The Art of the Portfolio Show. Minneapolis Art Producers Share Their Insights with The Community Table. Part 2: The Main Course

Welcome to our 6th series of posts where we share the results from our conversations held directly with community leaders about top-of-mind photo-industry issues.  Community Table was formed from the collective efforts of Matt Nycz and Kate Chase of Brite Productions and Heather Elder and Lauranne Lospalluto of Heather Elder Represents with the idea that there is nothing more powerful in our industry than education.

L’Étoile du Nord is a French phrase meaning “The Star of the North”. It is also the motto of the US state of Minnesota.  It was chosen by the state’s first governor, Henry Hastings Sibley, and was adopted in 1861, three years after admission of Minnesota to the union.

And so it was that after years of projects and portfolio shows with many a Minnesotan, we bundled ourselves up and went to Minneapolis to host a Community Table for 7 of our industries “star” Art Producer’s.   And true to their motto, they were stars indeed, giving generously of their time and expertise to help us dig deeper around a subject that seems to be on everyone’s minds these days:   “The Art of the Portfolio Show”.

As a reminder, each Conversation Starter was directed to one person with a general discussion ensuing. Rather than sharing the entire conversation, we included the original question and then the quotes and notes that were most relevant.  Please note, often times the person leading the conversation spoke most often.

So with that, we welcome you back to the table, and our 1st installment from this series.

Minneapolis buyers in attendance:

Jenny Barnes/Content Producer, Carmichael Lynch

Kat Dalager/Director of Project Operations, Life Time Fitness

Christopher Grimes/Senior Integrated Producer, OLSON

Dave Lewis/Photography Production + Art Buying, Freelance

Mark Pakulski/Senior Integrated Art Producer, OLSON

Chris Peters/Senior Art Producer, Colle+McVoy

Jason Santos/Producer, Zeus Jones


Please note, there will be 5 posts shared over the next 2.5 weeks. Tune in every Tuesday and Thursday for the latest installments.



Question 2: What would you want your creatives to say are the most useful parts of your doing portfolio shows?  What do you hear is the most common complaint from creatives?

Mark Pakulski/Senior Integrated Art Producer, OLSON: I don’t know if it’s a complaint or observation – probably industry-wide but I had a creative stop me today to let me know how much he liked the portfolio show we had hosted. He said it would be great if their projects only had the budgets! The budgets are challenging and the creative’s perception is that they will not be able to afford to work with certain photographers. So, they are inspired by what they see but challenged by the budgets. I say, never say never though!

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents:  Do your creatives ever bring that up with a rep at a portfolio show? Is there a way to start that conversation? That would be helpful. The perception is for sure not the reality. Most photographers are willing to try and make challenging budgets work.

Mark Pakulski/Senior Integrated Art Producer, OLSON: Yes, the perception is a false one. We just have to make a phone call and start a conversation most times.

Jason Santos/Producer, Zeus Jones: And, the more interesting the project, the more interested the photographer will be.

Mark Pakulski/Senior Integrated Art Producer, OLSON: When creatives see good work and it’s presented well, there’s the perception they can’t afford it.   Our job is to help them understand.

Chris Peters/Senior Art Producer, Colle+McVoy: Our creatives want to see great work and be inspired by what they see. Ideally some of the imagery or style applies to projects or accounts they are working on. That’s when people tell me they liked a show, it had something that stood out from all the imagery they are immersed in all day. We’re not much for complaining but if a rep is overbearing that can put people off.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents: We need to work on starting the conversation about how is it to work with me, to negotiate with me. What am I open to?

Jason Santos/Producer, Zeus Jones:   Everyone thinks they’re the only ones that don’t have amazing budgets. We’re all working within really tight parameters.

Dave Lewis/Photography Producer + Art Buyer, Freelance: There’s a range of a sweet spot where all of a sudden your budget looks completely amazing because you’re getting this amazing creative with it too. Then there’s crazy high money. I’ve done some estimates where, I need to say no because there is just not enough budget. I’m not the producer who can do this for 14 cents.

Jenny Barnes/Content Producer, Carmichael Lynch: It’s important to make sure we are not shortchanging the production.

Kat Dalager/Director of Project Operations, Life Time Fitness: If the budget is tiny, the first instinct is to say, I can’t do this. Don’t say no. Stay creative. And, at a high level. And then let the numbers say there’s not a possibility to let it happen.

For this reason, I always share the budget. And from here, even if I get 5 estimates, I say, ok, how did you use that money? Each photographer will have a different approach and each approach helps me to understand how they would use the money they’re given.

