On this episode of What Makes You Click, Kelvin welcomes Maren Levinson, Founder and Artist Representative at Redeye Representatives. Redeye is a creative agency representing contemporary photographers, illustrators and set designers to ad agencies, design firms, magazines and businesses of any size. Maren talks about the nitty gritty of what it’s like to find representation as a photographer and to be represented by a creative agency.
“A lot of photographers think that they need to impress an agent, but the best place to be to get an agent is to have agents trying to impress you. You should make yourself into the kind of artist that agents are clamoring to represent.” - Maren Levinson
Maren also shares the story of her photography journey, from finding inspiration in words, pictures, and architecture as a child to exploring editorial photography and founding Redeye Representatives. She speaks on how her vision of having a gallery morphed into the creation of Redeye and what it’s like to work in and build a creative agency’s team.
Then, Maren talks about what she looks for in artists, the importance of being clear on your distinct style and voice, and what it costs financially to be represented, noting the commission agencies receive from their artists’ revenues. She speaks on the effects of systemic racism on the photography industry and why Redeye strives to be of service to humanity by, for example, offering free BIPOC portfolio review.
Tune in to hear powerful advice on pursuing your creative dreams and to learn which photography trends have been appearing prior to and during the pandemic.
“Photograph towards your dream.” - Maren Levinson
About the Guest:
Maren Levinson is the Founder and Artist Representative at Redeye Representatives.
Connect with Maren Levinson and Redeye:
Connect with What Makes You Click:
People + Resources Mentioned:
Mother Jones: www.motherjones.com
Elena Dorfman: www.elenadorfman.com
Peggy Sirota: www.instagram.com/peggysirota
East 100th Street by Bruce Davidson: www.goodreads.com/book/show/899951.East_100th_Street
William Eggleston Art Foundation: www.egglestonartfoundation.org
Martin Parr: www.martinparr.com
Olivier Laude: www.olivierlaude.com
Diversify Photo: www.diversify.photo
Video of Maren Discussing Photography Trends: https://youtu.be/tkEttiJxJr4
John Keatley: www.johnkeatley.com
[00:00:00-00:01:37]- Episode Introduction
[00:01:37-00:02:45]- Guest Introduction
[00:02:45-00:06:10]- The Origins of Maren Levinson
[00:06:10-00:12:48]- Photography in Maren’s Childhood
[00:12:48-00:17:18]- Maren’s Young Interest in Photography
[00:17:18-00:27:40]- Redeye: From Gallery to Agency
[00:27:40-00:32:12]- Agency Representation
[00:32:12-00:33:55]- Finding Your Voice
[00:33:55-00:34:57]- When Do You Need an Agent?
[00:34:57-00:39:00]- The Price of Agency Representation
[00:39:00-00:47:45]- Redeye Supporting Diversity in the Photography Industry
[00:47:45-00:53:52]- New Photography Trends
[00:53:52-00:55:06]- Show Outro | Resources and Information About the Show
What Makes You Click with Maren Levinson
Kelvin Bulluck: Hello, and welcome to another episode of what makes you click. I am your host Kelvin bullet, and today we are going to do something a little bit different. I am going to have a guest on that is not actually a photographer, but she is somebody that a lot of photographers are going to want to hear from.
The reason that is because she represents photographer’s, set designers, stylists, and illustrators, with our agency, which is Redeye Representatives incorporated, based in LA. Her client list includes companies, such as Adidas, Apple, Hulu, Netflix, Starbucks, Sephora, Lexus, Wells Fargo, the list is extensive. I am not going to read it all, but the client list is real.
I feel like it is important to learn from as many of the industry pros as possible. A lot of photographers do have questions about agency representation, so, I wanted to take this time to interview somebody who could really feel us all in on what that entails and what it really looks like from her end.
Without further ado, let us hear what makes Ms. Maren Levenson click!
[Intro Music Playing]
Kelvin Bulluck: All right, Maren Levinson, Hey, I appreciate you for coming on and having this conversation with me. I am excited because I first became aware of you a couple of months back when you and Redeye, agency partnered with Diversify Photo to do a webinar, to help photographers start getting back in the swing of things when it came to, getting calls and getting bookings.
The information that you and your team provided was like, so great. I still actually go back and review those notes because it was just a wealth of information that, it has even helped me, not even really the back end of this pandemic, because I guess we are still in the middle of it. It has helped me secure some work, you and your team are amazing.
When I saw that presentation, I said, I must follow her, I need to know what they are doing when they are doing it, so I can keep up to date. It just seems like you guys are a wealth of information, and we will talk about that a little bit later.
Maren Levinson Origins
Kelvin Bulluck: Before we even get into that, I like to start with the origin stories of my guests, and I know from a previous email that you said that you are from Baltimore originally. I know now you are in LA, so I would love to hear a little bit about how that happened. Where you grew up in Baltimore? I am assuming both of your parents are from there. Kind of give me a little bit of background info on you.
