POP at Apple

24Sep11

I have several interviews coming up in the next few weeks starting with photographer Matthew Turley followed by Caterina Bernardi and Peter Rad. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a summary from a very fun talk I was asked to give at the SF Apple Store as part of the APA Creative Speaker Series. APA board member and photographer Christian Peacock turned the tables on me and asked me a series of questions (some I’d prepared for and some not) about POP and to share what I’ve learned from from all the interviewees. It was very fun to talk about POP, to show so much work from all the photographers, stylists and reps that I’ve gotten to know and featured on POP. And especially to be interviewed by Christian who was his usual open and charming self and really pushed me to think more deeply about what POP is all about.

People sometimes tell me that the interview process helps them refine their ‘mission.’ Christian asked me quite a few questions about why I founded POP and the guiding philosophy behind how I select interviewees which I found very helpful to clarify. I’ve included that up front, but the I think the heart of the interview is further in where I simply share what I’ve learned over the course of the last year and a half of publishing POP.

Thank you to the San Francisco APA and to Christian for the great questions and the opportunity. This is a starting point and by no means an exhaustive conversation on these subjects and I welcome any comments and additional feedback.

CP: What led you to start POP?

I was consulting with photographers on their marketing and saw that personal work and a point of view were playing a larger role in getting hired. I really enjoyed the process of finding what was unique about each photographer (or stylist or rep) and what inspired their work. I initially launched the blog to feature assignments and give credit to all involved and found myself naturally starting to interview people.

CP: How have your past experiences helped you with your blog?

I studied fine art photography in college and some graduate school and then worked at a photo gallery, for a rep, at a museum and art book publisher before deciding to get serious about my career. I studied marketing and ended up at Future US, a web and print publisher, where I worked for nearly ten years on brand and corporate marketing.

I art directed a lot of marketing collateral and photo shoots and also managed some on-set PR for some of our celebrity editorial shoots. So I had an understanding of the commercial and editorial photo markets and a grounding in conceptual fine art photography.

And honestly I was always a bit envious of the editorial teams and frequently pitched product ideas to management and worked on a lot of launches. Marketing was very creative and fun for many years, but at some point it wasn’t. Budgets disappeared and we were left with PowerPoint as our primary marketing tool. I missed having a creative job.

POP was a creative outlet for me and allowed me to resurrect my love of photography in a new format. I have no experience interviewing people, but love people and their stories and this is really what drives this. I’m also kind of continually baffled by things and therefore always have a lot of questions. I also

And while it’s essentially an editorial product, I can’t not be a marketer. I’m always looking for what is unique in my subjects and trying to formulate questions which allow them to talk about this. My goal is to interview people who are interesting or groundbreaking in one way or another and to bring this out and look at it from many angles in the interview process. I think this might be the right use of marketing in a way. Just highlighting what is unique about someone or something.

CP: What do like best about working on your blog?

After the feeling I get when I hit ‘publish,’ at the top of the list is the people I meet. I tend to get ‘crushes’ on each person I interview during the process. I just fall in love with their work and what they put into it. It’s really more of a deep appreciation for them. I hope this comes through in the interviews.

I also love that I get to feature so much work on the blog and the sequencing of the images to support the interview. It’s a very fun process.

The women almost always want to meet for coffee or lunch and I end up with a new friend. Somehow it is always fun. I recently met a new interviewee for lunch. And six hours later we were still sitting in Farley’s laughing and talking and a Swedish folk song came on that her mother used to sing to her when she was a child. She hadn’t heard it in years. And these things happen over and over. I don’t make any money off the blog and I spend up to 10 – 15 hours a week on it. But it’s all worth it.

CP: You like to interview people.

I guess I do! I kind of always interview people when I meet them. I am always interested to know them, who they are, what their story is and what they’ve learned from life. Or what they haven’t learned! All is good. I’m an extrovert at heart and get so much from meeting and getting to know people.

Interviewing someone in depth about their work, which is not the same as a personal interview, is an interesting way to get to know someone. I think we can learn so much, maybe more about a person, from what they create.

CP: What do you look for in your interviewees?

I look for a lot of different things. But generally, a fresh approach or highly inspired and developed personal vision. It seems like a watershed moment, when the individual contribution is valued in a new way and I wanted to look more deeply at this and to add to any conversation or understanding of this.

