On this episode of What Makes You Click, Kelvin welcomes self-taught, New York-based portrait photographer, Manny Roman. Manny is a storyteller of women and he’s here to talk about the power in knowing your worth and nurturing your network of relationships in the photography industry, as well as the immense joy that women bring to his work.
“I always remind everyone I speak with that our origin is of a woman and we need to always remember to celebrate them in every which way or form. My way is through the lens.” - Manny Roman
Manny describes how he became fascinated with the essence of women and beauty at a very young age and how he broke into the photography industry through a modeling agency. He shares insight into what it’s like to break into the London fashion photography scene, how his time in London helped him understand his worth, and how he handles resistance in his career while respectfully maintaining professional boundaries.
Manny speaks wise words on the role Peter Lindbergh had in inspiring his success as a photographer, the ways in which Manny celebrates and shows reverence to women, and how he produces more than just a pretty image.
Tune in to learn how he started building relationships with the models of America’s Next Top Model, ways the photography industry can manipulate you, and Manny’s perspective on agency representation as a former agent himself.
About the Guest:
Manny Roman is a portrait photographer based in New York. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, L'Officiel, Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, and Numéro.
Connect with Manny Roman:
Visit his website: https://bymannyroman.pixieset.com
Follow him on Instagram: www.instagram.com/bymannyroman
Connect with What Makes You Click:
Visit our website: www.whatmakesyouclick.com
Follow us on Instagram: www.instagram.com/whatmakesyouclickpodcast
Connect with us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/whatmakesyouclick
People + Resources Mentioned:
Michele Pommier: www.michelepommier.com
Peter Lindbergh: www.peterlindbergh.foundation
Bruce Weber: www.bruceweber.com
Antoine Verglas: www.antoineverglas.com
Riccardo Tinelli: www.instagram.com/riccardotinelliofficial
Aldo Fallai: www.instagram.com/aldofallai
Helmut Newton: www.helmut-newton-foundation.org/en/helmut-newton
Herb Ritts: www.herbritts.com
Chris von Wangenheim: www.instagram.com/cvwangenheimofficial
Premier Model Management: www.premiermodelmanagement.com
Annie Leibovitz: www.instagram.com/annieleibovitz
Pirelli Calendar: https://pirellicalendar.pirelli.com/en/home
Dani Evans: www.instagram.com/p/B5qtNKxFuj-/
[00:00:00-00:02:01] - Episode Introduction
[00:02:01-00:03:34] - Guest Introduction
[00:03:34-00:07:11] - Manny Roman’s Origins
[00:07:11-00:13:32] - Photography Internship - Program
[00:13:32-00:19:56] - Getting into Photography
[00:19:56-00:24:15] - Pursing Photography Full-Time
[00:24:15-00:34:04] - Moving to London
[00:34:04-00:37:34] - Helping Protect Models
[00:37:34-00:41:00] - Relationship Building America’s Next Top Model
[00:41:00-00:43:44] - Relationship Building
[00:43:44-00:47:50] - Celebrity Photographer Title
[00:47:50-00:52:38] - Agency Representation
[00:52:38-00:55:34] - What is Next for Manny Roman?
[00:55:34-00:56:35] - Show Outro | Information and Resources
What Makes You Click with Manny Roman?
Kelvin Bulluck: Hello, and welcome to another episode of What Makes You Click, I am your host Kelvin Bulluck.
Before I get into today's episode, I was talking with a friend of mine the other day, and I was telling him about the guests that I have on this podcast and how, no matter if you have heard of any of the people, you probably have seen some of their work. Even if you have not, if you are a photographer that is really interested in advancing your career, every one of these guests has a story that I strongly believe you should hear.
You get to hear a little bit about themselves and how they came up and how they got interested in the types of photography that they are in, how they entered the field and the ways that they continue to create opportunities for them to show their worth.
I feel like everybody that is on this show has a story that should be heard if you are, you know, a photographer, this interested in the realms of commercial, editorial, and fashion photography.
Today we have a special guest who is one of the first guests that is coming on and has more of a background in fashion and beauty. This guest is knowledgeable very opinionated and has a lot of great things to share.
Without further ado, let us take a listen to hear what makes Mr. Manny Roman click!
[Intro Music Playing]
Kelvin Bulluck: All right, Manny! Hey, I appreciate you for agreeing to take this call with me, man. I have been looking forward to chatting with you.
Manny Roman: I know, man. Thank you for having me.
Kelvin Bulluck: Yeah. Yeah. I am a new admirer of your work. Although after becoming aware of you, I realized that I had seen quite a few of your images in the past, but the most recent reason why I became aware of you is because, a photographer friend of mine had sent me a few images that you had taken of Dani Evans for L'officiel, and those images blew me away to the point where I am like, wait, who is Manny Roman?
I looked on your Instagram started scrolling, then I Googled you to find out more images and information about your background. I thought, man, these images are on a whole other level of beauty.
As I continued to investigate you, I would see people describe your work as these beautiful, sexy women. Yeah, I saw that, but at the same time, I also recognized a reverence that you have for the women that are in front of your camera and that was consistent across; all the images that I came across.
I thought, you know what? I want to know what makes Manny Roman click, so let me reach out to him to see if I can get him on the line. Again, I appreciate you for allowing me to delve a little bit deeper into who you are in your creative process.
Manny Roma’s Origins
What I like to do, is start off from the very beginning. I saw through my research about you that your parents were Puerto Rican, but they came over to Miami, which is where you grew up. Let us start there.
Can you tell me a little bit about your childhood in Miami? What was that like growing up there and what were some of the things that you were into.?
