Interviewing the agency behind some of the world's most renowned images
It is not everyday that you get the chance to meet the people immortalising some of the most captivating moments in modern history. Luckily enough, off of a busy street in Milan, we were able to sit down with Giuseppe Ceroni and Biba Giacchetti, the founders of Sudest 57 - one of the world's leading photography agencies. With photographers such as Steve McCurry, Elliott Erwitt, and Paolo Pellegrin on their books, Sudest 57 is behind some of the most iconic and powerful images of the last 20 years. They are arguably most famously known for the Afghan Girl which appeared on the June 1985 National Geographic cover and has since been likened to Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. We are therefore excited to share our inspiring conversation with Biba and Giuseppe.
How does Sudest 57 identify as a unique agency?
Sudest 57 is a different kind of agency compared to the rest of the market. We mainly work with photographers from reportage and big names such as Steve McCurry. Most of our projects involve working with commercial clients on big corporate projects. This is what we have done since our inception and continue to do. Although our projects do cross over to fashion sometimes, it is not our main business. For example, in the past we have had requests from Valentino to work with a particular talent at our agency as we represent some of the most important photographers in the world. We also assist our photographers with their personal projects and run exhibitions for them.
With such an incredible set of photographers, how do you select new talent to work with?
It’s a very long process. There are a lot of photographers out there and so we say 'no' a lot more than we say 'yes'. The key things we look for is talent, personality and working style. We also judge their capability to do commercial projects because, at the end of the day, this is a business and you need to make money. Those are the minimum requirements we set to work with us.
Beyond that, we also do a trial with our photographers to see if a good fit exists with them and the team. They’re artists, when it comes down to it, and so there needs to be respect for their individual creative process as well as an alignment of the commercial and business needs – which is why it’s a long and complicated process to bring on a new photographer.
Another consideration is whether the potential talent is similar to an existing photographer on our books – they need to bring something different to Sudest. We wouldn’t bring on any photographers that could potentially compete with our current talent.
Sudest 57’s portfolio is amazing; how do you decide on what projects to work on next?
Because we are established in the industry we rarely turn down clients as they will come to us knowing exactly what we do and who we are. However, in the rare case when we don’t see eye to eye with our clients, we work together with them to come up with a solution.
The tough part is matching the artistic and the commercial aspects together – our job is to facilitate that marriage, which, of course, can be difficult at times. This often happens during signature campaigns, when a particular client wants to work with a certain photographer in order to have their signature on a campaign. However, the client will need to consider the unique way in which the photographer works, and sometimes this means making compromises as a client when working on certain projects. But we aim to make everyone happy, especially the talent. Our purpose is to give the photographers the best work environment to work in as possible. For example, if a client is working with Steve McCurry and there isn’t a great fit with the type of project and his work, we would have a problem and we would work with the client to get past this.
What are your backgrounds?
Biba: I lived in several cities in both Italy and France. I graduated from university with a degree in law. After that, I worked in advertising as an advertising manager for 20 years. My experience in the advertising industry entailed working with photographers and other creatives from all across the world.
Giuseppe: Photography for me, came from the heart. I started working in photography when I was just fourteen years old and since then I have been a studio assistant, a producer, shoot organiser and worked in PR. In terms of my photography interest, I am a collector and buyer. Having such a diverse background makes it easier for us to understand what our clients want. We’ll never ever present a photographer to a client that does not fit with their needs and the other way around, because it won’t work. This is why our clients come back to us year after year.
Another large portion of our business is dedicated to the buying and selling of fine art. This also includes doing exhibitions across Europe. A recent exhibition we did was with Steve McCurry's work. In fact, sometimes, some commercial projects, like with Lavazza become an exhibition itself. So, we end up working on photography from all angles, we're not just an agency, we also organise exhibitions!
What does the future hold for Sudest 57?
It is in our DNA is to stay small and not expand in terms of the number of people working for us. Although our studio is small, we outsource work to our partners e.g. architects and designers, people who have a similar way of thinking to us. So we do projects together with them. Our projects are also spreading across Europe. We are aiming to find the best clients in each country, to whom we can propose our work.