Claudia Goetzelmann is an award-winning San Francisco based luxury, fashion, beauty and lifestyle photographer and director known for her bright, playful, quirky style with a strong European influence. Although Claudia is based in San Francisco, she splits her time between SF, NY, Berlin, Singapore and anywhere else her work takes her. Claudia works for a diverse client base that includes Target, Ray-Ban, Skyy Vodka, Ray-Ban, Intel, Gillette, IBM and HP and agencies including Duncan Channon, Venables & partners, BBDO USA, JWT NY, Leo Burnett, Ogilvy Asia, Y&R New York and OUB Singapore among others.
Claudia and I have been working on an interview for the past few months. During this time, she signed with a new rep, Marilyn Cadenbach. We thought that it would be interesting to add some discussion about the process of looking for a rep from both the photographer’s and rep’s perspective. She and Marilyn graciously agreed to a candid discussion about this and we have a two-part interview that first explores the partnership between a photographer and their rep and then focuses in-depth on Claudia’s work.
I met Claudia many months ago. I immediately liked her and when I was with her, felt inspired, excited, happy and comfortable. And there is always a sense of fun and delight. These same qualities come through when looking at Claudia’s work and hearing her talk about it. What came through over and over is her passion for her work and for living her life with incredible integrity, commitment and focus. It’s not surprising that she travels every chance she gets, has an international career and that her work is full of bright color, movement and a unique vision and the highest standards in everything she does.
Big thank you to both Claudia and Marilyn for being open to sharing so much with POP.
PART 1: REP DISCUSSION
Rep Q&A With Marilyn Cadenbach
POP: What do you look for when adding someone to your roster?
There’s a lot that we consider when adding a new artist to our roster. From a personal standpoint, we have to really like the person. From a business standpoint, we have to love his/her work and to feel that we can market the work and the artist.
It’s important to us that the work be a personal expression, one to which the artist is really connected. We consider whether the artist will bring growth to the agency and whether we can facilitate the growth and development of his/her career. A new artist needs to bring a new element to our roster, and we want to feel a sense of excitement about the work.
We do consider the amount of experience someone has, simply because it helps to inform our process. We’ve started the careers of a number of photographers who were unknown to the U.S. market prior to our representing them, so while we like adding people who have an existing client base, we have, on many occasions, added new people who didn’t. We did this because we loved their work and felt that the fit would be a good one.
Another thing that we do look at is how the artist views the Agent/Artist relationship and what expectations he/she may have. We appreciate artists who see this as a collaborative process and who value our contribution.
POP: When you were talking with Claudia, what about her work/ approach/ philosophy was interesting to you?
Claudia’s work inspires an energy and playfulness that is highly constructed, yet seemingly organic. Her work is youthful and fun without being cliché. It’s vibrant and poppy without feeling forced. And when you talk with Claudia, you see that her work is just an extension of herself. She’s playful, and she’s upbeat and always super excited. Claudia is slightly quirky, highly energetic and wonderfully creative, and so are her images. The emotions you feel when you’re with her are the same emotions you feel from her work. Her images don’t feel cliché or forced because they really are a true expression of her character.
POP: What were you most excited about when you signed Claudia?
One, everyone loves saying her last name, so that’s a big bonus. Goooootzelmann! How fun is that?! Two, Claudia brings a new dimension to our existing roster, so there is a new breadth of opportunity out there for us, and we love that. Three, in addition to making great images, Claudia has a drive and a passion that are rare among seasoned photographers, and that creates an opportunity for the kind of collaboration that we really value. The affinity that we feel for Claudia inspires us, and we feel excited about the potential for collaborating with agencies and brands that we know will appreciate her vision.
POP: Has the market changed with regards to photographers having their own vision?
Yes and No. We all know that there are more photographers in the marketplace than there have ever been. The extent to which some photographers are using retouching to define their style has created a number of bodies of work by different photographers that look the same. You can lay 10 images from 5 different photographers on a table, and no one can tell whose work is whose. These photographers are working in the commercial marketplace, so in this case, we would say the personal vision doesn’t have as much weight.