Manny Roman: Well, growing up in Miami, if anyone is familiar with Miami, it is basically beach life. At least for me, it was. Growing up in a Latin household, you are basically exposed to just the consistency of them embedding the Latin culture into you.
It was not anything amazing growing up in Miami, because it is something that I was used to every day.
Kelvin Bulluck: Yeah. Yeah. What were some of the things that you found yourself interested in as a child growing up in Miami? Were there certain creative pursuits that you had early on or were you just the happy go lucky kid playing on the beach?
Manny Roman: My creativity did not come out until I was watching with my aunt, the Miss Universe Pageant, and the Miss World. That is a big thing in our culture. It is like the beauty Olympics; we have baseball, and we have beauty pageants.
From that point, I mean, I got tired of watching the same old, repetitive, girl walking, running swimsuit across the state and getting crown because she is the most beautiful, she was not the most articulate. It was just beauty. That led me into maybe doing more research on my own after flipping through. My aunt's Vogues and Cosmopolitans, seeing a different area of beauty.
One time I stumbled upon like a commercial of promoting a supermodel of the world by the Ford Agency, I made sure to record that. Back in the day, we were avid of making sure we set our VHS to record whatever we wanted.
That was in 1990, and then I was more interested in that part, so that is where my creativity or my interest in the understanding, the world of beauty. Not so much fashion for me, it has always been about the woman and they fascinate me on the way they move, the way they laugh, the way they walk, whatever it is that they may be doing.
I am more fascinated about their essence versus everything else I learned afterwards in this industry. That is what I think started my creativity, having my eyes peeled out for Ford Motor of the world every year, for the year.
Kelvin Bulluck: You said something, you said that you recognized that these women fascinated you.
Do you have any idea or reason why that was even something that fascinated you? Was there some reason that you can kind of pinpoint to say, women fascinate me and even if it is in retrospect now as you look at it, is there something from your past that you can remember that made you start to appreciate that beauty or that essence of woman?
Manny Roman: Absolutely. Again, it goes back to my aunt, often would take care of us on weekends, and I would see her transform from an everyday attractive woman to going out in the evening with her boyfriend; she would transform. That was my first, inkling on seeing a woman doing what she can with her own beauty to make herself feel beautiful, to make herself feel great.
I do not have much of a relationship with her. We speak every now and then, but I did let her know that she was the reason why I gained a great interest in the essence of a woman. Without her knowing so much, she did not know that her fashion magazines laying around or her watching Disney universe was going to create this great interest that led me to my career. I think, I think that is where it basically all started all collectively.
Photography Internship – Program
Kelvin Bulluck: My research as well. I also noticed that in, I guess, around high school time-frame, you were a part of almost kind of like an internship with a fashion agency down there in Miami.
Manny Roman: Yeah. Well, it was a program within my high school, but they did not give us a list of what we should seek out too. I remember this is called work co-op for me; it was called work. Co-op where you left two days out of a week and they would grade you with credits kind of like internship is for in high school, they do it with grades. I remembered when I went with my sister prior to that, to her first photo shoot in South beach, that led me to that area.
As far as the one, I went from beauty pageants to supermodel the world, watching these supermodels searches to know, witnessing my sister, trying to model and being with an agency so that captivated my interest even more to go even further, I wanted to know more.
Then I went and applied to Michele Pommier , which is on South beach is one of the top agencies at that time. It was a massive agency, so I went there, and it is quite intimidating. You walk into the building and I go to a friend who is his fifteen-year-old kid, asking for a part and explaining what this program was about. They let me in, and that is where I got even more of a taste of what this industry and from all facets.
From being an agent to managing the models, there were like senior agents, mid-level new faces and things of that nature. I learned about the testing board. I have learned how girls get developed. It is quite layered that topic, but that is basically what my intro was in that part of the industry to becoming an agent.
Kelvin Bulluck: As a fifteen-year-old boy, when you go to this agency and you are learning all the mini facets, that seems like it is got to be a little bit intimidating, but you sounded like you were a bold kid to even think that that was something that you wanted to do.
Manny Roman: When you walk into that building specifically was 81 Washington Avenue, so if anyone goes to South Beach to check it out, it was a three-floor building. It was the first of its kind, right? As far as a modeling agency to have that level you walk in and it is intimidating because the way she decorated it, right? The interior design, and when you walk in right behind the reception was a waiting room you see all these huge frames of all their models, accomplishments, whether it be their campaigns or their magazine covers. That gave you an intimidation of what business, goes on in that agency, besides seeing all these beautiful men and women walk by you as you are, asking the receptionist for assistance or you are seeing the top agents and photographers come in to negotiate possible model bookings.
You know, I think I would lie if I said it was intimidating. I think everyone week you are walking into an unknown territory, you are intimidated. I am someone that if I am interested in something, I am going to go after it and I will ask all the questions. I know everything, but that is how I have always been, I have always been very inquisitive.
Maybe I was that annoying fifteen-year-old at the agency, I still carry myself the same way today, if I do not know something I am going to ask, and if I am interested in something, I am going to do the research.
Nowadays, it is a lot easier you go on Google and you get the best information you can, before you had to be hands-on. It asked the way, no matter what.
Kelvin Bulluck: I think that is the best way to be in life and in business and in relationships, to be curious and act like you do not know because, when you start acting like, things and closing yourself off to new knowledge, new opportunities and, and, you know, a myriad of other things that you could be missing out on. I think that is pretty dope that you were like that as a fifteen-year-old, then that you continue to do that to this day.
