When did you first become interested in photography?
My mother started allowing me to use the family camera when I was a young boy in Ireland, probably around 8 years old (1973). We had a big family (7 kids, 5 sisters and a brother) and my dad was an avid family photographer/filmmaker.
I got my first camera when I moved to Egypt in 1974, and I started shooting pretty much everything. Living in the Middle East was inspirational, so I took a lot of pictures. Here is a photo of me during the opening of the Suez Canal (June 5, 1975) with my camera and gear. Plus, a very early selfie from late 1974 🙂
So, growing up in the Middle East in the mid-70s was when I really fell in love with photography as a means of documenting my everyday life and my family. In terms of other photography during that time, I would have to say that National Geographic Magazines were my primary source of photographic storytelling and means for understanding the greater world around me. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, those stories and those image makers had a profound impact on my life.
That said, it wasn’t until college that I really expanded my love for photography as an art form and as a more serious tool for storytelling and expression. Prior to college, I had developed a passion for modern art (Picasso, Giacometti, Braque, Mondrian etc.). So, when I came back to studying photography/filmmaking at Harvard, it was from that particular foundation in the modern arts.
INSTITUTE was founded in 2009. What happened between studying photography and filmmaking at Harvard that lead you to starting INSTITUTE?
The number one catalyst was meeting my wife (Lauren Greenfield) at Harvard, where we both studied photography and filmmaking in the Visual and Environmental Studies department. As a result, our life since then has been entirely consumed with photography and long-form storytelling (I have also collected photography since the early 90s). I have been Lauren’s partner throughout her career, and have experienced first-hand the life of an artist. That experience has directly affected the work that I have done with other artists, and has influenced the conception and mission of INSTITUTE.
While Lauren has burnished her own unique career as a photographer/filmmaker, I’ve taken more of a productorial route through the realm of storytelling. Starting with Disney and Sony in the early 90s, where I was involved in television and film sales, and then 10 years producing games in the video game business. Throughout this journey, I found myself serving the same function over and over again, that of the deal maker, fund raiser, head of studio, or as the executive producer. I seem to gravitate towards helping create the infrastructures within which artists can do their thing. There is an inherent satisfaction in that role for me.
INSTITUTE also came about as a result of an experience with a photo agency that Lauren used to be a member/owner of, VII Photo. I had been working in the video game space at the time, when the VII photographers asked me to help them through some troubled financial times, which I did primarily because of Lauren’s involvement. Long story short, I got them back on their feet, grew the business quite rapidly, found my replacement and left to start up INSTITUTE.
There were several things that I didn’t really enjoy about the photo agency model. Number one, I dislike the image-centric approach of photo agencies. I have a profound distaste for any business model which commoditizes content to a single frame. For me, photography, art, storytelling is about the artist and the work, how it affects us, and how it helps describe and elevate the human experience. So, I decided to create a company which focuses on the artist and their works, versus one which focuses on the single image. It is a systemic, artist-centric approach which has proven to be appealing both to our artists, our partners, and to our clients.
And INSTITUTE is known for having a wide range of artists who are each incredibly talented. What is the process of bringing in a new artist to the agency? How do you know that the artist is a good fit for INSTITUTE?
While I drove most of the artist selections in the very beginning, over time it has become more of a team process. I now rely heavily on my Executive Director, Matt Shonfeld, who has been with me from the beginning and is a big part of our success to date. Increasingly, we have brought our Cultural Manager, Anna-Maria Pfab, into the process. I have total faith, confidence and trust in their opinions.
It is usually pretty obvious who we should approach. If we love a particular artist’s work and their general artistic approach, we call them up and ask them if they’d be interested. Most of the time, they are 🙂
How important is an artists personal work when bringing in new talent? Are you more interested in what assignments they are getting or what they are doing when they are not on assignment?
It is ALL about the personal work for me.
On top of INSTITUTE, you started Evergreen Pictures in 2003 with your wife, Lauren Greenfield. Can you tell me about the production company, why you and Lauren decided to start it and what are you currently working on?
Lauren and I created Evergreen Pictures in 2003 to handle projects that we worked on together. It started with the creation of the Girl Culture exhibition, which is still traveling the world 10 years later. It later expanded to include the THIN exhibition (also still traveling), all of our documentary shorts/feature length films (including kids+money, Beauty CULTure, and The Queen of Versailles), plus branded content such as the Gatorade campaign.
Our next big initiative is a major solo exhibition in Los Angeles, a new monograph, and a feature-length documentary film around the subject of Lauren’s next body of work, a 25-year investigation into Wealth and The American Dream, which releases in the Summer of 2015.
Amazing! Do you have any time to sleep? Last question I promise – what advice would you give photographers trying to break into the editorial and advertising scene right now?
Do what you love, don’t deviate from finding your voice, be prepared to work your ass off.
Frank Evers, is the founder of INSTITUTE, an artist management company representing documentary artists. Frank is also the owner/executive producer of Evergreen Pictures, the production company behind the award-winning documentary hit, “The Queen of Versailles.” In addition to his artist management and film production efforts, Frank is the brain-child behind leading events, such as The Future of Storytelling, a TED-like conference for leaders in the field of storytelling, and the New York Photo Festival, originally conceived as a Dumbo-based photo festival celebrating the cutting edge of contemporary photography.
Prior to the formation of INSTITUTE, Frank was the Managing Director of the VII, a NY-based photo agency. Before VII, Frank spent 10 years in the video game business, producing games for Activision, Vivendi and Disney Interactive (his titles generated over $1 billion in global sales). He started his career in the film business with Sony Pictures Entertainment, and later executive produced the cult classic film, “Swimming With Sharks” (Kevin Spacey and Frank Whalley).
Frank is married to photographer/filmmaker, Lauren Greenfield.