The New York Times Magazine
Editor: Jake Silverstein
Design Director: Gail Bichler
Director of Photography: Kathy Ryan
Photo Editor: Christine Walsh
Photographer: Johnny Miller
Stylist: Randi Brookman Harris
Heidi:Once your direction was set to show a package of pills received by mail, what were the next steps in the creative process and what was your time frame?
Gail: The next steps were deciding how we wanted to the package to look, thinking about what type of image would best convey our message and then figuring out the best person to shoot that kind of image. We were on a pretty tight time frame, as we usually are since the magazine is weekly. We had about five days to pull the shoot together.
Was it this body of work (My Parents Love Letters ) by Johnny Miller that convinced the team he was right for the project? Were there any other considerations and made you choose him? See the full gallery here
Yes, this was the body of work that made us think of him. We wanted the image to feel very natural and dimensional – to walk the line of being a conceptual image but with the feel of something real. Our photo department had been looking for an opportunity to work with Johnny, and Christine Walsh (the photo editor on the project) and I thought he would be great for this because his work is clean and graphic but still personal.
I loved the small tear in the cover where the bottle is, what other details were taken into consideration to make this image come alive?
A simple image like this is all about the details, so we paid a lot of attention to them. We hired stylist Randi Brookman Harris, with whom we’ve collaborated quite a bit. She sourced a number of different kinds of envelopes and adjusted them to fit the proportions of the cover. We also designed cancellation and metered postage stamps from India (the point of origin for the packages mentioned in the story) and Randi commissioned rubber stamps of them to be applied to the envelopes. We estimated how much a package like this would weigh and accounted for that when fabricating the metered stamp. Randi applied both stamps to the modified envelopes somewhat haphazardly to approximate the way they would appear if they had actually gone through the postal service, and she applied unequal pressure so the ink would vary in density. We placed a square box in the package to give the impression of the volume of the pillbox and began shooting. As the shoot progressed, we also tried versions where we beat up the envelope more, adding wrinkles and smearing the stamps to give the impression that the envelope had been through the mail.
I know from working at news organization there’s prestige and a social responsibility that comes with designing news journalism. How has your role as the Art Director shaped you personally?
There is definitely a social responsibility aspect to working for The New York Times. While there is always a craft and attention to aesthetics that is part of what art directors do, there are also many other considerations when designing news. Under the best circumstances the most eye-catching design is tonally on target, the most arresting photographs correspond with the narrative of the piece, and the most graphic concept for a cover accurately captures the main point of the story, but in cases where that doesn’t happen, conveying the intent and message of the writing sometimes wins out over the aesthetic considerations. I have learned to look past my own viewpoints on the subjects we cover and see the story from varying angles. And in some cases, it’s necessary for me to temper my own goals for the visuals of a piece with what is right for the magazine and the brand of The New York Times. My view of visual story telling and journalism has become much more nuanced.
While I was at The Los Angeles Times Magazine I remembered having moments of being semi paralyzed and in awe of the amount of news being produced on a daily basis. How does the volume of news and your acute awareness effect you as a mother?
The amount of news being generated a daily basis is absolutely dizzying. Particularly in this moment when digital access means that our choices of where to get information have multiplied exponentially. As a mother, I sometimes worry about the easy accessibility of news that is increasingly more violent and graphic. I want to protect my 5-year-old son’s innocence while I can, so I make efforts not to watch or listen to the news around him, because the coverage can quickly shift from a benign topic to something that could be scary for a little person.
However, I’ve also seen the upsides to the kind of instant access to news and information that we now have. It’s great to be able to satisfy a curious mind not only with a verbal explanation, but also with images. Particularly for a very visual learner like my son. That has never been as easy to do as it is now. As with everything, we take the good with the bad.