Kitty by Stefan Pompée

Interview with Stefen Pompée

Interview with Stefen Pompée, full-time freelance photographer and Mother Agent from the Bronx, New York.

Riley Gunderson
Production / Direction

Stefen Pompée is a full-time freelance photographer and Mother Agent from the Bronx, New York. They currently act as Director and Founder of PMP Management, an inclusive Mother Agency based in New York City.

Portrait of Stefen Pompée by Moses Moreno

Hello! Can you please start by introducing yourself and the work that you do?

Hey, what’s up! My name is Stefen Pompée, I am from the Bronx, New York. I am a freelance photographer, I do that full-time. I am also a Mother Agent at PMP Management so I manage about ten to twelve models at the moment. I also run a photo studio in the Bronx with my girlfriend who is a stylist.

Did you start PMP Management?

It is my modeling agency, I started it two years ago in January. I was working at The RealReal doing warehouse stuff but I didn’t really like it. At that point, I was transitioning out of my corporate phase and wanted to do my own thing as an entrepreneur.

What does it mean to be a Mother Agency?

When a model signs with a Mother Agency, they are pretty much asking to work together to develop their book and eventually, in most cases, get them signed to bigger agencies. I tell them to work with this photographer, don’t post this, your image should go in this direction, etc. When they sign to a bigger agency, most of my job is done at that point. Then the agency is sending them castings and developing them on a more professional and larger-scale.

Kitty by Stefen Pompée

Is there a lot of overlap with your photography and PMP Management?

Definitely, but that was part of the reason that I did it. I’ve been doing videography and photography for fifteen years, probably ten years of that was just for fun: shooting skateboarders, landscapes, and things like that. Then the past four or five years I have taken it into a more fashion and e-commerce direction. I worked with a lot of friends of mine who wanted to be signed so I thought, “Hey, why don’t I try to start a Mother Agency?”

Since I am a photographer, they go hand-in-hand. I can shoot digitals of the models and it makes the process easier since I am not scouting photographers all of the time. At least that’s how it was in the beginning stages.

How has it changed?

I learned a lot more about the industry so it changed in a lot of ways. Now, I have learned how to take proper digitals and how to do photoshoots that are not just cool-looking photos but photos that actually make them look good as a model. Are they going to get jobs off of these photos? Also, I can’t be the only photographer, so it is learning how to be a real Mother Agent and reach out to photographers and make connections so the models and them can work together.

Do you prioritize your photography or having this Mother Agency or do you think they go hand-in-hand with each other?

I am really passionate about everything that I do, I always try to do what I can. It’s really hand-in-hand but sometimes I have to prioritize whatever is paying the bills so I can filter that money back into the business.

Phiona for Lorraine West MCA Museum

How would you describe your photographic style?

My Instagram name is @pompeeraw so it used to be rawer. I would shoot a woman, or sometimes guys, shoulders up, focusing just on raw beauty. Now, I try to give my own edge to it. I don’t really like commercial, flat lighting, I really like working with dramatic lighting. I like people to see themselves in a new light. A lot of the times I shoot people they tell me they never really saw themselves like this.

Edgy and raw, I guess you could say, but that’s a hard question. I don’t know what to call my own photography, I would rather ask other people.

So then do you think you take pictures more so for the people that you are photographing or for the viewers of the photographs?

It really depends on the project. When I was shooting before, I was shooting friends of mine who weren’t models so I feel like the direction has really changed. In the beginning, it was just capturing someone in a light they have never seen themselves in, but when you start working with a model who has been doing it for ten years, you are still kind of doing that but it is on a different level. You are shooting a model for them to get more work, but also trying to show your own style while shooting them.

What did you model the company of PMP Management off of? What were your inspirations or things you were thinking about when you began it?

I definitely found inspiration through other inclusive agencies in New York. It started out more as an inclusive agency, and it still somewhat is, but I have learned over the past few years that you need to have some kind of conventionalism to get your foot in the door. I know there are some agencies out there that are full-on inclusive but a lot of those agencies were started by models who were already in the industry. Me not being a model, not being in the industry, I knew I needed to find a way to get my foot in the door. We went through a conventional phase, very briefly, but now that we are getting people signed and expanding as a company, I want to start getting more inclusive for people of different backgrounds, different sizes, colors, all of that.

Jennie by Stefen Pompée

Can you talk more about what it means to be inclusive or conventional in the modeling industry?

Conventional is the standard five-foot-nine model that has a specific type of measurement and a specific type of look, which is totally fine, of course, some people are born that look like that. Inclusive is just people who are like five-three who are just as dedicated and have a really good face or people who are slightly curvier or way curvier that have a passion for modeling. The way modeling is going now, and the fashion industry in general, I want to say is a little more inviting, but inviting is almost too nice. I guess they are just allowing more people.

Inclusive is just letting different types of people join in on the fun. If you have one type of model, that is conventional to me. If you have people who are 5’1, who are dark, who are Palestinian, you see that the agency has different backgrounds. It’s also cool because we have a group chat so everyone sees each other and realizes they are all different and have their own things.