But in our opinion, the photographers who are making the most interesting images are those who have their own unique vision. And that will never change.
POP: What makes for the best relationship, partnership with a photographer?
I think we touched on this in your first question. The best relationships/partnerships are those which are collaborative, those where there is a shared sense of objectives and mutual respect. Working with photographers, like Claudia, who understand what we as Agents put into the process is highly beneficial. She has done cold calling, knocked on doors and lugged her books to meetings, etc., and she has reaped the rewards of having
done so. She has firsthand experience at being her own Agent which is invaluable.
Claudia has clearly defined goals, she’s interested in collaborating, and she’s excited to continue growing as an artist. What better place to begin a new relationship!
POP: Advice for photographers on what they have to bring to the table when working with a rep? How to best approach a rep?
You don’t order a bottle of wine without knowing what the main course is going to be. The best advice we can give to any photographer about how to approach an agency, be it for representation or be it an ad agency for an assignment, is to do your research and know who you are contacting and why. Does your work complement the agency you’re targeting. Will the agency likely have the right client base for your work? What is it that appeals to you about this agency? Approaching an agent is like anything in life—think it through and be respectful and appreciative of the people you’re soliciting.
As far as what to bring to the table, different agents look for different things. We tend to look for a vision, not a style. As far as your work goes, don’t follow trends and think that makes your work applicable. Follow your vision and let that inform your imagery. Focus that vision, and make sure there is a sense of auteurism in your book. A good agency will see what you’re doing and know whether it’s right for them.
Rep Q&A with Claudia Goetzelmann
POP: What was your process for looking for a new rep?
Its’ actually just like dating. Imagine you are looking for the perfect match…
how would you go about it? It’s literally like that…you meet once and you decide if you want to meet again. Coffee first. Then lunch…perhaps there will be dinner. ☺
I met with agents on both coasts. For me it was about finding the right match that was not necessarily determined by the location. If the agent has the right contacts and puts her/himself out there, the location does not matter in 2013. It might have mattered ten years ago. But I believe with our current use of technology, it’s not as critical.
POP: What were your considerations and criteria?
I considered many things:
- The business models of the agents and their agencies. Agents run on so many different business models. I think it is really essential as a photographer to understand what that means and how this will affect the partnership.
- Personality traits i.e how you think they will interact with art buyers and potential clients.
- How they stay current in the market place – i.e. embracing new technology, use of social media, etc
- Am I in good company—who are the other photographers?
- Will we elevate each other?
- The overall reputation of the agency.
POP: What was your experience in talking with different reps with respect to maintaining your own vision?
You know how it feels to date again after not so successful a relationship. I feel like that is how it was. I learned a lot about what I needed out of my next partnership with an agent. It’s good to date so to say and know who is out there in order to make the right decision.
I needed to find a partner who got who I was as a photographer, who understood my vision, and could nurture that. And that they really understood that there is a style to my work that has many possibilities to a variety of brands and could help me grow. And also one who was SUPER excited about my work so we could inspire each other.
POP: Advice for young photographers looking for their first rep?
Don’t go for the first one. Take your time, do your research, date a lot, evaluate, and come back to it…When you are ready for marriage you will know.
Understand your place in the market and know how a rep can help you grow and reach your goals.
Also, question why do you need/want a rep. Sometimes its better to not have a rep than to have a bad one. There are also consequences to signing contracts.
You know how one night stands end up
Also, don’t be afraid to ask hard questions. We can get intimidated, but it’s a very important relationship. A rep is essentially a salesperson but also your marketing director and manager.
Some examples are:
- How they see your work and what opportunities they see for you and how they will approach it?
- Marketing: how do they market? What tools do they use?
- Billing: who handles billing? Mutual transparency is essential.
- Shared costs: this can be big and can get expensive for a photographer very fast.
- Ratio of staff/sales people to photographers.
- Terms of contract including severance.
- And if you are not familiar with the terminology of the contract, have an attorney review it.
