Landing Work for Dream Clients: Anna Williams for Starwood Luxury Collection

November 9, 2016

By Conor Risch

PDN recently spoke with three shooters and photography brands to find out how they identified, pitched and eventually won work from “dream clients”—those who embrace and support their creative visions and pay well for their work. Here, one of those photographers, Anna Williams, shares the story of landing her dream client.

When Anna Williams was on-set working on a series of 18 still-life photos for her client Starwood Hotels & Resorts, she recalls looking at stylist Pamela Duncan Silver, a longtime collaborator, and saying: “‘This almost doesn’t feel like a job,’ even though it was a very big job.”

Williams and Duncan Silver were working for Starwood’s in-house creative team, which was taking the visual branding of the hotel company’s Luxury Collection properties in a new direction. “Anytime you’re doing a rebrand or redesign, those words always pique interest, because to be a part of changing something creatively is always exciting,” Williams says. The job called primarily for still-life photographs, but there “wasn’t necessarily a product that I was photographing,” Williams recalls. Instead, she was asked to use “objects and surfaces and lighting” to create images that told stories about the brand and its hotels throughout the world.

When the brand approached Williams and asked her to bid on the work, she sent them a link with a selection of images that related to the creative direction they had in mind, and also took several creative calls with Starwood’s brand design team.

“One of the things I remember saying was, ‘This feels very natural to me. If I was going to do a personal still life, this seems very much like something I’d want to do on my own artistic time,’” Williams remembers. For several years, Williams has created new series of personal images, which she publishes as a magazine project, The Voracity. She uses the magazine as promotion, and that work “often inspires” clients to ask for her creative input. In addition to asking for creative ideas, Starwood also wanted to know if she envisioned doing the shoot on location or in a studio, and how many days she would need.

© Anna Williams

“If I was going to do a personal still life, this seems very much like something I’d want to do on my own artistic time,” she told the client while bidding on the job. © Anna Williams

After two months of discussions, Williams was awarded the job. She believes, “It was my work first and foremost” that convinced the clients, “but I also think when we were going through the shots I maybe solved some particular problems or questions that they had” about how to create the images. Personality, and whether or not she is going to be easy to work with, is also always factor, she adds.

“It is a lot of pressure,” Williams says, to bid on jobs. “But at a certain point you do have to put yourself out there, and then you let go and see what happens. I think that’s one thing I’m starting to learn.”

Williams and her team shot the images in-studio over the course of three days this past January. They depict surfaces—some dark, some light—covered in objects that evoke the locations of Starwood’s Luxury Collection hotels and the personalities of the travelers who stay in them. There are theater tickets, handwritten letters, colorful spools of thread, clocks and watches—even a Leica. One of the images is a simple collection of newly cut flowers, another an assemblage of coins and vintage keys. Duncan Silver “was such a delight to work with and brought so many beautiful objects that one can be inspired by and respond to,” Williams recalls.

The creative freedom she and Duncan Silver enjoyed made the job feel more personal and less like work. “When [the client is] truly asking you to [realize] your own vision and saying, ‘Go for it, make it the way you would want to see it,’ that’s a dream client,” Williams says. Often, she adds, photographers are offered editorial or other side projects with great creative, but “you make nothing. The dream is when those two worlds come together.”

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