A Personal Letter to Art Buyers & Art Directors, from a Photographer

Why you should hire someone based on their eye, and not on what’s in their portfolio.

It’s funny, that years after I didn’t land a job shooting for Men’s Health, Brooklyn Academy of Music hired me to shoot a bunch of pieces revolving around movement, especially in low-light. It became a bit of a specialty then, as I was pigeon-holed even there, into shooting pieces that were some of the most difficult to capture. Motion, as it is, is one of the more challenging things to showcase in photography, since by default, photography creates a “still image.” And yet, with little to no experience, I was thrust into pieces which demand I stop that motion while still showcase it’s energy - captured motion in still form.

The irony, thinking back, is that the thing stopping Men’s Health from hiring me, according to their art director, was a lack of “motion” in my photographs. They felt that each frame was expertly composed, but that they had a feeling of being still. Produced. They were almost “over-produced” I guess, was the general gist of the conversation. As it turns out, shooting motion and creating motion in photography is it’s own skill-set, and a desirable one. I was confident, even then, that I could of produce it, but had nothing to show for it. “Come back and let’s chat again when you’ve shot some motion.” Now, years later, that same art director no longer works at the magazine - and re-establishing an intro so many years later feels strange. (Of course, this is not a reason not to reach out again. Take note fellow photographers.)

Excuses aside, I guess the lesson that I’m going for here, is that at large, art directors do not see -potential-, they only see guaranteed results within a very specific set of parameters. From what I’ve gathered, it’s a strategy to narrow down the competition - for there are so many photographers, many of them skilled (and with talent too!) that the act of finding -the- photographer is a process of ever-dwindling specificity. “We need someone who shoots high level marketing imagery - specifically in the automotive industry.” And then through those twenty returned results, we need someone who can showcase the color RED really well (looks for photographers who’ve taken pictures of red cars) oh, and the client wants a kind of rainbow transparent swish floating over the car - a kind of ethereal photoshop light-painting. OH, this photographer has done exactly that! And then comes the reach out… and finally the hiring.

I guess in an age of so much market saturation, the chances of actually finding someone who’s photographed a red car, and then decided to photoshop some light-magic swish around it, is actually pretty high. Because there’s so much work that’s been produced, we live in a landscape where it’s all been done before - and so that reflects the modern shopping mindset. In essence, the process of hiring a photographer is a process of consumerism (the cynicism being that the shopping never ends, it’s money spent on advertising which then is meant to make people shop for those things, and then etc etc.)

But how, then, in a world of “creativity” does novelty ever see the light of day? Perhaps only new ideas come from those truly revolutionary ad-men who see opportunities instead of products, or see process and risk and fun as the ultimate pursuit, rather than the cut-and-dry process of “getting the job done.” Isn’t it those ad-men, the revolutionaries, those featured excitingly in drama-filled reenactments of a bygone era (Don Draper), who are actually the most effective at their jobs? And aren’t those the same people that don’t hire by the numbers, but hire based on that ineffable quality - the IT factor?

Well, friends, I’d like to imagine that those who have climbed the ranks of the ad world are indeed those “Don Drapers” - however, the truth lies somewhere closer to baseline. For, any industry that aims for a shakeup might ultimately settle for a shake-down.

So, dear Ad-men, art directors, and those with “vision” - stop hiring based on what you see in front of you, and start hiring based on that greater vision that’s begging to get released into a world of Ones and Zeros. Be that hero. Be Don Draper. Hire -me-”


Max Gordon

Using Format