Working in advertising photography can be an excellent way to financially sustain your documentary or fine art practice. Magnum Professional Practice speaker James Gerrard-Jones, of commercial photography agency Wyatt-Clarke & Jones, tells us why…
What are the benefits of joining an agency?
Promotion can be time-consuming. Being signed to an agency will ensure your work is reaching the right people so you can concentrate on your practice, leaving the promotion to someone else. A decent agency will be keen to support your ambitions as an artist – that's the biggest kick for us at Wyatt-Clarke & Jones. We work with photographers from all different backgrounds – reportage, fine art, fashion – and the commissions we find for them help fund personal work that might otherwise never get made. Projects such as Adam Hinton's book Shibuya, published with This is Real Art, or the recent work for which Nadège Mériau received a Discovery Award nomination at the Rencontres d’Arles.
What does an advertising commissioner want from a photographer?
We're surrounded by images everywhere we look so commissioners are looking for photographers with a distinct visual identity – something that's going to engage the viewer and communicate with them successfully. As well as unique talent, commissioners are looking for reliability and someone who understands the industry.
Should emerging photographers ever give their work away for free?
Absolutely not. Our sector is advertising so I can't speak for editorial, publishing or fashion, although we work with artists from all of those areas. Art buyers aren’t interested in getting something for nothing – what they need is top-quality work. Advertising respects artists and the medium of photography. It's well-paid because the work needs to be done to the highest standard.
What’s the biggest myth about advertising photography?
That advertising's not interested in your personal work. The opposite is true. Don’t assume we won’t want to see your “real” work. Time and time again brilliant photographers come in and show us a few adverts they've shot, assuming that's all we’re interested in. Show off your best work – the work you really care about and that makes you who you are. If you are chosen for a job, bring as much of your personality to the commission as possible. That's the route to a happy art director and award-winning commissioned work that will support whatever else you might want to do.
Do you have any other advice for photographers starting out in the industry?
Sort out your portfolio – whether it’s hard copy or digital is up to you – and then get out and see people: agents, art buyers and creatives. Attend portfolio reviews run by organisations such as Rhubarb Rhubarb, Format Festival, Lens Culture, the British Journal of Photography and Futurising. To raise your profile, enter awards and look for opportunities to work with established names in the sector you want to get into. Get out to talks and events as much as you can. You'll be feeding your enthusiasm for photography and meeting people who'll help you on your way to where you want to be.
Images courtesy of Wyatt-Clarke & Jones. Second image by Adam Hinton; third image by Nadège Mériau; fourth image by Peer Lindgreen for Honda, commissioned by Wieden + Kennedy.
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