The View Magazine hooked up with Leigh Andersen, the senior photo agent at Artmix, based in California. Repping some of the best creatives in the industry, from directors to stylists, and makeup artists to set designers. We talk about her career, the business, what she looks for in talent, and much more.
TV: Tell us a bit about you.
LA: I’m originally from Tennessee, but have lived in Los Angeles for the last 16 years, so I definitely feel like a local at this point. My first job in photography happened by sheer chance. I think I’d been in LA about six weeks when I ran into a friend of a friend I’d known briefly in Tennessee. She was leaving a job as a studio manager to a photographer and offered to recommend me, which was an incredibly generous thing to do for someone she barely knew. I wound up getting the job, and my career more or less started from there. Over a period of a few years I worked as a studio manager and producer for a few different photographers, the last being Lauren Greenfield. From there I was hired as a photo editor and archivist at a syndication agency (Icon International) that specialized in celebrity portraiture and fashion. For the first time I had access to the entire archives of some of the most prolific photographers in the world (Art Streiber, Robert Erdmann, Rankin, Walter Chin, Cliff Watts, etc) and I couldn’t get enough. It was a great education in both the art and commerce of photography. A few years into that position I wrote a letter to one of the photographers I was responsible for – Sheryl Nields – telling her that looking at her work made my day better. I had no agenda other than to thank her for giving me something to be inspired by, but she was touched by the gesture and introduced me to her agency – Montage. I was offered a position as an agent, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last decade, first at Montage, briefly on my own, then at Walter Schupfer and now at ArtMix. It immediately did and still does feel like a great fit for me, and I’m very grateful to be able to do this work.
TV: Why are you an agent? What exactly attracts you to this role?
LA: Being an agent is more creative than people might think, and it’s that that keeps the work interesting to me. I’m fortunate to work with a group of photographers who are collaborative and open to my ideas about how to present their work. I love the creative parts of the job – putting together online galleries and portfolios – but I also love the business side as well – negotiating, production, etc. I love that no two days are alike. It definitely keeps things interesting when your day can, and does, change so quickly. And when any of my guys has some success – a new project they’re excited about, a big creative win, or breaking through to a new client you’ve been after for awhile – I get to share in that as well, and it’s a pretty good feeling.
TV: Artmix has a very diversified roster of artists. What sets them apart from the competition? Is this also the reason that they are repped by Artmix?
LA: ArtMix has gone through a lot of changes in the last year, transitioning from being almost exclusively an entertainment/ celebrity agency into one that represents a broader range of talent. This is partly by design and partly just a natural evolution of changes in staff and talent. Both myself and our Sr. Agent in the NY office – Florence Spidalieri – joined ArtMix last year, and we’ve worked hard to bring on new talent that would add a fresh perspective to the agency. Artistically speaking, the roster is in a really good place. Even though our photographers’ work spans from advertising to celebrity to fashion to fine art to lifestyle, we aim to make the roster feel cohesive as a whole, and I think we’re getting close. There literally is not a niche we cannot fill for our clients, which is a good place to be in.
TV: As a senior agent, which artists are repped exclusively by you, and how is this different from what a junior agent does?
LA: I don’t handle any of the artists exclusively, but I do handle certain parts of their careers exclusively. In particular, I manage worldwide editorial, entertainment (advertising, publicity and gallery shoots for film and television), music (album packaging and publicity) and some advertising (mainly west coast brands and agencies). We have a Jr. Agent – Kim Tran – in our LA office who is training to be a rep and helps with the day-to-day tasks like updating the website, maintaining the portfolios, estimating, setting meetings and the like. The major difference between what she does and what I do is that she’s less involved in the long term management of their careers, though that will change over time.
TV: How do you relax outside office hours?
LA: Pretty much all of my interests and hobbies involve something creative, so there’s not so large a divide between my professional life and my personal life. I spend most of my free time working on a company I founded last year called INDUSTRY. It’s my passion project – an ongoing workshop series for emerging photographers, by photographers. We teach a mix of creative and business workshops, and it was designed as an alternative to traditional photography schools. We have some amazing workshops planned for the rest of 2015, and a new website launching in a couple of weeks. All that aside, when I do truly disconnect from work I love to travel, hang out with my dog and my friends, and in general just enjoy my downtime.
TV: Can your share your vision on how the industry used to be, how it is now, and how it would be in the future?
LA: It’s both exciting and humbling how the industry has changed in the 10 years since I’ve become an agent. It used to be that to be taken seriously by clients, or even to have access to clients, photographers had to be represented, but that’s no longer the case. Social media changed everything. Now photographers have direct access to their clients (and their clients to them) via Instagram and other social platforms. The most successful photographer profiles (on social media) are consistent in creating and supplying content that is part portfolio, part moodboard. Combine that with the conversation inherent to these platforms and clients get immediate insight into a photographer’s personality and work in a way they’ve never had before. These days it’s crucial that photographers participate in their own marketing, with or without an agent, and social has enabled them to do that in way that is far more effective than traditional methods. While I don’t see agents becoming obsolete, I have had to change the way I work to continue to be of value to my artists. To me the best agents are part publicist, part manager and part agent. Anyone can be taught to negotiate a contract or understand fees, but it’s the long term management and development of someone’s career where we really get to be of value.
TV: What are the most common mistakes people and young talent have about agents and agencies?
LA: Probably the biggest misconception young photographers have is that once they have an agent, they will immediately begin working all the time based on their agent’s efforts alone. While that can happen, it’s not typical, no matter how experienced or motivated the agent. It takes time to develop someone, introduce them to clients, and have clients be willing to take a chance on them. They are often reluctant to give up a portion of their income, which I understand, but it’s important for them to realize that in addition to getting them new clients, we can also often increase their fees with existing clients. So much of what we do as agents isn’t directly compensated, so it’s important to have that give and take from the clients they already have. Also, the agent-photographer relationship is a partnership. When they are willing to reach out to clients in addition to my efforts, we get a lot farther.
TV: What do you look for when signing a new photographer to your roster?
LA: It depends on a few factors. I’m always looking for someone that has work and a perspective that I find compelling and original, and that I feel my clients would be excited to be introduced to. Consistency within a body of work is key. If someone is far along in their career and you can’t quickly tell from their work what they are about, that’s a problem. Personality is also a huge factor. I want to work with people I like, and that I think my clients will like as well. If there’s something missing from our roster or a need we can’t service for our clients, i.e. a great lifestyle photographer, then I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for someone who can fill that niche.
TV: Thank you so much Leigh.
Images by Sacha Maric, Nicole Nodland, and Shae de Tar.