Maren Levinson: Like many people in this industry, I started out being interested in photography, myself. I was born and raised Baltimore; I had no sense that I was going to be in California. My parents did not want me to go to college in California because it was too far away. Of course, I immediately moved there, the second I graduated [Laughter], never came back.
I had this vague interest in photography, and went to college and studied, English and Fine Art photo. I liked the combination of words and pictures, which led me to editorial work. I was a photo editor for years. First, at Mother Jones, then it Dwell, and then I did a bunch of freelance work and ultimately started Redeye, which is an agency whereas an editor, I would hire my favorite photographers, but I had to keep a mix. It was always in response to what the features and locations required, but having an agency meant that I could work with my favorite photographers all the time.
Kelvin Bulluck: Oh, nice.
Maren Levinson: I did not have to space it out evenly and make sure I was not favoring anybody. I could, just work with my favorites all the time. That is what I did. I started with just, three artists and I had to delay starting it because I wanted to have a woman on the roster, and at that time there were no female photographers.
Alaina, Dorfman was the first and she was wonderful, and we are still friendly. She is a fine art photographer now, but there really were not many.
Kelvin Bulluck: This was 2005 ish when this….
Maren Levinson: Yes! I was drawing on the photographers I knew from the editorial world. I think if I were to look back on it, there were a few big players in the commercial world, like Peggy Sirota who were very well known, but not many.
When I look back at it, especially being a mother now, when you start to hit it in your career is about thirty and that is when a lot of women started to have kids. It is not a huge surprise; it is hard to do both. From being a photographer, it takes everything you have put yourself out there all the time. I think there is a reason I did not have kids until I was forty, because I was, yeah, I was starting a business and giving it everything I had.
Photography in Maren’s Childhood
Kelvin Bulluck: I wanted to go back just a little bit, because you said that, you had an interest in photography, growing up and, because of life, you took some different paths and you ended up where you were. When you were a child, what kind of things where you interested in or what kind of things caught your eye that kind of informed who you were as a creative later in life?
Maren Levinson: This is so sweet. I am so used to people not being interested in my creative background, but more of my artists [Laughter]. My mom was a painter, so visual arts. I think she took some classes at Maryland Institute before I was born.
Kelvin Bulluck: M.I.C.A (Maryland Institute College of Art)?
Maren Levinson: Exactly. She was interested in the visual arts as well, and my dad had a writing background. He had restaurants, but he was a big reader, and interested in the written words. I was always split between words and pictures, which is what brought me too editorial.
My mom ultimately became an interior designer, so, I was constantly looking at space and light. It is funny because when I started working at Dwell, I talked to all these photographers who said my dad was an architect, or I went to architecture school before I became a photographer. I think that there is a big connection between architecture and photography that I was not conscious of, so there is something there looking at space and light and shadows from an incredibly young age. My mom would take me to her sites often. I took art classes in school. I would not say I was the best artist in the class, but I was fine. There was something about that.
One of my colleagues, Jen, her dad is an architect and my college professor, Bill Nolan. He taught sculpture and photography, so there is something there. I cannot quite put my finger on it, but I think it has to do with space in life.
Kelvin Bulluck: Yes!
Maren Levinson: I do not know if you have an interest in architecture design?
Kelvin Bulluck: For me, it is funny, just, talking about my parents, it is like the complete opposite. My dad is a cop, and he has been for like my entire life and my mom was in the army, so growing up, we did a lot of moving around. There was a lot of discipline if you will? There was not really a focus on the art, so I love hearing other people's backgrounds. I think it is amazing that you have basically taken your mom and your dad's passions and melded them into, your own thing.
That is what I like hearing. That is why I like asking those questions because, I think our past inform upon our futures and those little things, those little details really do help us understand each other. You just help me understand a little bit more who you are.
Maren Levinson: None of it was conscious. You look back on your career and it all makes sense at a certain point, but as you are following these random whims and ideas and interests, none of it seems like it makes sense at the time. I was an Art major, but then one of my friends from high school said, you were the photo editor of the yearbook.
I had completely forgotten, because I thought it is random, I am working in publishing and magazines, and she says, no, it is not, you are in the photo editor of the yearbook. And thought, I was? Then I worked at a visual journal in college. I thought it was so accidental, but obviously there is something invisible that is working, propelling you.
One of the photographers on our roster worked on an ice cream truck, then she worked in film and now she is one of our most successful artists, but she gets asked to shoot a lot of food, photography and fun, dessert type stuff specifically. It all makes total sense that she worked on a dessert and ice cream sandwich, food truck, and now she is getting asked to do directorial work back in film, that she left and thought it was like a random PA job, but all these things inform your future path. Of course, they get people's interest, my job at Dwell, I had gone to college in North Carolina and I did a documentary on the cat's cradle, which is a music venue in, near chapel Hill.