PART 2: Q&A WITH CLAUDIA GOETZELMANN
POP: Where did you grow up?
I grew in northern Bavaria, in a town called Wuerzburg. It is very pretty, with rivers, old castles, and it is a vine area. I traveled every free minute I had, especially over the alps to Northern Italy.
I had my first camera in the age of 4. I would take it everywhere I went. On a recent trip home my dad presented me back this very camera to me. He had kept it for me the entire time.
POP: Early artistic interests?
I sewed all my clothes and was a master knitter. At one point I thought I would study fashion design. I was very hands-on. Christmas started in September because I had so many amazing gifts to prepare. I did so many crafts. It stopped when I moved away from Germany.
POP: When did you first know you would be a photographer and what did you first shoot?
Hahaa..I got my first camera at the age of four. I always wanted to be a photographer, but that wasn’t what I did—I studied Social Law…only to find out that I didn’t really like it. I also always loved traveling. So after school I combined the two and moved to Africa, and that’s how it really started. That became the starting point for me to begin journalistic work. I photographed a lot of people—indigenous tribes, people I’d just met. I love people! I was living in Nigeria at that time. I had an exhibit at the Munich Stock Exchange and the Nigerian ambassador came to the opening.
And then I moved to Indonesia and did the same thing. Asia was way easier because they have a bigger infrastructure and it’s more open to photojournalism i.e., I shot for Cambodia Airlines and went around Cambodia to take pictures…I took pictures of flight attendants in Angkor Watt and other remote places for the ad campaign and moved into advertising while living in Singapore.
I never thought that I would end up in the fashion world. I now happily live in both worlds—advertising and fashion—which is perfect for me.
POP: What was your process for finding your style? How did it evolve?
That is a somewhat esoteric question
It just happened naturally. It’s how I see the world. My world. How I walk through life.
What speaks to me, takes my attention….
There is no formula. You will know when you found your style…
Why do you like milk in your coffee?
POP: I like what Marilyn says about your work, that what we feel from your work (upbeat, excited, highly energetic, playful) is who you are. In one sense it must be effortless to create this mood on set. How do you keep this positive, focused energy on long shoot days?
Well, I love what I do – shoot, create images, motion…so its very exciting to start a project and get the appropriate crew together and create something beautiful. I like to share and inject that energy into my projects and shoot days.
I am very conscious about the energy on my sets and I am working hard to keep that good vibe going. Being a photographer or a director it is almost like being an actor on stage. Everyone who is on set really looks at me and I hold the strings of the mood of my stage (so to say) in my hands. If I get stressed everyone else will, I have fun everyone else will… I rather have the latter
I find it very satisfying to end a day or project knowing that my crew and the client is walking away feeling that we accomplished something really great while having a wonderful time together.
POP: You moved to America several years ago. What were you shooting then and did your style change in any way to reflect the American sensibility?
I moved to the US from Singapore where one is a big fish in a small pond. In order to make it in America one has to define oneself. There needs to be a clear understanding and communication of ‘who am I.’
Of course my style changed as I changed. I had such a big love affair with the 4×5 camera when I arrived in the USA… All film…and then digital happened. My work also was definitely influenced by the American way of life, but my sensibility did not really chance. My work however got more fashion focused.
POP: What American influences do you find in your images?
Bright and happy colors. I think the California sun has something to do with that. It is the eternal sunshine. I am sure it would be different if I lived on the east coast. Maybe my images would be more seasonal toned.
POP: You then moved to Asia for six years. How did you get connected and start shooting over there?
I moved from Africa to Indonesia and then after that to Singapore. I already knew some people in the editorial world as Singapore is really the biz hub for the region. But in Singapore one has to survive….photography is very, very competitive and travel journalistic work doesn’t really pay that much. If you live in a third-world country you can live somewhat cheaply. But if you move to a city like Singapore the cost of living is very high. So in the beginning I was teaching German, but slowly-but-surely that fizzled out and it all became photography.
I started to shoot tons of annual reports and moved into advertising. I thought I would never do fashion work but then somehow things evolved.