There has to be a story—it can be a compelling personal project, a new body of work, fresh talent or even just beautiful images or someone who is particularly aligned with a trend in the market. The images we see every day are very powerful and I am also very interested in talking with people who are injecting something real or human into their work and who are starting to take a chance with a way of working that relies more on collaborating and networking than competition and who are willing to share information that will help others. Basically, anything that moves the conversation forward and would be of interest to and of help to the readers.

It’s also a lot about timing and what I’m thinking about or seeing as a trend at the moment. I’m often led to the next person who happens to answer a question I was just formulating. For example, I’ve been thinking about image libraries quite a bit and found myself working on a job with a photographer I know who happens to shoot a lot of image libraries. The owner of the agency was also on set and I got to know him a bit and followed up and asked him for an interview.

CP: Why did you decide to interview stylists?

I’d never read a stylist interview and know so many truly gifted and inspired stylists and had a hunch they would make great interview subjects. They are such strong collaborative partners and pure artists who love to talk about their inspirations and what they bring to the creative process. The stylist posts get the highest traffic of all the posts on the blog.

CP: What are some of the most interesting and surprising things you’ve discovered interviewing people?

How generous everyone is with sharing information that will help others. There seems to be more comfort with a new way of working and doing business that is based less on competition and more on just being oneself. As photographers (and stylists) are more and more hired for their own style, the more people feel valued for who they are and the less competitive they are. This chips away at the walls we have built between us. And when we realize we are valued for who we are, it’s less about being better than someone else and more about being the best we can be.

I’ve also been greatly affected. I see the world differently than I did a year ago. I look for light differently. I see landscapes, people, cityscapes, the most mundane things differently. I can’t explain it more than to say that I’ve learned to look and see. I think before, even as a visual person, I didn’t look deeply or carefully. And as a result, I’ve started to appreciate simply being and looking.

And honestly, there’s something surprising in each interview. Everyone is so different. I appreciate getting to know each person.

CP: What kinds of responses have you or your interviewees experienced from your postings?

I don’t know specifically what responses my interviewees have gotten. I don’t ask only because I don’t look at the interviews as having any dotted-line impact. I like to think they are one more touch point for them and that in return for sharing so much with the readers, it comes back in a positive way for them.

I do get a lot of positive feedback that people have enjoyed the interview process and that it has been a jumpstart and they start to get more work after not as the result of the interview directly, but more as a result of being excited about their work. It seem to be different for everyone though.

CP: What trends have you noticed?

Overall, I’ve noticed a deepening level of transparency, accessibility and engagement made possible of course by the internet and social media. I think we all probably see this but there are some interesting developments in the photo market.

Art buyers are very interested in seeing personal work and learning as much about who the photographer is. This is directly related to how much more we share more of who we are on blogs and social media, and particular to photographers—where they can discuss their inspirations, their process and stories behind their shoots. Art buyers recognize that this helps them know more about what a photographer would bring to a job and what they would be like to work with. Some art buyers have even said they are very open to being ‘friended’ by photographers they have a relationship with

I also think Twitter has opened the door to a potentially new way of thinking about marketing with a focus on sharing information rather than promoting oneself. I always hope this will make its way into the way companies actually run, with an emphasis on simply providing a good product or service and more truthful advertising and that the photographers and people behind the advertising that are there with a level of authenticity in their images will have a place at the table. I think beyond relatable imagery, authenticity can even be a feeling an image conveys (I have a soft spot for even the most highly retouched and CGI images).

Accessibility and the trend towards sharing information has added a new dimension to personalized marketing—art buyers repeatedly say they want to work with someone who wants to work with them and is excited about their work. Even a well-researched and crafted email to someone you truly want to work with can result in a meeting.

And lastly, something we’ve already touched on—a relaxing into sharing resources, even in a highly competitive market.

CP: What do reps look for in photographers and stylists they sign on to their rosters?