Kelvin Bulluck: You went to Duke, right?
Maren Levinson: I did, and I sometimes I must duck if I say that…
Kelvin Bulluck: I am sorry, I did not mean to put you on blast.
Maren Levinson: ….my husband still tries to forget it. I think just the familiarity of recognizing the cat's cradle in my portfolio made her love me, and she hired me because she grew up right there. It is like all these things that seem so random set you on a more purposeful path. Then you think, I tried to get a job at the documentary magazine, but they did not have anything. I ended up working at the labor farm workers union, which was in the same building, but then my first job was not Mother Jones, which was a labor union magazine. It helped me sound like I knew what I was talking about a little bit more. I was connected to that type of work and that type of, tradition.
On the one hand, I feel like life is full of these just random happenstance connections, but then sometimes you look back at it and you can string it together and say, it all makes sense.
Kelvin Bulluck: When we are in it, we cannot see the forest for the trees, basically. We are so in it, and we are doing our thing, but our friends, our families, everybody can see it except for us. It is just funny how that does work out.
Maren Levinson: I could even see it with you because military brat a little bit, like often those kids are more performative, really outgoing, and that is a huge part of commercials, specifically fashion photography.
You could have been an actor, now talking to you, you could have been a voiceover person. I think that those skills, which are just like a natural part of your upbringing, totally informed what type of photographer you are? Even though it does not seem like you were exposed to the arts, you were exposed to a certain upbringing that prepared you for this naturally.
Maren’s Young Interest in Photography
Kelvin Bulluck: Yes. Definitely. At that point, you were in high school, you were the editor of the school magazine, a yearbook, and I guess what kind of photography were you really into at that point and was the work that your mom was doing with her art was that kind of informing also upon the type of photography that you were into?
Maren Levinson: I did not know really. That is not true. Like most teenage girls, I did buy and look at a lot of fashion magazines, it is funny now that I think about it, I always looked at the photo credits and my fun game was to see if I could recognize the photographer took the cover photos of Elle, I think Elle was a magazine I got at the time.
I remember looking at those photo credits, really studying them. And it was my little memory game, as a teenage girl, I was never interested in the models. I do not even think I understood the distinctions between the photography, but I knew that I really liked the visual challenge of seeing if I could guess who the photographers were. I know I had favorites, I wish I remembered who they were because they are probably still around, although I am old enough that maybe they are not. I do think it is interesting that was the aspect of it I was interested in; I was not trying to make those pictures. I was not trying to wear that fashion; I was trying to understand the voice of the people who made the pictures.
Kelvin Bulluck: I love it. I love! It is amazing because, one reason why I am delving into these questions is I might have some listeners who, are enjoying photography, but not necessarily realize that there is another way that they can be involved in it, but it speaks to them in a way that resonates a lot more.
For you, you were clear. I like photos, but I am more interested in, some of the other things that are involved with that.
Maren Levinson: I did not know that at the time, this is in retrospect. At the time I thought I might want to be a photographer, and I went to school and studied to be a photographer. I talked to my professor about what I should do to be a photographer, and he said to marry rich. [Laughter] Which I did not do, certainly for a long time, I did not even meet my husband until I was forty.
He also said to find one of your parents, friends, who is a doctor because they have a good camera in a closet somewhere, which I thought was very funny advice. He said they all have a HASA blood in the closet.
I still thought I was going to be a photographer until my first job at Mother Jones. I saw how hard it was. I saw how all these photographers were calling for meetings and hustling and reinventing themselves. Bruce Davidson, who was one of my idols, 101 East that beautiful book that was based in Harlem.
Yeah. I used to go in the library and pour over that book and he came into Mother Jones. This is one of my idols, and he was hustling for work. I was in my early twenties and I thought I should not even be speaking to this man. I knew enough to know that I had no place being someone that he was trying out for and I felt horrible about it. I am sure it sticks to him that he was lovely and did not talk down to me or say, this is a waste of my time. He was earnest, but I do remember thinking this is somebody I revere who should be like resting on his laurels and like speaking, doing speaking engagements right now, and he was still hustling for work. That scared me and I, at the same time, I realized that I liked the collaboration of working in an office. I had liked the humor and the comradery, and I did not have the confidence to go alone and not have a paycheck. Even the internship at Mother Jones was paid, so, I did not have any money. I really did need to pay my rent and it scared me too much. I did not understand what a freelance lifestyle would be at that age.
Redeye: From Gallery to Agency
Kelvin Bulluck: That is interesting because eventually you ended up doing that, which you were afraid of, which is basically striking out on your own and starting from scratch with your agency Redeye.
