Most of us dream about it every now and then (at least I do): packing everything up and move to a place that seems more promising than the one you live and work in.
Marta Wilkosz and Jeff Way did just that and moved from Alberta in Canada to Berlin in 2012. They were photographers then and they keep the same profession now. However, their focus has changed – from portraying oil magnates to fashion photography, menswear in particular.
What does it take to make it in a new city? According to Wilkosz & Way it’s about finding the people you want to work with and building strong personal connections.
hft: You moved to Berlin from Canada, where you didn’t exactly live in a fashion capital. What were your first steps when you came here?
Marta: Whether we did it the right way or not, I’m not sure. We did some research and saw who was working in Berlin and in Germany in general and then I think we just picked out the people that we liked, saw who they were, who they were shooting with, and what kind of teams they had and then sent emails out to say, „Hey, we are in town. Do you wanna meet?“. I’d say maybe 20 percent replied and out of those 20 percent we maybe met with half. Then it just kind of went from there. Once we had worked well with someone, we just worked with them again.
hft: I think a 20 percent response rate is quite good.
Jeff: However, you need to stay realistic who you reach out to.
Marta: Let’s use Steven Meisel as an example. It would probably be difficult to reach out to his team, like approach Pat McGrath, and say „Hey, you wanna work on a shoot together?“
Jeff: It did take some time. I think it took a good year until we had these connections.
Marta: I think the first shoot we did was three months in.
Jeff: Berliners are wary of newcomers. The city can be quite transient, and they wanna see first if you’re staying around for a while.
hft: What was your first job here?
Marta: The first job was a menswear story for Fucking Young magazine with stylist Saskia Schmidt. She was one of those people who reached back to us and then we decided to do a story together, and I think it worked out quite well. It was a really easy shoot.
Jeff: It was also their first issue, wasn’t it? We were also taking our risk, being part of it. But it turned out fine.
Marta: That’s kind of a funny thing as well, because we ended up doing so many more menswear stories since living here, than we ever have done before.
hft: Do you mind?
Marta: No, we actually decided that it’s kind of our thing.
hft: Have you found yourself a bit of a niche?
Jeff: I don’t know. There are people who just shoot menswear but it’s a very small market – so I don’t think it makes sense to only specialise in men.
Marta: We are trying to decide what’s the next direction. What should we be serious about? And we thought … not necessarily menswear exclusively, but maybe with a focus. It seems that all stories that we shot last year that we liked best end up being with menswear. Which is strange because we love female models.
Jeff: The shoots are a lot more easy going – it seems to be a lot more relaxed in a way.
Marta: And I think there’s a lot of exciting new things coming out of menswear, too. Menswear really seems to be on the rise. It’s a really growing market. And Berlin has really good male models and bookers and agencies, so it kind of seemed like – not intentionally – we fell onto this path.
hft: We once ran into each other at one of the parties at fashion week. That moment I was just discussing with a friend whether it is necessary to go to these events or not, to network and stay in the loop. How do you feel about it?
Marta: Funny you’re asking. The friend I was referencing before, he was all about making his social connections in person and I feel that the strongest connections that we have made here are people who we have actually met face to face and have repeatedly run into. There is so much going on in Berlin – if you don’t see that person, if you don’t have that visual cue, you just forget them. That happens to me sometimes. But obviously pick what you’re actually interested in and don’t go to everything to just take an Instagram snap.
Jeff: If you don’t talk to anyone it’s kind of pointless. You need to participate in what’s happening.
hft: I sometimes just don’t feel like going to a party after a long work day anymore.
Marta: I go through this every single time we have to go somewhere. Is it worth it or is it not worth it? Sometimes I’m happy we didn’t go because we end up doing something more productive but sometimes I’m like, „dammit“ that would have been a good one. You never know who you’re gonna run into. Plus, I think it’s important to go out and support the art and the scene.
Jeff: If you don’t support people, why are they gonna support you?
hft: How do you divide your work? Only editorial usually doesn’t pay the bills.
Marta: I’d say it’s like half and half. Or maybe like 20 percent commercial? It is hard to say. I mean, the commercial work we do … You never really talk about it, some of it is like skeletons in the closet.
hft: Would you reveal that kind of work?
Marta: If somebody asked us to in a one-on-one conversation. Maybe not to make it public.
Jeff: It is something that everyone does – even our most successful friends in big cities – they do lookbooks, catalogs, those kind of things … but their name is not really attached to it. But you need it to survive. The problem with the fashion industry is that there is a lot of perception, so you need to be selective about which publications you want to be associated with, and which clients are the best fit for your style of work.
Marta: We have also done some things in the past that are still benefiting us today in terms of royalties. We have an agency for royalty driven work in Canada and in the States. That has helped us. Our bills are taken care of through this, so whatever is on top is kind of the extra income. So it is easier for us to do a lot of personal projects, editorial work and this kind of thing.
And then the commercial side of it, we’re actually just trying to figure out how to develop it further in a way that reflects our style. Of course we’ve done it before, but we are no longer interested in doing commercial work that doesn’t have at least something to do with what we specialise in or reflects our aesthetic.
What qualities do you look for in models? Is it the same in girls and boys?
Marta: I feel it’s kind of the same. Unique faces. Quite often you don’t know through a sed card with someone’s personality but with Instagram and social media it’s really easy to just poke around. I follow a lot of new faces and scouts. If the person happens to be anywhere near this region, be it Germany, Poland or wherever, we put it in the back of our mind and if the opportunity comes to be able to work with them, we just do it.
Having a following is part of a model’s gig these days. People want to know about their lives. You have to be out there. What do you think about this?
Marta: It’s funny, because I do follow a lot and I can easily tell who is doing it just for the sake of pleasing their booker and who actually has a voice. In a way I think it’s advantageous for people who have some sort of a voice. We just worked with a new face that had a great personality. You know, there is only so much you can get from somebody you only work with for four hours. But then, when you look through her Tumblr and it’s like, „Oh, this is what you’re into“ you can kind of guess if it fits with what we want to do.
Jeff: But we definitely go for strong faces. There are a lot of classically beautiful models, but it’s not really our thing.
Marta: Right now there are so many different types of models. In the 2000s it was the Brazilians, later the Russians, and you had a really specific look to all the models. Where as I feel now, it’s a bit more personality driven than having a single vision from a casting director where everybody looks the same. And maybe it’ll go back to that, but right now I feel it’s really all over the place.
hft: Maybe it’s got to do with the flood of pictures that we are exposed to? Maybe you need crazy to get attention? If I go through Instagram and would today see a Christy Turlington or Cindy Crawford, something they did in the mid 90s – you might not even look at it anymore.
Marta: Especially Cindy Crawford. I agree. Today, it’s a completely different look for models than it was back then. But I think it always goes in two directions. The really commercial faces for beauty or runway and then there’s the crazy faces that do a lot of editorial and have a little bit more of a following.
hft: Do you use Instagram?
Jeff: Just a business one. There’s no personal stuff on it. It looks good but it’s very controlled. We have about 800 followers. It’s not a lot, but it’s nice to see that people are interested in what we’re doing.
Marta: My personal account is an „old people in the streets style“ kind of thing which I started just when we moved here and lived on Karl-Marx-Allee. I was noticing way more of a concentration of seniors than anywhere else in Berlin, so I started doing it and then it kind of went from there and at one point I got all these crazy followers and it is growing. But it’s funny, now, that I have more followers, I think about it more. In the past I was just like, whatever. Now it’s like „Does this senior deserve to be in my feed?“