Can you tell me a little bit about your background and what led you to starting Giant Artists? How did you know that you wanted to run an agency?
Prior to Giant, I managed rock bands for ten years. Then, in the early 00’s, the music business was in flux due to the advent of digital downloading, and I thought, ‘this might be a good time to make a career change.’ I was friends with several photographers who worked with my bands, and one asked if I would think about representing her. Truth is, I didn’t even know being a rep was an option. But I decided to dive in and, with some guidance along the way from other reps and people in the industry, Giant Artists came together fairly quickly and organically.
Ever since, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Giant grow and evolve. Supporting the creative vision and helping artists create sustainable careers for themselves has always been extremely gratifying to me, so repping was a natural fit. Starting the agency also provided me with the change of pace I needed. After years of being on the road with my bands, I actually craved the stability of an office job. While I never studied photography, it’s something I’ve always appreciated. Growing up in Memphis, I found Eggleston’s work to be particularly captivating. Creating Giant Artists has given me the opportunity to nurture and promote an incredible art form.
Thats amazing! Aside from the creative elements of being a rep and starting an agency, did your background managing bands give way to the aspects of running a business that are perhaps not very glamorous; the financial side of running a company, marketing for your artists, getting new clients, negotiating invoices and so on?
I ask because I think there are a lot of details in being a strong agency that aren’t necessarily creative, and you managed to do that with Giant Artists starting from the ground-up which I find inspiring.
Similar to my previous career in the music industry, I look at repping more as a management position than a sales job, keeping an eye on the “whole” career, the big picture. I look at where we are going this year, in five years, ten years, and so on. I pay attention to trends over time and curating careers that hopefully transcend those trends (something both musicians and photographers have to deal with). I emphasize the importance of building a lasting value in your name and your brand, so that there is lasting value in your work. That’s what I call the “retirement plan.”
From the beginning, I wanted Giant Artists to be a creative umbrella for not only commercial photography, illustration and design, but to support all the artists’ creative outlets. Several of the photographers have grown into very talented directors, one is a also a creative director for television, and many have published books. Many of the musicians I worked with had other interests to nurture…they were fashion designers, filmmakers, writers, fine artists. Why limit the agency to just one single pursuit instead of supporting them all? It’s a lot more fun for me, as well, not to limit my job description, which could get quite boring.
As far as the day to day minutiae, managing bands was a great training ground for negotiating contracts, balancing budgets, marketing artists, organizing schedules, working with strong personalities, and making things happen. I stepped into Giant Artists with an arsenal of experience and information that helped me more easily and quickly find my footing. As with music, commercial photography is about finding the perfect partners for our artists, getting the work seen (or the music heard), placing a value on that work, and getting compensated fairly.
I love that you support the artists you work with in pursuing all of their interests and talents!
It seems like there are so many artists out there who want to work with an agent, but the competition is high. I hear from a lot of photographers that they would love to work with a certain agency, but that agency already has artists with a similar style to theirs. In that case, should a photographer even try to get your attention? And along that line, what has been the more successful ways that artists have gotten you to notice their work?
Absolutely try to get my attention! I am careful not to sign artists who compete for the same jobs, but there are nuances, for example, among my lifestyle photographers that make them unique. Some artists, like Jake Stangel, I’ve known for years and our friendship and respect grew naturally over time to the point we made him an official part of roster. I don’t have a lot of turnover here, but there are times I am looking for a certain style or genre to fill a hole. Last year, I signed our first still life photographer, Justin Fantl. In Justin, we found the perfect match aesthetically and he happens to be an awesome person, too. I aim to keep Giant’s roster small and manageable so I can dedicate meaningful time to each artist, but never be shy to reach out. It’s my job to know who’s shooting and especially who is up and coming and could bring something fresh and exciting to the agency.
I’m sure photographers often feel like they’re mailing promos or sending emails into a black hole; however, I do get them, and a smart promo or email with striking imagery does get my attention. While I may not have time to respond to each one, I appreciate the time, energy, and cost it takes to send these out. I almost always take a meeting with a photographer if they are recommended directly by an art producer or client, since they know us best. If a client trusts a photographer to do a good job on set and deliver great work, that goes a long way.
Im sure its a relief for photographers to hear that you do look at promos. Do you have any other advice for getting the attention of an agency? Do you think personal projects or important, or are you more interested in seeing commercial work?
The best way to get my attention is to do good work consistently, show growth, and promote yourself through social media, blogs, mailers, email, contests, etc. I look for experienced photographers with an awareness of the industry, in addition to having a clear creative point of view. I wouldn’t likely sign a photographer who hasn’t worked commercially or pounded the pavement for a few years on their own. There is great value to putting in the time and doing the work yourself, finding your voice, making connections, and learning the business. My most successful artists know how to navigate both the business and creative sides of the industry.
Personal projects are incredibly important because they give us insight into the artist’s personality, interests, and what inspires them on a deeper level. As a rep, the personal works are integral in developing a value in the artist’s brand, and hopefully have a lasting impact. That said, if an artist is meeting me, it’s likely they’re looking for a partner for their commercial work and want to make a comfortable living – something a strong commercial career can provide. So for me, I always look at both sides, and I also see if we can generate revenue off the personal projects. At Giant, I’ve had a lot of success negotiating publishing deals for my artists. Chronicle Books published Atlanta for Michael Schmelling and Family for Lauren Dukoff. As an agency, we do an annual group art show at a gallery to showcase the non-commercial work. While not a requirement, the ability to show personal work alongside a commercial portfolio only strengthens what we’re able to offer a client. And I’ve certainly seen photographers hired solely off their personal work. I’ve been told Giant Artists, in particular, maintains a nice balance between the personal and commercial worlds, and I take that as a great compliment.
Jen Jenkins founded Giant Artists in 2006. Giant Artists represents photographers, stylists, illustrators, filmmakers and designers. Giant Artists is based in Los Angeles. Learn more and their amazing roster, here.