Speaking of that, since we have made it to that point, I believe I read that you were doing the photo editor work, but then you ended up moving to, San Francisco and you were looking at starting a gallery with Redeye.
Can you tell me a little bit about how it morphed from this gallery idea into an agency?
Maren Levinson: My cousin from Baltimore also was in California as well. We both loved photography, but at the time it is so funny to say this now because the world is so different, but at the time the type of photography you would see was extremely limited. It was just black and white, boring. Ansell Adams rip off, that is what people thought of as photography. We loved, the new color photography, like the William Eggleston's, that is the direction we were coming from.
I loved Martin Parr, colorful icon of clastic, rule-breaking photography. There just was not a lot of it, and we found ourselves really interested in international photography, so, we would always nerd out and go to these shows together and hear speakers from other places. Redeye was the name that she came up with was going to be, international photography, gallery.
Redeye was alluded to, taking red eyes so long flights, whatever, but also, to the sort of accident that happens in photography, where you get red eye, and the notion was that it embraced accidents. That there was not this formality in photography, that it would be loose voice driven.
She is being the wiser, one of the two of us said, let us take a business class. I was like, what? I just like art. She said, let us take this business class and see how this works. We took this business class and they made us crunch the numbers. We figured out to support ourselves in San Francisco at the time, which was like, Full on.com bubble, we needed to sell 10,000 photos a week to support two people in San Francisco. It was when we crunched the numbers, it was so outrageous. One of the other assignments in the small business class was, talk to other gallerists and I am not kidding, I was so naïve, all of them would say things like, you just need another source of income.
I took these notes, these copious notes, and I thought, okay, another source of income, and I am such a literal person. I said, what do you mean? Like a money tree? What is it? I started to think about these famous galleries in New York at the time the Boesky gallery, these, they all had these famous, last names attached to them. They had huge amounts of personal wealth attached to them. I was so naïve, it never occurred to me. I was just a girl from Baltimore to sell some photos. I did not even know that there was a world where that was a thing, where you could have a job that did not make money. It just did not make sense to me.
You will appreciate this, we quickly parted ways very friendly. We still talk to each other about our businesses all the time, but she started a snowball stand in California because we grew up in Baltimore snowballs and there were none in California.
I took the name Redeye with her blessing and started an agency, which was basically a less scary way to represent artists. I did not have to have a space where I paid rent. I did it out of my apartment and I was still doing freelance editorial work for the first couple years of the business. It was not that much of a risk, and it was if something happened great, and if it did not, that is fine too. There was no monetary investment. I just had to put a website together, and I was lucky because my old boss at Dwell on her husband, really hooked me up with the identity I still have today. I did not have to invest too much.
Kelvin Bulluck: It seems a little bit out of left field from gallery to agency, so I guess what was that link like? Where did the ideas hit you to say, you know what, I could represent photographers and make a goal of it this way. What planted that seed?
Maren Levinson: Olivia laude, one of the photographers that I worked with, editorially, would ask me, I had been in the industry for a while at that point, there were not that many photo editors in San Francisco because everything was in New York. He would say I am going to New York, who should I see? I would write these long lists, and photographers, would say, look, where do you think I should send my work and I would write these long lists. I knew people, I had been going to a lot of reviews and conferences and, by that point I had been in the industry for a while. I had a lot of ideas about who they should see and what they should do.
Olivia said, you should be an agent. I thought, I am not a salesperson. There is no way I am going to be an agent that yuck. I do not even like to talk to agents. [Laughter] I always like to talk to the artist directly. I realized, he said, why don't you just work with me on these things? If you like it. I really must credit him. I never would have thought of it on my own.
I mean at the same time, Webb who is still on my roster was always sending me interesting articles and stuff like that. He was the first artist on my roster. He and Olivia, and ultimately Elena, he said, here is this PDN article PDN was a magazine that sadly just folded this year.
He said, these are the careers that make money in the photo industry, and it had this bar graph of who made the most money in the photo industry. I never thought of myself as financially driven. However, I was single and pretty much felt that I would be for a long time. I just knew that there; I was not going to be a double income household for the foreseeable future.
I did want security and San Francisco is awfully expensive. I thought, Olivia is telling me I should do this. I do not mind doing it with people I like because I want them to do well anyway, I do that for free, and this industry has the potential to make a good amount of money. Let us see what happens!
To be honest, starting an agency was the most creative thing I ever did, even though I was not an artist, I was picking the voice of the website, I was, working out my logo, I was, coming up with marketing gifts and emailers and things like that. It has been a creative project that has been fun, but there is a little less pressure because it is not all me. It is me and my employees and the artists we represent, make up the agency. Somehow, maybe it was a shyness, and it took a little bit of the attention off me. There is a reason I did not name my agency, Maren represents. I named it something that would be beyond just me.