POP: You also have a career in Berlin. What differences do you experience shooting in both American and Europe?
It’s very important for me to stay connected with Berlin. It’s very art focused and its mindset is ‘anything goes.’ It helped me step outside of the American commercial mindset.
POP: What influences to you see in your work from growing up and living in Europe? And from living in Asia?
My German influence is definitely the graphic, minimalist, less-is-more sensibility. And from my time in Asia, I would say I took the simple and calm elegance.
POP: Your work ranges from traditional fashion and beauty style to the fun and a little quirky.
Lately I’ve been pushing myself out of the box for editorial and personal work. I recently shot something and the stylist said you couldn’t see the clothes or faces properly. I had the model use a $5k jacket wrapped on her head. This is where the magic happens. You can always default to the things you know.
I am very organized and I plan all my shoots in great detail. Magic happens when everything is in place and you allow yourself to play. People let loose and you step away from your script.
POP: You shoot beauty and fashion on the West Coast. Which market do you shoot for? Where do you hire models? Where is your client base?
Fashion is really everywhere now and a lot of people like to come to the Bay Area to shoot. Even if it’s a studio shoot, they like to come here. We fly models in from everywhere and have very strong teams here.
POP: Your fashion work often has a strong relationship between the clothing and the location. What is your process for finding and choosing locations?
I like the synchronicity of clothing and location. Depending on the job brief or editorial concept, either one can come first. I know when it feels right…it just gels.
I just shot a Fashion feature and cover for SF Mag. We knew what the clothing would look like for Spring 2013 and we had to find the perfect location to show off these wonderful pieces. We did some brainstorming sessions and found an artist that complemented on every aspect of the clothing style.
POP: You shot a fashion project in a Rio Favela. What was the inspiration?
The story was shot for a Swiss magazine. The idea was to portray Brazilian culture. The favela was the perfect setting for our shoot: a little raw but with some elegance. The styling was urban hipster, 80’s driven with a lot of color and the Brazilian sex appeal.
In order to shoot in a favela we had to have a security guard, a permit and a make a donation to the community board. Luckily our security guard from another shoot had some connections to this particular favela and we were granted access for the day.
POP: You shoot a lot, both commercially and for your portfolio. How often do you test?
Mhmm. I would not necessarily call it testing, but rather playing and building new teams and getting to know my crew. I am a big collaborator and really enjoy the process of personal work and connecting with people I like to work with on big jobs. I usually do not take an assistant I have never met on a paid shoot. I like to meet them up front and see who they are and learn about their skill sets so I know about their capabilities. I do not want to worry about technical aspects on the day of the shoot. My assistant is an extension of myself and I need to know I can rely on him.
It’s a great tool to meet and work with new people, from the assistant to hair and makeup. There is no real difference when I do a personal shoot. I treat those shoots just like real assignments.
Furthermore, personal projects are an amazing creative outlet. I have a ton of ideas always and sometimes they just need to be executed. It keeps my creative juices flowing…and I can inject this newly refreshed energy into my commercial projects. It is very important for me to stay current and fresh and balanced.
As I mentioned I am a big collaborator. It’s like giving birth to an image together. I really enjoy that and when I walk away and everyone had a beautiful day. It’s like a play date in a very focused way.
POP: How do you build and work with your teams?
People do different things well and I want to be aware of that and nurture it. In order to keep it fresh, I like to have a big pool of people to draw from.
For example, I work with a variety of retouchers. Let’s say one is more focused on beauty work and another one on lifestyle/fashion. They know my style and understand what I want out of my images. On a recent project I needed someone who had experience with animals and knew how to retouch and recreate fur along with heavy compositing.
It is very unpredictable to work with animals. There is no posing per se. The animal wranglers will help facilitate what I need the animals to do. But it is also essential to have a producer on the job who has worked with animals in the past.
Every assignment has different requirements and having a big pool to draw from really helps to put the perfect team together. It puts the client at ease and makes the shoot go more smoothly. I like to think of myself not only as an image creator but also as a problem solver. I want to bring that and beyond to a project.
