“I spend a lot of time looking at incredible work” Photography agent Katy MacGregor on life at Blink
As one of the first employees at Blink’s illustration and photography agency Blink Art, Katy MacGregor worked her way through the rungs of production and landed seamlessly in her position as a photography agent, following a long-standing passion for publishing and the art of images. Now, she spends her days finessing photography and set design portfolios, presenting work to clients and negotiating projects. Reflecting on her career path infused with constant change, Katy talks us through developing projects with emerging artists, creating outlets to promote their work and finding personal growth within a growing company.
Photography Agent, Blink Art, (2014–present)
Studio Manager (2013–2014)
Head of Production (2011–2013)
Senior Editor (2008–2011)
Press Officer (2002–2007)
English Literature, The University of Glasgow (1998–2002)
How would you describe your job?
I look after the photography and set design roster of Blink Art, a creative agency representing photographers, directors, set designers, animators and illustrators. We are a sister company to Blink Productions and Blink Ink. In my position, I work alongside the head of our department, head of illustration, our in-house producer and creative assistant.
What does a typical working day look like?
One of the best things about this job is that there is no typical day – you never know what you might work on! I try to split my time between making and attending portfolio meetings, where I present the photographer or set designer’s work. These meetings can be with brands, advertising agencies, record labels and design studios. Some of our photographers and set designers direct and animate, so we give presentations of their motion work to TV creative departments too.
When a job enquiry comes in for an artist, I find out all the details including schedules, a refined list of deliverables and the top-line budget. Then I speak to the artist and work out if it’s a job we want to take on. Once that is decided, I hand the job over to our in-house producer to budget in full and run from there.
“One key part to the job is working with artists to come up with personal projects for developing and enhancing their portfolios.”
Recently, I’ve been building our photography roster. It’s a long process from initial conversation to launching the artist, but finding and talking to potential new photographers is one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of the job.
I spend a lot of time working on the artists’ portfolios, both online and in their printed books, and am constantly updating them when new work comes in. I’m also in constant conversation with the artists about new projects. In those meetings, we make suggestions of things they can be doing, try to identify brands and clients they want to work with and what’s required to make sure they’re the best fit possible.
I also regularly meet with our head of communications to discuss PR ideas and ways of promoting the artists and any new work or personal projects they are working on. It’s a great way of brainstorming ideas and coming up with fun ways to raise our artist’s profiles and get their work noticed. This is fundamental in a crowded market! PR and promotion comes in many different forms – from putting out newsletters and organising exhibitions that tour around agencies to suggesting artists for talks like Nicer Tuesdays. We also have an online shop that sells our artists’ work, so we discuss ways to promote that too.
What do you like about working in London?
I have a love-hate relationship with London. I’m from a very small town in the north of Scotland (near John O’Groats) and I grew up next to the sea, so I miss that, but I’ve always been drawn to the city. I moved here in 2002, but had a seven-year hiatus when I lived in Madrid and Barcelona. London is an exceptional city for attracting talented people and interesting work, but it’s unfair that it’s the only real option in the UK for doing the kind of work we do.
How did you land your current job?
I saw the job advert and applied in the traditional sense by sending in my CV. I think it was on the AOP. That role was much more production based. Blink Art was a very different company at the time. It was still quite new and I was the second person in the department alongside Sam Hart, the head of Blink Art. We were joined shortly after by Helen Parker, who heads up the illustration and animation side. The agency changed massively over the four years I’ve been here. It’s been brilliant to be part of it and watch it grow.
How collaborative is your role?
Representing an artist is very collaborative – it’s a constant conversation of making new plans and suggesting things to work on. I also work closely with the head of illustration, Helen Parker and really value her opinion. Being part of Blink as a whole is so advantageous. Many of our artists are now developing moving image work and being able to chat and receive advice from colleagues in Blink Ink and Blink Productions is a dream.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
One of my favourite things is sharing and talking about great work in meetings and presentations. We have such a talented roster and I love seeing new projects. I spend a lot of time looking at incredible work, which is a brilliantly fun thing to do for a living. I get to work with amazing people, both artists and colleagues, which is a true privilege.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
One of our still life photographers, Catherine Losing, was invited to work on a project for MoMA, shooting imagery for the exhibition catalogue of Items: Is Fashion Modern. The brief was simple – gave a list of significant items from the history of fashion such as leather jackets, Levis, the Breton top and the bikini and the photographer could interpret them whichever they wanted. It was a dream job. They gave Catherine and her long-time collaborator Anna Lomax such freedom. The curators there were so positive about their ideas and we didn’t have to go through numerous rounds of changes and feedback, like you have to with some clients. The highlight was being invited to the opening and we all flew out to New York to attend. Seeing the catalogues piled high in the bookshop was so exciting!