Kelvin Bulluck: Okay, okay. That makes sense that you did, that you made that transition. Basically, at that point, you are an entrepreneur. You have, cultivated this list of contacts. You have got these great talented photographers, and then, eventually you start building your team. Would you say that process was challenging? Not challenging? We are talking, what is fifteen years now, right? Like this year makes 15 years in January.
Maren Levinson: Hardest part is delegation, and I am sure you run into it yourself, letting go, and then having good judgment letting to go to the right people. I literally made every bad decision when it came to who I hired.
Then finally, when I hired Stephanie who is on our roster right now, she started, so this is a good example of not knowing what you are going to be in the photo industry. She started as an agent; she was interested in the business side. She was smart, and she was just shooting on the weekends for fun; she was good. She is one of the most successful artists on our roster, and she started getting so busy that literally one day before Christmas break, one of our biggest competitors tried, reached out to represent her, and I said, I guess you are not coming to work on Monday! We are representing you.
She was so lovely because she could have gone with anyone, but she was loyal and shocked, because she knew too much how the sausage was made, but she has gone on to have a wonderful career. It is just a good example of not knowing how you are going to start. She was the first employee I hired that I was like, I can depend on somebody who is smart to do this? I can let go a little bit, and that was when I started having a personal life.
Then from then on, I have made better and better hires. It is like with any personal growth thing, you realize what you deserve, but you are the last person to know. I just did not know that I could have wonderful, employees that did work so hard and, were, if you were on the, call with Diversified, then you know that every single one of our agents is wonderful, and could easily be running their own agency.
Kelvin Bulluck: You touched on something that brings me into, the beginning of the questions regarding, how it all works with finding representation and what that looks like and knowing when you are ready. I know a lot of my listeners are not represented and some of them might feel like, I need to get represented to get amazing jobs.
I know when I first started, I thought, getting represented is the way to go, but then as I, started doing more work, I started connecting with photographers that were represented in LA and in New York. I started to learn a little bit more about what that process entails, what it is really like. It was totally different than what I was expecting.
I have heard a lot of people and you even said it as well in an interview that, the relationship between an agent and the photographer is basically like a marriage. My question would be if it is like a marriage, what is that courtship like leading up to the marriage?
Maren Levinson: It is just like that, you date. I had begun a practice of not taking anybody on, unless we work on some jobs freelance together, because you want to know who you are getting into bed with. You want to know that they try to stretch the metaphor. You want to know that they answer calls that they are responsive, that they hit their deadlines, that they are responsible. You want to know how they are on a conference call.
People always put their best foot forward when you have a meeting, but you need a little bit of a sustained relationship to get a real understanding of what it would be like to work with somebody. I always tell people to before they just sign on somewhere, unless they are young and they get a great opportunity, and they should just go for it, but if they are shopping around, they should do just that.
Speaking of what you deserve, I think a lot of photographers think that they need to impress an agent, but the best place to be, to get an agent is to have agents trying to impress you. You should make yourself into the kind of artists that agents are clamoring to represent.
Kelvin Bulluck: What does that look like?
Maren Levinson: What that looks like is proving through what you put out into the universe that you are constantly creating, have good relationships, and have a handful of well-known clients.
A couple of agents when I started my business said never take on a photographer who has never had an agent. You spend time developing them, and then of course they get big for their britches and think, I should be with somebody bigger. It is like that indie label thing, right? Somebody develops you and they go on to somebody bigger.
Now to some extent that is natural and that should happen. Sometimes it is just discontent. People just get in a lot creatively and they assume it is their agent's fault instead of looking at themselves or where they are in your life. Sometimes it is just not the right match and they should move on, but I have had great relationships with artists that had never had an agent before. I do not really take that to heart, but I do think that working with them a little bit helps. What I am looking for is somebody who is out there who is visible, are they going after the kind of clients that are right for them? Do they have a small community of people that are in line with what they are about? Do they know themselves? Do they know their voice?
It is hard to establish an artistic voice, and oftentimes we will see artists whose work is all over the place. I will say, you got to figure out who you are before you have an agent, because you need to make sure you are with the right agent. Are you fashion? Are you still live? Are you both in the same voice? Are you lit? Are you lifestyle? Is this the direction you want to be going?
It takes a good, I do not know. How long did it take you? It takes a good five to ten years.
Finding Your Voice
Kelvin Bulluck: To find your voice. Yes! I would hear people tell me all the time, hey Kelvin, you must find your voice. You have got to, have something to say and I am like, what does that mean? If we are, for the longest time, that was my frustration is what does that mean?
Then I started mining my own life my own experiences, my own interest, and really started to find little things that like linked together. I think, how can I incorporate this into, my work? How can I say something with this?
