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Marianne Campbell is a photography agent with offices in San Francisco and New York City. Her company, Marianne Campbell Associates currently represents photographers Christine Alicino, Jamie Kripke, Michael Lamotte, RJ Muna, Jim Salzano and Matthew Turley. The diverse and hugely talented group has worked most recently with clients such as Apple Computer, Infiniti, Del Monte Foods, Peet's Coffee, Nordstrom, Chevrolet, Genentech, ElectronicArts, and Sony PlayStation.

04.28.09

Choose Great Artists

If you have a degree in what field is it? I have a BA in art history and history from Colby College in Waterville, Maine. During my college tenure, I spent six months studying art in Florence, Italy and a year studying art and history in London, England.

What career path brought you to your current position? Being a photo agent has been my ONLY career. I serendipitously met a photo agent just after college and assisted her part-time. About a year-and-a-half into it, she decided to get out of the business to concentrate on having a family. I was crushed, as I had really begun to see the potential of this great job which I saw as the perfect blend of art and commerce. I didn’t entirely know what I was doing yet, but I knew enough that it was something I wanted to pursue. So, I jumped in head first and started my own company. The two photographers who were represented by my mentor stayed with me when I went on my own, and one of them, Michael Lamotte, I still represent now—almost 20 years later.

What’s the most challenging type of project for your photographers? I think the most challenging projects for my photographers are ones that involve working with difficult people. But, on a more positive note, I’d rather talk about the best kinds of projects for my photographers. RJ Muna and I frequently have this discussion, and to espouse his viewpoint, the best projects are ones that are based on a great idea; the idea or concept becomes the fuel or the inspiration for the photographer, and makes him/her want to perform up to the level of the idea. If the idea is great, the money doesn’t matter, the circumstances don’t matter, because in the end, people will remember it.

Where have you found some of your best photographers? I have been extremely fortunate to have never had to seek out photographers. All of the photographers I have represented have come to me at just the right times, through referrals and mutual industry acquaintances. At the risk of sounding like I’ve been in Northern California too long, I work very well off of instinct and intuition, so when I meet with a photographer, it is usually immediately apparent whether or not there is a future. The quickest one has to have been my meeting with RJ Muna in 1998. The director of art buying at Hal Riney referred us to him, he called to set up a meeting, we went to his studio, sat and talked with him for 45 minutes, fell in love with his work, and him, and walked out of there carrying his portfolio. Over the years, there have been several photographers who have approached me, who I would have loved to have represented, but because my business model has been to remain a small boutique agency, with as little overlapping stylistic conflicts as possible, I’ve had to pass.   

What’s the most interesting response to a completed assignment that you’ve ever received from a client? We received this e-mail today from our client Dennis Thompson, of The Thompson Design Group after a two-day shoot Michael Lamotte did for Guittard Chocolate. It was titled “The Perfect Creative Storm”:

“I was driving home last night reflecting on the last two days activities and wanted to share some thoughts. I have been involved in a lot of creative over the years and I must say that both the process and results of all of our efforts was remarkable. I attribute it to the convergence of extraordinary talent working together with the permission and encouragement to push the boundaries of comfort and expectations to a place that we all have not been before. We now have the raw content moving forward to mold and shape these images into compelling communication stimuli the world has not seen before. This was a career highlight for me and a privilege to be a part of this unique creative journey. Congratulations to you all.”

What advice would you give an illustrator who felt no “connection” to a concept for an assignment? It really depends. In some cases, I might suggest that they pass on the assignment, which all of my photographers have done at one point or another. Another approach is to suggest that they try to help to make the concept better. There is nothing more rewarding than an art director who seeks out a photographer for true collaborative purposes and really engages the photographer to bring his/her vision to the table either in the concepting stage or simply in execution. And then there is an alternative option, that may be more relevant in this down economy where jobs are fewer and further between: There are some assignments you do solely for the money!

