10 Questions for Jodi Peckman- Rolling Stone

- - Magazines

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was intimidated by working down the hall from legendary Rolling Stone Director of Photography Jodi Peckman. She’s garnered every accolade the photo industry can hand out and her rolodex is the size of a parmesan cheese wheel.

As it turned out my fear was unfounded because she’s a real sweetheart who’s willing to chat at length about working as a photo editor as well as happy to debate the merits of working with any of photographers in this industry.

I thought I’d ask her a few questions:

1. People ask me all the time how I became a photo editor and I’d be willing to bet everyone’s story is different. What’s yours?

Wellllllll… I had a friend who was the assistant to the Art Director here and I used to visit her at work and hang around the office a lot. I was still in school at the time. The Art and Photo Directors got to know me and so I would help out returning film or any small stuff they wanted. At the same time I was also printing photos for the guitarist of the band The Police (he’s a photographer). The Photo Director (Laurie Kratochvil) asked me if I wanted a real job, so she sent me to a photo agency where they hired me to file photos. I ended up working there for quite sometime and eventually left to hang out with my brother who lived in Italy. When I returned Laurie asked me if I wanted to work at Rolling Stone on the Random Notes section. I said yes, and I’m still here.

2. You’ve been a Rolling Stone a long time and I know there’s huge advantages to working within a specific genre having spent my entire career working with outdoor sports and athletics but how do you stay excited and challenged by the subject matter?

The best part about working here is that really it’s not just a music magazine. The range of what we cover is pretty big. We’ve got movies, TV, internet, politics, sports, crime, foreign and national affairs, environment and more. So, I don’t really see it as one genre. That being said, I’ve had to reinvent the job many times over. Coming to the same office, same desk, same everything for this long can get pretty weird and repetitive. The people around here change so that’s good and new photographers crop up all the time. I’m a creature of habit, so staying put suits my lifestyle (I eat a hamburger almost everyday).

3. One of the biggest challenges for me as a Photography Director was hearing, “you can’t hire that photographer” or “we’re not going to run that photo” and not taking it personally. How do you deal with it?

When you’ve been someplace this long you don’t really hear that too often. I guess they figure I know the magazine pretty well by now and fortunately my opinion holds some weight.

4. Do you still look at promo cards? What about promo emails?

Don’t really look at them. Well, I look at them of course, when they come in, but they rarely relate to anything we do here. Seriously, I get photographers who shoot babies and food send stuff all the time. I try so hard to open all the emails, and there are hundreds, but it’s not always realistic. There’s just not enough time. I feel terrible about that and I always promise myself I’ll try harder.

5. I found I didn’t have enough work for even my core group of photographers let alone adding new ones to the list. Do you still add new photographers to your list of people to hire?

We do. Not too many cover shooters tho.

6. Any predictions on how the photography industry will look 5 years from now? How about the magazine industry?

Ahhhh, magazines and newspapers will be around forever. I’m not too good about predicting the future, I’m livin’ in the moment all the time.

These next two questions come from an aspiring Rock and Roll photographer and reader of my blog.

7. In music photography, more so than other kinds of photography, people are willing give away their work for free or in exchange for access. Even musicians ask for photos in return for access. Magazines and festivals also seem to be trading access for photos. An example is the SPIN correspondent program, (here) How do you make a living (or at least part of a living) in that kind of atmosphere?

They’re giving you better access so you should be able to make better pictures. Better pictures should lead to more work. I worked here for free and so do our interns. We end up hiring half the people who are interns.

8. What is the best way to for a photographer to get their foot in the door at Rolling Stone? What assignments should newcomers approach (i.e. festivals)?

Being a concert photographer is brutal. So much competition. Find something special you do well and different from the others and work on an interesting and unique portfolio.

9. I always loved seeing the contact sheets from a shoot for the first time and in many ways that was better then seeing something printed in the magazine. What’s your favorite part of being a Photography Director?

Well it isn’t opening the box of photos. I’m always too nervous. Looking at pictures is so interesting and inspiring, and I really like photographers. I meet interesting people all the time. It’s creative and I feel that I am a part of what makes Rolling Stone what it is and how it looks. I feel so so lucky to have fallen into this job.

10. If you never got a job at Rolling Stone what would you be doing right now?

Beats me.

There Are 36 Comments On This Article.

  1. One of my first editorial jobs (on a national level) was for Rolling Stone and I was fortunate to work with Jodi on it. She was so kind, and fun to talk to. I could tell that she really enjoys her job from our phone conversation.
    Good interview!

  2. “They’re giving you better access so you should be able to make better pictures. Better pictures should lead to more work.”

    So you take the job for no pay to get better access to get you better photos to get more jobs for no pay.

    “um, mister landlord, I can’t pay rent this month… but check out this kick ass picture I took of Bono because I had great access.”

    Jeff

  3. A lot of emphasis on photo blogs/websites is on never working for free and I agree that its a bad habit. One thing people don’t get is that using a situation to get a great image isn’t exactly working for free. You are using the band (in this case) to make a great image and in turn use that image to promote yourself.

    When I started out in action sports I had to shoot any schmuck that could do a half decent trick on a snowboard/skateboard in order for people to see that I knew what I was doing. Those early schmucks didn’t pay me but I used the hell out of the images to get jobs.

  4. The person asking the question didn’t seem to be asking about being an intern… they were specifically asking how to make a living.

    Sounds like the old “do this one for free and we’ll give you great jobs in the future” routine, which I recall you writing about here in the past (then again, with so many blogs they all run together)

    I use to mow my parent’s lawn for free… they kept telling me of all these bigger and better paid landscaping jobs they had for me. But as you can guess, they never came through. But hey, they did put me through college so I can’t complain.