Moving forward just a little bit. You continue and you on this path and then you find yourself, being a Booker at this agency, correct?
Manny Roman: I was assisting this gentleman by the name of Greg Gore, so I never became a Booker, but I was assisting in the new faces department, understanding exactly how the things move and solidifying photo shoots. Understanding how the casting process, when I would see them come in and deal with him, he was not a new face, he was a top Booker, but he had to deal with the new faces, Booker, who would have been a potential model that they probably would be like, I think we need to just expedite her process. I think she is a star. We would take this girl and we put her through the runs faster than usual, she would be ready for Paris, and things like that. I witness all that aspect. I did make it clear that I was not going to be a coffee boy, or I was not going to be that type of person. They would laugh at me about that, but I just made it clear to them. I only have two days to invest a week for this program and I want to make the best of it.
I do not want to be graded because I have got the best graphic on show down the street. I was really immersed in it and expanding my knowledge and taking the best out of that. The internship I think was just for three months, so that is basically what I did there. I never became an agent there. It was the foundation of me learning the ropes and moving on to another agency.
If I would have asked, the opportunity would have been given to me because I did get along with everyone there. A couple of things maybe that I saw trying to remember clearly, but I was not so keen on. I just figured why not just try it another firm because, not every agency has the same formula. I was more interested in sponging as much information as possible by these power players in Miami so that I can really condition my mind about this field, about being an agent, should I really want to go full time?
Kelvin Bulluck: It sounds like you had a focus that was very long-term, and I find that interesting for people who can do it at that age, because I know who I know when I was that young, I could not see, five feet in front of me. I was just kind of all over the place, but I think it is amazing that you had the foresight to be like, I want to learn as much about all this as possible and see where to take it from there.
Getting into Photography
My question is like, when did you start picking up a camera and then photographing these, these models?
Manny Roman: It did not start with the models, I started at ten years old, pick up my mom's….it was not a disposable, was that 35-millimeter manual type. I remember acting like, I was it and thinking that I can photograph my sisters relentlessly, and that was just my first. That is how I got my sister into modeling.
At that point they were one ad about trying to be a model, and she would tell me she wanted to do it. We, I took pictures of her and that is how it started. We went to some agencies and that is basically how it started.
I did not start shooting the models of the agency, where it was interning until later. When I established, a great relationship with these girls and it was not intentional.
I finally convinced my mother to buy me a Nikon. I want to say it is an N-6006. I am not sure, but I lied to her and said, yes, of course I know how to work it, and she, knew I did not. I did. All my passengers, she was just trying to be supportive. Then I would just do by trial and error, I would shoot on South beach with some of these girls.
It was more about fueling my soul about something that I saw that I loved. I did not understand that it could have been a business. I did not understand that I could not even make a little bit of money just testing, but I just did whatever I wanted to with these girls who allowed me.
It proved that I had an, I, it proved, and I did not say that to myself. I was again, trial and error because I am self-taught, but when the agencies respond to you and they are like, we are going to give you this girl.
These agencies, especially back in the day, the way it was in nineties. They did not just let anybody in. If they saw that you had talent, they were going to in some way help you get to the next point, but for them to give me one of the girls on the board, I do not know if you have ever been to an agency even today, but when you walk in and you see the composite board and especially the girls that are working that itself is intimidating.
For them to say come over here, we are going to pull these cards out, and then they give me a batch of cards, and let me pick the one that you like. For me, it was too fast because I thought there was a longer process to be one of those girls, so that is when I said, okay, I could do this.
I could see myself doing this if I choose to do it as a professional, but I did not choose to do it as a professional until much later.
Kelvin Bulluck: As you were kind of experimenting with, you know, some of the girls on the board and you started learning the camera more and more, what would you say were some of your, or who would you say were some of your photographer influences or was it just kind of based off, you saw an image here or there that you liked, that you try to figure, if you could kind of recreate something. Did you know what photographers that you were like, I like that aesthetic, I want to kind of see if I can do my own version of that.
Manny Roman: Yeah. Well, then I never thought about it as an, as an issue.
Aesthetic, I was not that far in, but I knew that I was inspired without knowing if I was inspired by, it was just more something you like, something you want to copy. I am going to be raw, back then, the only thing we thought about is let me copy that. I did not know that it is, it was an inspiration to make your own.
There was one photographer who I met later, but that is another story, so it was a cover of Harper's Bizarre with Christy Turlington and she was on the beach. It was raw, no makeup, sandy everywhere, and I remember at that point I was shooting some agency girls already, and I met this model by the name of Carola Gonzalez, who is now an established makeup artist.
She probably not going to remember this unless she still has a contact sheet, but she understood what I wanted, and she got the same black top and turtleneck. She already had the same cut and we, and I nailed it I liked it. I remember that show clearly, we nailed it. It was the cover of her card and I think she was with Ford then.
I remember that Peter Lindbergh was one of the few photographers at that time that inspired me, him, Bruce Weber, and with the Nelly. I will do fly, and then as a girl DRI, I grew more interest in, Helmut, Newton, Herbrits, and then going back. Two I can never pronounce his name, but he was an edgy photographer before his time, Chris Von Wagon, I think something like that, he was doing a lot of the dark type of shoots, so those are the ones that really inspired.
Kelvin Bulluck: Yeah. You mentioned Antwan Verglas you met him, right? Did you get a chance to meet him and him kind of share a couple of insider tips with you?
Manny Roman: Yeah, he was quite kind. I met him. Again, it was same age fifteen. He had thought he was shooting Nikki Taylor. No, he was not, and he could tell her, I was at all with her. I know he said he was shooting for Grotzia and it was on ocean drive, he was kind, but he humored me and not in a condescending way. He was like, look, this is a camera he had, and he let me hold it.
