When it comes to the creative world, it’s hard to find a more “been there, done that” person than Freda Scott. The former stylist has been representing fellow artists for more than three decades, boasting an international roster of 16 creatives that includes photographers, videographers, and illustrators.
To get a sense of what an agent — one with substantial creative cachet, in this case — looks for in a representable creative, I asked Freda (FRED-uh) for her perspective on the matter. The seasoned rep also discussed her own evolution within the creative world and how it’s been shaped by the ever-changing fields that fall under that category.
Q: When did you make the switch from stylist to agent and what was the impetus for the transition?
A: This happened probably 35 years ago. In San Francisco, one way that stylists got work was through agencies. The art directors at those agencies suggested stylists — much more than they do now, at least. And I got to know the photographers, of course, through working with them.
There were a few photographers that liked what I did and said, ‘look, you know these people in the agencies, why don’t you take around my book?’ And I realized ‘gee, this is a lot less schlepping stuff and a lot less time-critical than doing styling.’ So, I started bringing in photographers and eventually added some illustrators to my roster as well.
Q: How did you go about expanding your talent roster?
A: It was easy for me to expand my roster to include not just photographers, but other types of creatives as well. At that time, the markets were much smaller and I could get to know people in Los Angeles very easily. I really began on the West Coast and probably in the 90s started getting to know people in the Midwest and on the East Coast.
Q: How has your approach to promoting your creatives changed over the years?
A: The ways that we market have changed so much. In the early days, we showed either prints or transparencies for portfolios and I would take around these really heavy portfolios. It was a lot. As time went on, we got into email.
In those days, we also had something called the Blackbook. That was the one main directory, and I insisted that all my creatives go into the Blackbook because that was the one way to get your name out in a much bigger world. So, everybody started doing that and then the Workbook came about in the late 80s or so.
I was always pushing my people to try to expand from our local scene because it was obvious to me that this was a field that people wanted to work in, and, inevitably, it got to be a more crowded scene for photographers.
Q: What are some major changes you’ve noticed within the industry over the last 10-15 years?
A: Portfolios have gotten much nicer and more like books. My people all have portfolios that look like coffee table books. It’s much more artistic and just a much different form. Back in the old days, as you could say, it was more about showing a few transparencies that pertained to certain types of industries.
And yes, we do still produce photos or show photos that have to do with certain industries. Like, if you want to work in healthcare, you show at least something in healthcare. But back then, it was much more practical than it is now. People want to see beautiful photos and beautiful productions more than they want to see ten different shots of the inside of a hospital.
Q: What do you look for in a photographer with regards to their level of experience, income, and marketability?
A: It’s really case by case. Everyone I rep has some experience with major clients, but some people are at the beginning of that curve and some people are really full-fledged and in the middle of that curve. Plus, everybody has a different need, so it’s not necessarily about how much money they’re bringing in. Of course, I would hope to at least double whatever they’re doing.
But every artist has a different thing going on. For instance, Steve Belkowitz — my guy in Philly — has a whole slew of clients that are really Philadelphia clients. Those are his house accounts, and I don’t do anything with those. So, he could probably survive okay without me. But I’m the person who adds the more interesting clients from other places — and they’re all good paying clients.
As it relates to marketability, everyone’s a little different. One of my photographers, San Francisco-based Nader Khouri, needed to grow his business. So, we started out with a lot of wineries. Also, there’s a lot of startup businesses in SF — experimental food businesses, I call them — like Drinkhint or some of the ones that make keto foods. You know, some brands that may or may not make it. Nader works with these companies when they’re small and starting out and grows with them.
Q: You mentioned Nader, along with Christina Schmidhofer and Richard Jung, as three of your best food photographers. What do you like about their work and at what point in their careers did you start working with them?
First off, they’re all very professional and have handled a variety of productions. But each has a very distinct style and their career paths are completely different from one another. Everyone has sort of a different take on how they got in to the business and where they went from there.
Christina was a catalogue photographer for probably 15 years. She did mostly Williams-Sonoma and then she decided she didn’t want to do that anymore. She got tired of it. So, I picked her up and she’s doing more ads and social media stuff.
Richard was here in San Francisco but he’s been all over the world. He has been in the business since the 80s, but I think that he’s much more of a director these days than he is a photographer.
Nader’s someone that I think had the least experience — you know, he’d probably been in the business for 8-10 years. So, like I mentioned before, we had to grow his brand.
Q: What do you tell people who don’t have enough experience to be repped but who want you to represent them?
A: It’s interesting, most people come to me after they’ve been in the business for only a few years. Once in a while, I get a student asking me if I’ll rep them and I can’t really do that. It just doesn’t work — they don’t have enough experience and they don’t know enough about the business.
And I know it’s a Catch-22. Different photographers have said to me ‘well, how am I going to get business if I don’t have someone helping me?’ It’s just one of those fields that you have to kind of wade in and figure out a place where you can fit.
Q: When is it worth taking a risk on a more inexperienced photographer?
A: It’s a real risk worth taking if they’ve got a solid, interesting personality and work ethic. Those things are invaluable. And it’s better for a rep that finds someone that doesn’t have too many house accounts because, of course, we can fill up their schedules.
Of course, I’ve made some mistakes. For example, I’ve represented people who weren’t ambitious about where they wanted to take their careers and actually retired soon after. You know, a lot of people get tired of this business because it takes so much energy. It’s not a business where people can just sit around.
Q: Your website mentions your commitment to recruiting and nurturing young creatives of color. How has that gone these past few months?
A: I must say, the Black Lives Matter movement has opened my eyes — there is a lot more accessible info now about creative talents of color. I’ve loved seeing new portfolios and talking with the artists.
I chose Martine Severin — who’s based in Chicago — because she’s an outstanding lifestyle and beauty photographer/director. I love her style and feel it will meet the needs of many clients. We had many good talks before I signed her; she’s a delight and very inspiring.
I’ve also found out about many artists doing interesting work that might not be as commercial, but I’ll definitely keep tabs on those people. It’s opened up a whole new world!
Q: Is there anything else you want to discuss that we’ve yet to go over?
A: People always ask me ‘when is the right time to rep someone?’ and there’s just no pat answer to that. I would say when a photographer/director is energetic and has some experience but isn’t at the end of their career.
If you need help finding an agent, call us at 1 610 260 0200 or email our project manager, Bryan Sheffield.