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 are the things that distinguish a photographer as having a fresh point of view vs. being an imitator?

MB: A clear sense of originality distinguishes the best from the imitators, and it comes across in every aspect of the work. There's no hiding taste level, technical know-how, command of lighting, creative vision and so on. And I firmly believe anyone can tell the difference - great work just elicits a much more complex reaction, and you'll never get there with an imitator.

JL: I see about 300 books a month and handle the casting for Levi's, so I pretty much have a full understanding of what's going on out there. Something fresh is something that someone does because they think it's cool. It really shows when you follow your heart. Jason Fulford is an example; he shoots whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and the end result is just cool.

JR: It's easy to take a picture, but what's not easy is having a unique point-of-view. When a photographer comes in to meet with me and can easily explain the philosophy, the idea, the reason for taking the shot, I get a real sense of who they are and why they chose this line of work.

CR: The personal work photographers show often reveals their strongest and true talent because it's totally subjective and reflects their personal point of view. A photographer's vision of an editorial assignment is also a key to problem-solving talents.

Creativity_How important is a photographer's original viewpoint when it comes to commercial photography? For example, why would it be important to bring a Nadav Kander or Nick Knight to a project vs. someone who might be able to imitate a specific style?

JL: Having just worked with both Nick and Nadav, I can tell you that at times an original viewpoint can be quite challenging for an art buyer, but it is necessary. We hire these people for their vision and it's important that we listen to what they have to say. It's an art buyer's job to protect the photographer but to also best represent the creatives' needs as well as the client's. When working at this level it's best to explain reality from the starting point. If you know that the comp has to be shot and that the comp is tight, you have to tell them pronto before they take on the project, otherwise it's not fair to anyone.

JR: Of course it's important. Wouldn't you want the real thing over an imitation any day? But the client, agency and photographer have to be of one mind. If everyone is working together toward the same goal, the final outcome will be a success. If the client wants to dictate, then it's irrelevant to have someone like Nadav shooting for us as his unique viewpoint would most likely be untapped.

SB: It's always great when you can involve a photographer as early in the process as possible. Nadav Kander in particular is a wonderful person to talk to regarding photographic style and vision. There have been times where we had the concept but had not necessarily decided upon how best to execute that idea. To have a photographer's input is incredibly helpful and gives them an added sense of ownership in the final outcome.

Creativity_ Besides a unique POV, what are the qualities a photographer needs in order to succeed in commercial work?

MB: It's a balancing act. They have to be willing to collaborate and adapt to the advertising process without losing sight of their own vision and point of view. Moreover, it's vital to their success that they get an agent with some of those same qualities. A good agent can be flexible with fees and budgets, offer production ideas, be creative with scheduling and cultivate long term-relationships with agencies in ways that assure their photographers will always work. It's painful to see a great photographer who has poor representation. With so many great people to choose from, it's too easy to avoid a photographer whose agent is unhelpful, a bad communicator or engages in unethical business practices. I'm not sure if photographers realize our relationship with agents often influences the decision of whether or not we work with them.

JL: A willing collaborator. Both Nadav and Nick are really great at collaborating with the agency, and that's why they've had success. It's also important to be very patient and understanding of clients' needs in a rough economy.

Creativity_ Whose portfolio has stunned you in the past few months?

MB: I'm crazy about Mert and Marcus' work. Their images are uncompromising, gorgeous and relentlessly fresh, as in their recent campaigns for Missoni and Louis Vuitton. David Sims' recent work is also astounding and extremely innovative.

JL: Derek Henderson did some amazing color portraits of girls hanging out. Stratis and Beva; Cristian Gaul from Brazil, some portraits he did for Trip magazine of Fernando Merelis, director of City of God. I also really like some surf photography, like that of Les Walker and Joe Scott, director of Longer. Peter Rad's new work is fabulous. Ernst Fischer is my favorite photographer of all time because his landscapes take me wherever that image was taken.

JR: Mitch Epstein just did a story for The New York Times Magazine on his family's furniture business. His point of view and the composition of his images are unique and most definitely thought provoking. I got the story just by looking at the images. I didn't even have to read the article.

SB: Cedric Buchet. He has such a wide range of subjects and styles. It seems like he could shoot anything and do it very well. Anatol Kotte, who shoots more than cars but happens to shoot cars in environments in a new and exceptional way. Lauren Greenfield, who shoots people in a journalistic/documentary style. She is also bringing that sensibility to the fashion world, which is very intriguing.

Creativity_ How useful is it to look to areas of photography outside the traditional commercial realm to find talent for advertising? Any examples of how this paid off for you on a project?

JL: Fine-art has really paid off for me. We've worked with a few fine-artists I found via galleries who've really helped our work. Jan Staller, for example.

CR: It's very important to go outside of your stylistic paradigm. We often look to feature film projects for resources in styling and hair and makeup. Editorial photographers have been crossing over into the commercial arena for years. We have occasionally used fine-artists in a commercial capacity, but we've also used quite a bit of fine-art images in campaigns.

JR: Sometimes using a photographer from another discipline can yield quite a different point of view for a client or product. For example, we took James Day, a still-life photographer, and hired him to shoot Volvos. The outcome was unbelievable. His images were like nothing that had been done before. Fresh perspective is key.

SB: It's inspiring to look at photography from all sources. The only drawback is getting everyone to feel comfortable with the risk of using someone new.

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