rep?
Deborah Schwartz: Don't rush this process. I would rather a photographer wait until they have a real presentation before asking for a meeting. If they show up with only an iPad, I do feel that it is simply an introduction to that person, and not a serious meeting to actually consider taking that photographer on at that time. Show a level of professionalism as well as an even higher level of artistic pride in the work with the presentation. This shows that they are serious as artists, and that they take the time to care for and present their work in the right way. And most importantly, I want to see more than just a "commercial" representation of the photographer. I want to see who they are as an artist as well as to get a well-rounded idea of that artist's ability to merge their art with commerce.
Carol LeFlufy: A strong vision - good presentation - and a smiling, interesting, compelling, smart photographer that goes with it!
Marilyn Cadenbach: The biggest piece of advice that I can offer would be to hire a photo editor and a designer to work with you on your presentation, be it electronic or printed.
Seeing a good, cohesive, well-designed portfolio is inspiring. Having said that, most photographers are not the best at editing their own work or putting together the strongest presentation of their work.
I often hear, ‘well, I’m waiting to find a new agent to update my book’, or ‘this book is about three years old’. Or someone pulls out an iPad and wants me to look at their website or at a massive number of disorganized images in multiple folders that they can’t locate. And I ask ‘why?’ And it makes me consider how they would handle preparing a treatment, meeting with a prospective client, etc.
The next thing that I can offer about meeting prospective agents is that trashing your former or existing agent doesn’t have much appeal to someone who’s considering representing you.
Portfolios, in the past, were requested by art producers as their main selling tool to get a photography assignment. Now that the internet is used as the primary vehicle to select photographers for assignments, portfolios today are used primarily by the photographer and their representative for meetings. Their entire portfolio package should be perfect. Even the portfolio shipping case, should reflect the photographer’s personal style.
The work can be individual prints or behind plastic, but the edit needs to be more than well considered. When meeting with a potential rep the photographer should show their range of photography, but be prepared to talk about where they think the work applies.
Our most successful photographers know where they fit into the market. Those that can express this succinctly are the reps most powerful collaborators.
If the photographer is going to succeed in this market place they need to be completely committed and focused on their career.
We meet a lot of extraordinary talent. Those that come from other disciplines simply to make money can be a challenge. One has to be committed to the process, committed to the team’s sales and marketing strategy and committed to the collaboration.
What are some misconceptions about the working relationship?
Deborah Schwartz: The biggest misconception is that one gets an agent who then goes out and gets work for a photographer; and that getting the work is based on their current body of work. We consider ourselves teammates and collaborators with our photographers. In today's world, the photographers are out there meeting with Art Buyers and potential clients as much as we are. And the photographer needs to be shooting new work constantly in order to remain relevant and interesting to clients. Yes, a great body of work is what attracts reps to working with a photographer, but what keeps the ball rolling is the addition of new and interesting work that shows growth and development as an artist.
Carol LeFlufy: If you get an agent you are not absolved of being responsible for your career. In other words - just because you have an agent that does not mean they do all the work to get you work and you have to do nothing. In fact a good agent makes you work harder to promote, create new relationships and get your work out there - it is a TEAM effort.
Bill: Most important when we started the business we could control the outreach a bit more to the agencies, it was much more personable and paced differently.
Think about the vehicles back then? There was:
• No social media
• No Internet
• No online viral campaigns
• No immediacy to the content.
It was door-to-door sales and this has changed dramatically.
Once the web emerged we took on that outreach and now have a full time creative director, full time a digital asset manager. We understand the importance of the new landscape and what that requires.
It’s critical that our photographers are creating new work and they need to be managing their own outreach, their own social media, wining and dining; personally doing their own part.
We also feel it’s essential to connect with the agencies and the market via small creative groups. Our talent takes part in lectures, personal shows, industry events, this is all part of our marketing strategy and we feel their efforts have to be shoulder to shoulder with ours.
Michael Muller is a fine example of this. This is something comes naturally to Michael, and he shines in that arena. He has a large personal body of work on sharks he is passionate about. He published a book with Tashcen, had a show at the Taschen Gallery in Los Angeles, has been invited to speak internationally about this important social issue and of course the work.
He is constantly out in the community, connecting pushing forward, active in social media, active in giving back to the industry with his time and talent. Michael has taken his personal work to whole other level; he is the real deal.
On the other end of the spectrum we have newly signed Brinson+Banks.
The husband and wife team started out in photojournalism in the south, and they live and breathe what they do 24/7.
They knew their path moving to LA, knew what they wanted to do with their talent and unique eye and how that could make them a stand out in the celebrity portrait arena. This appealed to our group.
They had done their homework, shooting constantly on their own and this made them equipped to be a part of our agency. We understood how their photojournalism and street photography could make them a stand out in the LA community. They have a wonderful on-going series called LA Woman. This body of work shows their range as photographers, ability to produce, connect with their subjects and capture intimate portraits, and this we know is not an easy task. That same skill has captured the eye of many publications and they are called upon for celebrity portraits and have had a steady stream of work with both the New York Times and Variety.
Marilyn Cadenbach: Many photographers think that if they get a good agent, they’re home free. Having a good agent is one step in the process, but it’s not the magic button, and we’re not miracle workers.
Some photographers think that when they sign with an agent, that agent will be at their disposal, that the agent ‘works for them’. I don’t know any agent who is employed by the photographers they represent. We’re independent contractors who work on commission. There’s a big difference.
Some photographers think that we’re here as a sounding board and that we have all the time in the world to hang out on the phone with them. No can do!
The most successful photographer/agent relationships are mutually respectful partnerships, so the question ‘what are you doing for me?’ is a question that a photographer should be asking himself/herself. What am I doing to further my career, and how can my agent and I work together to make that happen?
Thanks to everyone for their time and valuable insight!