Follow up with Clay Stang Part 2: My Interview & Some Hazing

by Heather on March 4, 2008

As I mentioned previously, I was quite interested in how Clay Stang’s consultation would play itself out. Post-consult, I posed a few questions to Clay to gauge his reaction to the review.

I’m curious about how often you hear comments like this: “I love
your work but the right project hasn’t come around yet.” I know this
is a common complaint from photographers but I’m wondering how widespread it is- does it come from all levels of agency or just a certain type?

Yes I’ve definitely heard that comment. To be honest, I haven’t really shown my work in a couple of years, my reps do. But I recall hearing that more than once. Do I think it’s valid? 100%. Do I buy it all the time? No godamn way. I hate to say it, but if you’re a good photographer you can shoot anything, any seasoned AD knows that. It’s building the relationship with the AD that allows that latitude. Sometimes I feel like saying, “it’s obvious I know how to light and compose” there’s just too many people who won’t take a chance. I can understand it at the beginning level but any seasoned AD or CD should stop hiring the big name photographer all the time. If anyone can get away with taking a chance -it’s those guys. Not to mention they should be able to recognize good talent and know how to work with that talent to make them better. Very few people have the vision or the energy to do this and it’s a shame. In their (AD’s) defense there’s a lot of pressure from all angles, deadlines, budgets, and they are unbelievably overworked.

Leslie & Rob believed it was important not to show images that don’t mesh with your otherwise well articulated vision. Sometimes I call this catering to the lowest common denominator but I hear from Photographers all the time that they get quite the opposite feedback when they show their books- AD’s saying that they want to see the smiley happy portrait so that they know you can shoot a smiley happy portrait. What are your thoughts on this?

Again this is coming from Junior AD’s or not very good ones. Who can’t shoot smiley people? I just spent 14 hours shooting happy smiley people for a huge client. Can you light? Do you know composition? Can you handle production?…. There’s so many things that an AD should be concerned with. You get a good model/talent you should be able to make them do whatever you want. AD’s let their clients dictate way too much. They should be telling their clients who they want to use and why. I really was quite pleased to hear that more AD’s in the UK are making their clients justify using stock. The agency should be in control of marketing, not the client.

What are your next steps coming away from this Review? After sitting with it for a couple of weeks do you think you will take on any of her advice?

Definitely, to be honest, this consultation just reaffirmed a lot of things I already felt. My next step is to pursue international work. If you are as specialized as I am, it’s the only way for me to get more work. This is a tough industry and a bit of confidence can go a long way.

What is a rep’s role in this? Should they be responsible for selling you internationally as well as locally? Is the research that Leslie mentioned (combing CA etc. for ads you could have shot etc.) something they should be doing?

Definitely not, that’s like wanting your mechanic to paint your house. Each market is specific to it’s own. A rep’s job is changing all the time; books are becoming a thing of the past, so reps aren’t expected to lug books as much as they used to. The rep’s job is to figure out the market and how to capitalize in it. Who likes what work. Who’s doing what work and how can I get my photographer’s working with them. You could never expect a Canadian rep to understand the UK,US or Asian market or the personal connection/relationship that’s required. Although I do believe that a rep should support and help you internationally in any way they can, any promotion will help everyone in the long run.

What do you think of the phenomenon of Photo Consultants generally- is this something you would pay for/ do again/ think is valuable?

Yes I think it is valuable. I mean, it depends on the photographer. I felt like I got the discount version. She assessed my problems but didn’t give me any resolutions. I know I can figure it out however between Rob and Leslie, there’s a ton of experience and I’m sure they could help me avoid a lot of mistakes. An hour consultation would never answer the major questions. Also after reading the comments, it put a lot of things of thing into perspective. Yes of course I want to work internationally, yes of course I believe that not only am I capable but my work is strong enough to get me international work. However I believe that there is local work as well, and I think there’s a lot of talent here, it’s just a matter of breaking into it.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Everything seems so easy in writing, however we know that this is a tough go. Pam (Hamilton) made a great comment when she clarified why it is more expensive to market internationally. I’ll let you know how things go, I figure it’s going to be long process, but I’m always up to a challenge.

As an addendum to my interview, I wanted to ask about the “Hazing Promo” that was mentioned in the consultation. When Clay first joined Westside last fall, he sent out a promo with these images:



Apparently it engendered some controversy and Clay had a few spots of very negative feedback as a result. Seeing the work now (I didn’t receive the original promo- Photogs, please make sure I’m on your mailing list!), I am surprised that there was such a strong reaction but I asked Clay whether he would do anything differently if he could do this promo over again.

I would do the same promo again. The only time I second guess myself is when others around me do. I’m more of a leap-before-you-look person which can get me in a bit of trouble. But I find that my instincts have taken me pretty far and I’m learning to trust them. I fully agree that you should do what you think is great and hopefully others will agree. I’m at a big time in my life -I just got married and we had a baby. I find that I’m not as stubborn as I used to be (or at least with work). I also recognize that there is more important things to worry about, like is my son going to grow a moustache. Every once and a while I panic and find myself showing work that I feel might get me more work. To be honest I just love shooting. Yes, I would love to be doing creative shoots all the time but as long as I’m shooting, I’m happy.

Seems like a nice comment on which to end. Let’s check in again with Clay in a few weeks.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

bobloblah March 5, 2008 at 9:59 am

Clay, I definately can understand the frustration of hearing the: ‘we like your work but it’s so dark/ not much out there for you…’ Your response though – that any accomplished photographer can take a smiley happy photo isn’t always the case. Being able to get the right emotion from your talent is a skill and some people truly don’t have it. Just like some photographer’s lighting skills are stronger than others. Sometimes the project calls for more emotion/connection with the talent and the technical skill is not always as necessary.

And in defense of the seasoned AD/CD’s out there – hard to sell a client on a happy smiley campaign while showing a photographer’s work that ‘s dark and brooding. The AD/CD may understand how you’re capable but it’s ultimately up to the client and their vision will 9 out of 10 times be more finite.

Heather March 5, 2008 at 10:15 am

Further, let’s not forget that there are lots of people that have the smiley happy shots in their book and do that work really well. Again, I’d love to work with the more “conceptual shooters” but on one hand, I’m not sure why we are retrofitting their work when we don’t need to?

But, on another thread, Bobloblah- if you’re writing in from an agency, I’m curious how often you are letting the client see a selection of photog’s portfolios? In my experience, the agency might go in with a reco but ultimately it comes down to the agencies ability to make the numbers work. Do you think the portfolio is actually considered by the client?

clay March 5, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Bobloblah. maybe my “seasoned AD/CD’s” comment was a little unclear. I’m not expecting a AD/CD to sell a dark moody photographers book to a client who wants a smiley happy people. what i meant was if a “up and coming” photographer is up against a “big name”, of similar style, it seems rare that the “up and coming” lands the job. i also did note that i understand the AD/CD’s are under a lot of pressure and sometimes are forced.
And you are right not every photographer can shoot everything.

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