I just looked at, you know, behind the scenes that they were prepping Nikki Taylor and he shot up a few shots. I knew I knew my place, so I, I removed myself. I think it was, quite nice of him to have, let me stay for the twenty minutes that he allowed me to stay, but he taught me a lot about natural light. He taught me a lot about shooting against light a few minutes.
When you really love something and you are fixated on learning it, you are going to take the few suggestions that someone gives you. You are going to take it all the way. I think that is what I do with this, during my time in South beach.
That was my first look at how things are shot on location, there was no lighting, it was just a whole crew. When he told me the tidbits on, backlight for late, etcetera, I took that with me.
Kelvin Bulluck: That is good stuff, man. It is nothing like a mentor, even if it is just for a minute or two, you know, like it is good. It is good to have those, those people who have blazed the way to give back and help you progress in certain ways.
I think that is one of the beautiful things about the digital age and the internet. Even if we cannot talk to somebody directly, just because of the nature of how content is everywhere. Now we can be inspired, and we can learn from those that came before us.
Pursuing Photography Full-Time
Kelvin Bulluck: My question now then is at what point did you decide to really take a step away from the agency life and start pursuing photography. What made you press forward with that? At what point did that come?
Manny Roman: It happened in 2013, I was working for my friend's agency, then they owned it. It was called The Lions, and it was a great agency. I was only there for two months, not a long time, but it is not because of this, but I ended up meeting Peter Lindbergh and he saw some of my works and he basically suggested that I do this full time. He said I had to clear it.
Yeah. He said it had a clear understanding of how I see women. He saw a raw talent, but he saw more than that. He said, I do not know this girl that you photographed or this girl, but I see that you have got something more than just a pretty picture.
He basically gave me some advice, even offered me to go an internship, that was intimidating. I did not take that seriously, especially…. well, when I had probably wanted to a year later, I was moving to London, but that led me to say, let us just try this full time and see where it goes. I always took his words with me by saying, do not shoot. What other people want you to shoot?
You are going to get that a lot. You shoot where you want to shoot, and then, you are going to form your own style. You are in aesthetic when you are going to be booked for, so keep that in mind. I have always taken that with me as well.
Kelvin Bulluck: I will see that it is first, to meet Peter Lindbergh and then for him to tell you that you have something like, that is amazing. That is, that is enough to make you want to be like, wait a minute, love Peter says I have something. Well, I must have something.
You said something else that, that stood out to me, you said that. He could tell that you were able to pull something more than just a pretty image for, for anybody that is trying to do that.
How would you say that you are able to do that and how could somebody else learn to do that if that is even a thing or is it just kind of like in your DNA? It is just one of those things where you just
Manny Roman: I do not know if you can teach authenticity. I think that that comes from my authenticity of me not wanting to carbon copy someone else's work.
Going back to what we were talking about earlier, the shift of, shooting for fun, being an agent, I think every time I had access to a camera or access to a moment where I could photograph someone. And even if it was not a job, I always believed that that was my higher power whispering to me saying, this is what you should be doing, and it did not come until later.
It was not because Peter Lindbergh validated it because when you admire someone at the level of Peter Lindbergh, he did not put a stamp on me deciding. It is just someone who had, who is an icon in this industry, to tell you that you have that something special and to pursue it, that led me to make it decision on the pondering back and forth if I should not.
Regarding how I achieve that, I think it is okay comes from my admiration of women. I always remind, everyone I speak with that our origin is of a woman, and we need to always remember to celebrate them in everywhere, which we are for my way, is through the lens If I need someone or if I need someone on set for the first time or whatever it may be while the model is in hair and makeup, or while we are waiting for the makeup artists to prepare. I get a few moments with them to chat with them so that we can connect so that there is a base there.
When she gets in front of my lens, she trusts me, you know, and, and then we just vibe, whether it is, we turn on music that we both like and whatnot we vibe.
First and foremost, I always remind them. You know of their worth and to thank them for allowing me to photograph them and for allowing them, allowing myself to be a part of their journey.
I think that creates the bond and it repeats itself because those girls want to work with you again, when they leave an experience of someone who cared, you know, and I think that is what shows.
Kelvin Bulluck: That is good stuff. Those are wise words as well. I hope anybody that is listening is taking notes because this is good stuff.
Moving to London
You said earlier that, at a certain point you ended up moving off to London. While you were in London, you continue to pursue shooting or what was the motivation for the move there?
Manny Roman: My partner had to go to London, so of course there is no, there is no decision. I am the one who said yes, we are going. At that point I knew that going head on to London, it was going to be a whole new world. It was going to exposed me to the London style of fashion photography.
The first couple of months, it was difficult, but when we got there, I did the best I could to reach out to people and London, just like Paris is an extremely hard market to break into.
It is very cliquey, if you do not know anyone, you are not going to get in. There is an agent in South Florida that I have known since I was fifteen, who introduced me to the agency, Premier Management, and she introduced me to the new faces, Booker Julian. That led me to start testing some of the strong girls. Then Carol, which is the President, reached out to me and her, she basically said she likes me and whatnot.
She gives a stamp of approval for me to shoot. They are exclusive girls that were doing the show circuit. I was shooting the girls that were doing exclusive words. Balmain, Calvin Klein and all these fashion shows circus because these girls travel the market from New York, London, Paris Milan.
When they got to London, the girls that I was not able to get in New York because in New York, they are just so full of, you know. In London, they welcome creativity. They welcome a someone that sees something.
