Lensmodern Sophisticated Stock The U.K. Way.

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Max Forsythe,
Max Forsythe, "Ireland Swings"
Established in January 2006, London-based Lensmodern strives to position itself not only as a premier online stock photography boutique but the premier boutique. Working on an invitation-only basis, the company, founded by photographers Bob Miller, Max Forsythe and Rolph Gobits, along with photographer/retoucher Dan Tierney, has amassed a roughly 90-strong roster, running a creative A to Z gamut that ranges from the still lifes of New Zealander Bryce Attwell to the tropical paradises of Dutchman Jan Zwart.

Barry Lategan,
Barry Lategan, "Torso"
The firm recently enjoyed an added boost from BBH chairman and worldwide CD John Hegarty, who joined Lensmodern's board of directors as nonexecutive chairman. How important is Hegarty's cachet to the company? "John Hegarty is probably the foremost creative person of his generation and a great exponent of the power of the visual image," notes the Lensmodern spokesteam of Miller and Forsythe (the eminently adaptable framelike Lensmodern logo, incidentally, is the work of Miller, a former art director). "He has been involved in an advisory capacity since the start, so to have his greater involvement as a shareholder and chairman is a considerable endorsement of the company both to photographers and clients."

David Scheinmann,
David Scheinmann, "Comtemp Dance 1"
Advertising creative support aside—CD/AD Paul Briginshaw of London's Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy joined the board of directors in June along with Hegarty—Miller and Forsythe simply say of the Lensmodern lineup, "You can judge a company by the people it attracts." The first 50 shooters who joined were further attracted by the offer to become founding members and shareholders, "and we agreed to a 60/40 split in favor of the photographer," they point out. "Our system allows them to edit their own images and dictate their own price—this is unique and it has attracted a lot of top photographers who wouldn't have anything to do with stock libraries or who had a lot of their best images in reserve. The result is that our clients have access to images they couldn't get before, of a quality that just wasn't available. We don't believe there is another source of images of this quality that is also run by photographers for photographers."

Though it's a net-based operation with an international scope—there are reps in New York, Rome and Germany—Lensmodern's business is mostly U.K.-based, understandably enough. The founders point to BBH ("One of our best customers"), O&M, GWS, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, the aforementioned MCBD, and M&C Saatchi as regular clients. "Try as we might to identify trends, there doesn't seem to be a pattern so far" to the selection of imagery, they add.

David Tack,
David Tack, "Lady With Reptile Hat"
As to how a boutique competes with the stock giants, which seem to offer everything in spades, "There will always be more ordinary images than great ones, so we will never be able to compete on quantity," they allow. "However, we don't believe they will ever be able to compete with us on quality." Along those lines, the business picture appears to be promising. "We seem to have identified a gap in the market, so business has been good," they say. "We broke even in our first year, and our clients seem to see us as a welcome breath of fresh air."

What about the print marketplace in general? Does the web as an all-consuming traditional-media killer have an impact on Lensmodern's stock photo future? Not really, they say, because small is, once again, beautiful. "The internet is just another medium, and a lot of the usage we sell is for the internet. If you're really only aiming at a small proportion of the total market, trends are less critical."


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