Michael Kopal, based in Cologne, art director for the North Rhine-Westphalia area, is a long-time companion of Westend61. He has been an important part of the creative department for 10 years. In looking after “his” 20 or so photographers, he benefits from having gotten to know the subject of People & Lifestyle photography from various perspectives. The certified designer and illustrator worked in advertising for around 10 years before joining stock photo agencies.
In his time as an advertiser, the man from the Ruhr area has really moved around; as art director of various advertising agencies, he has worked in Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Milan, and Munich, among other places. The experience Michael Kopal was able to gain against this backdrop was to benefit him many times over: “I was already working in photo production back then and learned a lot in the process,” he recounts about his work in the 1990s.
When he later worked for about two years as an art director for a picture agency, aspects such as image design and language, model selection, cooperation with photographers, and also a good feeling for trends and the marketability of an image were already familiar to him. From there he found his way to Westend61. And you could say that he significantly influenced the concept of Westend61 by establishing its urban accent of People & Lifestyle photography and bringing in experiences from his earlier activities. “And as an advertiser, I can also assess what will be purchased,” explains Michael—a combination of creative and commercial thinking that Westend61 can only benefit from. “I have both worlds in my head,” says Michael.
Of course, it was crucial for the first contact with Westend61 that Michael found the photos offered there appealing, but soon after beginning to work together, he found that he also liked working together in a team. And it is certainly this personal climate, in addition to its high quality and creative concept, that sets Westend61 apart from many of its competitors.
Michael also attaches great importance to this partnership when working with his photographers: “The personal link is very important for our work because the concept for good pictures is created during the dialogue with the photographers.” Often these contacts also lead to friendly ties, so that work and private life, career and leisure sometimes merge, which, in his experience, is very nice because: “It often doesn’t feel like work at all. I call this my ‘family concept,’ and it works really well.” If he supports the photographers with his instinct for relevant topics as well as the selection of models, locations, styling, and clothes, Michael often profits from the local knowledge and the contacts of the people behind the camera. “This sometimes results in good ideas and concepts that you wouldn’t have come up with on your own,” he says.
Michael also highlights another aspect: “I, myself, have learned a lot more of the technical side of photography through my work with Westend61, and in the meantime, I really like being the accompanying photographer for productions.” Under the pseudonym Richárd Bellevue, Michael supplies Westend61 with photos. The practical experience he has gained through image editing, quality control, retouching, etc. has helped him, in a way, feel like one of his photographers. In this way, he can, as it were, give instructions “through the camera” and better put himself in the position of the photographer, which makes working together easier. You could say that, with the view through the camera viewfinder, Michael Kopal has added a third angle—his “third lens,” so to speak—to the perspectives of the advertising expert and graphic designer.