Ask an Art Buyer (With Special Guest Star Anne-Maureen McKeating): Questions for AB’s and Web Presence

by Heather on February 2, 2010

You’ll be glad to know that the persistent threat of “I’m too busy” (which hangs over this blog like the Sword of Damocles) has turned into a call to action. I’ve roped the illustrious Anne-Maureen McKeating, who oversees Art Buying at Taxi, into helping me in an ongoing fashion with AanAB. She’s a firecracker and I’m sure she’ll bring some of that sass with her to the virtual office.

Anne-Maureen’s been a friend to photographers for a long time, moving into Art Buying 5 years ago from a post as producer with Instil productions. Prior to that she was a rep, an integrated producer and a waitress at the Horseshoe back in the day. Welcome Anne-Mo.

Today’s question comes from Calgary shooter Chris Sattlegger, who’s blog and site are unfortunately undergoing some technical difficulties. Here’s a shot from Chris:

© Chris Sattlegger

© Chris Sattlegger

I was curious about questions to ask creative directors and art directors when meeting to view my portfolio, i was wondering if you had any questions that have been asked of you as an art buyer when you are looking at work that piqued your interest in the individual. some questions would seem unthought out, like “what have you been doing lately in regards to client work”- that is what the website is for and would make one seem detached from the market.

would it be rude to ask something like, “who have you used for creatives before?”

ALSO, i had a question about websites in a small market. As an individual, i have been focusing on creating a printed book (no plastic sleeves…) and have created a website that is more of a contact area with a blog where I don’t elucidate on every day musings, but just upload photos that i’ve been doing lately, that have been categorized.

without an online portfolio, i see my website as more of a place to stick around and see what i’ve been doing lately, after all- in a smaller market, i’d rather drive to meet someone and show them a book than point them to a website that is not up to date. In the future i plan to include an expanded area for my portfolio, once i’ve gained more work experience where I can showcase my “proof of delivery”.

do you think that this is a good idea? I seem to be alone with the thought at the moment. the blog gives me a place where I can have contact with clients or visitors on a more web 2.0, very up to date way. afterall, i can show my twitter updates and my recent bookings as well as new work that i find interesting all in one place.

Anne-Maureen’s answer:

Chris, the best guidance I can give in regards to your first question is to “be yourself”. While I realize that “being yourself” can be harder than what it should be, coming into a meet and greet with a fixed set of questions and expectations can only lead to awkwardness and disappointment. Relax. This is not to suggest that you come to a meeting unprepared – you need to know your audience. Go to the agency’s website and peruse their client list and portfolio of work. What has your target agency/art buyer/art director/editor done that piques your interest? How do you see your work fitting in with their vision? Enquire about the AD’s creative process – how does that process mesh with yours? I would stay away from questions regarding who is shooting what creative – I’m not sure what purpose those kinds of questions serve outside of the need to compare, which in never healthy. When you find an Art Director and/or Buyer/Editor with whom you click, make sure you nurture that relationship (within reason) – it’s a big part of career building.

Regardless of your market size, www means “world wide” web – your site can be viewed beyond your own backyard. Portfolios have migrated online so your website must be treated as something other than storage for outdated imagery. Often an agency will award a job without calling in a book. For example, when an AD sends me a layout, we discuss style, emotional tone and production values. I will send the AD a number of websites showcasing the work of the photographers best suited for the job. Once we have settled on a recommendation (and know that the photographer is interested and available), the appropriate imagery is culled from the photographer’s site and presented to the client in a deck for their approval. Sometimes the book is called in, sometimes it isn’t.

However… a printed portfolio must also be a part of your marketing package. It should contain up to twenty examples of your best imagery. Pay attention to ordering and flow. You want the viewer to stop and engage with your work in a tactile, thoughtful and memorable way. Most agencies have an area where portfolios can be displayed so be prepared to leave your portfolio with an Art Buyer or Art Director for a few days.

In Summery:
Nurture but don’t pester
If you keep your website fresh, you will be bookmarked and revisited
Be thoughtful with your printed work – it is your opportunity to seduce

Also… call first. Agencies and magazines are busy places. All the best Chris!

And thanks to both of you.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

chris sattlegger February 2, 2010 at 11:31 pm

thank you very much for the reply!

I’ve been lucky enough to be starting up some relationships that will hopefully grow to bigger and better things in the future, I’ve gotten a lot of support from fellow photographers and connections I made at school. I’m taking the patient approach, and getting the nerve to cold call agencies with whom I don’t know anyone.

and most important of all, shooting as much as possible- unfortunately my blog was destroyed in the cross over, but it’s a good chance to start over.

thanks again,


Matthew Dutile February 3, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Excellent post! Literally exactly what I needed to hear.

Chuck St. John February 7, 2010 at 11:27 am

All this is illuminating only to the extent that you can’t find this information anywhere else. Of course, that’s not the case.

All this common sense advice is available in many places and from individuals with a background more grounded in photography, graphic or an art education specifically.

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