The View magazine hooked up with photography and styling talent agent Ida Sandberg, with a diverse career that took her from Paris to Hollywood to New York, and from Ridley Scott and movies, to an ad agency and much more, and now repping amazing talent as an agent.
TV: Hi Ida, how are you? What have you been doing lately?
Ida: Hi Rinaldi, I’ve been pretty good, working hard, making and executing plans.
TV: Tell us about yourself.
Ida: Well I’m not young anymore so I’ll try to give you the short version. Born in Seattle, USA to Dutch parents, moved back to Europe shortly after. First to Belgium then Paris then The Hague. When I was 16.5 years old, with my high-school diploma still wet in my backpocket, I took the first train to Amsterdam, where “real” life would finally begin! I tried everything I was interested in which was a lot. Studying French at university for a few months, went to art school for a few months, worked in a gallery for a bit, went to chef’s school (cooking), supporting myself by working in a bar, in restaurants. And I was going out a lot, living my new independent life to the fullest. But I couldn’t find what I was looking for, nothing could hold my interest for very long, no matter how hard I was looking for it or I tried out. I remember being extremely frustrated because of that. I never had this thing where from very young age you feel destined to become XYZ. In 1996 my father’s wife suggested I should move to Los Angeles, as I carried the US nationality. She had one contact there where I could start out (working in a lunchroom). Perhaps over there I would find what I was desperately looking for. So, I moved to L.A. and started from the bottom. Once there, upon a friend’s suggestion who exclaimed “But, you’re in Hollywood now! You have the perfect personality for the movie business!”.
I started interning at a production company in Hollywood that produced documentaries about the history of the film industry. I loved learning about everything that history entailed. I went on to work for Getty Images where I would research stock film requests for the advertising and movie industry. Through a friend I got introduced to at R.S.A. U.S.A. Inc. It’s Ridley Scott’s commercial production company, where I worked as a personal assistant to one of their directors, Allan van Rijn. Subsequently I briefly worked as Ridley Scotts executive assistant when I decided I needed to move out of L.A. This because I figured out I didn’t want to work in commercial production or the movie business. So I moved to New York City where I (again!) had one contact, and after a few months of working in commercial production I got introduced by a friend to BRANSCH INC. a commercial photo agency (www.bransch.net), an A+ commercial photo agency, where I started working as a booker and producer. That was the first time I thought: this is IT. This is what I love to do, this is what “fits” me, I “get” this. I worked at there a little over 2 years when Suzanne Bransch “broke up with me” -her words but, it truly felt like a break up, so much I loved my job. She gave me the best advice ever, which I didn’t appreciate at all at the time! She told me I should work for myself. As I never had imagined or fantasized about working for myself I ignored her advice and went to work at New York Magazine as a photo editor, which was a disaster. That didn’t last very long, I hated the weekly pace and being stuck at my desk, never having person to person contact with photographers, and I certainly couldn’t fit into the corporate system with it’s politics. I really didn’t have a clou. In june 2006, three months after getting sacked I started my own photo representation agency, and I loved it! Together with my then boyfriend who was extremely supportive in more ways than one, I did this for approx. three years, when due to personal issues I decided to fold the agency and move back to Europe. After 15 years in the United States I had some type of burnout. It took a while for me to recover, I freewheeled at a commercial production company, at an ad agency, and stayed away from photography.
After a (long) while I realized that the only thing I wanted, was to work in photography, with photographers and stylists. So, it was back to the drawing board to start up my own agency again. This time more or less (compared to when I was starting out in NYC) without a
relevant network which makes it doubly hard because I really have to start from scratch again.
Photographers Rene van der Hulst and Michiel Spijkers.
TV: When did you get in touch with creativity for the first time, and how has that influenced your life?
Ida: I think I first got in touch with creativity when living in Paris as a kid. In the weekends my father would take me and my little brother on endless walks throughout the city, hitting museums as well. And, when I was 14, I read an issue of Interview magazine for the first time, which blew my mind. I suddenly understood there was a whole world out there with amazing people doing amazing things. I really got in touch with creativity when I moved to Amsterdam after finishing high school at 16. I got involved with totally different groups of people, artists, poets, video artists, a whole new world opened up. I came from a very conservative background where art was not discussed nor given a lot of importance. In Amsterdam there is everything and more of that. And a serious club scene that was frequented by all the cool people I was interested in. Art, fashion and advertising: a hypnotic combination, mesmerized.
It influenced my life in such a way that whatever I was going to do, it had to hold those key elements one way or the other. I wasn’t a creative person myself, but I needed to be around them.
TV: Your biggest learning moments?
Ida: When I started to work at R.S.A. U.S.A. Inc. I learned so much! I got close to the production process of making commercials on top class level, the people there were very generous with sharing knowledge and information. The most important things I learned there were: don’t promise things you can’t fulfill, be nice and respectful, make sure you are on top of your budget, be on time every time. In other words, be dependable and a person of your word. And there were many crazy times, which I still can’t disclose upon to this day. But believe me, when so much money and creativity collide, it produces tremendous good stories!
TV: What triggered you to start your own?
