The story of Stockland Martel

This past spring, we received an interview request from the magazine Up by Forbes, based in Romania. They wanted to do a feature on Stockland Martel—how Bill Stockland and Maureen Martel began working together, how they built the business, and what the industry was like at the time and how it has changed since.

We’re so used to fielding requests for our photographers that this inquiry caught us by surprise. And then it made us think. There are many stories to tell from Stockland Martel’s 30-year (and counting) history—too many for a single interview. But below, Bill and Maureen, answering questions sent to us by editor Diana-Florina Cosmin of Up by Forbes, shed some light on their agency, which is so tightly woven into the fabric of the industry that it’s easy to forget how much work it took to get this far…

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Maureen and Bill in Los Angeles, on their way to a client dinner, 2013.

How did Stockland Martel come into being?
Bill: I moved to New York in the 1970s, and most of my friends were illustrators. I would go to their parties and the reps would have a community of talent around them. It attracted me. So I started working with an illustrator friend who had a space in Carnegie Hall. I went out and met people and made introductions, and I was good at it. Right down the hall from my illustrator friend in Carnegie Hall was a photographer. One day, he came up to me and said, “I like the way you look. I like the way you think. Rep me.” And I did. I went to door to door—to all the ad agencies—and showed his photos. I got work for him immediately. And I have been repping ever since. Back then, I thought I’d be able to live like my illustrator friends and stay at home and work in my bathrobe. In truth, in 37 years as a rep, I’ve never taken time off during the workday.

Maureen: Bill was looking for someone to work with him because he’d signed a new still life photographer who was very busy. And I was making a career transition. I had been teaching elementary school but wanted a new challenge. Art and photography had always been part of my life—in college, I majored in education and minored in fine art—and I knew I wanted to get into the commercial photography business. I was interested in the combination of art and commerce.

The next step was to figure out which agency or rep to align myself with. I went out and met all the big players, and that’s how I met Bill Stockland. I knew right away he was the person I wanted to work with. I liked how open, positive, and light he was. He was also very elusive. He would always tell me I could work with him but he would never close the deal. Finally, after more than a month of my pursuing him, we ran into each other in an elevator one day and I cornered him. I said, “This is it—you’re going to make your decision.” And he did, in that very moment. He had been on his way up to see his photographer, who happened to be in that building, and he took me up with him. That was in August of 1983.

How did your individual perspectives on the industry shape each other?
Maureen: I’d say our perspectives are complementary. Both of us are incredibly intuitive. Neither one of us is trained in photography. Neither one of us would describe ourselves as a photographer. But we have an incredible sense of greatness—greatness in the work and in the personality of the photographer, and also how that work can apply to the industry.

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Maureen and Bill at an industry event in the 1980s.

What was the industry like in the 1980s?
Maureen: In the 1980s in the U.S., photography was a regional business, and our region was New York City. The formula for the business was, you had a lifestyle photographer (ours was Joel Baldwin) and a still life photographer (Michael Pruzan). We didn’t even do editorial photography at the time because we were completely focused on advertising.

Our office was the size of a closet, and we had two phone lines, but they weren’t even connected to each other. If one of us wanted to transfer a call to the other, we’d just get up and switch seats. The materials we dealt with then were also completely different from today. We had 8×10 transparencies for our still life guy and laminated felt-backed prints for our lifestyle guy. There were no fax machines, no computers. Everything was delivered by messenger or by us in person. Bill didn’t even use a Rolodex—he kept every phone number in his head and change in his pocket so he could call people from the pay phone when he was out.

I came in at a transitional moment, though. Within a year, we had taken on Eric Meola and Walter Iooss. Eric was one of the biggest commercial photographers in the industry, and Walter had a huge editorial reputation. He had just finished shooting a year-and-a-half-long project for Fuji on athletes training for the 1984 Olympics (the book is called Shooting for the Gold). Walter’s editorial reputation attracted Camel International, and they became our first international account. In our second year of business, we doubled the size of our office space, and in the third year we doubled that. By around the fifth year, we had moved into a loft on Union Square, where we remained for 20 years before purchasing our current space: a brownstone near the border of the East Village and Gramercy.

The first print promo from Stockland Martel, early 1980s.

The first print promo from “Bill Stockland in association with Maureen Martel,” early 1980s. Click to view larger.

What would be the one episode in the history of the agency that you consider “a watershed moment” for the business?
Maureen: The moment we got the Camel International job for Walter Iooss. I felt total body rush when I  got the call. That absolutely was a game changer for us. And we had no idea what the job would become—it became years of work, several times a year, for weeks at a time. They had Walter traveling to the most exotic places. I’m still good friends with that creative director.

What does a day in the life of Bill and Maureen look like, job-wise?
Maureen: First of all, we are both completely hands on. We share a desk on the sales floor, which is on the second floor of our brownstone. Bill is on the phone nonstop, speaking to clients, to the talent, while I coordinate the marketing team and all of the selling assets, plus guide the sales team. We do this nonstop from morning to night. We do what we do for the love of it. As big as this boutique business is, it’s still a boutique business. And a boutique business succeeds only when the principals remain involved. Besides, we rep very high-end talent, and they expect us to be hands on. And they know we will be. That’s why they’re with Stockland Martel.

You have an array of award-winning artists who have been part of Stockland Martel for years. Such long-standing relationships suggest a family. Do you spend time with the artists you represent outside of work?
Maureen: Absolutely. We support them by attending their openings, screenings, book signings, lectures, and so forth. We take them to lunch or dinner or visit their studio or set to catch up with them in person. This is a relationship business, and maintaining strong relationships is important not just for our clients but also for our photographers.

What have you learned from photography’s evolution from film to digital, and what challenges has that transition created for your business?
Maureen: Digital cameras changed the lives of our photographers, because the market has been flooded with people who want to be a professional photographer. And social networking and websites changed the lives of the photo agents, because now photographers can be sourced from anywhere in the world. It’s become a very competitive business. So you just try your best every day. We approach every job the same way we approached jobs 30 years ago: We give them our all, and we expect our photographers and support team to do the same. You know what’s funny, though? At this level of photography, at the end of the day it’s still talent that matters most.

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Below, the story as it appeared in Up by Forbes, courtesy of the magazine’s art director, Andrei Michailov. Click here to download the English translation, generously provided by Diana-Florina Cosmin.

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Stockland Martel 2012 staff photo by Nino Muñoz.

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Photo by Walter Iooss.

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Photos by Fulvio Bonavia.

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Photo by Jeff Lipsky.

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Photos by Kwaku Alston.

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Photos by Nadav Kander.

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Photos by Nino Muñoz.

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Photos by Michael Muller.

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Photos by Matthias Clamer.

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Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.

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