In New York it is more like if you are not trending, if you are not worrying brown lipstick, especially glossed, if you do not know anyone, we are not going to let you in the, I do not want to say a hundred percent of the agents, but I want to say 90% of the agents in New York do not really have the authenticity DNA. It is more like, let us do what everyone else is doing in London.
I was received differently before they even met me. I have not even walked into the agency even three months after shooting all their great girls and still had not walked into the agency.
That is where it really began for me. I was celebrated for doing what I love, which is raw photography, no retouching. I mean made was slightly touching would be a blemish here, but you know where the shots are overly retouched.
In London they appreciate it raw, and that is basically where it started. I only lasted for about two years before I came back, and when I came back everybody knew that I was shooting the right girls and dealing with the right people, and suddenly, they were in European.
Kelvin Bulluck: I think a lot of people tend to miss that a lot of the up-and-coming photographers tend to miss the piece about the importance of who is in front of your camera.
Like you said, it is a struggle especially if you are in some of those markets like New York or LA, where it is, the fact, the point they want you to be, they already want you to be on before they give you like the quality talent. I think it is interesting that you, like you said, you went over to London, you managed to get some of those talented women in front of your camera, and then that ended up helping you for when you moved back to New York.
I think that it was, kismet the way it all worked out and then allows you to continue to even progress. I believe that I saw in an interview that you did, that you said that that time in London basically helped you really understand or find your niche or your brand. Does that sound familiar?
Manny Roman: Absolutely! Basically, them telling me…. I showed them a couple of things that I was shooting and what led me to understand at that time, I was a mother agent, so I represented Brittany Cline and I was shooting her images.
When you are a mother agent and you also are a photographer that they become your muse, the girls that you manage. They saw those images at that time, Brittany was doing extremely well. She had just done Balenciaga. She just shot for Elle and the visibility was there. When they saw that I was shooting her and they saw what I can get out of her, they were like, we love this.
Already from the beginning, they loved my style of the direction that was going basis added to it. They never told me what to do, how to do, how to shoot. That reminded me of my worth and my creativity and what I can deliver, and they gave me fantastic…. I mean, I cannot complain London, especially premiere was incredibly good to me to that gave me a great, I would not say ego booster. It gave me a boost of confidence to make sure that I tread carefully, but I still maintain my authenticity and not when I get back to, you know, if not fall into, we are doing this because you know, we like this, or there is a favor here. No, you do not owe me nothing. I do not know you nothing.
This is where the brown lipstick phase comes in. Like, I do not expect you to wear it. I am not going to wear it. Let us just be clear. What do you want? Let me let, I will let you know if I can deliver, if not, otherwise, this, especially in New York city is oversaturated with talent. You can find someone else to boss around me.
It is not even about ego; it is about respecting territories. New York is not my favorite market, because if you, if you are not good friends with an agent or you are not wearing that, you know, chocolate lipstick. It is extremely hard to get in for someone to just give you the human respect and to not cross boundaries.
That is where I think I have a friction, you know? I have no problem reading somebody.
Kelvin Bulluck: I liked the fact that you pointed out, setting up those boundaries of respect and professionalism because at the end of the day, like we should all be professionals and we should all be respectful of one another because these are our livelihoods, these are our jobs. These are also the things that we love doing for a lot of us, anyway, I cannot speak for everybody, but like you said, it is also prevalent in this industry that people do not respect boundaries or even set them. I think it is remarkably interesting that you can do that and stick to it. I think that goes back to just that built in boldness that you have had over time, but I think it is served you well in a lot of ways. Has that caused any issues for you?
Manny Roman: Of course, I have a lot of hate. Let me not say the word hate because I do not know if that is what they feel, but I have a lot of pushback regarding how people feel about me, but their opinion means nothing to me. I can care less, but I know it is there, so I try to make sure that my delivery is sweeter, but it gets to a point and to get it, it is not speaking for me, it gets to a point where it is not about being sweet; t is about the mutual respect. I deal with a lot of people where they can dish it, but they cannot take it until they meet me. I am like, I just served you, and you just deal with it. You must come to all of us with respect.
There is not even a lot of issues that happened in the past week. There is one, there is a few of them, but there is one talent who is doing extremely well right now. She and I want to work together, and on the professional note, I said, can you please put your agent and I in contact because I prefer to go that route and long story short, in the process of communicating, regardless of what we can do together with this girl, the agent seemed to be very nonchalant and asking me if I already have everything solidified, which for me, it is not part of my training. I cannot knock them too much, but there is also a sense of accountability. If you are representing someone, we need you to be involved because as a photographer, I am not your girl's PR I am not going to circulate up an opportunity for her that falls into your territory.
That happens a lot with us photographers today, especially those that have not arrived yet to the level of not dealing with this. I basically had to, express some religion to that agent and I heard crickets back.
Then, and I know it is because I offended them or I pushed a button, but it was not the intent, the intent was do your job. I do not mind shooting your girl she is lovely, I know she has got a great career, but do better for her because I can only do my part. Do not expect me to pitch to the magazines.
Do not expect me to create a story because at the end, and I am not sure if you are familiar with this is a photographer at the end. If you do all that work, which really falls under the PR umbrella, you must then circle that back to the agent and then you must wait around for them to review and for them to set the approval. No, I do not have that time. You are getting the good salary at that office.
All I see you doing is liking stuff on Instagram. We follow each other, I see your activity, why are you sitting on this girl? Mean, and sitting, what I mean by sitting is she is extremely talented she; I feel a lot of these girls are their own agents because their agents tend to sit on them. I do not know a hundred percent dynamics of how these two works they seem to get along well.
