After assisting on shoots for two years, David Birkitt decided to work as an agent for other photographers. He now heads up DMB Media, representing the likes of Martin Parr, Kalpeh Lathigra, Simon Roberts and Manuel Vazquez. He tells IdeasMag how to make a business out of image-making…
I studied photography to degree level, and then halfway through my dissertation year I came up to London and did some work experience at a studio in Shoreditch before the whole Shoreditch thing kicked off.
I was assisting on a John Medley shoot – making tea, clearing up – and was asked to stay there to run the studio. I had to leave my degree early to take on the job, and the work was full on.
This was at a time when the industry was booming, so it was a time of big lunches and loads of drink. So from answering the phone at lunchtime I managed to build relationships with photographers while I was there, as well as their agents.
One day we got a phone call for a Ben Sherman project and I just went with it without really telling anyone what I was doing. I got myself into a real pickle with that, but my boss ended up letting me run with it as my first project. That was the first inkling that I wasn’t necessarily that interested in pursuing photography as a career.
I was still, at that time, taking a lot of my own pictures, but I didn’t know whether I was good enough, and I didn’t know how long the wait was going to be, or whether I could wait.
I made a business decision. I decided I wasn’t going to be an artist, with the insecurities and the lifestyle that brings. I wanted a mortgage and a pension and a regular income. I bought my first flat when I was 23, and I chose that side of it.
I never even knew that being an agent was a job that existed when I was at university, and I think a lot of people coming out of photographic degrees don’t know that they might not make it as a photographer. That’s highly likely for a lot of people, but there are a whole multitude of careers out there that will keep you in it if you like it that much, and they might even satisfy you more.
And the photography experience you acquire remains useful. Not all agents come from a photographic background, and because I do it has helped me to understand the photographers’ minds. It meant I could communicate from the photographers to the clients and from the clients to the photographers in a language they can both understand.
Some people have a natural entrepreneurialism attached to them. First and foremost this is a business, and most students coming out of university have no business acumen whatsoever. They say, ”This is what I enjoy doing, so I’m going to make a business out of it.“ The business world asks, ”What do people need, and how can I give that to them in exchange for money?“ It’s the exact polar opposite.
It’s important to see this industry as it is, rather than what you think it is. If you do that, you can carve out your own way. Realistically, unless you’re an individual like Ryan McGinley, it’s going to take 10 years to establish yourself: five years to pay the rent and five years to hone your practice.
But the beauty about photography is, if you make it work for you, you never have to retire.
For more information, visit DMB Media’s website or follow him on Twitter.
Images: Toyko Tokyo © Wassinkludgren and The Amy Winehouse Foundation © Kalpesh Lathigra, both represented by DMB Media.