What is the most consistently recognizable trait of successful creative people? Though at varied points in their careers, I see all of my photographers as highly successful creative people and I think the common denominator is that they have all maintained a firm hold on their respective creative visions—not that easy to do in a commercial world. Successful creative people are innovators, not trend followers.    

You’re peripheral to, but certainly a part of creative industries, do you have any creative hobbies?
I’m a dancer. When I was young, I was auditioned by Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins and won a highly-coveted scholarship to the New York City Ballet youth summer program. Because of circumstances beyond my control, I wasn’t able to attend; it was definitely a life-defining event because I probably would have pursued a career in dance. Though I didn’t end up pursuing it professionally, I still dance as a hobby which definitely fuels my creative spirit and feeds my soul. I also love home design, my home was recently featured in a home design blog called sfgirlbybay.com; and as cliche as it must sound, I am passionate about photography and collect Karl Blossfeldt prints.

What’s your approach to balancing work and life? Balancing work and life is a challenge to most, but especially to a working mother. I have three children, ages 15, 12 and 6, and I have worked full-time their entire lives. In the beginning, I used to try to create such a separation between the worlds, that it caused more angst than necessary. As technology has developed and the ability to work from places outside the office become more prevalent, the worlds have become more blended and it definitely makes it easier to do it all. I have been fortunate that my husband has been very involved with the kids, taking on the primary responsibility of getting them to school, ballet, soccer, lacrosse, etc, which has freed me to devote more time to my business. I have also been fortunate to have Quinci Payne Kelly, who for the past sixteen years has been by my side and instrumental in helping to nurture and grow my business.      

What music are you listening to? I’m really all over the map. I like Tom Waits, Gwen Stefani, Bruce Springsteen, Pink, U2, Shelby Lynne, The Black Eyed Peas, Amy Winehouse, The Cure, Madeleine Peyroux, Regina Spektor, etc. But my favorite musician is an  still-undiscovered talent named Tim Hockenberry. 

What’s your favorite quote? “Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.”—Gail Sheehy. When I was first starting my business in 1989, I had no money, a lot of debt and not a lot of experience, but complete conviction that this was the path for me to take. A card with the above inscription, in calligraphy, arrived in my mail that week. It was so poignant and relevent. I kept that card for years, and still to this day refer back to its sentiment.  

Do you have any advice for people just entering their professions? It’s a very difficult time to be entering the photography field, and I don’t envy anyone trying to start a business now. That said, I started my company in 1989 and almost immediately the country went into a recession! I think we have the longevity we do because we represent amazing artists, and the experience of doing business with us is always a positive one. My advice to an emerging photo agent would be to choose great artists, those with not only unique talent, but business acumen, adaptable personalities and, most important, mutual respect—traits that are key to our long-lasting photographer relationships. On the client side, I think great work sells itself. We have tended toward a less-aggressive sales approach; our clients never feel harassed or pressured or as though they’ve been given a sales pitch. We view ourselves more as the conduit or vehicle to transport great photography. (That’s not to say we don’t aggressively market our photographers’ work!) We do immense amounts of research to seek out appropriate prospects, and we spend a tremendous amount of energy cultivating great client relationships—then we put great photography in front of the right people.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? I guess the only thing I wish I knew when I started, was exactly how much the business would change; both the industry in general and my business specifically. In the almost 20 years I’ve been a photo agent, the focus has shifted to be way more about the bottom line than it was when I started. There were no cost consultants, there was no triple bidding; it was really all about the right photographer for the job. Photography itself has changed too, digital photography has had a profound impact on the industry, CGI is now becoming a game-changer and post production has altered the entire realm of what is possible. But evolution is good, and though my business now is very different than it was when I started, the changes have been positive. I started with two photographers and a relatively local client base. I now have offices in San Francisco and New York and a national roster of clients. I love what I do. Every day is different, and I get to spend my time with awe-inspiring photographers and the best creative people in the industry.