Rebecca Wolkenstein Interview

Warning: Rebecca Wolkenstein’s creative output may cause dizziness. As an agent, Wolkenstein represents some of the most celebrated creative talent in Australia. You know, people like Beci Orpin, Jonathan Zawada, Gen Kay, Chris Searl of Monster Children and Andrew van der Westhuyzen of Collider.

She also runs a second agency, Rock Of Eye, in conjunction with Jeremy Wortsman, a founding member of Is Not Magazine and head honcho of Jacky Winter, Australia’s premiere Illustration Agency. On top of that, Wolkenstein along with fellow Southern Highlands resident Sarah King edit SoHi Magazine a self described ‘slow, inclusive, creative online mag, for and about the Southern Highlands’ and runs Creative Caravan a site that facilitates accommodation abroad for the right brain thinkers among us. Or in laymen’s terms a ‘Craigslist for creatives’.

At the time of the interview, Rebecca’s partner Julian Wolkenstein (himself a celebrated photographer) was overseas working, leaving Rebecca to tend to their children alone. And when I finally get through via telephone, Rebecca conducts the whole interview while driving. Like I said, this lady’s output will make you dizzy.

Gen Kay shoots Ela Stiles For Nylon Japan

P: For those who don’t know, can you explain exactly what it is you do?

RW: Okay, so there are a few different versions of me. There’s the creative agent, I have my agency Rebecca Wolkenstein, and I also have an agency called Rock of Eye which I co-own with Jeremy from Jacky Winter. And I represent Jacky Winter in Sydney, and I edit a magazine called SoHi and I’ve got Caravan.

P: So what does a typical day entail for you?

RW: I work in Sydney two days a week, and I work in the Southern Highlands three days a week. There’s no typical day really. If I’m in production for a magazine I might be spending more time on the magazine than other things, and once that goes off to the designer it’s time to do all the other things I need to do.

When I wake up in the morning I do Caravan first thing, because a lot of my caravan members are in the US, probably about 80 per cent of them are in the US. So I’ve got to go through and approve all those memberships, and then it’s dropping the kids off at nursery, and then I go to Sydney.

Most of the time when I’m in Sydney I do meetings, so I go to ad agencies and see photographers and catch up with staff and stuff like that. If it’s a magazine day we might be shooting, we might be interviewing.

It’s quite busy and varied which I quite like.

Jonathon Zawada print for Something Else

P: Do you get down time? And what do you do with that time if you do get any?

RW: Well it’s been a bit of a problem. No we haven’t had holidays in a really long time. Recently we had our first holiday in three years, and that’s been very good for my productivity so I would highly recommend taking a week every quarter because without it you can’t rejuvenate and refresh and be excited and enthusiastic.

P: Do you know a graphic designer named Stefan Sagmeister?

RW: I know his name, yeah.

P: I recently watched this interesting video from the TED conferences. He takes a one year sabbatical every seven years, like a working holiday, and he actually found he was more productive in the long run by taking time away from his usual environments and work commitments.

RW: Totally. I don’t know whether all other creatives are just like us, but we know we can deduct a certain amount of our holidays on tax if we work, and I just don’t think in the long run, the money you save on tax is not an equal compensation for the lost productivity you get from not taking proper holidays.

I think sabbaticals are good for creatives, but I don’t produce anything of my own I’m more of a facilitator so I think I just need energy, I don’t need creative energy, I just need physical energy.

P: You mentioned your role as a facilitator, how did you first find yourself in that agent role? What led you towards that?

RW: I studied photography at RMIT a long time ago, and I didn’t have anything special – I did okay work and it was acceptable and I passed all my courses but it wasn’t anything special and I think I knew deep down that it wasn’t going to happen for me.

I definitely knew what made a good image, and that has translated quite well into design as well as the years have gone on. That I can look at something and go, is it good? Is it viable? Is it commercial and can it make money for that artist?

And I started off thinking I wanted to do production and I was really terrible at it – it was very stressful and it wasn’t really for me. I realized I was better at the selling part of it, and analyzing a portfolio and putting the artist’s best foot forward.

P: What’s the best part of that job?

RW: Probably, being able to be creative without any pressure, so I can express my creativity without putting my name to it. I think that’s the best part, it’s like being vicariously creative – sort of creative by association. And I think I’m a creative person but I don’t have any skills so you imagine what it is like to know what creativity is about and understand it in quite an in depth way but not be able to do anything.

Andrew van der Westhuyzen for Ministry Of Sound

P: Yeah totally, I actually completely understand that.

RW: People in your position and my position definitely understand that. You kind of edit but you can’t do it.

P: I think every writer is vicariously creative. I wish I had a designer’s eye or a musician’s ear but I’m absolutely un-creative and I’ve resigned to that fact. I guess writing is my way of being involved in a creative industry indirectly. So I completely understand that. Have there been any surreal moments for you as an agent?

RW: Not surreal, but I’ve had some highlights like when we got booked for our first Monocle job, a lot of people would think that’s a bit lame, but it’s been my dream to have an artist who shoots for Monocle. And we’ve done four or five jobs with them now.

P: What did you do for Monocle?

RW: We did one three day shoot in Tasmania which was shooting all these kind of world exporters, all these boutique world food exporters. And then we had a story about all these companies that were striving during the recession. And we just finished a shoot, I think it was in Darwin.

P: Speaking of Tasmania and Darwin let’s talk about Creative Caravan now for a moment, how did you get the idea for that? There must have been an incident that sparked that idea…

RW: Yeah, it was really from us travelling. We were living in London for 3.5 years and we had our two kids there while we lived there. We would come home for 3-6 weeks at a time and we would really struggle to find something comfortable in Sydney that wasn’t a hotel, that wasn’t going to cost us a fortune. And I knew that there must have been plenty of Londoners here who were likewise going home to England at some point, so I thought wouldn’t it be great to just stay in someone’s house.

And it seemed to work really well and I knew a few other people who had these sorts of arrangements and thought it would be great to get something more formal to help people facilitate travel and do it cheaply and comfortably. A lot of people have really cool houses, and you’d have somewhere nice to stay instead of a hotel.

P: And they’re usually in nice areas.

RW: Yeah, and if I say to you ‘so and so is a DOP on a film’ you have a mental image of what that person is into you have an idea of what their values are and what kind of person they are.

P: And have you been using the service yourself?

RW: Yeah, I’m swapping with a girl from Sydney who lives at Bondi Beach. She’s got a small family and I’ve got a small family, so the houses are set up for little kids. And she wants her kids to have some country air and I want my kids to go to the beach and we want to visit Sydney friends. So we’re doing a swap at the end of the month.

P: That’s quite convenient.

RW: Yeah, very convenient.