I am not speaking on them if they should hear this, because I am sure they will hear this bottom line. I want to work with the girl, but you need to do your part bottom line, and I do not think they like to hear when photographers, especially one like me, that was an agent before that understands the dynamics of the office. Get off Instagram and get to work. Period.
Helping Protect Models
Kelvin Bulluck: This right here actually brings me into another question that I had. That was regarding from what I have seen about you online, your respect and care for these models. What I mean by that is it seems like you have done quite a bit of work to help models know their worth, get what they are worth and not be taking taken advantage of. Can you speak a little bit to that?
Manny Roman: I really think that is just my higher power working through me. Because you do not get into this industry in hopes to be a light for someone, you do not even understand that you are a light yourself until you understand your worth. It has to do with who I am, how I carry myself on a day-to-day basis.
Again, it goes back to the love and respect that I have for women. If I see that someone is going through something, it could be a guy as well in this industry or a makeup artist. I always say Manny will always give his unsolicited two cents, or I kid around and say his unsolicited dollar. I hate to see someone that is being manipulated by the industry and not being educated, or not being told.
Maybe these are the, you know this is the Avenue of the road that you should take. Instead. I see the agents, not all of them. I always must stress. I am not talking about all, but a high percentage of them, that use this to their advantage, to manipulate the talent in this industry, to lead them, to think that they need them.
That creates a power and a control, and my mouth can allow, but to open, I can sit there, and she is in front of me. I could be at a friend's house, a computer shoe, or it could be in my home and I am just going to be like, all right. My higher power was just working through me. I am giving them unsolicited information, but it is never turned away.
It is more like; I did not think of it that way, so we engage in a great conversation regarding, their point of view, my point of view, and I hope they get a good takeaway from it. The most important thing I hope they take away is knowing their worth and knowing that they can speak up and to not create a discrepancy, or he did adversity with their agents, but to create a conversation where they collectively can work together and find a solution, so they can both have lucrative careers.
At the end, these models, and agents they need each other to make lucrative business. One is not higher than the other and that is the frustration part. If I ever have anything to say, I am going to give the information, and even if it is unsolicited, like I said before, it is coming out.
Kelvin Bulluck: Yeah, no, I think that is especially important, especially considering everything else that we are seeing happening across many industries, but we know that that runs rampant within the fashion industry, regarding even some of the just heinous acts of sexual harassment, sexual assault, like it is ridiculous. I see that you are even passionate about, calling out that type of behavior. Yeah, man, I think, anything that all of us could be doing to make this a better industry is, of the utmost importance. Absolutely. Yeah.
Manny Roman: We all need it.
Relationship Building with America’s Next Top Models
Kelvin Bulluck: That also makes me think about from what I have seen, you have worked with a couple or quite a few of the previous contestants from America's Next Top Model. At the beginning of the conversation, the images that got me keen to you were the photos that you had recently taken of Danny Evans. How did that relationship, or how did you even start building relationships with those models? How have they call you like the whisper of those models to help them kind of get on a better path? How that even came about?
Manny Roman: Going back to the beginning of how I met the first model from that brand of America's Next Top Model was, I met Ancilla Joseph at an Ocean Drive magazine party in South beach. I just went, I approached her and then we just started chatting and, the rest is history. She is one of my soul sisters in this industry and just in life then.
Photographing her, even when my photography was not where I wanted it to be able to understand it, it still led me to meet all the other girls, because she was one of the most unfair, you could not forget her beauty, like very stunning. She is just a stunning Indian woman, and I think they all knew who she was even before her, after her cycle way after.
That led me to meet any other girls through Myspace at that time, then it was Facebook, etcetera.
Fast forward to Danny Evans. I met her through a mutual friend, his wedding and Puerto Rico, and we were already somewhat getting connected on Instagram, and then we just made it official that when you were going to be at the same place at the same time, and we ended up shooting the day after the wedding in Puerto Rico, we came back established more of a friendship and kept shooting.
I just kept pushing her for stuff that I thought she would be a great fit for. She is a stunning woman. She is also one of the winners of America's Next Top Model that I do not know why she has not had a greater career and I do not mean financially. She has done well in the commercial aspect of this industry, but she was that girl. I do not know if it was because she was America's Next Top Model or if it is, because the industry likes to refer the white girl dipped in chocolate.
Usually when you have white features, they keep that beautiful black girl in town because that is good commercial money, like constant money where they can fill that slot.
I do not think, and she could tell more of this to anyone who wants to listen, or is inquiring rather, she was never given the opportunity to go abroad and create that supermodel career that a lot of the black girls needed to do because in Europe they are more welcoming to these, I call her like a fashion beast. That is in a good way because when you get her in front of your camera, you know what I am talking about? She really gives you moments. She does not just give you X marks the spot e-comm and she gives that amazingly as well. When you create a mood board in the story, she is on fire, I continued to shoot with her. Then I think today we are simply great friends, and we connect on a more spiritual level.
I do not have much to say about the other girls from the season. I know there is a lot that I know of, but I do not have that close, deep connection to all of them. There are only about five or six girls that are like my soul sisters.
Kelvin Bulluck: From that something that I continued to hear you say or speak on is ultimately tying back to relationships and the importance of, of building them, of nurturing them and sustaining them. It sounds like you are a master at that as well. I think that is one thing that I have seen across all these interviews that I have been doing with these photographers who are really doing some amazing things is you guys are just keen on building and sustaining relationships. It just seems natural for you at this point. Am I correct in that, or is that something that you have had to work at?