Another gorgeous project I worked on was with Emily Stein for Stella McCartney’s #StellaKidsBy series. Stella McCartney wanted to bring more excitement to their Kids social site, so the creative director commissioned a mixed range of creatives, including Emily, to interpret the collection for the page. Emily came up with the idea of shooting a music school, saying that music can be an important mode of expression when children sometimes don’t have the words. She asked her local primary school if she could shoot there, then cast all the wonderful kids from the school and shot them wearing the collection. The beautiful retro portraits and film went down really well with the client and got a fantastic reaction online too!
“Nowadays, the major publishing houses don’t expect unpaid internships, but when I worked there it was a case of who you knew.”
One key part to the job is working with artists to come up with personal projects for developing and enhancing their portfolios. This was the case when Matt Russell came up with a fantastic idea to do a film piece on artisan pen maker Tom Westerich, who lives and works in rural Italy. Matt created the film Grande Bellezza as part of an on-going series, examining what drives people to do what they do. It’s a beautiful film showcasing the intricate skills and dedicated craft of making the stunning pens. The lifestyle brand and publishing platform Hole & Corner picked up the piece, which was a great result!
What skills are essential to your job?
Communication skills are key. I talk and negotiate with a number of people all day long, so diplomacy is important, as well as patience, resilience and most of all, a sense of humour.
What tools do you use for your work?
We use a diary tool called Daylite as a calendar, a contacts book and for logging meetings, emails and jobs. I use InDesign for making treatments and creating PDFs of reference images for specific jobs or general ones for potential clients.
For our PR boards, we use Trello to input new work and projects, and I also use it as a planner. This is where I write up notes on artist meetings and keep track of their upcoming projects. I use MailChimp for our newsletters and Keynote is good for building presentations. We have an iPad for meetings when we aren’t taking all the printed portfolios along and I have a paper diary for reminders and writing notes when I’m on calls.
It sounds obvious, but I use the phone a million times a day. I once worked with an older American man who told us on a daily basis to “just call ‘em up,” in his Texan drawl. He encouraged us to talk on the phone instead of sending emails all the time, which definitely stuck with me.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
When I was little I wanted to be many things, but most of all, a journalist. I thought Kate Adie was amazing, and basically, I wanted to be her. I love books and reading so this definitely informed my choice of studying English Literature, which I did without really knowing what kind of job it would lead me to. In Scotland, for your first year of a degree you also do two other subjects. I did Psychology and Sociology and toyed with the idea of becoming a psychologist, but that didn’t last long – I was told my maths weren’t good enough to do the statistics required for the second year.
What were your first jobs?
My first job out of university was working as a publicity assistant for Random House. I did a two-week internship (unpaid), as I was lucky enough to have a friend who knew someone that worked there. Whilst I was there, a role became available. Then I moved on to become a press officer for Jonathan Cape. Nowadays, major publishing houses don’t expect unpaid internships, but when I worked there it was a case of ‘who you knew’ and being able to afford interning for free, which was a shame because it meant lots of brilliant people weren’t able to do it. When I first moved to London, I slept on the floors and couches of some very generous friends. I was extremely lucky!
“I once worked with an older American man who told us on a daily basis to ‘just call ‘em up,’ in his Texan drawl.”
Was there a particular move or person that helped your development at the start of your career?
Moving from the far north of Scotland to London made a big change to the kind of opportunities available to me. In my first job, I was lucky to work with the editor Mark Holborn. He published the most incredible books on art and photography and we worked on great projects where I met extraordinary people. Mark was hugely supportive and I was in awe of his knowledge. My dad was an artist and photographer, so I grew up surrounded by art, but publishing books by the likes of Annie Leibowitz, Don McCullin and Lucien Freud really made me love art (particularly photography) even more.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
I’ve moved around in my career and sometimes it felt like I was starting all over again, but the opportunity to learn new skills has been constantly interesting. The same skills can be applied to so many roles so it’s not such a bad thing to move around if you want to. It’s meant that I’ve worked with some fascinating people and in some amazing places! My biggest challenge was working in a foreign language. My Spanish was never amazing.
There’s been so much to learn along the way and mistakes are inevitable. I used to think mistakes were the end of the world, but now with experience (and age), it’s easier to put things in perspective, move on quickly and take them for what they are.
Interview by Arielle Bier
Mention Blink Art
Photography by Andy Donohoe
Mention Katy MacGregor