At Lifetime, they rely on me. They assume if I bring someone in, they’re viable. My job is to make it work regardless. I recently had a situation where the budget was so tight, they hit the target and I said, ooh, you need to add in a couple of things. The production was TOO thin.

Jason Santos/Producer, Zeus Jones: You want to be fair. I don’t want someone taking the job for $5,000 when it’s $10,000 worth of work. We need to make sure we’re keeping industry standards up and not taking advantage of someone that is just hungry for work.

Christopher Grimes/Senior Art Producer, OLSON: Honestly, we don’t get many complaints about portfolio shows except maybe that people don’t have time to attend. It’s frustrating sometimes when I see people not coming to shows when I know it’s just 5 minutes of their day and it would make a big difference to the reps and myself AND the work. I feel like I have a lot of responsibility to expose them to new work and the work that’s relevant for the accounts they work on. I try to make it clear that it’s an investment in the creativity of agency and it’s valuable.

Kate Chase: Brite Productions: How do you do that?

Christopher Grimes: I get in their face. You need to come to this show. There’s something relevant for you to look at.

I’ll let the rep set up and take a run through by myself. I’ll go find the Creative Directors and Art Directors who might benefit from this work. I want to make it worth-while for you to come to our agency.

As far as the most useful part, bringing work that’s relevant. Making sure you’re looking at what we’re working on and presenting books that make sense for those accounts. For example, you wouldn’t bring car work to my agency.

Jason Santos: I don’t normally have a bunch of creatives attending the shows so complaints are at a minimum. We’re new at getting creatives to attend the shows so for me the most important thing is for me to see the work and meet the rep and or photographer.   I have a good, a solid understanding of how to read a portfolio, even though you’ve done this product, I can see other talents in there as well. I can tell what a shooter’s capable of or how their talents would apply to something else.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents: Relevance is key.

Jason Santos/Producer, Zeus Jones: Yes, it is. But truly, I am not going to see you if the work isn’t amazing or relevant. So, once we’ve met, it is about the relationship and how we would work together. Without killer work, there’s no conversation. The work, the actual portfolio, is the smallest part of the pie. What’s it like to work with you? What’s your production like?

Kat Dalager/Director of Project Operations, Life Time Fitness: That’s very interesting. Some people aren’t used to reading portfolios. It is an educational process. I’m a photo snob, right?. They need to be educated on how you look at a portfolio and understand what is good and not so good. They don’t all know how to read that yet.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions: Is that part of your job?

Kat Dalager/Director of Project Operations, Life Time Fitness: It is, but not in the job description. It should be though.

Jenny Barnes/Content Producer, Carmichael Lynch: And the only way for anyone to get an eye is investing time at looking at tons and tons of work. They only way they can grow is by looking. That’s why clients can’t understand the value of what true artists can bring to the table. They can’t see it. The don’t have the context and why they rely on us.

Jason Santos/Producer, Zeus Jones: Have you ever had creatives say that work wasn’t good, you wasted my time?

Christopher Grimes/Senior Art Producer, OLSON: No, You?

Jason Santos/Producer, Zeus Jones: They may have said it. But, why would I bring a creative work that I think is bad? It is all subjective and I might not think it is bad, even if they do.

Unattributed: There’s one person we see, we’ve seen twice, who’s probably not that amazing. I do it because that person helped build my career. Maybe he’s not amazing and relevant for what we are working on, but maybe he’s good for something – it’s still something. It’s a respect thing. I have to respect that person so I’m willing to take 20 minutes to look at his work and offer feedback because I owe that person. They’ve done something for me. Some people do slip through the cracks and they’re not great. You don’t want to be perceived as the agency in Minneapolis who doesn’t let people in.


Christopher Grimes/Senior Integrated Art Producer, OLSON: If you continually show your creatives work that doesn’t apply to them, they will stop coming.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents: As a rep, I am always wondering who the correct person to call for a show is. I know what my notes say and I know what Adbase tells me, but often times that changes. How does it work at your agency? Is there one person?

Christopher Grimes/Senior Integrated Art Producer, OLSON: There are three of us. Sometimes all three of us will get the calls and sometimes maybe just one of us. Regardless, Allie is the person. So, we try our best to funnel it all through her.

I don’t want reps and photographers calling our creatives and setting up shows or individual appointments when they can’t get a hold of me so I try and get back to everyone I can.

Jenny Barnes/Content Producer, Carmichael Lynch: I don’t like that either. Because the process is a filtering process. We’re in place to be that eye for the creative department. We are a buffer for them and reps/photographers can put them in a really weird position if they reach out directly.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents: That’s maybe the case with some agencies but with others, why wouldn’t you reach out to the creative?

