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It's rare that a fashion photographer becomes a successful brand, but such is the case with Jamie Beck of Ann Street Studio. Beck has developed a cult-like following thanks her early start on Tumblr, her incredible work ethic and of course, loads of talent. She's also caught the attention of the fashion industry at large, no small feat.
In just five years, the 30-year-old Texas native has landed photography campaigns with brands including Oscar de la Renta, Tiffany, Donna Karan, Armani, and Saks Fifth Avenue. She's often spotted sitting front row during New York Fashion Week with professional camera in hand, and her most popular Tumblr posts have more than 600,000 notes.
Racked chatted with Beck about how she started her own photography business, the invention of the cinemagraph and how she found the courage to plunge into the intimidating world of high fashion.
How did you get into photography?
"My mom first taught me how to use a camera when I was 13, an old manual camera from the seventies. That's when my love for photography started. That's all I ever wanted to do since then. I started shooting professionally in high school, and went to college for fashion photography at FIT in Manhattan. Then I started taking freelance jobs as a photographer and started my blog in 2009. Kevin, my husband and business partner, said I should do something with the archive of photos in my closet, so I started the blog to have a place for my old negatives and that's when everything started changing."
Jamie with husband and business partner, Kevin Burg.
When did you start to shoot with a digital camera?
"Oh, I hated it! I went in kicking and screaming but to survive as a photographer commercially and personally, you have to. There are photographers who shoot in film but Kevin made me start shooting with the Canon 5D mark II, it was the only camera that felt closer enough to an old film camera. That was probably in 2007, 2008, but I still shoot with film."
What are some of your favorite things to shoot?
"I love shooting fashion; the girls in evening gowns, the whole fantasy and story you can create. I like shooting travel; we travel all the time, it's almost a souvenir to me to photograph my travels. I also love shooting flowers, I do that all the time."
Why do you think "From Me To You" became so insanely popular on Tumblr?
"In the beginning, I didn't really have a strategy, I was just pulling up old images to be an archive. But the blog became popular, and while I was doing jobs shooting for indie magazines, I thought that more people would be able to see these images on my blog than in this magazine, and that was a moment for me. I began to think about what stories I can tell and what experiences can I share with other people."
Jamie Beck at New York Fashion Week.
What steps did you take to make it a success?
"I don't know what it was, maybe a lot of collaborating. The first two years of blogging, I was shooting all the time, working to collaborate with other sites in order to get links back. It was a lot of building and organizing. Then when the cinemagraph came in 2011 at New York Fashion week, it completely changed. The traffic for the blog shut it down, and the emails became crazy. It was like something out of a movie. That started the next level of conversation and opportunities."
Did social media help at all with the jump start?
"Well, I was kind of behind on Twitter, but Tumblr for sure, it was amazing. They were really supporting our community of original content creators. We were part of the original smaller group of people [on Tumblr] so it was easier to engage. We went to meet-ups, and made friends who were incredibly supportive. It was definitely right time, right place.
How did the cinemagraph come about?
"Kevin had a Tumblr and was always playing around with GIFs and isolating animation. We had a digital camera that had a video function, and I thought, 'wouldn't it be nice to have something that could give people the experience of fashion week? What if we had a photograph but something a little more into it?' We spent three days shooting fashion week while looking for the moment that actually worked. I would shoot in stills, then flip my camera to video mode and Kevin would later hand-stitch them together [in post-production]. We posted it on Tumblr and after the first one, I knew it would change my life. The photograph came to life."
The cinemagraph, a moving photo Jamie and Kevin created in 2011.
When did you feel like you had "made it" as a photographer?
"I hate this question because I don't feel that way. I feel like I'll go to my grave thinking I haven't made it. I have so many goals, I'm always thinking about the next photograph and I have miles to go. I have a lot to learn but that's the fun part. I enjoy finding new paths and new ways."
What were some of your favorite campaigns to work on?
