PhotoPlus Panel: Getting a Tastemaker’s Attention

Aiming to shed some light on how photography mavens find innovative work, W.M. Hunt moderated the seminar Your Picture is Fabulous: The Tastemakers and Why We Look at What We Do during the 2011 PhotoPlus Expo. The panel featured a gallery owner (Yossi Milo of Yossi Milo Gallery), a magazine photo editor (Caroline Wolff of W) and an agency director (Kelly Penford of Jed Root)—in other words, a wide array of influential people every photographer dreams of impressing.

Though it’s not easy to articulate what makes a photograph cutting-edge, Hunt, a photo collector and former gallery director, noted that he needed to be excited by the work and told the story of traveling to Paris to see photojournalist Luc Delahaye’s Taliban Soldier, a large-scale image of a Taliban fighter lying dead in the dirt. Though Vanity Fair and The New Yorker both passed on the photo (American Photo ended up publishing it) when he returned to the U.S., Hunt was able to sell the image to a collector for $15,000—using just the color Xerox of the print—proving he had indeed discovered something new. Milo seconded Hunt’s sentiments, saying he wants to be blown away by a work and cited the example of Kohei Yoshiyuki’s series “The Park,” which not only excited him, but also had an amazing concept he was intrigued by.

Yet Hunt readily admitted that it’s hard to be fresh and pressed the panelists to find out what is trending now. In a word: technology. Milo said he’s been looking to younger photographers and is currently captivated by innovations in the picture-making process. An example is Matthew Brandt’s series “Lakes and Reservoirs,” in which he develops the photographs using water from the lake or reservoir featured in the photo. Wolff explained that she recently commissioned on online video from Santiago & Mauricio in which still images contained moving droplets of water, while Penford added that digital is the only acceptable method for his clients, who expect to see instantaneous results.

So how do you get your work in front of a tastemaker? Wolff said she reads a variety of magazines and newspapers, and used the examples of a few up-and-coming photographers she’s either commissioned or is keeping tabs on: She discovered Santiago & Mauricio through their submission in W’s Fashion on Film series; Chadwick Tyler was featured on the cover of Grey magazine; and Elle Muliarchyk’s “Dressing Room” series was published in The New York Times Magazine.

Penford said he looks at everything and anything, but emphasized the power of photo blogs. His agency currently represents Scott Schuman whose blog The Sartorialist receives millions of visitors each month, the popularity of which lead to new assignments, and recently signed Bill Gentle largely due to the photos on his blog Backyard Bill. Milo said he also reads a lot, both print and online, as well as travels and goes to shows. However, he tends to track photographers and follow them for a couple years to see how their style evolves before contacting them.

The moral of the seminar? Though there’s no way to guarantee your work will be deemed worthwhile by influential people in the industry, one thing that’s for sure is that it has to be out there in order to get noticed in the first place. Start a blog, enter a contest, send an introductory e-mail—do whatever you can to get your photographs seen by the right people.

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