Suzanne Sease: Creative Consultant

Positive, forward-thinking ideas, uplifting style, true professionalism = Suzanne Sease. It’s always hard to define what is “good”. It takes an open mind, a skill for listening and identifying the milestones, and a willingness to be truthful even when it hurts.

Positive, forward-thinking ideas, uplifting style, true professionalism = Suzanne Sease. It’s always hard to define what is “good”. It takes an open mind, a skill for listening and identifying the milestones, and a willingness to be truthful even when it hurts. Suzanne stands within all the creative worlds at once, new school, old school, post-school, enabling her to tell it like it is, guiding her clients down the best fitting path, and setting the record straight. Who else to seek input on the state of things to come for image-makers, magazines, and the importance of ideas.


Wise Elephant (WE): What defines a “good” image? a “great” image?

Suzanne Sease (SS): I have been in this business since 1985 and have seen my fair share of images and changes in this industry. I have seen many images that could be shot by anyone and I have seen only a few images that could only be shot by a few people. That is what separates the great photographer from the good one. A great photographer produces great images, these are images that stop you in your tracks. Images that have their own style- something you haven’t seen before. I remember when I first started as an art buyer in 1987 and saw Aaron Jones’ work for the first time- wow!!! no one had done that before- and he went on to sell his secret machine, the “hose master” to masses. I remember seeing Joyce Tennison for the first time in 1989, wow! polaroids that took up a whole room or during my career as an art buyer the work of Harry DeZitter, Nadav Kander, John Huet, Raymond Meeks, Rodney Smith, Jim Erickson, people who stood out with great images. And in today’s market new talent has emerged with great images. The main thing is that you remember the great images verses the good ones. A great image usually offers a technique that makes it stand above the others. The photographer has pushed the envelope with the image creating something unique, something great.

WE: With the advance of digital photography does that great technique apply to “retouching”? or is the technique in the ideas? The creativity?

SS: It can be all those things combined but to me it more about pre then post- in other-words, it is the idea of the image and the creativity to pull it off. Techniques in retouching are trends and need to continue to be re-invented as those are always trying to copy the ones who are successful!

WE: Have all the agencies titled towards stock, or has it always been this way?

SS: No, actually I think clients are realizing that unless you have an exclusive on an image, your competitor can use it- therefore diluting their message and all their advertising dollars. I have seen many companies that have used stock for years hire photographers to shoot “libraries” of images that create a brand for their company. Stock images can create a feel but they can not sell a product and a client who is “product” based where the product needs to be seen to sell. (think food products and accessories). In addition, sometimes a rights managed image can cost more because of the media buy than shooting this image that is specific for that client. When I was an art buyer, I remember educating my clients with two estimates, one stock estimate and one shot, with the fact that no one else would use the shot image, the client realized it was worth the costs, if only slightly higher. It is the responsibility of the art buyer to educate their account team.

WE: In your opinion then is then the hunger for penny stock driven by smaller shops and sole proprietors who can now afford images where before the costs were too high? in this regard is penny stock an answer or a problem?

SS: Penny stock may be the answer for the smaller shops (and even larger clients are using them) but they risk their competitors using the same or very similar shot therefore canceling your advertising dollars- so you have to ask yourself- are you really saving in the long run? Great ads that used original images have made the impact in the long run- made history and won awards- that increased this visibility (for free).

WE: what would you like to see more of in the industry?

SS: I would like to see photographers stand together with the usage rights and fees and stop saying they do and then out bid each other. The industry will never change until then. I have seen so many photographers swear they are united and I remember as a buyer, those were the ones giving their rights away. I would like to see older or more successful photographers be more of mentors to the younger or less successful photographer. Many photographers are self trained and need the business do’s and don’ts’ that come from experience. And many photographer’s are trained at schools where tenured professors have no idea of what it is like on the outside because they have been teaching for years. I would like photographer’s on chat rooms forums to stop bitching and realize that they are the only ones in control of their career- stop moaning about things and get out and do something positive to change things if you are not happy about what is happening with your career.

WE: Should we start a photographer’s union? Or do the organizations need to get better at this stuff?

SS: I think the organizations and their leaders are doing a great job it is the angry photographer who doesn’t want to own up that business has changed and you have to change with it. The reality is the creative buyer whether art buyer or art director is over worked and communicates electronically. The day of the one on one portfolio review is harder to get, having a service like wise elephant (NOTE: this was an unsolicted plug) to make the calls for you- this keeps the photographer from getting frustrated with the calls but still gets them in the door.

