Pandemic or no pandemic, relevancy is an issue in photography. Photographer Victor Torres discusses how Addictive Creative accomplishes this.
Victor Torres is heading out of town this weekend, and that’s a big deal in Spain. Torres spent most of last year helping contributors to his six year-old, Madrid-based agency Addictive stay relevant amid one of the world’s strictest pandemic quarantines. About 90% of Addictive‘s roughly 600 contributors live and work in Spain and Latin America, and risked having their livelihoods collapse.
“When the pandemic started, I thought we were going to see a crisis in this business—and for us. It was the reverse. The photographers became more creative. They started to send us more content. More than before the pandemic,” said Torres from his home in Madrid, via Zoom (yes, still).
Addictive Creative Photographers in Demand
Over the past year and a half, the agency’s roster of contributors has skyrocketed, and its archive has ballooned with new topics. A raft of new contributors are sticking with him. And, new ways of working that developed during the harsh Spanish lockdown are becoming permanent.
Most of those new contributors are photographers who had previously avoided stock agencies, preferring to deal directly with clients. But, when Spain’s key tourism and restaurant industries shuttered, a cascade of canceled promotional shoots followed.
“We heard from fashion photographers, advertising photographers, interior design, food photography.” Locked at home, many went back to older shoots left unfinished, did processing and production work, and said, “Okay, I’ll submit to stock and see what they say.”
Torres said yes. And, those photographers have remained by his side.
Less surprising was steady demand for new content during the pandemic. Addictive saw the same surge in requests for images in healthcare settings, virtual offices, homeschooling, and people in masks that many agencies have. The difference was that Addictive was Spanish, and its photographers knew Spain and Latin America better than most. Latin and Spanish clients saw the subtleties.
“The clients often say to us, you’re from Spain, you focus on local people.” When demand rose for images of people receiving vaccinations, geography came into play as much as other kinds of diversity.
“The request is a person of color receiving a vaccination,” says Torres. “Well, a model from Seville, who has lived in Seville all their life, who is black, is going to give you an image of a person from Seville, even if you hang an American flag behind them.” The local photographers’ understanding of regional diversity as a component of ethnic diversity proved key for Spanish and American clients—and remains something Addictive will use to distinguish itself.
Photographers Are Rarely Bored for Long
Another change that Torres sees lasting is photographers’ sudden interest in, and willingness to try, working with quotidian images that shouldn’t work—and yet have. “Day-to-day stuff that photographers wouldn’t have seen as the best use of their time” before, even if agencies suspected the demand existed, suddenly flooded Torres’ inbox, and have proven to have staying power.
“You’re not going to take a picture of a model ironing, or washing dishes, activities that don’t have any particular glamour. It’s not the coolest image.”
That’s stopped mattering so much. A rush of COVID-era demand from Spanish clients for precisely that kind of day-to-day stuff, and enough content to satisfy the demand, emerged from a strange confluence of circumstances, said Torres. Spanish companies still trying to reach Spanish consumers in the past two years—think laptops, home furnishings, board games—suddenly had the production of 600 photographers sitting at home for two months, with nothing to do but stare at their apartments.
Photographers being as they are, this resulted in some unusually striking, technically accomplished pictures of coffee cups, toasters, children’s feet, spouse’s hands, floor tiles, bathroom fixtures, bookshelves, drapes, and the occasional table lamp, showing up in Torres’ inbox. He’d asked for them in his regular suggestion memos to the photographers.
Those images now form part of the archive, and are selling. Torres expects them to sell in the future simply because they depict daily life—pandemic or no—and now he has a selection of unusually accomplished versions. You’d be amazed how many Spanish companies need a picture of a hand.
“On one hand,” said Torres, the inevitable pun unintended (he was speaking Spanish), “producing those day-to-day pictures was necessary at that moment, because that’s all you could do. But, on the other, companies were asking for that kind of content, and still are: families, at home, playing table games. Books and reading. Home exercise,” he said.
Being focused on Spain and Latin America made even the most quotidian photographs region-specific, and able to stand out. Turns out, washing dishes isn’t as generic as you’d think. Spanish kitchens look Spanish. Spanish doorways looks Spanish, too. So do the models, and their postures and visage. “It’s day-to-day, but with all kinds of families—people who live alone, big families, couples.”
Still, many of Addictive’s photographers wouldn’t have bothered with pictures of daily life as recently as two years ago. Now that they have, though, even driven by necessity, it’s working. It sells.
Still, even a really nice picture of a toaster only goes so far, and Spain is, after all, Spain. With summer coming, and vaccinations progressing, Spanish clients are looking to travel imagery again. Torres shrugs. “The companies are returning to the clichés of before. There are well done clichés and badly done, and there are ideas—like the beach—that are overdone.”
Travel is one place where COVID hasn’t changed how photographers work quite as much, and one sector where Spanish imagery is always, obviously, Spanish. The Mediterranean is likely to look like COVID never happened for awhile. “Showing a person having a typical summer day on the beach, but with a mask, could be a trendy shot, the trending topic,” said Torres. “But, it’s not a great shot, unfortunately. I don’t know anyone bringing out a campaign of beach scenes with masks and social distancing.”
Similarly, obvious changes in Spanish city life, and the cities themselves, aren’t likely to figure much once the pandemic ends. “It’s not like a picture of New York showing the Twin Towers. An image of Sagrada Familia” (Barcelona’s landmark, unfinished cathedral) “is still just that.”
But, the physical changes in Spanish cities after the pandemic are, once again, different through a Spanish lens. And, as the travel industry recovers, images of pedestrianized Spanish streets or refilling stadiums could be in demand. “For photographers specializing in travel, it’s an interesting opportunity. It depends on the profile of the photographer,” he said. “At Addictive, we’re selling photos of things as they were before.”
Addictive isn’t as it was, however. Changes made during a crisis have proven a viable demand for specifically Spanish and Latin American visual identities that didn’t require a pandemic to serve. “On a personal level, as a photographer, I earned more money during the pandemic than before,” he said. “The companies kept functioning. Maybe their offices didn’t, but the campaigns and products did.”
More photographers shooting less obvious pictures was a response to a crisis. Now, it’s the business “that has normalized,” Torres said.
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Cover image via Addictive Creative.
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