POP: Are you inspired by the locations you travel to? You seem to find yourself wherever you shoot.
I feel very much inspired by the locations to which I travel. Hahha…..and so often I wish I would have a model in my suitcase, plus also a stylist and a hair and make up artist.
Traveling makes me a better person. I really like to meet people and interact with different cultures and I always feel very inspired. We can learn so much from different cultures and societies and different places, I find it very fascinating.
Traveling and shooting around the globe has always been part of my life and I know a lot of different crews and production firms in many parts of the world.
POP: You have recently started shooting beauty work.
Yes. It has become a bit more of my focus for this year. I am exploring the subject of beauty while thinking of its commercial applications. I am having a lot of fun doing so.
POP: What was your inspiration for the American flag lips images?
The story was focused around Fourth of July and I was thinking about American symbols and what they stand for. It seemed that sex, weapons, sports and patriotism summed it up.
It was a fun project to shoot. Since we are talking about American culture, the shoot had the appropriate backstory: in order to buy the bullet I had to go to a weapons store (my first time to set foot into a weapon shop). And after the shoot, I stopped by a police station to drop off the painted blue bullet for safety…
POP: What is your philosophy with regards to retouching?
I like to say my images are beautified and not retouched. I try to get as much in camera as possible because I know what I want. It’s a bad attitude to think, “Let’s fix it in post,” especially from a hair and makeup artist. You have to have a great image to start. I am not into the artificial, overly produced and retouched look. It’s nice to still see real skin and a bit of imperfection.
POP: What is your lighting style?
I have always loved natural light. But I also like strobes. It becomes more controlled. It is just part of my vision and the way I see. I do not want to be part of any trends. This is very important when you are working in the commercial world. You can’t just jump around. You need consistency and I believe that I have found that voice.
POP: When did you start shooting motion and what are the specific challenges?
I started shooting Motion about two years ago and the first piece I shot was with a RED camera. What fun!
I always thought of myself as a storyteller, so to move into Motion was a natural process. Shooting Still and Motion are similar but yet such different animals. With a Still we have to convey the message in a single frame. While in Motion we have several minutes to say exactly the same thing.
Of course there are many challenges, i.e., in Motion we have to connect images with transitions. I find storyboarding super interesting. How do we get from a to b, from c to d? How do we get to the next scene? So I bought myself a storyboarding book and just started drawing stickmen since I don’t draw too well! I needed to train myself to think about transitions.
You also have to think about the rhythm of the cut. Do you want the final piece to be fast or slow? What message shall the piece convey? Will there be any special effects that will change the frame rate? What will the sound be?
I recently worked with a music composer for the first time. We started talking about the project some time before it was shot. When we finally did sit with the editor over the footage is was way easier to find the right score and sound.
I really enjoy the collaborative aspect in Motion work.
POP: You have a lot of work and are so passionate about all of it, so this might be a hard one. But do you have any favorite projects you would like to talk about?
Usually my favorite project is the latest one. I’ll be really into it until the next one comes along…I am really absorbed by it, it becomes my focus, and then once I’m done, I’m done. It keeps me engaged and fresh at the same time and I hope that this will never change!
POP: You travel so much and you are so outgoing, happy and generally inspired. I imagine you find inspiration in many places.
I love life in general and my outlook is very positive. I find inspiration in the way I walk through life. From the places I travel to and the people I interact with to the books I read.
POP: One thing people might find surprising about you?
I had a crush on Sean Cassidy when I was young as in Germany he represented the ultimate California surfer dude. And every one wanted to have a surfer boy.
POP: How would your friends describe you?
Well, a friend recently wrote this to me:
You have a secret energy source that comes from deep underground. And gives you boundless supplies of enthusiasm. The way you still giggle after a long day of shooting! Your energy and enthusiasm are unbelievable! Secretly we all think you must use some sort of drug.
POP: What’s next?
I am super excited to start working and collaborating with Marilyn CADENBACH… YEAHH …