WE: will print magazines all migrate/meld into online properties? is print dead?

SS: Someone asked me about this the other day and I had to stop and think, is print dead. My conclusion, there may be less of images being actually printed but the still image is not “dead” it may find a different medium to “display” itself but it is not dead. I think we are visual and tactile people and always want to touch things so I think still images will always have a place. I also think that the camera industry would not continue to invest millions in new still technology if the industry was going to obsolete. As we are going forward with a more electronic world, the still image will find itself displayed in electronic mediums. I think the photographer needs to diversify themselves and know that the fine art world will not be going away any time soon and therefore the art of the print will have its place there.

As far as the future of the magazine- look around you, not all publications are getting thin- this month along, the majority of the mags I have are surprising thick for February. Remember the magazines biggest months for advertising are March and September. November is a close second for the holiday advertising. But many magazines have seen a decrease in sales and are no longer available like Home & Gardens (but I understand there is another reason for the ceasing of this pub that is more political) so sometimes it is not about decrease in sales. Art buyers are continuing to be hired so that tells me that print is alive and well. I know of several agencies who are looking for art buyers so maybe we were in a loll and am no longer.

Suzanne reached out to a magazine executive with our question. The executive asked to be kept anonymous and provided this answer:

Print is not dead. We feel that it is the best way to reach an upscale audience, in a manner that is wholly compatible with how that audience consumes the media. In other words, most TV/Radio/Internet viewers/users see ads as being clutter, and separate from their experience in watching/listening/searching/etc. to the content they are seeking. Print users, especially within magazines, tend to view ads as complementary to the editorial experience – relevant and informative and creative.

Also, for certain types of advertisers, print is the only way to communicate a detailed message, at a speed that the reader can follow and comprehend (think Pharmaceutical, or Financial Services, in print vs. on tv). And, for most print publications, we know who is receiving the publication (subscribers with names and addresses). The other media (particularly TV) have measurement based on relatively small samples extrapolated into a national audience. On the internet, there is no consensus no how to extrapolate the data, so websites’ measures of audience differ from advertisers’ measures of audience, for the same sites!

That doesn’t mean the other media aren’t important – they are. Just that print is going to be around for a long time. Some brands will disappear. The strong will evolve and survive.

WE: Right, “upscale audience.” This seems to be the tack, that magazines are only going to survive if they cater to the luxury class. Which makes the thing that the growth is in portraits and product shots. Can photographers survive on these two rails?

SS: No, it covers all type of photography- automotive, landscape, lifestyle, interiors/exteriors, portraits, food and product- where does it say that “upscale” only applies to people and the items they wear?

WE: What do you see as the next break-through in photography and/orimage-making?

SS: This may sound extremely crazy but I remember going to a gallery in New York in the early 80’s that featured holograms. I thought they were the coolest things ever and thought back then, this is the future. Since then it seems as if every “futurist” movie features advertising as these free floating holograms. Holograms rely on printed images so this where I see the future of photography. The interesting catch here will be whether holograms will be able to incorporate digital. To see how holograms are made, watch:

WE: How would you define current image/art/commercial culture?

SS: Okay, time to get myself in trouble. I think the current culture in print advertising is boring. As a consultant, I see some of the most amazing images and then I open up magazines (I have 10 subscriptions) and all I see are boring ads. Why are the advertisers not using this great photography. My thoughts are that advertisers are playing it safe but with a recession coming (yes, folks, face the facts) advertisers start to spend money to get those who have money to spend to spend it on their products and to get noticed, they take chances. This has been the case when I was in the agency world. The best and most award ads were created in a panic situation not when things were easy. So I look forward to that part of a recession. I feel the art buyer (except for a few great ones) are not trained artists and do not understand the art of photography. They are not able to educate their account team on what an image is worth because they don’t know. They come from an age of entitlement where everything has been handed to them and don’t understand why a photographer has overhead and therefore to stay in business, their fees must be such and such. And that their fees are based on the usage and when asking for some much, it is going to cost them. They chose to get a job done with the least amount of waves instead of fighting for the best for the creative team- internally in the agency and the photographer and crew.

In the fine art culture, I am seeing the trend towards shock value- instead of amazing images that say fine art we are showing gritty images of things that are representative of a car wreck- we don’t want to look but we just have to.

So in conclusion, am I looking for a new career instead of being a consultant. Not at all, I think the existent of print photography is here for a long time to come. So grab your cameras (digital) and go out and make that “GREAT” image.

To learn more and to contact Suzanne Sease please visit her website at: