Q&A With JMI Reps ASHLEY KLINGER

23Aug11

I love interviewing reps. I get to know and feature the work of multiple photographers. And the shared appreciation for photography and photographers makes for fun conversations marked by many meandering tangents as we discuss their photographer’s work and particular images. My interview with Ashley Klinger of JMI Reps was no exception as she represents some of the top talent in the US and abroad and has found her calling bringing together business savvy and a love of photography.

Ashley Klinger is the owner of the New York photo agency JMI Reps. Purchased in 2009 from Judith Miller, Ashley has spent the past two years building on Judith’s tradition of providing personal service while growing the agency to represent 18 photographers shooting in a wide range of categories from still life, conceptual, beauty, food, kids, and landscape, among others. She has added international talent and signed new photographers she couldn’t let walk out the door even when her roster was full, all while reinventing the agency and assuring that the reputation the agency was built on is the foundation that takes it to the next level.

Driven and passionate about the business and her photographers, Ashley was at the same time open, flexible, engaging and very fun and easy to work with. I imagine this equanimity contributes greatly to her success and to her ability to strike the fine balance necessary to steer a highly-respected agency brand into the future.

Photo by FRANK HERHOLDT

Photo by MARCUS NILSSON

Ashley spoke with POP about the vision for her agency, building her roster and what she looks for in new talent, and what she loves about her job and how she stays inspired. And of course about her roster of incredibly talented photographers. Thank you Ashley for all your time and for sharing so many insights into your business and so much great work with POP!

POP: What was your path to becoming a rep?
I studied photography in college at the University of Michigan. The Art Department specialized in fine art, so I never knew this whole world existed. I never wanted to be a photographer, but I fell in love with it at school! But I didn’t think it was possible for me to do what I loved while still working in the business world. I met Judy Miller after I graduated, and applied for the job. We clicked right away and as soon as I started, I realized that this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. It married my passions of photography with business perfectly!

Judy Miller had run Judith Miller Inc. for about 15 years after she had gotten her start with B&A Reps. (Bernstein and Andruilli). After working for Judy for 6 years, (since 2003) I bought the company in 2009. I re-branded and became JMI. It is the same business, but with my new personal spin on it! We have a lot of the same photographers, but a lot of exciting new enhancements.

We are still in the process of re-branding.

Photo by FRANK HERHOLDT

Photo by JESSICA TODD HARPER

Photo by JAMES MERRELL

POP: What does the re-branding encompass?
I think that we are trying to get people to see the new JMI. Judith Miller, Inc. was always known as a small company with a focus on “Pretty Lifestyle.” Everyone knew that if you called Judith Miller, Inc. you were going to get a personal experience. That is one of the things I always loved about this company. Judy had been in the business a long time and always was well respected.

In re-branding, I’m trying to show that we are no longer a small company, only offering one type of photography. We have a large range of photographers, and shoot everything from Very conceptual work, portraits, still life, landscape, etc. We still have lifestyle shooters, but it is important to note that we have the range.

Photo by MORTEN SMIDT

Photo by DAVID SYKES

As we have moved into new areas, we are building the same deep relationships with new art buyers and have brought the same level of personal service to working with them.

I also am trying to update the company and bring it into 2011. We are a young company, so are quite modern in our approach. We are up to date—launching a brand new website, have a Facebook fan page, a Twitter account, etc.

Photo by DAVID SYKES

POP: How are you using social media to reach art buyers and build the brand?
I encourage them to do their own, but we do a lot of it out of this office.  Because we are posting our work on the social media sites—Its not mandatory that each photographer have their own social media outlet.   We are constantly building our social media audience. At the beginning we reached out to our clients and continually add people we work with.

Photo by TOM WATSON

POP: What legacy are you maintaining?
I really learned the ins and outs of the business from Judy. Even though I represent 18 photographers now, I try to maintain that “small agency” feeling. Our clients will have a personal experience with us. We always keep the mentality that everyone we deal with is our most important client! There is no job too small—we treat everyone and everything with the utmost respect.

Photo by ERICKA MCCONNELL

POP: What is your philosophy behind your roster?
I am always trying to have a solid roster of amazing talent and skill. I like to have the whole range of work—so there is no niche left unfulfilled. I do have some overlap with subject matter, but each photographer’s style and approach is very different. It is important to me that I also have a personal connection with each and every one of my photographers. I like to work with people who are willing to collaborate. I also really like my photographers on a personal level—everyone is easy going and wonderful. We don’t have any divas here!

Photo by SUE PARKHILL

Photo by MIKKEL VANG

POP: You’ve launched a Kid’s division. What was behind this decision?
A lot of our photographers shoot kids in addition to their other portfolios. We loved the idea to create a group because our photographers are shooting kids in interesting ways. They all bring a unique perspective to their work and shoot the different sub-categories: fashion, food and lifestyle. To my knowledge, we are the only agency with an exclusive and comprehensive kid’s division.

Photo by DREW SACKHEIM

Photo by LEE CLOWER

POP: Do you nurture new talent or do you look for and work with photographers who have a strong, developed point of view?
I really like to do both. I think it is really exciting when a new photographer walks in the door with a portfolio that is raw, but contains something special. Seeing a talent in someone, and then helping them along the path to their goals is one of the best things about this job!

It is also nice to work with photographers who have a developed point of view, but who are willing to evolve, and re-establish themselves in the business. Every photographer has to re-invent themselves as their careers go, and it is nice to be a part of that as well.

Amy Postle came to us with work that was very film noir, voyeuristic, and sexy. It was gorgeous work, and I responded right away.  However, we needed a little more of a commercial appeal. We’ve had her merge her lifestyle work with the “sexy women” and it’s been very successful. She recently shot for Fitness and Prevention magazines. She is very talented and personable and great at getting real women to be comfortable in front of the camera. We’re showing her work to our Pharma clients because she can capture a real woman at any age and make her look beautiful.

Photo by AMY POSTLE

Photo by AMY POSTLE

Photo by AMY POSTLE

Photo by AMY POSTLE

POP: You represent stylist Christine Rudolph. Are you planning to take on more stylists? What are you looking for in the stylists that you work with?
We took on Christine Rudolph because she is so special and does such amazing work. We are still growing and eventually this will be a separate division when I find someone to head that up.

Styling by CHRISTINE RUDOLPH

Styling by CHRISTINE RUDOLPH

POP: What sourcebooks are you using and do you encourage your photographers to submit to the photo annuals?
The one sourcebook we do every year is LeBook. We love Connections and it’s a huge part of our marketing. We see a lot of clients and get a lot of work from those. We don’t enforce anything with our photographers, but they are always applying for awards and are always strongly encouraged to enter into everything to get their work recognized.

POP: Who have you added and how did you find them? What do you look for in a photographer you are considering representing?
I find photographers in many different ways. By always looking at promo cards/emails that come in. Looking in PDN. And just keeping my ears and eyes open. Most photographers come to me looking for representation.

The work has to be there—first and foremost. I have to really respond right away when I ask myself “can I sell this?” Most of the time, I’m looking to fill that gap in the roster—but sometimes someone walks in the door who I just can’t let out because everything is on—the work is there, the connection between us works, etc.

When Morten Smidt sent me an email, our roster was full. I looked at the work and saw something special. His portraits and his landscapes were really beautiful and like something I had not seen. He came in and we clicked right away.  We talked for 3 hours at that first meeting and we decided to work together immediately after.  We signed him very recently.. in June.

Photo by MORTEN SMIDT

Photo by MORTEN SMIDT

Photo by MORTEN SMIDT

Photo by MORTEN SMIDT

POP: Are you still looking to add new photographers and/or stylists?
At the moment my roster is pretty full. But I’m always looking. You never know when something will hit you and you HAVE to take them on. It is a gut feeling that one gets when you see the work and have to represent someone. I also always look as I love to know what is out there!

POP: How do you approach submitting multiple photographers for the same job?
We have a lot of photographers who shoot the same genre and we’ve always had the mentality that it is helpful to have the range. A lot of photographers shy away from this, but it is really in their best interest.  The trick is to never have two photographers whose work is exactly the same!  I always opt for people who differ in their point of view, palette, composition, etc.  The business is ever evolving, and trends in photography come and go for each brand and client.  When I have two food shooters, for example, if we get a call for food photography, even if it may not be perfect for the call, we are able to send along both books, and that way the client gets to see the photography so maybe if not for this time, for another time.

Photo by DREW SACKHEIM

Photo by LUCY SCHAEFFER

If one client were to hire Marcus Nilsson, they wouldn’t be interested in Lucy Schaeffer, as her food is completely different than Marcus’.  But it is nice that the client is able to see both!  If we are ever in a situation where we have to bid two of our photographers, we bid them the same so it becomes about the photography and style—which is always the main goal.

Photo by MARCUS NILSSON

Photo by LUCY SCHAEFFER

POP: In the Bay Area social media is a big subject for photographers, stylists and reps. Are you encouraging your talent to build a social media presence?
We try to encourage them to maintain their own presence, but it’s our job as agents to get the work out there as well!  It’s stronger if we can work as a team, and do it together.  As my photographers know, it is always more successful when we brainstorm and come up with a “plan of attack” together. But as long as we are on top of it, the work is in one place.  It only benefits everyone if it is in two or three places!

POP: Many art buyers I talk with say they spend half their time looking for new, fresh work. How do you work with your photographers to keep them shooting and pushing and experimenting?
I think it is so important (as I have said) that photographers are constantly being inspired and taking the time to shoot new things.  There are a lot of great photographers out there, so you have to stay on your game and always produce work that inspires you.  I try to encourage my photographers to do this in many ways, depending on each photographer.  Whether it is coming up to the office to brainstorm on where the work can go, pulling tears as to what they want to be shooting, or just sharing inspirational photography, quotes, movies, etc.  In a creative industry it is so important to be thinking ahead and constantly evolving!

