Stock's Safe Haven

By Published on .

Most Popular certainly can't be accused of having a misleading moniker. Launched in Santa Barbara late last year by veteran photographer-turned-college professor Bill Robbins, the company's motto is, "By photographers, for photographers." This manifests itself in flexible contracts, lenient submissions policies and uncommon perks, according to Robbins. But it is also evident in the images on its site; often beautiful, colorful work that reflects the company's emphasis on experimentation and creative expression over mass-market value. "We don't encourage photographers to change their style to appeal to a wider audience," says Robbins, who began his career at Surfer magazine in the '60s and has been shooting commercially since 1975, for clients like FedEx, Hitachi and IBM. "As the editor, some of the approaches I see are quite unconventional, at least compared to how I would shoot a commercial job. But that's OK. I think naivet‚ can work in a photographer's favor."

Billed as a "safe haven for emerging photographers," the majority of Raw Talent's 100 shooters are either art school students or recent grads. Many of them have taken classes with Robbins during his 20-plus years teaching hands-on marketing skills to photographers up and down the California coast. "Bill talked a lot in class about both the promise of stock and the frustrations he had with it," says Lise Dumont, a former student of Robbins' at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. "When I heard that he had started his own company, I wanted to get involved. I knew he'd address some of those problems."

The company name reflects its roster as well as the style of photography it hopes to attract. "They're raw," says Robbins of the students. "They haven't had that much business experience. When you're just coming out of school you think a little differently, you're a little more conceptual, and that's exciting. What we've done here is removed all the obstacles and qualifiers that prevent beginning photographers from marketing their images as stock." This includes no minimum submissions for representation (other stock houses require 100-200 images for an initial review); free scanning and keywording, and three-year contracts - which can be canceled by the photographer - rather than the customary five-year, binding contracts. The site itself is blocky and well-designed, with prominently displayed images, easy-to-use lightboxes and sensible categories. A "Photographer's Corner" features a photographer spotlight section, and information about copyright laws and industry links. "It's just how I'd want to be treated," says Robbins of the photographer-friendly site design and policies. "No one wants to be just another number submitting work."

Perhaps its most unusual service, however, is one that reflects Robbins' educational leanings. Each day, RTP's sales manager e-mails its photographers a call sheet of requests they've received from art buyers (its clients include the New York offices of Ogilvy and McCann). The photographers are invited to shoot the requests for submission, or just for practice. David Nevala of Madison, Wis., has shot several such requests since joining Raw Talent last year. He recently shot "a 25- to 35-year-old woman jogging in the sun"-not easy to do in Wisconsin in February. "The model I used was about to kill me," he says. "It was 20 degrees out! But I'll keep doing it. For someone starting out, it's a great impromptu assignment." Recognizing where their talent is coming from, RTP also donates a portion of student sales to art schools, like the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, for scholarships.

So what's in it for the art buyers? No research fees and a staff willing to spend long hours filling requests that may or may not be ordered. "That's what it takes to build a relationship," says co-CEO Julie Elledge, a licensed marriage counselor with a Ph.D. in education, who manages the business along with her husband, Robin, a former student of Robbins'. "My background is in building relationships," she says. "I know that it takes work." Robbins feels that what sets RTP apart from the big stock houses is the novelty of its student images and its customer service. "As our reputation grows and people make that leap of faith from the old standard, they'll see a huge difference in service and response time," he says. "Art buyers and students alike will be taken care of, and that's going to make a difference."

In this article: