Interview with Melissa Hennessy of Hennessy Represents

Melissa Hennessy is the owner of Hennessy Represents, an agency based out of Chicago and New York that represents artists in still photography, motion, CGI, & animation. She currently represents 1 CGI artist and 8 still and motion photographers in all different genres, across the U.S.

I recently had an opportunity to ask Melissa a few questions and get her perspective on the current photo market and what photographers can do to promote and market themselves. In her responses she’s provided some valuable insight and I’m pleased to be able to share her advice with all of you.


For students and those who may be new to the field, could you explain what an artist representative is and how that relationship works with a photographer?

An artist representative works collaboratively with the photographer to develop the artist’s vision & identify who best to promote his/her work to. It’s a vested relationship for both parties built on motivation, trust, open communication, strategy, & the willingness to continually try new things & keep growing.

Could you talk a little bit about your own background and how you got into the photography business?

I studied advertising photography/photo illustration at RIT in Rochester, NY. After graduation I assisted photographers in NY for 4 years before going out on my own as a food photographer. I also had the opportunity to work as an agency account exec for 2 years where I learned I really wanted to combine the two skill sets – the creative & the marketing.

What do you like best about owning your own agency?

While I enjoy the versatility in the projects we work on & being involved in the production process, the biggest benefit is being able to work with such talented artists and encourage them to break boundries.

What are your thoughts on the uses of and importance of an online portfolio verses a printed portfolio book?

They both have their place of importance & support each other equally. If a creative goes to an artist’s website first & he/she isn’t impressed there, there won’t be a phone call coming to send in the printed book. The printed book should be representative of the site. In similar fashion, if the agent shows the printed book at an agency & a creative then wants to forward an electronic link or pdf of the work, both the site & the book need to be the best they can be & be cohesive in content. I think it’s fine if you have a few more images in the online portfolio, as long as the site & book are not drastically different from one another. Your online portfolio should be easy to navigate & load quickly & your printed book should have exhibition quality prints, 25-40 at most.

As a rep you see so many portfolios on a regular basis, both in print and digital form. What do you think distinguishes the very best?

This is one of those “ask 10 people get 10 different answers” questions. 🙂 I’m honestly not sure what makes a portfolio “the very best” besides resounding images & good flow/pagination. I do think you have to ask yourself a series of questions….What am I leaving the viewer with? When he/she closes the book do they know I’m a portrait photographer, or location photographer, etc, or are they totally confused because the work is so varied. Can they see that I make solid connections with my subjects or that my images have their own narratives, or their own humor, etc. Are they feeling “familiarity” or “curiosity?” If I use post production or a lighting style – is it consistent? Is each image able to stand on it’s own, or are there “filler images” that weaken the strength of the body of work? Is there an emotional component or single word that describes the work? I think if you can answer “yes” to those questions you’re on your way to a cohesive book that can only get better.

What do you think are the most important qualities for a photographer to have in today’s industry?

Flexibilty, Creative Problem Solving abillites, a sense of Humor, & Drive. That may sound cliche but it’s true. Many projects/branding campaigns have to cover a variety of mediums & platforms for today’s technology & learning to think about all of the ways an image can be used is essential in how you’ll meet & exceed a client’s needs. With regard to production, a great producer, crew, & creative production skills can make an impossible budget “possible” if you’re able to identify & present ways to stay within a given number. Clients appreciate that flexiblity, & they appreciate a sense of humor. Going on a shoot is a perk & if you’re spending a 16 hour day with a team of people, there’d better be some laughing. 🙂 Lastly, a photographer needs to have 2 different kinds of drive – the drive that is “ambition” to create new work & the drive that prompts you to involve yourself in the things that make you happy & develop you as a whole person. I think artists feel like they need to create something all the time & that can become heavy.

Recently, a set of scratch n’ sniff promotional cards and a video you did for your photographers at Hennessy Represents was heralded the “Best Promo Ever” on the popular A Photo Editor site. What advice do you have for creating promotional materials that stand out so well in such a crowded marketplace?

First I must thank you & Rob for recognizing the work, & Todd & Kim Pierson for creating the cards & painstakingly editing the video. Sending promotional materials is a hit or miss process. What one person likes, another may not so you have to try a little bit of everything. Whatever your idea is, share it with your own personal focus group before sending it out to gauge response. Think about the size of your promotion, the design/production costs, the postage,etc. It doesn’t always have be a postcard, it can be mixed media, or interactive with the user, like the Scratch n Sniff idea, etc, the possibilities are endless. Regardless of what you send or how cool it may be, if the work isn’t strong it will still be tossed. Good work will always stand out.

And finally, I think one of the biggest questions right now is – for photographers struggling to make ends meet, what advice do you have for finding work out there?

Create portfolio pieces of the type of work you want to be doing & target both agencies/design firms/editorial & corporations directly. Make yourself visible on industry search sites like Photoserve, Workbook, FoundFolios, CA, etc. Use your social media tools to help keep your promotional costs down, and pick up the phone, but don’t be a stalker. (Creatives are turned off by someone who calls/emails too frequently.) Enter contests & submit work to industry sites to increase your chances of exposure. Attend industry events or trade shows of the type of work you do to increase your chances of making more connections. Try a gallery exhibition, personal project, or something inexpensive that makes you happy to keep a postive vibe. Get a part time job if you have to. Bottom line is you have to keep your name out there in both good & bad economies.

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