Heather Hanrahan – Interview in Photo District News

I am so stoked Heather has a write up on line with Photo District News. Its so cool to be included in a prestigious publication like PDN! 

In our November Client Meeting we profiled Nemo Design, a Portland, Oregon-based agency that specializes in youth culture and action sports, and counts Nike and Hewlett Packard among it’s clients. Here we speak with Heather Hanrahan, the woman behind StudioNemo, the full-service studio and production company that generates images for Nemo Design and other agencies, about the atmosphere in the studio, what it takes to shoot athletes, and how she finds and hires new photographers.

PDN: Tell me about your background.

Heather Hanrahan: I went to work in the action sports industry in marketing, and I worked for a company called Bonfire Snowboards. I used to produce all of their photo shoots and we did all of their catalogs in-house, so I did all the photography for them, and I would do all the art buying for all the action photographs taken of our riders by freelancers. Then I went back to school to the University of British Columbia, and I got a masters in womens’ studies in the visual arts area—it’s sort of a masters in visual narratives.

Then I came back to Oregon and I worked in film and photography freelance for a while, producing and styling and coordinating, and then I ended up at Nemo through someone who had my position before, she hired me as her replacement.

PDN: Do you have an official job title?

HH: Well, I wear many hats. I think that my official title is photography project manager, but I am the producer and art buyer and studio manager… curator, lunch getter.

PDN: Do you notice any trends in the types of photography your clients are after, or is there a certain visual style that StudioNemo is known for delivering?

HH: There’s not an exact style. I think that we have a lot of variety and it depends on the photographer that we hire. I think that one of the trends that’s going around in youth culture and action sports is using more of a documentary style of photography, capturing athletes in their own environments. We do a lot of athlete shoots here and it’s trying to capture what they do best, either around town [Portland] or in this studio. And the great thing about StudioNemo is the actual environment that the studio is in. We have kids that come in and skateboard up and down the hallways and BMX, it’s really encouraged here and it’s a very fun environment.

PDN: After you and your client have agreed on a photographer, how much input does the photographer have creatively?

HH: I think the photographer actually has quite a bit of input. The art directors that I’ve always worked with are big on collaborating with the photographer to come up with better solutions to get the grander scheme of the idea. I think we give our photogphers a lot of creative here. There’s a lot of trust put in them, and the art directors don’t micro-manage, they step off when need be. I think it brings a lot to the photography if the photographer is invested in what he’s doing and is not just a hired gun.

PDN: When you are thinking of hiring a photographer, how do you evaluate whether they are someone who will be able to contribute creatively rather than just execute?

HH: There’s something on [the Web site of] MS Logan, they have this “Two Minutes With” feature, and I really like that. I think that is the best thing I’ve seen from any artist representative, is showing their photographer and their personality. When I pick a photographer it’s partly for the photography, but it’s partly for how they can interact with the client and how they interact with athletes. A lot of the time we shoot athletes here rather than just models, and it’s being able to take those kids that are used to mountain biking all the time, and if you have a studio shoot, being able to draw personality out of them and make it so they’re not bored. I think that’s really important, I look for that. I look for personality a lot.

PDN: How do you prefer hearing from photographers?

HH: I like promo cards. I’m not really interested in getting a “Hi my name is” e-mail, but if they wow me with something interesting that catches my eye, a little package or whatever. There’s a photographer that I became friends with because he stopped into Nemo to show his book, and then he started sending me little video clips of his shoots. He does these funny personal shoots, like he went to India and traveled 2000 km in a little electric car and took photographs, and so he would make these little videos and e-mail them to me and I thought they were just hilarious. He definitely got my interest and I always think of him when a job comes up that’s right for him.

PDN: Beyond looking at what comes to you, what do you do to seek out new photographers to work with?

HH: I’m constantly searching blogs, I love the I Heart Photo blog, and I do use Le Book, and I’m always looking at the New York Times Magazine, they use some amazing photographers. I’m looking at all sorts of different magazines and different media. I have certain reps whose esthetic I’m drawn to and I look at their stuff.

PDN: How many new photographers would you say that you use per year?

HH: I probably bring in about five new photographers.

PDN: What are your biggest needs in terms of style and specialty?

HH: We need everything. I definitely think that Nemo, not only their design but also on the photography side, caters to a younger generation, a generation that’s interested in sports and in music culture, and interested in not only entertainment, but also the environment and politics. That’s what’s great about being in Portland, Oregon, is that we’re so much more than just youth culture, we’re definitely invested in a different type of lifestyle.

PDN: Can you think of a photographer that you recently started working with and what stood out to you about them?

HH: I really enjoy working with Josh Letchworth. He has this almost Buddhist quality to him, because he’s just so calm and happy at all times. He’s just one of those people that’s great to be around, and like I said about shooters, their personality really is everything, and he brings that to the table.

PDN: So it’s a given that the work needs to be excellent, but beyond that personality is what sets people apart for you?

HH: One of my favorite photographers is Cass Bird, and I feel like her photography is so great because her personality is so great. I think they go hand-in-hand, I don’t think they’re separate. I think that if you’re a curmudgeon it’s going to show in your work.

PDN: How much of your work comes from Nemo Design versus outside agencies?

HH: We’re always trying to get work from other agencies, but most of my work right now comes from Nemo Design. If it’s not exactly through Nemo Design it’s through our mutual clients.

PDN: What are the biggest challenges for you and the studio on any given day?

HH: What to have for lunch. That’s always a big one. I guess my biggest challenge as a studio within an agency is getting other agencies to feel comfortable coming in. It really shouldn’t be an issue. They’re bringing their work in on other turf and there’s definitely some trepidation, and I think it’s unwarranted. Nemo Design is a great company and their not interested in taking other people’s work away from them, and I think that Nemo Productions is open to so much more than just what Nemo Design does.

Heather Hanrahan
1875 SE Belmont Street
Portland, OR 97124

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