Photo by LAJOS GEENEN

Photo by HUGH STEWART

POP: What has changed with regards to requests for printed books?
As a true lover of a printed portfolio, I really don’t think they will ever be obsolete.  I think in this business, people still love the experience of looking at a portfolio that is printed beautifully, art directed and clean! I will always be inspired by printed portfolios.
However, we really don’t send them out quite as often as we once did.  I think that the Art Buyers will call in portfolios when it is down to the final 3-5 photographers, and use the books as the deciding factors creatively.  That is why it is always important to keep your books up to date and ready to send out.

POP: You don’t feature your photographer’s personal work on your site. Do you encourage them to have this work on their individual sites and blogs? Do you find that clients want to see this in their portfolios?
Some photographers have a personal section on our site, but for the most part, our clients come to our site to look at work that may be applicable to a certain project. We have to make our site a bit more commercial. This is also my point of view and how I’m directing each photographer and the roster as a whole. My job is to make each photographer look their best, while still selling to the particular clients they are going after. We do link to the photographers personal site on their page on our site. I think it is important that the photographers’ site reflect their point of view—so the clients can see something different than what is on our site.

Photo by JAMES MERRELL

Photo by MORTEN SMIDT

I think it’s nice to have a supplemental book of personal work. But when we send portfolios, we gear the work towards the job. Things are so literal these days. If they ask for a pile of apples and we send a pile of oranges, it won’t translate. I do encourage my photographers, if they have a great project they’ve been working on, to create small side books.

At portfolio shows, the goal is that when the buyer closes the book, they have a strong sense of who that photographer is. If your work is  all over the place or the style doesn’t hold together, the opportunity is lost.

POP: You represent a lot of internationally based photographers. Where do they live and how do you sell them to your US clients?

Our photographers are all over the world. Denmark, Australia, London and Paris, LA, and SF, and of course NYC. Some of them have agents in those countries, but we represent them solely in the US.

International photographers have a different point of view. Our London photographers bring a quirky sensibility to their work that I love. Our Australian photographers have gorgeous light in their images, even when they are shooting here. There are different points of view across the globe and art buyers respond to this.

Photo by JAMES MERRELL

Photo by SUE PARKHILL

We also never let it be a barrier.  Our photographers are more than willing to come to NYC or the States to shoot!  That is part of the job.  For some it’s harder than others, but for the most part, we try to base all of our talent as if they are NYC based.  They will pay for airfares to get here etc.  Mikkel Vang for example, lives in Copenhagen, and will come over for 2-3 editorial shoots, and fly back that same week.  He of course will come in for an ad job—most of the time we can make it work and be as competitive as anyone else.

Photo by MIKE NEWLING

Photo by MIKE NEWLING

POP: Recent commercial project that one of your photographers was particularly inspired to land?
Hugh Hartshorne shoots portraits. He does a lot of pharmaceutical jobs, which he really does love. They are always great jobs and great clients. But he was up for a job for LensCrafters, and this was really exciting for him, as it was something different, a bit more fashiony than we were used to for him. His work was perfect for them, and when we got the job, we were all thrilled! We have worked with them on three jobs now, and hope to continue for a LOT more!

Photo by HUGH HARTSHORNE

Photo by HUGH HARTSHORNE

POP: I always ask photographers and stylists how they stay inspired. You also studied art. Where do you find inspiration? Do you find that this is as important for you as a rep as it is for your photographers and stylists?
I live in NYC. It is one of the most inspiring cities in the world! When you walk out the door, you are inspired by the buildings, the people, the fashion, even the hustle and bustle on the subways. Of course there are amazing photography exhibits, museums, plays, films, etc. that always keep one inspired. But my favorite thing to do is sit at a café outside, and watch people walk by. Not one person is the same! It is amazing.

I think because we’re in a creative business, it’s important to always be thinking of the new. I’m inspired by something different than my photographers. I stay inspired by new commercial photography and thinking of what’s coming next. I love it and have fun with people in the business because we’re always talking about creative things. I’m so glad I don’t have to talk about numbers and politics all day.

POP: Last painting, artist, movie or book that inspired you?

Two things;
Theater: “Say No More” here in NYC—it was absolutely incredible. The sets were amazing.

Movie: Bill Cunningham’s New York. So wonderful and incredibly inspiring to follow Bill around Manhattan at that age—still doing what he loves. Amazing movie.



3 Responses to “Q&A With JMI Reps ASHLEY KLINGER”

  1. Fantastic!

  2. 2 Mark_M

    Fantastic Interview….informative and it features some very good images!

  3. Love this interview and it couldn’t have come at a better time for me personally. Thanks for this to you and Ms Klinger.


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