Of course, it is an ever-evolving process. I am still, finding the voice, but I am a lot further along, now than I was five and six years ago. And that was because I started to really think about what that meant, to find one’s voice.
Maren Levinson: Here is the thing. There are a lot of image makers out there and it is a competitive industry. Unless you are bringing something to the table that no one else is, it is pointless, you are going to get lost.
When I edit people's work with them, I always say, is this an image that only you could make? Is this an image that only you could make? That is the question that I ask every page of their portfolio or every image on their website or review, is this an image that only you could make? What does that mean? Does that mean there is a wink of humor in it. Does that mean that it is a color treatment? Does that mean it is a celebrity? Does that mean it has got movement? What is it?
If somebody is going to distill you to a sentence, what is that? If you do not have that worked out, then you just get lost in the fray.
When Do you Need an Agent?
Kelvin Bulluck: Those are some good points because, again, I often hear photographers saying, I need to be represented. Then you look at their work and you are like, ah, maybe we keep working. I feel like everything that you just said is a jumping off point for people to evaluate whether they are even ready to start having this discussion. As you said, you do have to have your house in order….
Maren Levinson: Financially speaking, just to speak in like nuts and bolts, agents take 25% of your income. If you are not prepared to give over…. and they do not want to be taking it from somebody who is not willing and happy to be giving it. If you are not in a position where you can easily lose 25% of your income and be okay with that, then you should not be looking for an agent.
You should be at the point where you are saying I cannot handle all the requests. I am losing opportunities because I cannot respond to people. That is when you need an agent.
The Price of Agency Representation
Kelvin Bulluck: That right there is a sound bite. That is perfect. I wish somebody would have told me that eight years ago, when I first started on ten years ago when I first started. I feel like for the first few years, I thought, I got to have an agent. I must have an agent because that is how I get the amazing jobs. That is how I get these celebrities, that is how I get, to travel worldwide. You just hit the nail on the head with, first, let us look at that money because although we love doing this, we got to make a living. If we are not in that place financially, where we can handle somebody taking 25%, then yeah, let us be real with ourselves.
You just touched on something that I was curious about, and I know the answer to this, but before I knew the answer, I was curious, you say 25% is, the roundabout, number that agents take, is that based off the work that the agency helps the photographer get or is that everything? Even if the photographer has, some clients work they have landed on their own. You take a percentage of that as well or is that….?
Maren Levinson: Every agency is different. Our agency is tiny, so we only have seventeen artists. We have an exclusive relationship with our artists. The question that you will want to ask before you sign any contracts is, is this an exclusive relationship or not? Due to the internet, people used to have regional reps like east coast and west coast reps, but that does not make any sense anymore. In normal times, half of our photographers flew to New York once a month. We go on these meetings, we nurture these relationships, we fly around the country to go to ad agencies, who knows how these photographers get the work they get.
Oftentimes, they do give us cuts on jobs that we did not get for them, but we are still doing all the contracting and negotiations. It is not I just handed in version fifteen of an estimate. It is not like it is not a full-time job, even if you are not getting the work.
There are some agencies that are big, and it is a quantity game. We are a boutique agency, so our hope is to have a relationship and grow with you, wherever you may go. Some people end up going more into videos and people go still live, some have gone in directions completely different than when we met them, but if the relationship works, we are along for the ride. Nobody resents, as far as I know, giving us the percentage on jobs, we did not actually get for the artists because we are still doing ton at work.
Kelvin Bulluck: You just touched on something else, that I think it is important for people to understand about what it is that you guys do. As you said, you are submitting proposals, you are revising, and you are going back and forth. You are managing basically, what I would call stuff that I do not want anything to do with, because I would much rather be creating.
Of course, we still need to have an understanding and our hand in it, but you guys offer that ability for the photographer to delegate that kind of work so they can focus on, the things that they want to focus on, or it gives them more time.
Maren Levinson: Most of our successful photographers are particularly good businesspeople and could do it on their own, but who wants to? If you are on set, do you really want to be responding to an email about a revision for an estimate, for some ad agencies meeting? You want to be on set, and you want to be present. It is not work that any of them could not do, it is just a division of labor that makes a lot more sense.
We never miss a phone call. We are always at the desk picking up the phone call. Where they could be location scouting, they could be…. there are a million different things that they could be doing.
Redeye Supporting Diversity in the Photography Industry
Kelvin Bulluck: The last thing that I wanted to touch on, is something that I think it is an amazing thing that you guys at Redeye are doing, that is, you are doing your part to help diversify this industry and to help people who might not have had the opportunity, to have a professional portfolio review. That was on your website the other day. I thought, wow!
First, you already offer professional portfolio reviews, for a rate, but I noticed that you are also offering free portfolio review for the BiPAP community, who traditionally in this industry, have not gotten a lot of shine. They are out there, but they are not out there in the way that we see the ones that are more well-known. Unfortunately, that is because of, their race and color of their skin.