Manny Roman: I think I wear my heart on my sleeve. I am transparent in that area, so I think that I can dismiss energy as much as I can receive it. I am quite picky about who I share my space with and my energy with, but I think the women that I have cultivated great relationships are a blessing from God.
I have two biological sisters that I do not have relationships with. There is nothing bad it is just; it is not that type of relationship. He has blessed me with them in this industry, which is extremely hard to come by because this industry is your business, and you must make sure you do you, but I think not so much of it comes naturally. I have been fortunate. I think my path has been fortunate and to be blessed with so many wonderful soul sisters. I could not have asked for more in this industry.
That is one of my takeaways of this industry is the relationships I have cultivated the great experiences to travel, but the women make it all worthwhile.
Whenever I would feel like I want to throw in the towel and it does not happen often, but when I do, I remember the joy, the women brought to my work and not just a process of taking their photo because that is magic as well. The behind the scenes that people do not get to see the laughter the stories, the key that is incredibly special to me.
I think this again, I would not say it is natural, I invite it.
Kelvin Bulluck: Oh, I liked that. You welcome it. That is beautiful.
Manny Roman: Does, is that when you cultivate these relationships? I think in my work, I would say I was thinking about this last week. I was like, I think ultimately when you look back on your work and you try to see how you can describe it, I think I am a storyteller of many women.
I think my images tell their story, however, which way you want to see it. There is a story behind those images. There is a story behind that girl, and I think that is besides being a photographer, I think I am going to be starting to tell people that I am a storyteller, you know. There are so many photographers out there that dubbed themselves, celebrity photographer this, and I do not knock them for that.
Celebrity Photographer Title
I never understood that term to begin with. I am just going to go here for a second it is left field, but I wanted to talk to you about that because I am like, I do not know. I do not understand why people call themselves photographers, you are not the celebrity photographer, right? When, and I am not even knocking them or, it is not a negative eye towards what they are saying. Because it has to do with the industry, conditioning them. It is another way the industry will manipulate you. And I will, tell you why.
Let us say there is an PR agency that you want to work with because you have access, you will have access to all these celebrities, which will in turn, make your book a lot more appealable to your clients, right, or the ones that you want to attain, they will throw this at you.
Say, I am going to give you this person, this person, this person, and then you can call yourself a celebrity photographer. That is a manipulative tool that the PR firms and the model agencies use to get free work continuously from us photographers.
Kelvin Bulluck: Oh wow.
Manny Roman: I have told them; I do not want to be a celebrity photographer that does not exist in the training that I have had. I will always be a photographer. What level you hold me to? That is your business? Me, I am a photographer celebrity in front of it is not going to add or elevate my day rate, you know, because I am not a celebrity.
Kelvin Bulluck: You are dropping knowledge right now and stepping on toes at the same time, but I love it.
Manny Roman:I mean, again, no disrespect to the photographers who love to call themselves labors, celebrity photographers, and all those who call themselves celebrity makeup artists. I mean, it is a scale, not a title. I think that people are, and again, it is not no, no qualms with the artists.
It is the way the industry has manipulated them to think that that title means something.
Kelvin Bulluck: Mm. Mm, that is good stuff, and I think it is, an interesting perspective and something that I had never even considered on this side of the house. I think you make a remarkably interesting point when you are like, you are not the celebrity, unless you are somebody like Annie Liebowitz or like the Peter Lindbergh's of the world, or, all those other people who are on a whole other level.
Manny Roman: To that same point, I do not think even any liberties herself as a celebrity, because I think that media makes you a celebrity because they, put you in a box of spectacles. It is like she is a legendary photographer; she is an iconic photographer based on as well as Bruce Weber, Patrick, they have had, an impressive. They have decades in this industry, so, their craft speaks for itself. They do not even need to be called photographer is just any language that is true. You know what I am saying?
I try to tell when ask, I do not offer information unless they are asking us, other artists could view you ruffle their feathers, but when it can be brought to the table to discuss. I am like, you may want to take that celebrity acting out because you kind of make yourself look like you are newbie into the entertainment industry so that you can get the visibility.
What they do not know behind this, when someone else is on their Instagram or their resume or whatever, and it is a celebrity makeup artist, celebrity, whatever, if you are not careful about who you presented to behind the scenes, they see you as someone that is not, that is not hungry but thirsty.
Kelvin Bulluck: Oh wow.
Manny Roman: Then they see, Oh, we can manipulate this one for a free shoe because they dumped themselves celebrity this, and that is nothing, all of them, again, this, I put this blame, on the industry's conditioning to take advantage of us artist.
Kelvin Bulluck: That is powerful right there. That is powerful and it is in his eye opening. It really does just make you want to take a step back and look at all the different motivations and schemes that are in place to get free workout.
Manny Roman: Absolutely. I rather stay home and not have a dime than to give someone my time.
Kelvin Bulluck: That is a sound bite right there. I am locking that one in. Couple last few questions and then I will let you go, but what are your thoughts on agency representation? I like to ask this question to different photographers to get their perspective and judging from the conversation that we have had thus far, well, it is going to be good because oh man.
Manny Roman: Well, again, since I used to be an agent on a different side of the industry. I have always wanted to have agency representation because, in my head, the way my head works, I would want someone to fight for me the way I fought for the girls I have represented in the past.
Of course, that will come in for pushing for the right clients to understanding my aesthetic, to understand that the jobs that I only want, even if I work ten times a year, it is called licensing, get it together and profit, you know I have not had the luck. I have met with some great firms, and although they have been very respective and very welcoming, they are fair.
