Julian Richards Explains Why He Closed A Successful Photo Rep Agency: ‘Photographers are undergoing self-inflicted castration’

Nov 18, 2014

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

Julian Richards Explains Why He Closed A Successful Photo Rep Agency: ‘Photographers are undergoing self-inflicted castration’

Nov 18, 2014

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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There are many times we write about how the photography market is changing. How photographers are perceived to bringing less value to projects and how they are perceived to be worth their gear and nothing more. Heck, we posted an open letter about this today.

But while we have been mainly highlight the small business photographer, a recent interview by PDN reporter Amy Wolff with photographers’ rep Julian Richards sheds some light a similar process is happening at the very high end market as well.

Mr. Richards had a successful photo rep agency for over 20 years and at times his roster included photographers such as David Barry, Chris Buck, Michael McLaughlin, Dana Gallagher, Sian Kennedy, Greg Miller, James Smolka and Henrik Knudsen. A pretty impressive team. Yet, after 20 years he decided to quite. The interview is filled with painful insight from Mr. Richards.

The most striking thoughts comes when Mr. is asked about how the industry changed. (Bolding is mine)

Digital changed the landscape. Before the pixel, craft was still an elemental component of the narrative. A process that involved trusting strips of cellulose in a mysterious dark box was replaced by instant, impeccable rendering, in situ on vast monitors. The photographer’s role as sorcerer and custodian of the vision was diminished: The question “have we got it?” became redundant. Now it was the photographer asking the art director asking the client. Which is a big deal. Because the previous dialectic was that you engaged people who brought something to the party you couldn’t provide yourself. Like Magi, the “creatives” brought creativity; photographers, vision. By abdicating those responsibilities to the guy who’s paying, you’re undergoing a sort of self-inflicted castration. A culture of fear and sycophancy develops. Self-worth diminishes, because nobody really likes being a eunuch, even a well-paid one. There’s less currency in having a viewpoint. The answer to the question “What have you got to say?” drifts towards “What do you want me to say?” There’s reward in being generic, keeping one’s vision in one’s pocket. Trouble is, when your vision has spent too long in your pocket, sometimes you reach for it and it’s not there any more. Something Pavlovian sets in: the bell rings when it’s kibble-time and you drool on cue. Suddenly many jobs can be done by many people, photographers become more interchangeable, the question of “Why him over her?” shifts to ancillary aspects of the process; personality, speed, stamina, flexibility. And there’s profit in mutability; being able to gather several photographers under a single umbrella with a shared mandate makes you more flexible and attractive. But the corrosive byproduct is that the unique sniper’s eye of a Greg Miller, Chris Buck, James Smolka, Sian Kennedy becomes not only less relevant, but actually an obstacle. In shifting ground to garner a larger share of the mainstream, you risk losing identity, licking the hand that feeds you.

There were other strands that played into this shift. The “make it look like my niece could have shot it” esthetic; the bespoke corporate stock library with its emphasis on bulk delivery of cliché; endless emphasis on “aspirational” as a reaction to difficult economic times. Oh, and how about the Death of Print? Half the industry getting fired in a month and no sign of a magazine this side of Bulgaria. Loop back to the top. Add decimation and fear.

It is a hard interview to read, but is definitely worth your time. For the full interview head over to PDN online.

[lead photo (CC) by Ben Husmann]

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Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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4 responses to “Julian Richards Explains Why He Closed A Successful Photo Rep Agency: ‘Photographers are undergoing self-inflicted castration’”

  1. Paganator Avatar
    Paganator

    Photographers must be more than the guy who moves lights around and presses the shutter button. Being merely a technician who creates the image decided by somebody else isn’t enough to have a successful business as it removes the element that most differentiates one artist from another: the vision. Without effective differentiation, you’re stuck competing on other aspects, and it often comes down to price.

    How can photographers avoid being relegated to being merely a technician? I think photographers must do more rather than do less. They must become trusted advisor that create a vision that gives value to the client. A technician who creates a predetermined pictures has little value, but a consultant who helps a company define a visual identity that sells more of what the company offers has value. Telling a company “I can help increase your sales with distinctive visuals” has more value than “I can take the picture you ask.”

  2. Frank Avatar
    Frank

    That WAS difficult to read… though in more of a “I can’t figure out what the hell this guy is saying” kind of way.

  3. Charles O. Slavens Avatar
    Charles O. Slavens

    This revolution in photography is not restricted to stills. I started out
    in the film industry in the 1960s and made my living behind the camera,
    shooting mostly docu style – read no big crews. Later, I’d find myself
    working on a TV commercial set and in the late seventies we began to
    use a vdeo tap on the Mitchell, Panasonic, Arriflex, etc. Now the entire
    agency staff could sit in the “bleachers” and see exactly what the
    cameraman was seeing. A client once asked me what we did before
    video? My shoot-from-the-lip response was, “Back then we knew what
    we were doing”.

  4. ajfudge Avatar
    ajfudge

    Here’s a freewriting exercise:

    The point is, Digital Age really shook up the status quo. Just like how the Industrial Age introduced machines and made manual work obsolete, Digital introduced semi-automation and is slowly putting mechanical work to death and enabled everyone to DIY.

    Anything “cultural” will always be affected by a new Age — be it books, music, film, and now visual imaging. I would say art but those things I mentioned are now entwined with commerce. Art+Commerce=Culture. Digital Age wouldn’t be such a big pickle if culture isn’t profitable.

    Example: painting is a visual media. Enter the industrial age with its mechanical machine (camera) and that made the traditional painting unnecessary to some. Enter the digital age with its evolved camera, and the process of visual imaging becomes more accessible than before (read: simple and easy and to put it more bluntly semi-automatic). The “art” produced by those processes are different but similar. Right now I can get my 11×14 portrait painted for $2, get a film developed in 11×14 for $2.50 and get a jpg printed at 11×14 for $3. The cheapest option is the one that requires the most skill from the artist to not get my image wrong. But the Digital Age dictates that why should I get myself painted when I can easily do a self-portrait? I don’t paint but it’s very easy to take a self-portrait regardless of skill level.

    Before the Industrial Age, only a few selected people can do “art”. Industrial Age introduced new “arts” that are less tedious. Digital Age basically presented everyone the opportunity to claim that they’re “artists”.

    We are caught in a period when digital forced everything we identify as art to evolve. It will test a Creative’s willpower and endurance and survivability. And admit it, you’re only complaining because there’s money at stake.