Carol LeFlufy is the founder of EYE FORWARD, an agency representing photographers and directors with bold, distinctive perspectives who work across all categories. She worked as an assistant to iconic fashion photographer Steven Meisel and as studio manager for legendary portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz. While working for Art + Commerce, she represented Mary Ellen Mark, Ellen von Unwerth, and Frank Ockenfels 3 among others before setting off from New York to Southern California and starting EYE FORWARD. EYE FORWARD currently represents photographer/directors, Michael Christopher Brown, Heather Hazzan, Sam Jones, Spencer Lowell, Bella Newman, Dewey Nicks, Frank Ockenfels 3, Perry Ogden, The Ingalls and Ward + Kweskin. Recently, she joined the Space for Arts Inaugural Advisory Board, which provides leadership in the form of industry specific guidance and insight. SFA and co-hosts APA LA will be hosting Carol and Frank Ockenfels 3 for “Thirty Years and Counting: Collaboration and Representation,” an open and honest conversation about the long term relationship between agent and artist. Space for Arts was lucky to have the chance to interview her ahead of the November event.
What motivates you to participate in events like “Thirty Years and Counting”?
Just giving back to people! I feel you have to inspire the next generation, and sharing stories and experiences is what helps people. People helped me early in my career, so it feels like good karma to pay it forward. Plus I feel I have a unique story with Frank. I represented him for his whole career, which is an anomaly in the industry. We have a mutual respect for each other and trust – those are the big elements. We truly respect each other and honor each other’s creativity. We’re a good team. We’ve had our ups and downs certainly, but we have been able to strategize and set a course for his career together, and even stayed friends through it all.
What was the best advice you’ve ever received?
I can’t recall any specific advice, but I definitely worked with people that gave me the distinction of how to be not just a good but a great photographer. Annie Leibovitz really showed me a level of dedication, almost obsession in a career. She had such a complete concentration and focus. Steven Meisel too. They both showed me the dedication to excel at that level in my time being close to them.
I remember going over the schedule with Annie once and she wanted to go from New York to Los Angeles within a day or some ridiculous short time. And I said “No way can you do this!” and she was just like “Yes I can!” And she did. It was someone important who she really wanted to shoot, so she didn’t even think about whether or not it was possible. Anything was possible if she wanted to get a job done and that was an invaluable lesson for me to learn.
What have been the highlights and challenges of your career so far?
The biggest challenge is getting work for your artists. That’s the biggest challenge every single day, especially now in a more competitive market. A lot has changed and you have to be flexible, open, and think outside of the box. You can’t rely on your past experience as the only reference for how to get work for people now. The business has shifted and changed so much. It takes a multifaceted approach to get work. Another challenge is you feel like you have to educate clients so much, particularly as to usage on images because nowadays, imagery has been devalued in many ways due to the internet, digital photography and the Instagram phenomenon.
My relationship with Frank is a highlight. We have done so much together. Representing someone for their whole career really gives you a sense of accomplishment. I worked with Mary Ellen Mark for 10 years and while I was a good agent, her success was already in place. There’s a difference in representing an emerging artist versus an established artist.Working for Annie Leibovitz and Steven Meisel were definite highlights as well. Steven just showed me so much creatively and Annie had such a level of dedication.
What do you want people to understand about the industry?
There’s a distinction between taking a picture and making a picture. You see this with instagram where everyone thinks they can just take a good picture. And sure there are some beautiful pictures and Instagram has been very creative and inspiring and helpful in that sense. But it is one thing to take a picture of friends in a moment and another totally to actually create it. As a professional, creating that moment is key. I represented Ellen von Unwerth who photographed these party and/or spontaneous moments. Often, they might seem casual, but actually they are super well orchestrated. She had to create the environment to create those images. The pictures might look spontaneous, but her process is very calculated. People may not fully appreciate the process that goes into the picture they see in an ad or elsewhere. Everyone thinks they can be a photographer and that’s just not the truth.
How does Space For Arts add value to your work?
As a tool, I like the concept/ We’re often put in positions where we need to find unique or interesting spaces to shoot in. I was introduced to the company by Allyson Torrisi, whom I have known and respected in the industry for many years. The principles of the company gave me a lot of confidence in their ability upon meeting them and I like what they are trying to do. There’s the aspect that it is a good tool that the industry needs, but it also helps the community and connects the industry.
What do you want to share to encourage people to go to the event?
I think it should be interesting and fun! We have some great stories. Both Frank and I really share a commitment to inspiring the next generation of photographers. Frank has especially helped his assistants to become photographers in their own right. He teaches at the Palm Springs Photo Festival and is always ready to give back. We’ve both had mentors, so if we can say one thing that night that will help someone have a successful career or really commit to photography or show them a new possibility, then it will all be worth it.