NEW YORK, United States — “In the Mad Men era, if you wanted to be an ad man, you’d go to the bars where the ad men drink. As far as blogging or Instagram or Twitter... I wanted to keep going with my career in the fashion industry, so I just joined all the platforms that they were on. That’s like the watering hole. The modern, digital watering hole.” So says photographer and blogger Jamie Beck, who, with the encouragement of her creative partner and husband Kevin Burg, started the wildly popular Tumblr, From Me To You, in 2009.
I joined all the platforms that the fashion industry was on. That’s like the watering hole. The modern, digital watering hole.
Though Beck describes herself as a “traditional” photographer in a digital world, to say that her work resonates online would be more than a slight understatement. Before she switched her digital home to AnnStreetStudio.com, last August, From Me To You had earned more than a quarter of a million Tumblr followers. Her Instagrams consistently get thousands of likes. And an early series of ‘Cinemagraphs’ — the elegant, animated GIF-like moving images which have become something of a personal signature for Beck and Burg — have been viewed more than two million times.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, brands have been eager to leverage the enthusiastic engagement Beck and Burg’s work elicits. And Ann Street Studio — a creative studio the duo have established on the back of their image-making and blogging success — has attracted an impressive roster of clients, including Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan, Tiffany and Juicy Couture.
Collaborating with names like these has been a dream of Beck's since she was a Texan teenager. “I learned to take pictures when I was 13,” she says. “My mom showed me to use her old manual camera from the ‘70s and the first image I took was [after] giving my best friend a makeover and putting her in an evening gown — my 13-year-old mind was making Vogue.” After she got the image developed, she says, “I was like, ‘Done. This is what I want to do with my life.’”
Beck moved to New York to pursue photography. And it was there that she met Burg, three years later, in 2006, through mutual friends. “I was being really antisocial,” she recalls. “Then I heard him talking about Renaissance art and I was like, ‘Hi, I’m Jamie.’” Their mutual love for “art and creativity” fueled the friendship, which later evolved into something more — both professionally and romantically (the couple married last year).
It was Burg who introduced Beck to Tumblr in 2009. “I had started to Tumblr a year before and I was obsessed with it,” he recalls. He prompted her to put her “closetful of archived film” online and From Me to You, first conceived as a simple photo portfolio, was born. Burg, a graphic designer by training, designed it.
“I was going about photography in a very traditional way,” Beck remembers. “He brought me into the modern times.” With Burg’s encouragement, Beck also bought her first digital camera and joined Twitter, Facebook, and later, Instagram. “It was the best advertising for my work,” she says. “I would get so many more opportunities blogging than the traditional, just go in, here’s my portfolio — that route. It just took over.”
In time, the tradition-meets-tech melding of their minds produced a revelation: the Cinemagraph. Burg had been experimenting with isolating the motion of an animated GIF file; Beck, headed to New York Fashion Week, was looking for a way that her readers could “experience [the event through] more than just a photograph.” It took “about three days to get the first one to work, as far as shooting it correctly and editing it correctly,” Beck recalls. But she posted the first Cinemagraph — “Les Tendrils” — on February 13, 2011. “It’s two girls from a fashion presentation and one of them was playing with the tendrils of her dress.”
The duo knew they were onto something big when they were accosted during fashion week. “Everyone was like, ‘What was that? What was that?’” Burg remembers. “It was so new and we were like, ‘We’ve gotta do more. So she was shooting and I was editing at night, and then we posted them the next day, these little moments, these little stories of what happened.”
After fashion week, Beck had “normal fashion jobs booked,” shooting lookbooks and editorial for indie magazines, but “I would show up,” she recalls, “and they’d all be like, ‘I want to do that moving thing. Can we do that moving thing? What is that moving thing?’” So she and Burg gave it a name: Cinemagraph, a nod to “a cinematic moment, married to a photograph.”
The duo credit Tumblr and its creatively-focused community with the Cinemagraph’s meteoric rise. “When I posted on Tumblr, it was just gone to thousands and thousands of other blogs instantly,” Beck says. “Like attracts like in these worlds, so when someone shares your photo, they're probably sharing it with a bunch of other people that like what they like, and they like what you like.”
“Definitely, the amount of commercial work has changed immensely since I started the Tumblr,” she continues. “When I started From Me to You, I was really an up-and-coming photographer in New York, shooting for indie magazines and doing lookbooks — and not for high-end fashion brands. Now, we’ve grown so much and established so many relationships and we’ve been able to do a lot of high-profile projects. That’s changed a lot — who we shoot for, and the size of the projects we shoot for, and the production of the projects that we shoot for.”
Indeed, it was Tumblr itself that facilitated the couple’s first luxury fashion brand collaboration. The blogging platform brought together three of its most fashionable users — Oscar de la Renta, the model Coco Rocha, and Beck — to produce six glamorously eye-catching Cinemagraphs of Rocha wearing de la Renta. “The reblogs were incredible,” says Erika Bearman, senior vice president of global communications at Oscar de la Renta. “Every day in our office, a fit model walks back and forth in front of Oscar all day long; we like to see the clothes move and this is what is so remarkable about what Jamie and Kevin did and have done.” According to former Tumblr fashion director Rich Tong, that specific series of Cinemagraphs generated around 55,000 notes and more than 2 million impressions on the platform.
Donna Karan, which has collaborated with Burg and Beck on a number of projects, saw a similarly impressive response to their work. “Her pictures generate huge engagement,” Aliza Licht, senior vice president of global communications at Donna Karan International, says of Beck. “They are so sensual and that’s definitely something that as a brand we relate to. I just love her attention to detail. She just sees things that normal people don’t see, really.” A Cinemagraph the couple produced featuring DKNY’s Be Delicious perfume has reached more than 300,000 people via Facebook and their blog, while Beck’s overall output as an ambassador of the fragrance has reached nearly 1 million Facebook users.
As “we don't really run our blog so much like a business,” Beck says — no advertising, aside from “some” sponsored posts — these brand collaborations form the crux of Beck and Burg’s business model. “The demand for imagery is so high right now,” she says. “Companies need stuff to pin [on Pinterest] and stuff to put on their blogs... their sites have to refresh so much faster than they used to. It’s just so much more content.”
Sixty percent of the duo’s income comes from commissioned Cinemagraphs, they confirm — brands have asked for up to 20 or 25 at a time, generally delivered over the span of a year — while 30 percent derives from still photography shoots, primarily for campaigns and lookbooks, and 10 percent comes from video shoots.
“We’re like commissioned artists, basically, so we’re paid per video, per photograph, or per Cinemagraph,” Beck says. “It’s a traditional delivery — like we were hired like any photographer. We don’t really pursue many social media-type jobs, we just get hired to make art.”
So what is the duo aiming for next?
“I don’t know,” Beck says. “Some days I’m like, I just want to be really small and boutique-y. And then some days I’m like, I want to hire a team of editors and I want to have a full-run studio with three photographers on staff.”