Kat Dalager/Director of Project Operations, Life Time Fitness: Maybe in some cases if there is a personal relationship already in place. But other times, there is maybe a lack of understanding of the structure and hierarchy. Sometimes reps/photographers just don’t get it. In the end, the request often ends up back with me so if you are emailing all of us, I end up setting up the show.

Christopher Grimes/Senior Integrated Art Producer, OLSON: It’s very old school. I learned a lot when I was a rep in NY. People do personal appointments there. I took so many personal appointments when I lived in NY and I was an art producer. You could come in and visit me and show me books and go to another agency. My take on it, is that once upon a time everyone had an office. You had your own life in your own room and you visited me. The agencies are changing to an open concept. It’s totally different.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents: My photographers are being encouraged to go on appointments. Of course I am reaching out on their behalf most of the times. I know enough to go through you, but if he’s been on a shoot with Joe Smith, he’ll call Joe Smith.


Jenny Barnes/Content Producer, Carmichael Lynch: That’s different. That relationship has been solidified. You are not reaching out because you didn’t hear back from me. In those cases, it makes it appear to that Creative Director that I’m not doing my job. Photographers/reps don’t realize the implication. Just because I didn’t respond right away doesn’t mean I am not doing my job.

Jenny Barnes/Content Producer, Carmichael Lynch: I don’t hear of any complaints from creatives about portfolio shows. The only reason they wouldn’t come would be because they’re too busy. In this day and age everybody’s work load is really high. We’re not necessarily looking at their schedules to see what’s open. If they can’t make it, it’s due to work-load. Some producers feel responsible for a good turnout but it isn’t always in our control. Regardless, it doesn’t feel good for anyone to have amazing talent on the table and have no one show up.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents: We have been doing these shows long enough, we know how out of yours/and our control attendance is. There are good shows and bad shows. Regardless there is still value trying. I emailed you, maybe you even replied and maybe even I got to see you. I made a connection either way. I made the effort.

Jenny Barnes/Content Producer, Carmichael Lynch: At the end of the day, the work needs to be top-notch. The portfolios are going to be what makes or breaks a portfolio show. If the work is good, the volume is solid from cover to cover, if it’s not too much or too little, if its sending a consistent message we can keep over time, then we connect. Do I want to deal with that person? Will we have chemistry? And if there are cookies that it’s not such a bad thing.

Kat Dalager/Director of Project Operations, Life Time Fitness: Often times we all see a successful show as one with great turnout. But it becomes that quality over quantity thing. Did you actually get a job? That is success!

Chris Peters/Senior Art Producer, Colle+McVoy: I can’t imagine, I worked in sales. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be – if I didn’t make a sale, I didn’t feel good.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents: We’re planting a seed at a portfolio show. Yes, it’s about the quality of the work and it is definitely about sharing the work – but the opportunity to talk to you, ask about your children, find out what’s going on at your agency – to have that moment and reconnect with you – is more valuable than everyone at your agency coming and seeing all our books. If one person could come and make one meaningful connection with one photographer then I had a successful show.

Christopher Grimes/Senior Integrated Art Producer, OLSON: If I have a job and I really want to work with that person but this budget is crap, I know the people I can call and the ones I cannot.

Kate Chase/Brite Productions: I believe that the sales part is the negotiation part and everything up until then is the marketing. The selling part happens when we’re negotiating.

Heather Elder/Heather Elder Represents: More often than not, the creatives are going to choose who they want regardless of what I sell. I can’t sell you on my photographer. I can tell you everything about him or her or the approach or the budget, but I can’t make you choose someone you do not think is right for the project. Ultimately, I can influence your consideration but in the end it is the creative’s and the client’s choice.

 Chris Peters/Senior Art Producer, Colle+McVoy: People think we’re doing hundreds of jobs a year. But we’re not. And when we do get a job, making that match depends on the project. If they don’t get the call from us, it’s not because they’re not fabulous photographers.

And, creatives rarely have a relevant project for a photographer they just met. If we are all lucky is happens within a year, but maybe more like three years! And when that project does come up, they say to you, “Who was that guy from LA? You know the one who did those cool portraits?”  They’re not remembering specifics or even names. They are remembering a moment or a feeling. They depend on us to help them remember.


Tune in Tuesday, February 24th for more information about the appointment process and some insights on promo-pieces.

And to see previous Community Table posts from Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City and Chicago, go here:  please link here.








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