Louisa J. Curtis of Chatterbox Enterprises Chats with David Laidler

By Louisa J. Curtis

Recently I moderated one of my panels of top industry photo agents as part of Adorama’s “Business of Photography” Spring 2011 workshop series, so I thought it would be interesting this month to talk about the industry from an agent’s perspective, and in particular, with one who is in the process of starting up his own agency, Works Artists. Some might think him crazy to be starting a new agency in these “tough economic times”, while others would admire his courage and bravery, but for David Laidler, this is what he does and no amount of ‘nay-sayers’ are going to stop him! He sees these ‘tough times’ as a moment of opportunity, because with an ever-changing visual landscape, there are always going to be new avenues for potential business. In David’s bio he says, “I am a business innovator, manager, and leader in the photographic industry.” This is not someone who is simply looking for the next assignment and income stream. Au contraire, David is a person who is very much interested and involved with how our industry is evolving. And, after a career spanning more than 20 years, I reckon he has a pretty good notion as to what he is getting himself into as he embarks on this latest adventure.

So I began by asking David what made him decide to create his own start-up agency, and he said, “Working for others in small and large companies has been very good for me over the years, both in terms of broad exposure to many sides of the visual creative business, and of providing me with strong contacts on the agency and client sides. I learned everything I know up to this point from some of the most talented people in the business both on the editorial and commercial sides of the fence. The timing was good and I finally felt confident enough in my own abilities and creative vision to be holding the bag at the end of the day.” With so many “hungry” photographers out there, I asked him where and how he was looking for his talent? Who is separating themselves from the pack, and why? “I talk to peers, clients, check out new work at galleries and see who is doing interesting work in new spaces, especially online. Fresh talent that is bubbling up, people re-inventing themselves, people finding new exciting ways to visually communicate. My goal is to collaborate with genuine, driven, creative people that share a common vision for how they move through the world. Artist management is a very personal relationship and I only want to work with people that I can collaborate with in an honest open way. We both need to be driving towards the same goal and helping each other attain those goals.”

Now to give the readers an idea as to the kind of visual artist David is looking for - when I gave my presentation for the reps panel at Adorama, I showed examples of each of the agents’ photographers’ work, taken from their Web sites, and we viewed lots of great images. However, as David’s Web site is still under construction while he compiles his roster of talent, and to illustrate the diversity, direction and the skill-set that his talent are going to offer, we showed a wonderful video piece on the Willis Avenue Bridge, shot and directed by Stephen Mallon.

This video was so fresh and innovative and current, it literally got the whole room buzzing with excitement and we even had one of the other reps declaring right then and there that he wanted to steal him away from David, he was so impressed! Wow, people want to steal his talent and he’s still in the start-up phase – not bad! So I asked him what was the most exciting aspect of starting up his own agency. “The most exciting part is executing on my own creative vision and curating a talent pool that personally excites me. It’s a long curvy personal quest but it feels really fulfilling, and it has the added pressure bonus of letting me discover whether I can provide a revenue stream for the artists and me...or not!” I asked David for some of his own personal photographic heroes and he gave me, “Martin Parr, Alec Soth, Sebastio Salgado, Helmut Newton, Joel Peter Witkin, Koudelka, this could be a long list...and respect to Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros.” For those of you not aware, Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were two of the outstanding photojournalists who were killed recently in Libya.

I asked David what recommendations he had for young photographers just getting into the business. Seek advice, emulate, inspire yourself and others at every stage, give rather than take, make a difference, produce, produce, produce, develop your signature and fight like hell for your authorship.” All great advice, so what about the “older” or should we say more “experienced” photographers, whose income has been drastically reduced by what has happened in the stock industry, in particular. What guidance do you have for them? “We can’t turn back the clock. Massive over supply of increasingly high quality imagery from every corner of the planet distributed into sales platforms by non-professional photographers has fundamentally changed the game in a non-reversible way. They need to find new revenue streams, maybe become lawyers. The new media landscape is creating as many or more opportunities than it took away or changed. But I also don’t have all the answers either.”

David is also from England, like myself, so I asked him what brought him to New York? “Eliane Laffont told me to come, so I did, you don’t say no to Eliane...” And for those of you not familiar with who Eliane is…  she is a veteran of the industry, who opened the US office of Gamma Press Images with her husband Jean-Pierre in 1968, and in 1973 they co-founded the breakaway Sygma Photo News Agency, which subsequently blossomed into the world’s largest photo news agency under her leadership. So I asked David if he had always worked in the photography industry? “I was a deejay for several years after college in London, but I got bored of inane conversations in the wee hours of the morning over thunderous sound systems, and I only had hard contact lens at the time and my eyes started to get dry too often.” David is quite soft spoken, and yet weaves a wonderful and subtle sense of humor into his conversations. One minute he’ll be saying something quite serious to you and then some moments later you realize that he is in fact, saying something quite silly! I fall for it all the time and I really should know better! I wondered if humor was a necessary component to his life and his way of working and what makes him laugh anyway, to which he simply and succinctly responded, “Life is ridiculous, and humor is essential to helping me find a path."

And here are my ChatterDozen quick fire questions with David’s responses:
1) What 3 words best describe your photography/work? Art and commerce
2) Who (dead or alive) do you admire? "Martin Parr, Sigur Ros, Lars Von Triers, Kundera. Jesus made an enduring brand and he did not have a Facebook page
3) What was the last movie you saw? "Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog."
4) What is your favorite TV show? "NPR is my TV sans visuals."
5) What is your favorite food? "Sashimi, simple, subtle, exquisite and erotic."
6) What is your favorite animal? "Humans when they are relatively domesticated, but you can still see the animal underneath."

7) When is your birthday?
"January 24th, same every year."
8) What is your favorite day of the week, and why? "Friday seems full of the most possibility, but I don’t have a strong opinion."
9) What would you do if you weren’t a photographer? "I studied physics at college, but if I could roll back time, maybe deejaying, that was my budding first career that I dropped many years ago."
10) What is your favorite music, song or band? "Sigur Ros, Stars of the Lid."
11) If you could get on a plane tomorrow, perhaps to somewhere you have never been to before, where would you fly to and why? "On my list are: Iceland, it looks so majestically beautiful and I love all of the music that comes out of that small country. Brazil, beaches and... Machu Picchu, epic and spiritual, and I like that you have to do some work to experience it. And I’d love to do Everest, but I think one has to know ones limits."
12) If you could be born in another period of history, when would that be and why? "I would have liked to have been a Roman general on horseback, commanding a vast army into battle and uncertain future…"

  Louisa J. Curtis - Creative Consultant, Chatterbox Enterprises
http://www.chatterboxenterprises.com/ For more information on Louisa's services, or to be added to her monthly ChatterBulletin mailing list, contact Louisa at info@chatterboxenterprises.com.





































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