BREAKING INTO THE AD MARKET

Ad photography young guns MATT HENRY and OLIKELLETT share their meditations on the advertising world in this new monthly feature MATT: Oli Kellett - welcome to the new feature on advertising for Professional Photographer magazine. Minea pint of Aspall, by the way. OLI: Pleasure to be here! MATT: Fantastic. So letstart by introducing ourselves to the readers before we get stuck into our first topic. OLI: My background was actually in advertising, as an art director at an ad agency called TBWA. Photography had been an interest at college (I studied graphic design) and after about four years drawing up ads for TV, radio and print, I decided I wanted to take the photography side a bit further. MATT: I started out writing as a journalist on photography mags (which I still do) but then decided to turn the hobby into a career, much like yourself. So how was the transition from art director commissioning photographers to photographer getting commissioned? OLI: Shooting ads was never a primary goal at first. I was shooting black-and-white street photography; real people, with nothing retouched and nothing set up. The photography was just about going out and exploring. Art buyers liked to see it, but there isna market in advertising for that kind of work and it took about six months for me to realise that. I started to think more conceptually and my work has changed a lot over the past three years. MATT: You must have seen so many books as an art director to know it wouldnfit? OLI: I had seen many books and they were always so samey and retouched, and clcan and proper, and thatthe work I didnwant to do. So I guess I hoped they would go for something different. I remember saying the worst possible things when first visiting art buyers. Originally none of my work was ever set up; it was real people. And I said to them over and over again, is not set up... no, this is a real person; they were really looking like that.” Thatthe worst thing you can ever say to someone whose job it is to make fiction look like reality. Now I appreciate that. Advertising photography is all set up and a book has to feature this aspect to be saleable - an ad agency also has to convince a client, so they need to sec transferable skills. MATT: Yes, my own work is all staged, more out of a desire from the start to work in fiction rather than an attempt to appeal to the ad industry. But all the art buyers and photographeragents I went to see did say that the work was perfect for advertising because of the very fact it was staged. The other great piece of advice I received was not to try to create something that you think the ad industry might like. OLI: Itthe same for any visual art. You have to shoot something that you are passionate about. If younot, you will have no enthusiasm to see it through. MATT: And itgonna look shit. OLI: Well, thatone way of putting it! Projects take a lot of time, a lot of effort... a lot of money. They take months. If halfway through you start to get bored by it... you have to do what you want to do. You have to please yourself first and hopefully the jobs roll in. MATT: I had a discussion with an American agent about the future of advertising photography and she said . The guys who do well now are those with phenomenal personal work that can sit with any fine-art photographer... sit in any gallery. I wouldn t even classify these people as advertising photographers. Advertising funds their personal work and thatthe way to go if you want to make a real, long-term success of it. There have to be ideas and concepts behind the work. You still see agents and photographers who show only ad work and it frustrates a lot of art buyers who want to see creativity. OLI : Youright about ideas. I think people remember the idea more than the image itself. The other vital aspect is that a photographer has to have a consistent style. When I first started to shoot in colour, art buyers were saying my work was too varied. There was a mix of portraits, landscapes and still-life work and in varied styles. Most big ad photographers do only one thing very well; either itjust still life, for example, or they have a defining style that runs through each genre. MATT: Yes, I agree, and that style has to be something new and fresh. Certainly, if yougot a new vision, and itcome from  "The guys who do well now are those with phenomenal personal work that can sit with any fine-art photographer... sit in any gallery. I wouldneven classify these people as advertising photographers.” Matt Henry ...It is important to think in terms of a series or project... I don t know what you can say about one image. A series gives you the chance to really get into a concept and then draw a line under it.”Oli Kellett the heart, people will pick up on that. So much work is recycled. Okay, wetalk about building a portfolio. Isay you need at least 10-15 images before you go to see anybody and make sure you visit the photographer s agents first. When I started out, Ishoot in series of four and each would look quite similar. Igo in and the agent would say, "Well you only need one of those to each," and I would think, "Shit, thathalf my book gone! But thatthe fact of the matter. Itnot about just having 30 or 40 images... those 30 or 40 images have to be killer. One or two bad images can ruin a whole book. Youback and forth, back and forth, building the work and weeding out the weak shots. Itan ongoing process. OLI: But it is important to think in terms of a series or project. Itvery hard to do anything conceptually with one image. I donknow what you can say about one image. A series gives you the chance to really get into a concept and then draw a line under it. Ad agencies work in series too. Everything is drawn up as a campaign. Itvery rare that you would draw up a single ad; most of the time youdrawing up three press ads, to show that it can run as a campaign. I agree about the time issue, but itmoney too. Photography as a career is incredibly expensive. Itnot even the equipment; I hire most of my stuff for a specific job, so I just have the basics. Itsending out the cards, sending out the email campaigns, funding new shots. MATT: I think I shot my first-ever picture for my ad portfolio in late 2007 and since then Ispent thousands of pounds. It has taken four years to reach the stage where Igot an agent, which is a big step. And Isay that was my focus the whole time. We should talk about the importance of the agent in breaking into the advertising market. I went to see so many art buyers at ad agencies during that time, all of whom claimed to give jobs to photographers without agents, but no job was forthcoming. Then I get an agent and all of a sudden Iquoting for jobs left, right and centre. OLI: There are many, many jobs that go to agents that would never go to a freelance photographer without an agent. I would say that most of the time the first port of call for art buyers is the photographeragents - itrare that they would call a photographer direct, though in fashion this does happen more. MATT: We can cover the process of getting an agent and the role they play in another issue. What about assisting? Do you think ita vital part of the process of breaking into the advertising world? OLI: Igot quite a warped view of assisting. I know plenty of people who have assisted for years and I also know people who have done no assisting. I assisted perhaps 10 days of my life. Probably the most valuable thing I learnt was that I didnactually want to be an assistant, but wanted to shoot my own work from the start. Once you have set yourself up as an advertising photographer you canassist. If you have been on a job with an art buyer as a photographer and then youspotted as an assistant for another photographer it doesnlook good. No one I know does that. Once you stop assisting, thatit. MATT: That period is the tough one and breaking in at this point is difficult; agencies always tend to go with established guys. Therea lot of money involved and if theyseen the finished product from a photographer before, they know what theygetting. Some photographers have trouble translating their personal styles into ads, so younot always guaranteed to get something as good, which is a worry for ad agencies if theyusing someone new. OLI: Agreed. Once you do one ad job for an agency, itquite a long process - there are meetings, a lot of talking on the phone, so they get to know you as a person, which counts for a lot. Once they have established youreliable and present well in meetings, theycome back to you. Once youdone one job for them theymuch more hospitable about seeing new work and replying to emails. Since getting an agent Inoticed Ibeen able to present work to agencies where I hadn t been able to get into before. The hardest thing is getting that first foot in the door. MATT: And marketing is another vital aspect of that. Something we can save for another issue. Same time next month then, Oli Kellett!

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