It’s nice to have that community aspect, I’m sure.

Yeah, definitely. Both the Bronx and Queens have a lot of diversity so that was probably my influence, just being where I am from. I went to LaGuardia High School and there were so many different types of people there. Probably, that was a lot of my inspiration in my photography and why I started PMP Management.

Do you think representation or visibility plays a role in your inspiration as well?

Yeah, definitely. I feel like people need to see themselves being represented because that’s what gives them inspiration. If you don’t see yourself then it can be hard to imagine it but when you see someone that looks like you on a billboard, you see it’s possible. A big part of this is inspiring people. You never know if that one photo you post is inspiring someone or if that one person you sign is inspiring everyone that looks up to them. “If she’s a five-foot-three Hispanic girl from the Bronx and is killing it, then I can do it too.” I feel like representation plays a big part, for sure.

Anna by Stefen Pompée

How do you decide who to sign since you are not looking at traditional Western beauty standards?

I am trying to find people that stand out, that’s really it. I have a team now of like ten people and I just signed two more people. There were over seventy submissions which was overwhelming in a great way, but there are just those few people that really stand out. Again there are a lot of people who are the standard sizes and standard beauty, which is great, but then there is one person who is taller or shorter who has weird hair or does cool makeup. I am just very intuitive. If I am attracted to it, if I think it is cool, I talk to them about their goals and what they think of the industry. There is this business aspect of making sure people are really going to take it seriously but when it comes to just scouting, it’s really just looking at the person and going forward to see if they are into it.

Yeah, I think that’s great. Going back to your photography, what does your creative process look like and what are your biggest sources of inspiration?

My biggest inspirations are older fashion photographers, I feel like everyone has similar answers: Peter Lindbergh and Helmut Newton, those guys are awesome, and a lot of other photographers who I won’t name because they are all getting in trouble for the crazy things they do. A lot of 90s, 80s, and even early 2000s, I am inspired by a lot of the fashion photography there. In my own work, again I just try to make it edgy, sexy. I am always saving photos on Instagram, going through hashtags, looking through different accounts, and then when I find a model I ask if they are into the idea and if they say yes then we go to the studio with the intent of creating something similar. I have tried to copy people and it doesn’t work which is the best part about photography. You can try to copy someone’s image but with a different model, different setting, different lighting, you are going to like something different anyways. So that is pretty much my process: save, take photos, start from that photo, and take it from there.

Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on?

I don’t because I am very critical of the work that I do. Every month I think “that could have been better, this could have been better.” When I get paid to do projects they’re usually not my favorite because it’s in favor of the client, which is understandable. I did a collaboration with you guys actually, with 10011 Mag and PMP Models, my girlfriend Olivia styled it, we had our friends do hair, our other friends do makeup and it was in the studio. That was super cool.

Honestly, a lot of my older work where it was just me and a model, no makeup, no equipment, just literally in my room, that is some of my favorite work because it really spoke to the rawness of it, it was just so raw to just be in a room shooting photos. I love the post-production aspect of photography too, that plays a really big role in my work. If you see it on the camera it is probably going to be totally different than when you get it back.

Emily for Lorraine West x New York City Jewelry Week

What does that post-production process look like for you?

I put the photos on my computer, I usually give each look a certain kind of filter to keep them consistent, then I go through and choose my favorite ones, and put them on Dropbox. Then I make an even smaller selection, put them in a finals folder, and then from there I make one more final selection, and then I edit those. At that point, I am not looking at references at all.

You said you get a lot of your inspiration from Instagram, does social media play a big role in your work, either as a Mother Agent or as a photographer?

To say social media is so broad. I guess you could say it is social media but I am really looking at specific photographers that I like and am saving some of their work. Every now and then I am on the Explore page on Instagram and I see something that is interesting. I am always saving something, it might be a landscape, might be a sky that has a really cool color that I want to do when I am shooting next time. It’s very all over the place, I am very everywhere.

I feel like that is good though, then you get inspiration from different places.

Yeah, I was getting it in one place for a while, specifically on Instagram on the Explore page, but then I realized my work was looking like you could tell I was on the Explore page on Instagram. I needed to expand so I started buying a lot more books of photographers that I really liked and different magazines and I feel like now I see my work shifting and I am happy about that.

Christina and Tristan for INA

Is there any specific way that you see it shifting, aesthetically or otherwise?

I think it’s just changing. I am currently trying to figure out what my aesthetic is, that’s why I feel like it’s hard to answer what my photography is because it is changing right now. I am always thinking, “what is that thing that makes my photography stand out and how can I push that.” Now I am experimenting more with angles, lighting, color, and being very specific with who I work with so I can try to show a certain story. I don’t know what that story is yet but I am trying to get there.

I also noticed that you worked with some pretty big names like Urban Outfitters and Budweiser, how do you get in contact with these companies to work with them?