Ida: I was pushed by the people around me (photographers and friends in the industry) to go ahead and take the plunge, they believed in me before I did.
TV: Did you have launch clients when you started? How important is this?
Ida: In New York I was lucky, I started out with a solid network due to my previous jobs. Immediately I scored a huge job for Philips & DDB, it was a flying start! Now, with my second endeavor in The Netherlands, my network nearly isn’t as good (yet) so we’re starting with smaller jobs, working our way up. Somehow by looking at which clients could benefit from the photographers/stylists I’m working with, and with the ease of internet, and by trying to attend as many public events as possible, whether industry-related or personal interest, you meet people, who know other people. The “right” people will want to connect with you and your photographers.
TV: You rep several artists, what made you want to rep them? Specific qualities you look for when vetting candidate talents?
Ida: The most important thing is that they need to have their own “voice” and have an aesthetic that I totally LOVE. I have to see there is tremendous opportunity for them, not just for now but for the future as well. I also have to like them on a personal level, as I can’t sell someone I dislike. Besides obvious talent the photographers/stylists needs to be super ambitious, extremely hungry, understand that the road is long, have a pleasant attitude to work with, honed with excellent technical skills, be open-minded and have a good basic understanding of how the industry works in general, and their role and behavior with clients (and crew!), financially savvy and responsible, know the history of photography (you’re be surprised how many don’t) and completely obsessed with photography in general and their own photography in particular. They have to be pro-active, in producing personal work or thinking of concepts to present to potential clients. They have to be socially connected to industry people in their own personal way.
TV: How important is it for talent to have an agent?
Ida: Many ways lead to Rome, there are no set rules. There are many advantages to having an agent: you double your contacts, you have a sounding board (extremely important in down times – which always happens after an up time), you have a negotiator that tries to get the best and most sound deal brokered for you, you have access to someone who shares all their knowledge with you, and very important: you have someone that protects you and your career, either against yourself or against others that want to take advantage of you. The advantage of not having an agent is that you keep the photography fee in full to yourself. This is always hard for a photographer/stylist, that they have to pay their agent. In general, and unfortunately, this is how a lot of photographers/stylists think: when they are doing well it’s because of their work. When they aren’t doing well, it’s because the agent is no good/not working hard enough for them. BIG misconception.
Stylist Mariëlla Kallenberg and photographer Maarten Schröder
TV: What advice would you give someone who wants to be an agent?
Ida: Have a vision of the discipline(s) you want to succeed in (fashion/advertising/art/commercial/etc.). Understand that communication is everything, this applies for your communication with your photographer/stylist but with your clients as well. Always think of ‘the bigger picture’ – no pun intended. Have clear contracts with your photographers/stylists. Have patience, determination and really enjoy all and every aspects of what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid of asking for advice when you’re stuck. Be open-minded to all the changes and if necessary change accordingly. Understand that what is down will go up again and vice versa. Dare to make mistakes, you will learn the most from them. Pick your battles wisely.
TV: Aside from repping, you’re also a producer, because you like to be more involved hands-on?
Ida: Yes, I love producing shoots as you make something out of nothing. And when the results are as desired or even better than anticipated, it’s extremely satisfying. Also, you get to know a whole set of wonderful, professional people.
TV: Can you share a bit about your creative workflow? A potential client calls you, then what happens?
Ida: I try to fully understand the creative brief and it’s intent, down to the specifics including technical photographic details as well as things like usage rights, timing, and a feel for the budget. Then I call the photographer/stylist and discuss all available info and talk about how to get the job done and for how much. Based on the photographer’s/stylist’s info I make up a bid, which the photographer/stylist has to OK before I send it off to the client. Most times we have to go down in $$ so it’s a back and forth on how to lower the bid, without compromising the shoot. This process goes on until we score the job.
TV: Compared with when you just started in the agency business, what is different, what has become better or has become worse?
Ida: Everything has changed due to the Internet and even more so due to the explosion of social media. I feel my role has transitioned more towards being a manager than agent only. I have to be social media savvy myself just like I expect from my photographers/stylists. And not every photographer is willing to do so or good at that. Since everybody can be found and contacted nowadays, I am no longer the sole portal via which photographers’/stylists’s work is shown to creatives and clients. It has become better in such way that never before it was so inexpensive to promote work and so easy to find the right people and get in touch with them. But the pace at which these days work is expected to be done has made things worse, the pressure can be astounding and contra-productive. Sometimes good things need time to develop, and there is no more time. Also, it might look because of some one-off miracles as if you have to be famous tomorrow or otherwise you’re a failure. Such nonsense, just read Mario Testino’s resume. Good things take time.
TV: That was a great wealth of insight, last but not least, how do you relax after a week of hard work?
Ida: Working on interviews such as these! I hang out with friends, cook (I’m currently having a baking cakes moment –rhubarb, anyone?!), I practice bikram yoga, I volunteer at this local produce market, I read (paper!!) newspapers and magazines, go to art shows, the movies or museums, take a walk on the beach and read books.
TV: Thanks Ida!
Interview minimally edited to keep authenticity.
All images are copyright to their respective owners.
Check out more of her talents’ work on the agency website.