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A Discussion With Ron Avery, mptv President

Photography agencies often get a bad rap these days.  Just the mention of them usually conjures memories of unflattering celebrity candids captured by ruthless and frenzied paparazzi, or eye-catching, but oddball stock shots of models interacting with generic food products.

One agency, however, stands out for its commitment to sharing unforgettable moments in a way that respects photographers' craft, as well as the subjects they capture.  Legendary celebrity photographer Sid Avery began mptv (formerly Motion Picture Television Photo Archive) as a way to preserve "the memory of some of the greatest celebrity legends of our time," as stated on the company's website.  They now host one of the largest archives of entertainment-related still photography in existence.  Their archive spans nearly a century and includes the work of more than 60 photographers, who have shot some of Hollywood's most celebrated figures, past and present.

 

Ron Avery, mptv President and son of founder Sid, sat down with Digital Media Net to share his favorite stories, and explain how by preserving and honoring the traditions of old-school photographers, mptv continues to add a touch of elegance to the world of stock photography.

 


DMN: Tell us a little more about the types of images that your company represents?
RA: The images that we represent are all Hollywood and entertainment related.  We have celebrities, red carpet events, musicians, concerts, film and tv stills not to mention behind the scenes images.  We even have sports personalities and politicians as they sometimes overlap into entertainment.
 
DMN: How would you describe mptv? A stock photography agency? Something else?
RA: We are a stock agency.  All our images are available for rights managed licenses.  We've carved out a nice niche in the stock world due to the high quality images that we offer and the depth of our material.  We also pride ourselves on preserving the work of our photographers.


 
DMN: Can consumers purchase prints of your images directly? How are they primarily used?
RA: Not all our images are available as prints but we do offer a select group on the "Retrospective Prints" section of our site.  If you find an image and you just have to have a print but can't find it in the Retrospective Prints Section, let us know.  We may be able to help you out. We also work with a select group of galleries: Jackson Fine Art in Atlanta, Monroe Gallery in Santa Fe, Staley Wise Gallery in New York and the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London.

DMN: How would you say that stock photography has evolved since Hollywood's Golden Age?
RA: The change is huge.  When my dad was shooting, everything was about film.  Now everything is digital.  We still have the film but you can't hand that to a client.  They wouldn't know what to do with it anymore.  We now have to scan the film and send it via email.  It's fast and easy to distribute images these days.

DMN: What types of things have contributed to those changes?  Digital technology?  The role of the photographer? Anything else?
RA: The internet has to be the biggest change to the industry.  The ability to reach a worldwide audience from our office in Los Angeles is amazing.  We can be in dozens of cities in multiple countries over the course of a day.  You don't even have to pick up a telephone.  It's really cool to know that someone in the west African country of Gabon visited our site today.  I'm not joking.  I actually checked.  That would not have happened 20 years ago and it wouldn't have happened without the internet.

 

DMN: Do you store negatives and/or original copies of all the photographs?  How are they preserved?
RA: We have some film and prints on file but in the last few years, we've been getting mainly digital files.  Also, some photographers hold on to their originals.  We keep our film and prints in archival sleeves in binders and file drawers.  We have so many that only a fraction are online.  It's always a good idea to ask if you don't see something online.  You'd be surprised what we pull out of the files. 

DMN: What is the path that a picture takes from the camera to the mptv website?
RA: If the image is an original negative, we need to scan, retouch and color correct, caption and keyword and then upload the file.  If we have a digital file we just skip the first step.

DMN: Who are some of your most popular subjects?
RA: Audrey Hepburn is by the far the most searched celebrity on our site.  A few other favorites are Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Steve McQueen, James Dean and John Wayne.

DMN: Which pictures or subjects are your personal favorites?
RA: I've always loved Sean Connery, Steve McQueen and Paul Newman.  We have great shots of them by David Sutton, Gunther, Chester Maydole and Sid Avery.

DMN: Do you have any funny stories from your father's time photographing celebrities?
RA: Sure.  My dad got an assignment to shoot a few women for Hollywood club.  He was supposed to shoot them all in the nude.  He decided to shoot one of the women with a sheer veil draped over her.  The woman was Yvonne DeCarlo.  At the time she wasn't a big celebrity but she went on to become known as the mom from The Munsters.  Soon after the shoot, he got a visit from Yvonne's mother.  She was your typical Italian mother.  My dad thought that he was going to yelled at for photographing her daughter nude.  Turns out she was pissed that he photographed her with the veil.  She asked "What's wrong with my daughter?  Isn't she as pretty as the other girls?"  You can read the whole story and so many more amazing behind-the-lens stories from Sid in Sid Avery: The Art of the Hollywood Snapshot.


Two upcoming books will showcase several captivating images from the mptv archives.  One book highlights famed photographer Mario Casilli, who has shot everything from movies to magazine spreads and album covers.  Dior Glamour: 1952-1962 showcases the work of fashion photographer Mark Shaw.  For more information, visit mptv online (http://www.mptvimages.com) and on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/mptvimages).   


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