Every rep and rep relationship is different, but there are some things the reps I’ve spoken with seem to agree on:

– A clear, unified vision
– Unique, fresh work
– Work they can sell (In Ashley Klingers interview, she gives a great example of working with Amy Postle to evolve her sexy, noir style of shooting women of all ages and body types highly marketable to pharma clients)
– Always shooting and staying current with a willingness to reinvent as the market evolves
– Personality match—the best reps say they talk with their photographers every day and that the personality match has to be there so that it’s a fun and productive relationship.
– A level of professional dedication that includes a willingness to be a true marketing partner.
Someone who really wants to work with them, who has done their research.
– Most also say it’s a gut feeling when they know they want to work with someone
Well-known published book or body of personal or fine art work – this is a bonus and not a requisite.
– Maren Levinson said it is like courting someone, that it takes months to get to know someone. But she has a specialized roster.
– I think the reps I’ve interviewed all want their photographers to be true to themselves. I’ve heard many stories though of photographers whose reps try to mold them to what they feel the market needs. But with anything, I think there is a spectrum.

CP: What gets an art buyer’s attention?

Thankfully we had an art buyer in the audience to help me answer this one and expand on what I knew. I talk with art buyers, but haven’t featured a lot of them on the blog yet—I have several upcoming. She emphasized that she hires the photographer who ‘gets it’ and that she’s often surprised that her first choice will sometimes not be awarded the job, that often in the phone conversation, her second or third choice will show a better understanding of the assignment.

In my discussions with art buyers, I hear a few things over and over. They’re similar to what a rep looks for with a point of departure when it comes to trust:

– A clear, unique vision. They want to open a portfolio and be able to say ‘That’s XX work.’
– Again, unique, fresh, different.
– Photographers with a genuine enthusiasm for their work. They assume you will bring this to your work for them. I almost always ask photographers about their personal work and how they bring this same enthusiasm and passion to their commercial work. This is because I hear over and over again that this plays a role.
– Collaborative partner
– Very importantly, trust that they will deliver beyond the brief. It has to be a trust that can be sold to client.

CP: You’ve mentioned targeted marketing, what is this exactly?

A targeted campaign is a narrowly focused campaign targeting a carefully selected group of prospects for which there is a good fit. This isn’t new. What is new is the emphasis on targeting prospects for whom you have something to offer them, from that place, and whose work you respect and would want to work with. And then building a relationship based on this.

For a photographer (or stylist), it means building a list of your top prospects and building a campaign (email, phone, personalized direct mail) depending on your budget and making sure to research your prospect so your messaging is as much about them as it is about you. It’s more about relationship building than selling.

This is supplemental to traditional mass marketing and advertising what you do best—we all still speak this language. This includes being in the online sourcebooks, eBlasts, direct mail, etc. It does seem like photographers have to do more marketing than they used to so margins are shrinking as budgets decrease, competition increases and marketing expenses increase.

CP: Talk about the importance of relationship building in this process.

In her interview, Shannon Amos talks about how she researches and finds photographers whose work she likes and contacts them directly to tell them this and to say how much she’d love to work with them. And that this results in working with them more often than not.

In my work with photographers, we’ve had good success with very targeted lists and well-crafted emails and follow-up calls. We get meetings almost every time if the client has budget and possible work and there is a real synergy.

CP: Have you noticed a difference in photographic styles between the east coast and the west coast?

I have asked a few people about this recently, just because I’ve been trying to understand something I’ve noticed. Of course there are a lot of photographers that shoot in the style of their region. Lou Mora who has a very Southern California aesthetic. Andy Anderson’s epic style based both on his personality and where he lives. I sometimes think this is inside of each photographer as well, an expansiveness or a mellow, more laid-back approach. But not sure one can really differentiate. It’s hard to say.

However, with the trend towards authenticity in advertising, I think we do that very well in the Bay Area because of the soul of our city and the Bay Area in general. There are of course shooters in New York who shoot like this, but it seems more common out here and that there are a lot of photographers here who do this exceptionally well. I also see a genuine expansiveness and that is uniquely characteristic of California and the West Coast in a lot of the work shot by Bay Area photographers.

What’s in the future for POP?

I have a lot of ideas. Top of the list is a redesign. I’m talking with a designer now and should have something up soon. I introduced a new column, Snaps, that features current projects by previous interviewees and I have been hesitant to move forward with it because it interrupts the interview layout and schedule. I like to feature the interview and having it run down the entire length of the page.

I’d also like to do an annual POP event that brings the Bay Area community together, possibly a show featuring both work shot and styled by local photographers and stylists and projects produced by West Coast ad agencies and media. It doesn’t need to be shot by local talent.

But one thing I can say for certain is that there will be more interviews.



One Response to “POP at Apple”


  1. 1 What trends have you noticed?

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