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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hustle & Flow - Self-Marketing Secrets

The art of getting a job and staying on a buyer's speed dial is as much about your photographic talent as it is about your self-promotional talent

Your Book, It's So Big!

The other way to get in front of the eyes of art buyers and art directors is through sourcebooks. At least, it used to be. I can hear collective sighs of disbelief and smiles of validation. Excuse me while I lock my front door.

For those of you unfamiliar with publications like the Workbook or The Black Book, they're basically giant directories of photographers. As a photographer, you pay between $6,000 and $8,000 per page to have your promo printed in these books and, in turn, they're distributed to an enormous list of art directors, art buyers and designers nationally. The biggest in distribution and physical size is the Workbook; it used to comprise two volumes and has since consolidated into one. The directory of photographers in the Workbook is a great resource for locating talent; you can have your name listed as a simple text entry for free.

The truth about the sourcebooks was surprising, though. One art director told a story that out of 10 Workbooks that were delivered to 10 art directors' desks, seven were discarded without being opened. Another art director said when the Workbooks arrived at his agency this year, one was immediately pressed into service unopened—as a door stop. At another worldwide agency, the art buyer said that when the large sourcebooks come in, they almost immediately go out. Some get redistributed to photography schools and the others are recycled. “It always killed me to get the Workbook because I looked at it like they just chopped down a whole forest [to make the book].”

The other complaint about some of the sourcebooks was the sheer volume of photography. Because there's no selection criteria for some of the books, if you've got the bucks, basically you're in. This results in page after page of mediocre work that caused one director to make this analogy: It's like having a commercial for an orange juice company that gets stuck between a hemorrhoid commercial on one side and an acne cream spot on the other.

There are some sourcebooks that art buyers and art directors are looking at. AtEdge is highly selective about who goes in its book. Distributed several times a year, the books look like slightly thicker versions of those mini-Penguin classics—small enough to throw in a purse or computer bag—versus the Workbook, which is so heavy it's almost unwieldy. Other publications, like Communication Arts and its photography annual, are hugely popular, mostly because they're a collection of good work that has been voted on in order to be included (and easy to carry).

If I Can't See You, You're Not There

You'll never get hired if no one knows who you are. Your work is your stamp, and after writing this article, it's thrilling to see that the powers that be truly care about finding new or different talent. I'd have never thought I'd see the relevance of the big sourcebooks diminish so precipitously in this arena. As we advance and change as photographers, so does the industry that supports us. So if you're ever feeling settled because you think you've figured it out—panic. Then seek out the real scoop.

In conducting these interviews, I dispelled one of my own myths that I've carried around for years. I thought that art buyers and art directors hated managing all the promos that come their way. In fact, the opposite is true. They're passionate about good photography and matching the right shooter with the job at hand. In the same vein that you and I can look at a hundred of our own images and quickly edit the good from the bad, so too can the agency creative teams. At all the offices I visited, the promos are filed in an incredibly organized fashion, and as the promos come out for consideration for a job, they also go back so they can easily be found the next time.

So I'm off to shoot a new promo for myself—right after I drop off a couple cups of coffee to the two guys sitting in the blue sedan that has found its way back in front of my house.

Louis Lesko is a fashion photographer based in Los Angeles. He started his career at the age of 19 in San Francisco and celebrated his 21-year mark last October. All this, and he doesn't look a day over 39. Lesko is also the owner of Blinkbid Software, estimating and invoicing software for photographers.



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