Q+A: Lee Jennings from Vaughan Hannigan
I don’t remember how Lee Jennings and I started talking on the internets, but she’s been an extremely congenial and pleasant person to know, and quite the resource. You see, Lee is an agent. A photographer’s rep. A Jedi.
The agency world has always intimidated me, so it’s lovely to have someone answer my naive questions with a smile. Lee is at Vaughan Hannigan — an agency with incredible talent, and if Lee is any indication — zero attitude. We like this.
Without further ado…. the Qs and As:
Hi Lee! Thanks for for chatting with us. First things first: how did you get started in the business? Were you a photographer first and an agent second, or just a photography lover? Tell us how it came about.
Hi Rachel! I’ve got a bit of the classic “fell in love with photography as a teenager” story. I got a Polaroid camera for Christmas during 7th grade, saved up all my pennies from babysitting and summer jobs to buy a 35mm SLR, spent an insane number of hours in the darkroom in high school, and managed to convince my parents that a BFA in Photography was not a ridiculous idea.
A BFA from NYU and a need for a steady paycheck (damn student loans) led to teaching photography at a high school in California, a brief stint racing sailboats (don’t ask), then doing studio manager/photo editing and production work at a design studio, which ultimately led to art buying.
I loved art buying, had the opportunity to work with many amazing photographers and creatives, but eventually came to the realization that it wasn’t joyful for me. Mini crisis of conscience and narrowly avoiding going back to grad school to become a teacher, a lightbulb went off in my head: maybe I didn’t have to leave art buying and the industry to find joy in my work again. Perhaps being an agent and negotiating on behalf of the photographer would do the trick.
I took a few agents out for drinks to pick their brains and discern whether being an agent was the right move, whether my preconceived notions matched up with the realities, etc. The reasons people loved it really resonated with me, and the reasons people said to stay away didn’t scare me.My mom will tell you I’ve been negotiating since I was a kid, so it’s a natural fit. One of my photographers says I was born to be an agent. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not…ha!
Did you start off at VAUGHAN HANNIGAN, or is that a new move?
I’ve been at VH since last fall. I’ve also been an agent at a huge agency representing many photographers and at another small agency.
You folks have quite the roster. What’s the agency’s goal in terms of tone/attitude/mission statement?
VH is a boutique agency representing eight fantastic photographers: Scott Frances, Julia Fullerton-Batten, Christopher Griffith, Brad Harris, Timothy Hogan, Giles Revell, Martin Schoeller, and Mark Zibert.
I love the relative youth of VH (Bill Hannigan and Thea Vaughan founded the agency in July of 2007). I adore the roster – the work is stellar, and they’re all nice people, too.
We place a premium on a personal approach to working with our artists and working with clients. We have a high agent to artist ratio (4 agents, 8 artists) not found at many agencies. A producer we work with recently referred to us as offering “white glove service” – I’d say that’s true, but without the snooty overtones.
Our artists are passionate and active image makers. They pick up the camera not just when a client is footing the bill and are continually producing personal work. The roster is heavily involved in the fine art, book publishing, and editorial arenas in addition to commercial work.
What is your role at VH? Are you working with specific artists?
I’m a senior agent at Vaughan Hannigan working with a variety of clients – advertising agencies, entertainment, design firms, architects, clients direct, and editorial. We don’t divide the roster, each agent (there are 2 of us plus Bill Hannigan and Thea Vaughan) reps the whole crew.
On a basic level, I connect photographers and clients and solicit new business for the photographers we represent. I estimate and negotiate fees and expenses for shoots ranging from small budget editorials to $500k+ advertising shoots.
I strategize with photographers on new imagery, promotions and marketing, portfolios, and overall career management. I show books at one on one appointments with photographers and photo editors, host portfolio reviews at advertising agencies locally and around the country (San Francisco, can’t wait to see you in May!), set up one on one meetings for photographers to meet art buyers and show off their latest and greatest.
I cultivate continuing and new client relationships (this is one of my favorite things about my job – I can count a number of clients as honest-to-goodness friends). With lots of conference calls in between.
What work/campaign/anything artsy is knocking your socks off right now?
Brad Harris went to Iceland and came back with these amazing images of teenagers running through the crazy, craggy Iceland landscape:
Scott Frances spent 24 days shooting City Center in Las Vegas with the advertising agency SK+G. The images are stunning and seem to do the biggest construction project in the world justice.
I love love love the time lapse behind the scenes video his assistant Andrew Frasz made over the course of the shoot:
And it’s not brand spanking new, but Martin Schoeller’s National Geographic feature about the Hadza, one of the last hunter gatherer tribes in the world, is pretty stunning.
You know what’s knocking MY socks off? Martin Schoeller’s Paul Rudd Poodle picture (attached). Can you tell me the story behind it?
Ha! I love that picture. Martin photographed Paul Rudd for GQ’s May 2009 issue. He knew a woman who owned a bunch of poodles, and he always wanted to include them in a shoot. The Paul Rudd assignment came up, and he knew he finally had his chance.
Martin had the opportunity to shoot Paul again for GQ’s “Man of the Year” Portfolio, published December 2009 (Martin photographed the whole portfolio, including 5 covers). Image below. Hmmm….pink seems to be a recurring theme with Martin and Paul…
How would you advise a young go-getter who wants to be an agent. How do they get a foot in the door?
First off, I’d congratulate them on knowing what they want to do. And be prepared that it may not be their last stop in the business – it sometimes takes doing a few different roles to learn where you fit in this crazy business of ours (says the former high school photo teacher/sailboat racer/photo editor/art buyer).
If you’re in college, intern with an agency if you can – you’ll get to see first hand whether agency life suits you, and you’ll gain good contacts who may be able to hire you in the future. (We just hired a fellow Tisch grad who had interned with me previously for an entry-level position.)
Talk to people in the business, not just agents – producers, photographers, etc. Network, network, network.
Good luck! It’s not the easiest path to choose, but it can be really inspiring and rewarding.
THANK YOU, you win.
No, thank YOU!
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