Photography Art Buyers' Roundtable

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Josette Lata Head of Art Buying, BBH/New York Marni Beardsley Director of Art Buying, Wieden + Kennedy/Portland Suzee Barrabee Executive Print Producer/Art Buyer, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco Cindy Rivet Senior Partner/Manager, Art Buying, Ogilvy & Mather/New York Julie Rosenoff Head Art Buyer, Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners/New York

Creativity_ What have you observed in advertising photography trends over the past few months?

MB: Retouching is definitely transforming the way people work. What used to be an afterthought has been elevated to an art, and for some photographers retouching has become as important to the final image as the photography itself. A lot of the most compelling work I've seen lately has come from photographers - Solve Sundsbo or David Vasiljevic, for example - who have embraced retouching to reshape, reinvent and revolutionize their work.

JL: I've noticed that a lot of places are using top photographers or older masters who are a sure thing. Ad agencies are doing less volume but putting more money behind the projects, so people are using big names.

JR: I see two completely different trends. The first is the minimalist approach to photography: clean, graphic palettes of pale grays and greens - a desaturation of color - not necessarily drab, but definitely not glossy. A cross-section of mundane life, whether it's people or objects - off-the-cuff viewpoints, no fluff or overstyling, just simplicity. It's about real, tangible, images and situations that people can relate to, but not necessarily aspire to. The second is the hyperreal, cinematic look, a la Gregory Crewdson. Think Annie Leibovitz' Six Feet Under ads; surreal, overly dramatic, a bit scary. Still shoots that are directed almost like a movie set. Christian Weber has a cinematic look to his work and it really stands out from a sea of imitations.

SB: In the past few months, there has been a backlash to the hyperrealism trend that has been prevalent in a lot of books I've seen lately. Of course, that trend was a reaction to the highly retouched, fantasy-like images that were part of the previous wave. Many of our clients are not as interested in seeing their products in the everyday, mundane, gritty environments. So we're leaning toward softer, cleaner, brighter images that maybe reflect a happier, more optimistic, slightly better world than the real world.

CR: Recently, creatives have been requesting photography that is slightly more humorous and optimistic- a bit of photojournalism mixed with fashion.

Creativity_ Any trends that you think should be put to rest?

MB: It's all about execution. Just when I think something like overly saturated cross-processing is the worst photographic car wreck ever, someone like Mario Sorrenti will use it to create a beautiful image. It's all about the taste level and talent of the artist.

JL: Lately, the market has been saturated by people shooting everyday objects that look interesting, or very boring portraits with desaturated colors. It would be nice if there was more diversity and people would follow their own interests.

JR: I'd like to see the end of bad imitation of great photography. Why do it? Everyone has their own unique take on what they see and they should stay true to that.

Creativity_ What will we be seeing more of? Or what would you like to see more of?

MB: I love when photographers blend stunningly beautiful imagery and humor. Fashion photography takes itself so seriously that it can get redundant and boring, so when a photographer throws in an element of the offbeat with something that's classically gorgeous, it draws me in. Terry Richardson does this well in his own perverse way, and it's always fresh and interesting. Phil Poynter's another great practitioner of beautiful imagery with a bizarre twist.

CR: A combination of photography and illustration, because it's whimsical, fun and humorous - a quick read.

JL: Being that the trend has been to use the Old Masters, it would be nice to see more people shooting more classic subject matter in a more natural way.

JR: I'd like to see more images that tell great stories. Images with soul. That's what photography is all about.

SB: I think that digital photography will become a more prevalent tool as the technology continues to evolve. It has already opened doors to an interesting range of projects that can be combined with other media such as the web. Bill Cash did an amazing project with digital photography for the Volkswagen website. The great thing about this new technology is that it also will bring back a new appreciation for the purity of film and the perfectly captured moment. I still have the greatest admiration for those photos that are not retouched or composited. Maybe there will be a Dogme 95 movement within the photography world.

Creativity_ What are some of the most interesting projects you worked on in the past year?

MB: I loved working on the Nike "Lab" ads, because we were able to give photographers a tremendous amount of creative freedom to do what they do best. For each ad, we matched a key feature of a shoe with a photographer whose work was somehow related in subject or tone. For example, one featured the Nike Spiridon, a running shoe designed for speed. It was shot by Mr. Means, an up-and-coming photographer who loves to shoot portraits of men and women with eccentric hairstyles. We asked him to incorporate this to reflect effects of speed in an interesting and funny way.

JL: The Axe bodyspray "College" campaigns, with photographers CWS and Clang, have been really fun, and so was working with Nadav Kander on Johnnie Walker.

JR: We just produced an amazing upcoming campaign for New Balance Apparel, with George Logan, which combines location photography with still life. The images are dramatic and quiet, simple and beautiful.

CR: Working on Ogilvy's The Brotherhood book, a photographic tribute to New York firefighers. A great project that was successful thanks to the huge support from the community of both photographers and agents.

Creativity_ What's your favorite advertising use of photography in the past year?

MB: The problem with advertising campaigns is that the good ones are replaced. I'm attracted to a brand's advertising when that brand creates images that are consistently provocative and elicit challenging ideas. Helmut Lang comes to mind. Stella McCartney's advertising appears to be making a fresh and memorable contribution as well.

JL: I like the Levi's Type One campaign, with Nick Knight, because it's modern and old at the same time.

JR: The Camper shoes campaign, shot by Stephan Ruiz. Check out their website ( It's a really fun, quirky, creative way of using still images. I just love it.

SB: I like the ads for Kohler, which take an everyday product and shoot it like a fashion ad. And I like the Nissan Z campaign - the TV commercials are some of the best use of still photography seen in any advertising medium.

To be continued in September.

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