Taking Stock

Residence by Thomas Phifer on Fisher’s Island in New York.
Scott Frances / Otto

New York-based OTTO Archive, a new photo licensing agency specializing in architecture and design, takes the photographer’s mantra “You are what you shoot” seriously.

Eight well-established photographers have signed on with OTTO, launched in October by Bill Hannigan and Thea Vaughan. The partners, both veterans of the syndicating superpower Corbis Images, founded their first licensing agency, AUGUST Image in 2007 to represent the work of portrait and lifestyle photographers. The same year, they also started Vaughan Hannigan, a small artists management agency through which they met Scott Frances, an architectural photographer of works by Richard Meier, Thomas Phifer, and Kengo Kuma, among other well-known architects. It was by managing Frances’ career that the duo identified what they felt was an underserved market in licensing archival architectural photography. Soon after, Hannigan and Vaughan created OTTO, a name chosen both for its connection to their first company—August, the eighth month—and for the pleasing graphic symmetry built into a palindrome.

“It’s a very tailored, very tight roster. We have an elite bunch,” said Vaughan of OTTO’s photographers, who in addition to Frances include Richard Barnes, Ty Cole, and Michael Moran, to name a few in a hand-picked group that Vaughan guessed might grow to 20 but no more than 25. OTTO’s emphasis will be on presenting curated portfolios of work developed through the duo’s hands-on approach. If photographers who join OTTO have archival images already licensed by other agencies, say ESTO, OTTO plans to acquire selected images as those contracts expire.

On a crisp, minimalist Web site, users register at no cost in order to view photographers’ portfolios. But Hannigan and Vaughan have no intention of sitting back and letting potential clients discover them through a Google search. While the company is small, with only four fulltime staff, it promises a vast global reach thanks to partnerships with agents in more than a dozen cities around the world.

For Scott Frances, it’s this reach, agility, and proactive attitude that sets OTTO apart in archival licensing, a field with few players. “They can sell globally and quickly, and they’re not waiting for the phone to ring,” said Frances. With today’s publishers constantly hunting for content to fill newer channels like Web sites and iPad apps, high-profile architecture photography has the potential to stay relevant and earn residual fees for years. “Photographing a Richard Meier building isn’t like photographing a tube of lipstick or a dress,” said Frances. “One thing about architecture and design imagery is that good architecture has a long life.”

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