You’d be surprised, a lot of those companies are just DM-ing models asking if they want to collaborate. A lot of times it's a photographer that is working with the brand that knows the models and wants to shoot. Being a Mother Agent, that’s what you are trying to do, you are trying to set up the model’s Instagram page and portfolio so they are appealing to these people. A lot of the time, they won’t come to me, they'll come to the model. Then you try to build a relationship with them so they keep you in mind for the future.

A lot of it is just making sure you have the right content on your page. If you look at your Insights, you’d be surprised how many people are on your page and you don’t know who these people are, they could be your favorite brands.

Is that “right” type of content found through trial and error or do you think you have to have an eye for it?

Trial and error, I would say. There are a few tips here and there but at the end of the day it is really personality, that’s what I’m starting to notice. If you are showing your personality and have an interesting look then brands are going to come to you. I know people that post maybe one photoshoot and the rest of their Instagram is just pictures of them having fun and brands and even agencies love that.

Bree by Brandon St Jean

Do you ever struggle with creative blocks or not knowing where to go next and if so, how do you push through that?

Right now I am backed up because I shot so many projects. Usually, I will go on a two or three-week spree of shooting a shit-ton where I’m super inspired, my team is available, we reach out to models and are just shooting, shooting, shooting. Then in that down time of retouching, editing, and doing that whole process, that’s when I’m recharging. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m not really shooting as much for the next few weeks, I am just editing photos and sending them out to people. While I am doing that I am looking at books too and trying to figure out where my next inspiration is coming from. If I ever do have a creative block, I just need to take a step back and hang out with friends. A lot of my friends are creatives so hanging out with them and talking about what they are doing is inspiring.

I get inspired just by people doing their shit. It gets me hyped and then I buy a book or walk around SoHo or do something that is going to put me in a good mood and if you are in a good mood, I feel like that is creating thoughts in your head which lead you the right way.

Do you follow trends within the fashion or beauty industry or do you find your next moves in other ways, like you were talking about before?

I don’t think I follow trends. My fashion friends tell me to pay more attention to trends in terms of styling and types of models. It’s just not me. If it’s a trend that I really like then I’ll jump on it but I am not actively looking for trends because I don’t feel like it matters. Everything is going to trend and fall out of trend at some point so I feel like if you are just doing what you do then you are going to get the attention you deserve and you are going to become the trend. I feel like that is what always happens.

Where are you seeing your work move in the future? I know you were talking about becoming even more inclusive. Are you thinking of growing the agency or do you think there are perks to having it be pretty small and representing just 10-12 people?

That’s a hard one. I am so all over the place I feel like people don’t understand. People see my Instagram and think I am shooting really cool people and have an agency and a studio but on the back end I am really just home drinking ginger juice and don’t know what I am doing tomorrow. It would be great to have a slightly bigger agency but I don’t see it growing into a huge thing. I don’t really see into the future like that though.

I have other goals but for the agency, I really just want everyone to get what they want out of it. Some people want to be signed to a bigger agency, some people don’t want an agency and just want a few jobs here and there. I just want everyone to be happy and have that community. Same with the studio, I have a few photographer friends that I give super-discounts to because they shoot my models and are super cool black and brown dudes and it’s helping them. They have a place to work that is safe and nice and love shooting there.

I just want everything to be a community of people that all like each other, or at least can work with each other. That is really the main goal of everything. I don’t know if you really get anything by always being bigger. It might be perfect the way it is now, maybe a little expansion, but as long as everyone is happy in the group then it’s good.

Behind the Scenes, Randy by Stefen Pompée

I really like the community aspect behind everything you are doing. I feel like that is not commonly found, especially in fashion and photography. Lots of photographers usually work independently from each other, so I like that you are bridging that gap.

Yeah for sure and I get it, it’s a competitive industry and a lot of people are coming from different places and think they have to be a certain way. I think, “why not help someone if you can?” I have a studio so why would I not offer a discounted price or even a free studio to someone who wants to help me with the agency?

That is also why I created those three businesses to work around each other. I am a photographer, I have a studio, I have models, I can utilize all three of those things to my advantage. If I know a photographer who needs models, I can send them a model. If they need a studio, I can show them a studio. Now these two people have a relationship and it grows from there. It is really cool for me to see it all happen. I never had a studio like that in the Bronx, I was always going to Brooklyn to this really cool studio, HQPixel, they were super awesome, they let me work there for a long time. But yeah, I wish I had something like this when I was starting out so it is great to have that community of people. We are all going to succeed if we just help each other.

I am sure there is freedom too in, like you were saying, not knowing what the future holds and just experimenting or seeing what happens with what you want to do.

Yeah, definitely. It’s great to have goals but if you give yourself too much “I need to do this by this age or I need to be like this,” I feel like you could fall into that hole where you are never happy. For me, I am happy now, I have goals for the next month, and if I don’t reach those goals, I’ll try again. I don’t really have a five or ten-year business plan and maybe that’s not the best thing, I don’t know. But everyone around me is happy and thriving, so maybe that’s the way it should be.

Stefan Pompée: Website | Instagram

PMP Management: Website | Instagram

Interview by Riley Gunderson

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