Photo editor and writer Heidi Volpe recently interviewed a handful of top reps for an article aimed at photographers looking for representation, and Stockland Martel was honored to be among those included. Below, Bill Stockland and Maureen Martel’s answers to Heidi’s questions. Read the full story—which also features Deborah Schwartz of DSREPS, Carol LeFlufy of Eye Forward, and Marilyn Cadenbach of Cadenbach.com—at APA’s website.
What are some of the most important aspects you look for in a book when considering adding to your roster?
Maureen Martel: We keep an eye toward 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 our team. That strong 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; it’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: 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 becomes about your understanding of how to express 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 postproduction. The photographer has to be proficient in all elements of the process.
If a photographer doesn’t have a large existing client base, does this give you pause?
Maureen: 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 marketplace. 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 marketplace 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 skilled and talented sales and marketing teams, but the photographer today needs to also be managing their own social media and networking opportunities.
Bill: Today’s marketplace requires some kind of base, be it editorial, advertising, retail, or commercial. We keep an eye toward 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?
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, years ago 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 Barney’s because of that show and his amazing 20×24 Polaroids.
If we do get pitched, we want them to know who we are, what we are about, and to have a strong understanding of the agency and how they might fit.
What is your best advice in prepping a book for meeting with a potential rep?
Maureen: 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 who can express this succinctly are the reps’ most powerful collaborators.
If the photographer is going to succeed in this marketplace, they need to be completely committed and focused on their career. We meet a lot of extraordinary talent. Those who 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?
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 and a full-time digital assets 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 that 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 Taschen, 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 a 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 themselves a standout 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 standout in the LA community. They have a wonderful ongoing series called “LA Woman.” This body of work shows their range as photographers and 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 Brinson+Banks are called upon for celebrity portraits and have had a steady stream of work with both The New York Times and Variety.