An insight into how the photography industry has changed over the last 20 years with the founder of Aura Photography
Photography agency director
Sitting in the stylish offices of Aura Photography in Milan, we had the opportunity to speak with one of the agency's founders, Valerio Cordioli. Having started over 22 years ago with the aim of bringing together the best talents of the creative industry, the agency is doing better than ever and just finished producing Diesel's latest global campaign. Here to speak about how the digital revolution changed the competitive landscape of the photography industry and how Aura had to adapt to these changes, is an interview with Valerio.
Why is the agency called Aura?
The agency is called Aura because when the co-founder of the agency, Anna Maria, started the business people used to say that she had a positive aura about her. But, aside from that, we also, from a practical standpoint, wanted to have a name that appeared at the top of phone directories - back before the days of the internet and search engines, this was a pretty useful way to get noticed!
And what inspired the logo?
The logo is very intentionally designed, it actually contains the word Aura within it. Although it is quite subtle, once you see it you can’t un-see it.
Your agency launched 22 years ago, what was the most difficult part starting out?
In the beginning we started with reportage, travel, and beauty photography – which is totally different from what we do today. We were mostly selling pictures that featured stories, for example a photographer would stay with a tribe in Papua New Guinea for a week and do a whole story on their experience. So we were literally going around with these big folders of slides to propose to magazines and other potential clients – that was a physical struggle for sure! But the market has changed and evolved since then, right from how we pitch to clients and develop the stories.
Another challenge that we faced, was that bigger agencies started to buy up huge amounts of images and became these large houses where people would buy their images from. This brought down the prices of photos on the market and expanded the choice of photography available. When the digital revolution hit, this became even harder because it meant even greater choice, and lower prices. Of course, this was at odds with agencies such as ourselves as we were trying to promote quality over quantity and it just made it incredibly hard to compete on choice and price.
We then decided to leave the stock sale business and instead started to manage photographers.
What is the biggest difference between how the fashion industry was like in 1995 and now?
Of course it’s impossible to dispute the impact that social media and the digital revolution have had on the photography industry. The switch to digital and the explosive increase in choice due to social media platforms have massively altered the industry and created both positive and negative effects.
I would say that the positive effects are that you need a lot more images than before to feed the social network. You also have the e-commerce side of things which further expands the need of pictures and skilled photo teams. So more shootings and job possibilities for all of us.
On the other hand, these days you get clients that will put too much emphasis on a photographer's follower numbers. Even if there is a world-class photographer working with a client, it could be that the client will decline to work with them if they do not have that many followers and opt for a less talented photographer with more followers. This happens on many levels, for instance I could have a great model but clients won't see her actual potential, because all they look at is her social media following.
Another disadvantage is that with the rise of influencers who go on to create their own brands, you start to get clients that lack a lot of the necessary experience and market insight, making it difficult to work with them.
Moreover, the sheer amount of content on social media can be quite distracting, it’s difficult to find anything original and authentic. For the most part, platforms like Instagram are too saturated and everyone apparently looks cool and lives these amazing lives – which is pretty far from reality!
Ultimately, while social media networks have their advantages and disadvantages, the majority of our projects come from offline sources such as word-of-mouth from clients. You tend to get more results from face-to-face interaction than with exclusively social networks.
Did you start out with a range of disciplines or did you focus on one when you started out?
In the beginning we were selling beauty, reportage and travel photography and producing them too - or the photographers were producing the images and giving us the images to sell. However, we started to notice that more and more clients would buy images from image banks like Getty because of the wide range of choice and the lower costs. Still wanting to maintain our focus on quality, we noticed that certain beauty images were more timeless. For instance, the image of someone applying make-up or a beautiful model will will still be in demand for many years, therefore there's no demand to shoot new, fresh images.
How does your agency differentiate itself from others?
We don’t look too much at other agencies, we’re more focused on what we’re doing at any given point in time. Perhaps other agencies are more commercial, they are doing it for money, whereas we are, to some extent, operating more for artistic reasons. We try to have photographers that are very good from an artistic point of view. We follow creativity more than commerce.
What was your favorite project from 2017?
Shooting and producing Diesel’s worldwide campaign ‘Go with the flaw’, which comes out in 2018. It was very challenging and difficult to shoot, but the results are fantastic.
Out of the different disciplines you offer, which one has changed the most over the years?
I would say that the sector that has changed the most is photography, the switch to digital has been huge on this industry. Photographers used to be much more respected and played an important role; they had the power to mess up a whole shooting, or to make it great. The client couldn’t see anything until the project was finished and wouldn't interrupt the photographer in his creative process, which is different today. Nowadays you have far more photographers that can do the work that only a few used to be able to do, which means they have far less power and independence in their shoots.
What jobs were the founders of Aura doing prior to 1995?
Anna Maria was working in the image department of Mondadori for about 20 years. I, on the other hand, was a promoter for parties and concerts here in Milan.
If you could change anything about the fashion industry what would it be?
To have more rules and respect from clients. It would be good to allow creatives to have their creative space and not impede on it – some clients do this and it’s very frustrating for photographers who are incredibly talented and experienced. Currently, it’s a bit too much like the wild west, they are no rules for how an artist should be treated and that means there’s a lot of opportunity for them to be exploited.
Also, particularly in Italy, it's a problem that clients rarely pay on time. They tend to wait until their invoice has expired, this makes it hard to mediate because you don’t want to get your lawyers involved, but at the same time you also want the payment.
What would be your dream project to work on?
My dream project would be to work with a great client who’s easy-going, understanding and respects the creative judgement of the photographers. In terms of my ideal location, I would say either Japan, LA or Iceland would be amazing!
What do you look for in your artists?
The main focus is creativity. I used to launch the careers of a lot of new artists. But nowadays I’m a bit more cautious, I like to find artists that have already demonstrated that they have worked with clients and know how to work with them.
Any resolutions or goals for 2018?
We want to keep going up, growing and expanding!