Art buying duo at The&Partnership, Emma Modler and Ellen Green first met when Ellen was interviewing for a job in creative production. Fresh out of university in 2017, Ellen arrived donning her best pink blazer and clutching a folder of magazines, which had flappy tabs guiding Emma to the pages of images she’d been the photography assistant on.
“I remember calling my mum right after the interview telling her I’d completely fumbled it,” says Ellen. “Lo and behold I was just the type of keen bean they were after.”
Emma had been at The&Partnership since 2010 and had mostly been working as a solo art buyer, apart from the occasional freelancer. “During lockdown it became really busy in our world and I knew I had to do something about it,” she says. “Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m quite particular on who I work with, so when it came to finding a partner, Ellen really was the only candidate. I asked her first if she’d be up for it and was so pleased when she said yes.
“I thought Ellen was super bubbly, enthusiastic, and mature and had the passion for a career in advertising. I knew immediately that she would be someone that I could trust and that we would form a strong working relationship. And now to back it up, we have a great friendship too.”
The more junior of the pair, Ellen found Emma to be strong and confident, with such an interesting job that she constantly wanted to learn more about. “That impression hasn’t changed but the thing that has developed is our friendship,” she says. “I no longer see her as just a colleague but a genuine friend. I think that friendship and mutual respect makes our partnership work so well.”
Their first projects together were between departments. To begin with, Ellen was a creative producer, before Emma decided to bring her into the art buying team to work alongside her, but now they work as an art buying unit. They always work collaboratively. “Without sounding ‘cheesy’, I’m really proud of the fact that this is our usual working style,” says Emma.
When a new project comes in, both put their suggestions forward for artists then when productions kick off, one of the two will take it and run with it. “The process, I think, has always been pretty seamless as we work in a similar fashion,” says Ellen. “We both believe that the key to a good production is in the granular details. So we both focus on the details and it just means that if one of us is off we can easily navigate the labyrinthian filing system.”
Ellen notes that in production you can quite easily become a lone wolf, so she appreciates that having someone to work closely with is quite special. “Sometimes it’s working out a solution to a tricky production together, other times it’s just being there for a chat over a glass of vino. Both are equally as valuable! We both have strengths that we can bring to the table: Emma with the relationships she’s made over the years. Me teaching her how to create an Instagram story.”
Amazingly neither Emma nor Ellen can think of a single thing that they clash about. Quite impressive considering Emma’s character: “As most people know, I’d be the first person to say if someone frustrates me!”
Any frustrations tend to come from elsewhere and the art buying duo always face those down together. “It’s good to have someone on your team who understands the challenges and we are able to level each other up,” says Emma.
Last October Emma and Ellen had a mammoth production which required them to demonstrate the level they can work to when they band together: two back-to-back shoots for a client in Barcelona. From the start it was a logistical challenge – they only had a short window where the products were available and loads to shoot in the timeframe. The first solution was to use the same photographer for both campaigns, as one shoot was studio-based and the other on location. “We had the perfect fit for both,” says Ellen.
“The shot list and details of both shoots required some of the most extensive spreadsheets I’d ever worked with, which really brought out my inner nerd. I think this was a real test of how organised we both are as individual producers but also as a partnership. We had to make sure all the details were accessible for all on the production team.
“The shoot consisted of very early starts, long days and late nights. Despite it all I can honestly say I have never laughed this much on any production!”
Then came the post production: 60 shots on one and 30 on the other, both to be delivered within the month. “That’s where the benefit of our working relationship comes in,” says Ellen. “We knew exactly how to divide and conquer and we did it with a smile…mostly.”
Another project that demonstrates art buying at its most challenging was the Argos ‘Mood Hotel’ campaign in 2022, which demanded redecorating a hotel in Bethnal Green, London. The inspiration was taken from Pinterest’s 2022 trends for the year. “An amazing collaboration between the agency and the experiential team,” says Ellen. The campaign took six hotel suites (each consisting of three or four rooms) and decked them out with products from Argos. With just a few days to complete the transformation, photograph each room and get it ready for VIP guests.
“We got an incredible photographer on board and with Emma by my side we worked through the logistics of the project. I have never dealt with so many moving parts in such a short space of time.”
The challenge came from the amount of shots they had and the time in which to shoot.
As well as making sure the rooms were back in occupiable fashion ready for the guests, shooting in the hotel came with its own restrictions. Normally being a smaller crew they would power on and work through until the job was done, but the hotel had other guests staying throughout the production meaning the team could only operate within certain windows.
“To this day I credit having Emma there to sense check solutions to make sure we got every shot on the list done in time and to an amazing standard. The end result was a real achievement for everyone involved.”
For Ellen, having Emma as a partner has been a huge help to her development as an art buyer – a discipline that fewer agencies put a focus on in today’s industry. “She’s taught me everything I know and I’m so grateful for that,” says Ellen.
Although Emma’s been doing the job for many years, she is of course still learning all the time too. “The industry is forever changing, and with timing and budgets being constantly squeezed, we really have to think outside the box to find solutions and still make the best creative work possible,” she says. “I’d say I learn things from Ellen most days but mostly, she has shown me that I can delegate and trust others to get the job done.”
Between them they also bring double the art-buying brainpower, connections and knowledge to the agency, both forming new relationships with agents and emerging artists. It’s key for them to make sure they’re always staying up to date and current but retaining their all important friendships in the industry.
“Splitting the workload also means we have time to explore new cultural activities and events,” says Ellen, “putting on monthly portfolio shows, refreshing the exhibition spaces in the office with incredible art and hosting photographers’ talks as well as our quarterly ‘Something for the weekend’ email sharing the latest and greatest exhibitions.”
Exhibitions are important because as an art buyer it’s part of the job to be inspired by photographers and their work. “For me, inspiration comes from the artists we work with, the way they take the creative concept and elevate it is a wonderful process to watch,” says Ellen. “Taking the time to research the right photographer for the project is probably my favourite part of the job. Being able to step back at the end of the production and know that my creative recommendation had a big part to play in the final artwork is so rewarding.”
“Exactly that,” agrees Emma. “When I see all of these talented artists at work, I’m constantly inspired and although there is a fair bit of stress in pulling projects together, I realise how fortunate I am to be working in such a creative industry.”
Asides from showing Ellen the ropes in art buying and production, Emma has taught her how important good relationships are in this industry. “I’ve learnt that when you work with a good network around you and such talented artists, you can tackle any challenge.”