"A beautiful project we did with Tiffany; that was really lovely because it was the first time we worked with a cinema camera. We did a three-part series for Lincoln Motor Company specifically for Instagram. That was really fun because some of these things are total leaps of faith, you're either going to love it or hate it. We put all this time and money into the project and then posted it to Instagram and got to watch if it did well or failed. We've also done some really fun cinemagraphs. We did one for Saks, it was like a forgotten dinner party and we created a sort of "Alice and Wonderland" scene. It was incredibly successful. We also did a project with Armani where they gave us a pair of glasses and told us to make something. We thought, you see out of glasses, and New York City was the perfect subject, so we did a series on that. Our most popular cinemagraph was from that, reading the New York Times while stirring coffee: it had over 600,000 notes on Tumblr.
A cinemagraph Kevin and Jamie created for Saks Fifth Avenue.
Is it hard to choose which clients you want to work and collaborate with?
"You always have to go with your gut. We do have amazing managers that know what we're good for and they guide the process of what comes across our desk. But we always try to be in control of the creative process. That way we are excited to do it. If the company isn't into that then we know it's not a good fit. We work with a lot of luxury brands and are fortunate for that but that doesn't mean we can't work with low-priced retailers. There just needs to be creative alignment."
Was it hard to break into luxury fashion?
"Well, I've been climbing this ladder since the first fashion shoot I did with my best friend back when I put her in an evening gown in my back yard. That's what I was moving towards. When Tumblr did their NYFW initiative, I really used that opportunity to shoot and make relationships, whether it was Erica from ODLR or Aliza from DKNY. It's not just about showing up, it's about working really hard. We don't stop and we work ourselves to the ground."
A cinemagraph created for Armani.
Is working in the high-fashion world intimidating?
"Yes. We did a shoot for MTV with Karlie Kloss and Joan Smalls in Paris and it was one of those things where it was like, 'oh my god, we have to do this, it's so scary, and we're shooting really important people for a really important client!' But it's kind of like, what's the worst that could happen? You do the best that you can do. It's better to try than to spend the rest of your life wondering what would have happened."
There are a lot of photos of yourself on the blog. Do you enjoy that, being photographed?
"Well, yes and no. I use Instagram as my personal diary. For me, it's my Polaroid of the sixties, where I show what I ate, where I was, what I was wearing. I like that and it's fun to have, something that I can show my kids one day. But for the blog, I like when I take it myself but I don't necessarily like when they take my picture. I have an idea of who I am and it's a funny thing, even though photographers know what they are doing, I'm always questioning [what they are doing] and then I don't look like myself in the photograph. I think it might be that I know too much about it!"
A cinamegraph created by Ann Street Studio.
Why did you switch to the name "Ann Street Studio?"
"I didn't have a whole plan for the blog! I didn't want it to have my name because if I were to delete it, I didn't want people to wonder, 'where did Jamie Beck go?' As I got older, and Kevin and I started working together, and we got big campaigns, with real world, real life, I felt like From Me To You was the old, young me that shot in film and I had grown up a lot. Our studio was downtown on Ann Street so we named it after that. It was a growth thing."
Is it hard to have a business with your husband?
"Everything falls into place naturally. He does the business stuff and I do the social media and chitchat stuff. If he was a doctor, I'd never get to see him, so it's amazing we get to travel and collaborate together. We make ourselves stronger and better together and we're always pushing each other. You have someone to dig the trench with. Those things make it wonderful, but of course there's the other side. We see each other twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. He can be annoying sometimes and I can be annoying sometimes, but then we try to separate ourselves creatively. I'll go out to shoot film, which isn't his thing, and he'll work on 3D animation, which isn't my thing. We try to have some personal artistic projects."
Jamie and Kevin out on a shoot.
What advice would you give to someone who's just starting in your industry? How do you stand out?
"I would say, just put your work out there because you believe in your work and you believe it's worth seeing. You have to work really hard and know that every day you're not working, there is someone out there in there who is because they want that opportunity. That's what keeps me motivated. When I think that I can't do it anymore, I know that there is someone out there my age that wants this as badly as I do. Also, don't compare yourself to others out there. It's important to learn and be looking but it's also important to focus on yourself and what you're doing."
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