If you want to call it a proposal or pitch is, well, we want to take from you your existing clients and make it easier on you. So, we handled things for you, but we are going to take your clients and still charge you the same commission. We were for a client that we booked you on, that you did not have.
There was never a conversation about what we can do for you next, how we can elevate you. During this time and process, I have had to get my own tear sheets, my own connection, my own contacts. When I met with these agencies, I realized, you cannot do nothing for me.
If you want me to bring my clients to you, I used to still want to charge me 20% on top of this so-called website fees, charged bank fees, promotional piece, all these fees besides do the work. I might as well still be in the unknown territory, which means these agents get emails and calls every day about job leads that I will not have information on because I am not a management firm. That is what I would basically need them for. They did not collectively, offer me anything, so, I feel like again, and I am going to say 90% again, is these agents just are not to par with the way things are really done.
I prefer to keep managing myself until I find someone, but I really that is the only opinion I have, they are, not competent, and they are not, they are not skillful there. I feel like, when you really break it down, it is like I might as well hire an assistant or an intern that will be there five days a week, or to answer the correspondence that I need him or her to answer.
Then for me to continue to take care of my logistics and my rates and what not, because that is basically what they are proving to be is just a secretary. I want someone who would fire someone who can look at me and say, I want to take you here. Like one of my goals is Pereilli to shoot….it used to be Sports Illustrated and I am not knocking sports illustrate it, but I do not think that is going to do it.
I think I have grown from there, and now I have so many girls that shoot for sports illustrated, so many girls that are saying you must meet MJ, she is going to love you. I think we probably will get along, but will that do anything for what I am going to write. Now you put, you start to see yourself as a true artist, and you said, okay, I need to go do this.
To achieve Perelli, I do not need Sports Illustrated, I still need to make sure that Perilli understands that I am manifesting a client, that they understand that I have a vision, I have an eye, and that is what I will be hired for, so I need an agent that can do that for me.
Kelvin Bulluck: For those who are listening, he is referring to the, the famous calendar that and I always say the name wrong, but I liked the way you pronounced it, but those calendars are amazing. Honestly looking at your body of work, I could totally see a situation like that manifesting. I hope that works out for you.
Going back just a little bit to what you were saying about what you were needing from an agency for it to make sense to you. Do you feel like that agency exists?
Manny Roman: It does not and if it does you give me a call? It was it conversations I had, again, they are very respectful, genuinely nice people, but I have not had any conversations like that. I am sure that agent or that firm is out there, but I have not. I have not had the pleasure of having that type of conversation.
What is Next for Manny Roman?
Kelvin Bulluck: Okay. All right. Well, the last question that I have for you is, is what is next? I mean, you just shared one of your goals regarding where you would like to be, or some of the top clients that you would like to, work with. What else is on your radar or where else are you headed?
I saw that in the past, you have dabbled in some, some filmmaking or documentary style filmmaking. Is that on the horizon?
Manny Roman: From your mouth to God's ears? It is not an easy thing to, it is not an easy monster to fight, but I am willing to continue to do the documentary that I am, I am trying to do.
I was ready before COVID hit…, we do a document series of the models that I know and touching into the raw, the things that we have spoken about and capturing it on film, as well as adding my aesthetic to how I see them, how I follow them.
If you go on my Instagram, there is one that I did of Danny Evans, where I followed her, and it was briefly, it is like a three-minute short film, something like that, where I followed her. And then I put her, her voiceover and about what she was feeling in that long. I was going to do a series of those. So that is something that we want to work on. There are a coffee table books that is almost in negotiations, but with COVID, I mean, you know, the interest is much more important on getting better, getting the country back and that then to someone buying a coffee table book. Plus I am not at the level where they would take a risk on me because I am not a Mario Testino, Bruce Weber, PTO number yet. Right?
That is about it basically. You know, there is a lot of stuff I am still working on, but those are the two things that I really want to come to light.
Kelvin Bulluck: Hearing your story and seeing what I have seen. You can sign me up for whenever that book comes out. I will be on that pre-order list because your work is worthy of not just being in the coffee table book but being printed in display and on display in many places.
As a matter of fact, I am going to link up basically all of everything that you have referenced even that video that you were talking about with Danny Evans, like I am going to put links in our show notes to all your work, so anybody that is listening can check it out and see for yourself.
I am not just talking to be talking and I did not just bring him on here just to bring him on. This guy is amazing. check them out.
Manny, man. I appreciate you for taking the time to have this conversation. I feel like I have grown from it in just this short period of time, and now you have got me thinking about some different ways that I can approach my work and think about how I am being approached by potential clients. I appreciate you for sharing all that knowledge. I wish you continued success and that you continue to hit your major goals, man. Thank you, man.
Manny Roman: Thank you for having me and thank you for being a light for all these photographers that are tuning in and for sharing your space with us.
Show Outro | Show Information and Resources
Kelvin Bulluck: All right. That is the show, and what did I tell you? Manny had a lot of great information to share his perspective and point of view is unlike anything that I have heard so far. I appreciate it. It is real, it is raw, it is uncut, his perspective on the essence of women and being a storyteller of women. I got nothing but mad love and respect for him, so definitely check out his website, check out his Instagram. We will have all of that linked in the show notes as usual.
If you like this show, please subscribe, please share it. Do not be stingy with it. Let people know that you enjoy the show, let them know.
I am trying to get this in front of as many photographers as possible so that they can learn lessons that I wish I had learned years and years ago. That is all for now, and we will check you out on the next episode.
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