I think what you guys are doing is amazing. Even how you partnered with Diversified Photo for that webinar. I am one of the many who was super appreciative for the things that you guys are doing.
My question is, what drives that want to be a part of the voice that is helping versus, turning the blind eye?
Maren Levinson: I should own up to the fact that, we had not been doing that until this year, which I am not proud of, because we were ignorant to how bad it was. Once we were made aware of that…., and we should have known just by the landscape, but people get siloed and you are operating from a place of privilege and you just do not get it or see it. We thought this is crazy, so we talked to some of our artists and tried on a lot of hats and possibilities about what we could do.
There were a lot of promises being made in the industry. There were a lot of statements being made and I felt personally, I am less of a statement maker and more of a doer.
I thought, what do I have to offer? I do not want to make a manifesto that I do not even know if I can live up to, but I know that the only thing I have to offer is some knowledge about this industry. It is funny, I did not think I had that much to offer. I was shocked by how great the questions were on the Diversify webinar. Really smart, thoughtful questions that people truly did not know the answer to that I assumed was obvious, boring stuff. It never crossed my mind that we did have that much to offer. When we started offering the portfolio reviews, we thought, ten or twenty people will sign up. We are booked out through June of next year. There was a need.
Jared Stories on our roster is wonderful and thoughtful, told us about his membership with Diversify. We were, talking to our artists and trying to think about what we could do. What I did not want to do was in a big hurry, put on a bunch of minority talent on my roster. It just felt disingenuous and, maybe it would have been right, but I just cannot go against my instincts. I just felt like I obviously want to make our roster as diverse as it can be, but that will happen naturally.
Now that we have access to, so many more artists out there that we truly did not know about. We found out just because of the nature of systemic racism that people were intimidated to get in touch with us, that people did not know that we would be interested. It has really been sad and heartbreaking to see what a wall there has been, but it has been a wonderful experience because we have gotten to know so many great artists, that we truly never would have crossed paths with, otherwise.
It was this exceedingly small, rarefied industry with not a lot of diversity, and we did not have a lot of self-awareness about it. I feel lucky because of course I got into this industry because I love photography and I started Redeye because I wanted to see more different voices in photography.
It has only made my love of photography greater and broader, and my sense of the longevity of the industry it is just opened everything up. It is opened the industry to more voices and different ways of doing things. It is just it feels so stupid that it did not happen sooner.
I am ashamed that we were not conscious of it, but I am thrilled about all the work that we have done with Diversify, and we have been offering our repping services, to all the members of Diversify, this year. We have met incredible artists, some of them, we are going to consider taking on. Which to me felt like a more natural way to get to know somebody.
I looked around and all these other agencies were like adding all these photographers, and I was like, I just cannot even imagine making that phone call. I do not know if it happened to you, if you felt suspicious of people getting in touch with you or how you felt?
Kelvin Bulluck: It is funny that you ask. As all this stuff was happening…. I have had these conversations with, my fellow, black photographers that I know, and we all did notice an uptick in interest, whether that be, messages or, DM’S, people asking for quotes or reaching out to do shoots for like magazines and things of that nature.
I did notice that uptick and I did feel like, this is a moment thing, but at the same time, this is also an opportunity for me to, to get out there and show what I can do, so I can continue to open doors. On one end, I can, we can recognize in certain instances that is, this is the fad for now.
As a businessperson, I am like, I am going to do what I must do, because this pandemic has been crazy and the numbers are not like they should have been for the year, prior to the pandemic, so I am going to do what I got to do. I see it for what it is, I am going to ride the train. But I am going to be mindful at the same time of the jobs that I do take, so do not feel exploited, and go from there.
I understand your position of, I do not want to do this because everybody else is doing it, because I am of the mind that does look…come on, let us be real. As you said, you like to have that period, that courtship period of dating, and that is consistent with your brand, you have become open to and aware of, this community that has been untapped, and now you are going to do the thing that you normally do. You are going to court, you are going to get the vibe, you are going to see how these people are, in different settings. I got nothing but respect for that, so keep doing your thing.
Maren Levinson: Peoplewho we have had portfolio reviews with, or that, who have been like, I do not know how to feel about it, and I am like, this industry is competitive; take whatever opportunity you get.
Kelvin Bulluck: Yes. Yes!
Maren Levinson: If you are not, as you said, doing something that feels exploitative, but if you are interested in the work and they need a minority to fill some box, who cares and that is their problem. If you are a good photographer, it does not matter why you got that opportunity.
The playing field has been on level for so long that, why not get some level opportunities? It has renewed my passion for photography to see so many new voices.
