PDNedu Asks Photographers: What Was the First Self-Promotion Piece that Really Defined You as a Photographer and How Did You Capitalize on this to Propel Your Career?

[Compiled by Jill Waterman]

For visual artists, the word identity goes hand-in-hand with getting the attention of one’s desired audience. To inspire creative approaches in your marketing efforts, we asked the following five photographers to reflect on their earliest self-promotional outreach and tell us about the methods that worked best.

 Stefen Chow


My first self-promo piece was a night shot of the Everest Base Camp. Shortly after climbing Mount Everest I decided to start my photography career, so the Everest series became my first body of work to show people. The response I got was quite enthusiastic, and led to opportunities for a solo exhibition, a two-year commissioned project in a shipyard and theEddie Adams Workshop. Editors and clients saw that I had the potential to handle projects outside the adventure genre, and I have gone on to prove myself on different styles and levels. This picture was first printed on the back of my name card, sparking many conversations. It also gave me affirmation of my own abilities for doing time exposures. Many have remarked that the Base Camp had an ethereal feel, and this is the personal voice I’ve sought out since then in a lot of my low-light projects, whether in an industrial area or at a large scale science facility. I feel blessed as a photographer to have gone places that few have and to be able to provide that sense of place to others. Years later, this particular picture still strikes me as one of my stronger works. It reminds me of the instinct I had as a photographer and the lengths (and cold) I would endure to get a shot.

Visit Stefen Chow's Web site

Ami Vitale

HEADSHOT © Mick Davie

The only self-promotion I’ve ever done is through my Web site. Back in 2000, I spent about a year working on this with designer Jayson Singe from Neonsky .com, and when it initially launched, it got a lot of attention, which consequently led to assignments. In 2010, I gave the Web site a much needed overhaul and worked with designer Mike Schmidt to create a new site that better reflects my work and the changing times. Now it is not just a flashy portfolio of images but a deeper, more thoughtful place to get information, images and ideas. It is also designed to work better with search engines. While some may not consider a personal Web site a promotional piece, I think it is the most important self-promotion you can do for yourself. It’s a very direct connection to the world, and its the Web site that I credit for bringing in some spectacular, fascinating assignments. It has also led me into new mediums I’ve never dreamed of exploring. One example is an invitation I recently received to explore Madagascar as a host for a TV series about photography. The producer found me through my Web site. It has also led galleries, print buyers, students who attend my workshops and editorial assignments directly to me. Almost 100 percent of my work does not come through an agency, and I credit the Web site for this.

Visit Ami Vitale's Web site


 Mark Humphrey

HEADSHOT © Jennifer Humphrey

The first self-promo piece that defined my work and changed the course of my life came about during a shoot for the album cover of Guru’s Jazzmatazz Vol 1, at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village in the winter of 1993. It was the first marriage of hip-hop and jazz. Guru from Gang Starr had assembled Blue Note legends such as Donald Byrd to collaborate on an album that was about to create a milestone in the development of hip-hop. Byrd said to me at the time that I was documenting something very special; he said in his day, it was be-bop and in 1993 it was hip-hop. The Village Vanguard was quite close to Canal Street. I was told I could pick up a cheap super 8 movie camera there. I picked up a $20 camera and a few rolls of old Tri X film and documented my photo shoot at the Vanguard on super 8 motion film. From this footage I cut together a short film and named it Tribute. I made ten copies of the film and handed them to the biggest production companies at the time. Within a week, I was signed to Roberto Cecchini’s A&R group. I was now a director and started to direct my first music videos and commercials. This came as a direct result of the self-promo clip I made while shooting a photo assignment for EMI Records. The piece not only solidified my love for both still and motion imagery, but it also highlighted my passion for music and fashion. It is the intersection of fashion and music that drives me. It is the backbone of my work. From my early days as a Face magazine trend and portrait shooter, I’ve always been interested in whether the music inspired the fashion or vice versa. But it was that self-promo piece that made it very clear to me what my path was. And now today, I’m still on that path; the Xperience Factory is an extension of that first clip.

Visit Mark Humphrey's Web site

 Lou Jones

HEADSHOT © Lou Jones

Postcards: I have been making photographs for a long time. I got started before technology made it possible to streamline promoting your photography. Black Book and mailers were just getting a foothold in our business, and they were out of my price range. The Internet was a long way off. I used to call anybody and everybody who would see me and my portfolio. While traveling I carried a list of these potential art directors and editors. From the far reaches of the world, whether I was in Peru or Romania, with a limited budget, I mailed an old-fashioned 50-cent postcard to each person. Now it does not seem like much, but I was obsessive about it. It was cheap and simple, but time-consuming. Buying good picture postcards, writing the missives, then affixing stamps and mailing kept me up late many nights. I eventually paid concierges to post them for me. I mailed them from behind the Iron Curtain, Cuba, Africa, South America. Only later when it became my “signature” were the photographs on the front even mine. On repeat visits to design studios I would see my cards push-pinned on bulletin boards. More important, when I ran into people at functions, many would say, “Why haven’t I gotten a postcard from you lately? Have I been dropped from your list?” When that started happening, I knew I had hit on something. They were personal, cryptic, stream-of-consciousness messages. I called it “tertiary marketing.” No aggressive push. No splashy overkill. Just: I am out here working in exotic places—Maybe I can do it for you too. One head of an agency said he was so impressed after he had gotten a few postcards that he finally gave me an assignment. We worked together for years after that. When I look back, I wonder how naive I must have been. I use e-mail now.

Visit Lou Jones's Web site


 Michael Clark

HEADSHOT © Sarah Stratuas

Early in my career, I sent out custom promo pieces printed and designed for specific clients, which worked extremely well. These included one page of images printed on my ink-jet printer, a cover letter and bio. I remember sending one to Sports Illustrated, and they called me about 30 minutes after getting the Fed Ex package. I had an assignment the next day. While these custom promos were one of my first self-promotion pieces and they worked, I wouldn’t say this really defined me or propelled my career very far. Aside from face-to-face meetings, the best promotional tool I’ve used since then is the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter. I started this as a way to let clients know what I was up to, and it has blossomed into a quarterly PDF magazine. This has really been the catalyst to help me get most of my assignments over the past ten years. It also helped me get a book deal writing about adventure photography, and I never even proposed the book to the publisher. They saw my newsletter and proposed the project to me. Back issues of my newsletter can be downloaded here.

Visit Michael Clark's Web site




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