How to tell when a Talent Agent is trying to screw you

When you first handed your headshots to a Talent Agent, what did they say to you?

His name was Brian, and he was one of the very first headshots that I had done professionally.

At the time, there were only 3 photographers in Chicago who made a living off of headshots. But Brian knew me, and he wanted something different. He took a chance on an unknown.

In all fairness, it was impossible to fuck up Brian’s headshot.  He’s a boyish guy with an infectious grin, and I knew several women that had a crush on him on sight. On top of it, his looks were made for B&W film, the format of the time.  I couldn’t mess it up.

We shot two rolls and Brian bought the proof sheets to an agent that he was working with.  The agent had tried to push another photographer, so Brian knew that the agent would give him grief.  But he didn’t expect the sheer volume of static that he ran into.  Brian had been very happy with our photos.

The talent agent circled two images, and passed them back to Brian… telling him that those were the only two images that were worth anything.
Brian came back to me with the proof sheets in hand.  I knew that something was up.  Without comment, he asked me what I thought of the agent’s choices.

They were literally the worst two images from our shoot.
Which is what I told Brian.

Brian had thought the same thing, and he never went back to that agent.  It was clear that the agent had been getting kickbacks from the photographer that they were recommending.

At the time, it confirmed to me something that I had found out while trying to meet with certain talent agents in Chicago; there are, unfortunately, talent agents that get kickbacks from photographers.  I know, because I was told as much when I tried to meet with one, that they had an ‘arrangement’ with ‘another’ photographer.

I still remember the instant where I put two and two together.  It had never occurred to me up until that point that Talent Agents are people who’s job description is to make a commission off of getting you work.
-And I imagine that an agent could easily transition to the prospect of getting a commission from a photographer for sending actors there.

In the years since then, I’ve heard about this happening less and less.  It was harder for Talent Agents to argue that someone needed to use _______ photographer with so many talented photographers out there who take headshots.  And I count myself among them.

Which brings me to the impetus of writing this post.
I don’t want to expose the performer to scrutiny, but I did photograph a client within the last couple of years.  We both liked the images.  So much so, that the pictures are among my favorite. But when the client took the photos to an agent, they were told that the images were awful.  Then the agent did something kinda slimy, and insisted that my client be photographed by a photographer that the agent recommended.
Just that one photographer.
As if there was only one photographer in Chicago capable of delivering great headshots.

My client knew that the photos were great.  Not just because of what I said, or what they felt, but because they had other performers tell them so.

My client walked out of the agents office. So should you.

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