New Photography Trends
Kelvin Bulluck: Wow! That is amazing. I love to hear that. I love to hear that!
The very last question that I have is regarding the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, you I am sure notice certain trends that were going on. I came across the video that you shot with John Keatley, I believe one of your photographers and you had some amazing advice for photographers, in that video. You talked about the different trends that were going on, and that was five years ago.
Are there new trends that you are noticing, now? Especially, with the pandemic and we are starting to see that productions are starting to ramp up, cautiously.
What are some of the things that you are noticing now that you can share with us?
Maren Levinson: Where did I leave off on the trends with John? Let us see it might have been lifestyle work.
Kelvin Bulluck: Yeah. Yeah, I believe so. It was lifestyle, you left off with lifestyle. I think you talked about, how we should be reaching out to brands on our own, because their budgets might not be as big as we think. They might work with people whose vision….
Maren Levinson: I am thinking about photography trends though. It is a fun visual game; I would say that colorful poppy still life was a trend. I would certainly say that multiethnic subject matter is a huge trend right now. Is it a trend, it is just like a reflection, a truer reflection of reality?
That is what is so funny, everybody thinks it is also extreme, but if you look at what is around you, it is more honest, depiction of what is around you then all the skinny white girls that did not look like me already, or anyone you knew. It is just funny, all the uproar about what a crazy change this is, but it is just bringing us to baseline reality.
Certainly, that I would say, Latin X culture is also, before this year, was very much something that was sought after. I think people are now moving away from brightly colored poppy things and our goal towards a more sort of de-saturated, city vibe. There is cabin porn, culture, bread, baking stuff, that is happening.
Those are the trends that I am seeing right now. Trends do not really matter because people who are used to looking at photos can see through anything, so it must come from you.
Whenever I talked to a photographer, it was like, wow, people are really into colorful still? Maybe that is what I should be doing. Then I think, how long is that going to last? You are faking your interest in this when you are out on the soccer field four times a week. That is what you like to be doing. Photograph soccer players. Photograph towards your dream, photograph towards if you like going to concerts, do not photograph puppies.
Kelvin Bulluck: I love your focus on that. It seems, you are very consistent in basically, shoot with you love. Shoot the thing that brings you the most passion and everything else is going to follow.
Maren Levinson: Interesting thing is the most people are not conscious of their passions. They will say, I hike on the weekends, but that is not a big deal, and I think, he did an eight day back country hike with grizzly bears. I feel like you are qualified to do some outdoor photography. [Laughter]
People tend to underestimate their interests and passions. They think that their hobbies, when that is the meat of it, because you cannot keep up with you, cannot keep up with faking it, it is too hard.
I was a writing major as well as an art major, and I loved to write, and I applied for the journalism internship at Mother Jones at the same time as the art one, but when I wrote, I would have to not speak to anyone for ten days, be in a dark room with no interruptions, I would fall off the face of the earth, nobody would hear from me, or it was no way to live a life. That was the only way I could successfully write anything, which meant that is not what I should be doing, that was not breathing to me. That was artificial, it was unsustainable.
I always tell people to just do not, swim upstream, follow your personal tides. What would you be doing if you were not getting paid? I would be going to art shows and cataloging every good photographer out there I could see. I am in an industry where that is some value, where people care that I know what is going on and I have a visual literacy. That is a gift that, I can expense my photo books.
That is what I do, and that is what I love. That is, that is what I tell people. Just do not try and fake it. People will be able to sniff it out.
Kelvin Bulluck: I feel like that is the best place to end. You have been a joy to chat with. I am going to keep following everything that you guys at Redeye are doing. Hopefully, I can get on that waiting list for the portfolio reviews. I am going to put in for that, and hopefully next year when it is opened, I will be able to get a peek at how you guys do things with the review.
Thank you so much for taking the time and yes keep doing what you are doing within your community and our communities, and I am sure we will be hearing more from Redeye in the future.
Maren Levinson: I am honored to be here. Thank you so much!
Show Outro | Resources and Information About the Show
Kelvin Bulluck: All right! That is the show. I hope that you were able to gain some new knowledge from Maren. The information that she provided was relevant and on time. I feel like it is something that anyone in this industry and who is trying to work their way up, can use to help build upon their career. Take note of what she said.
Speaking of notes, do not forget to check out our show notes [email protected] for this episode. As always, we like to link up any references that were made that were relevant, and helpful. Check those out!
Do not forget to share this with your photographer friends, let them know that this is a show that they could be inspired from, that they can learn and grow from.
If you have listened to an episode and you feel like it has been beneficial to you, do not hesitate to reach out and shoot me a message. Let me know what is on your mind. Feel free to like and comment on our post or subscribe to the podcast and rate and review it on the app that you listen to your podcast on.
As always, I appreciate you for listening and we will see you on the next episode.
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