    Jeff

  5. Good answers from Jodi Peckman, a well respected Photo Editor who has been around a long time and knows her stuff.
    Thank you

  6. I think a disturbing trend that I’ve had to help some young music photographers with is this idea that if the band gives you access then the band has rights to the photographs. This is definitely NOT the case! And you should let the band/musician know that. And this can apply to any subject/situation.

    It’s your choice how you may want to proceed – hey the bands living in a squat and want to use some for their website but obviously have no $. In that case nothing to lose and maybe they’ll make it big someday and your early pics will actually be worth something. I’ve made a huge chunk of my living selling my “grunge” archives, very little of which was paid assignment at the time. I think it’s easy to forget that many of the great pictures taken are not from paid gigs. Sometimes you just have to go out and do the work – just retain your rights!

    The other scenario is the band just a got a label deal but feel because they let you into their latest gig they can use some images for free for promo or record jacket etc. Then you are being taken advantage of it. The “we have no money” line doesn’t cut it when they’re taking a tour bus to the next gig.

    I think one of the problems is that much of the general public is not sure of the worth of photography. This hasn’t been made any better with the advent of the digital age. So I recommend young photographers to at first forget about making a “living” at it and begin with just trying to make unique timely images that might help them break out of the “we have no money” set. Things take time. Patience Grasshopper.

  7. Andy Summer’s printer? Damn. A great way to start a resumé! (Note: THROB is an amazing book. If you can find it.)

    In regards to the “working for free in the beginning” thing, I personally found that creating a relationship with a non-profit was the best, guilt-free way. I shot for the amazing KEXP.org here in Seattle for two years when I was just starting out. I donated my time like any volunteer would. No one was making money hand-over-fist. We were all doing it for the love of music. And I got great experience shooting portraits, live music and reportage. But best of all, I wasn’t taking any work from anyone.

    It was while accompanying KEXP in NYC that I showed my book at RS (which was directly across the street from the Museum of Radio and Television, where we were broadcasting from) and it ultimately led to an assignment later down the road.

    Dividends don’t always pay off overnight. But then again, I’ve learned this business is a marathon and not a sprint.

    wm.

    P.S. Love the blog Rob. How much e-mail do YOU get now? Sent you one a while back. (Hint, hint.)

  8. The best way to start out, by far, is to just hit local shows where having a camera is no big deal. You get the practice, nobody is after a rights grab and you’re not giving away your photos for free. There’s a big difference between shooting for free for yourself, and doing it for someone else. I personally don’t see the problem with internships when you’re just getting on your feet…you may not be getting paid, but the access and experience far outweigh that. It’s just a matter of knowing when to switch over to getting paid for every gig.

    Thanks for the article, Rob, I found it very interesting.

  9. Being a profitable music shooter is a nigh impossible biz, and if you are doing it exclusively, chances are it will leave you broke, drunk, exhausted and smelling like an ashtray. But you will have the time of your life, make some lifelong friends, and if you can gut it out long enough, your shooting style will have garnered some serious Popeye forearms. Use ‘em for everything.

    Charles and Wm. A. are right – it’s all about the long haul.

  10. Here is a nice article on Henry Diltz, legendary music photographer from a slightly ‘nother era. I met him one day on a job, where we were both assigned to be shooting. Super nice guy, laid back. Two beat-to-hell Nikkormats thrown over his shoulder. That was the extent of his “production van and entourage”. No DJ or Posing Coach.

    What’s best about this article are the captions/stories accompanying each image; just click on any thumbnail to enlarge them, and then you’ll see the caption. Access? Now, THIS guy had access. Imagine just going to some backyard barbeque at Joni Mitchell’s house, and you’re lying in the grass, and you look over and there’s Eric Clapton.

    http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0708/diltz_thumbs.html

  11. Someone involved in photography who doesn’t suggest “assisting” as a means to “getting your foot in the door”. I would like to meet Jodi Peckman :-).

  12. “Access? Now, THIS guy had access.”

    An excellent example, Mark.

    Another great source which explores Henry’s illustrious career is the award-winning documentary film, “Under the Covers” http://tinyurl.com/3889la , produced by Henry’s business partner, Peter Blachley; which, eventually aired on PBS.

    The documentary also illustrates – from a music photographer’s perspective – the pay-off gained from establishing long-term, positive relationships with subjects and business associates which is quite evident given the A-list cast of music legends that appear in the production of this film.

  13. I agree with William Anthony on working for free (aka volunteering) for nonprofit organizations.

    But you have to be upfront with them about what your long-term goal is, and that is to find paying assignments. This can be as simple as asking those who request volunteer shoots for referrals to paying clients.

    And don’t just ask the people making the requests. Ask the organization’s board members for referrals. Ask the staff. Ask, ask, ask, and keep on asking.

    One more thing: Make sure that your clients and prospective clients know that you do volunteer shooting for Save the Snarks or the Coalition to Stamp Out Lethargy. Keeping them in the loop may also lead to paying work.

  14. am i the only one overly bored with music and concert photography?
    it’s the same boring crap just like a lot of sports photography
    how about taking me somewhere where i can’t go like backstage, onto the bus, at home chillin’, etc take me into the lifestyle
    not some dood on stage that i can see for myself as a fan

  15. Great interview! I think working for free gives everyone an opportunity, if you choose to look at it that way. Having access to good subject matter is invaluable. I agree that people should never give away their work, or make a habit of shooting for free. I try to look at no/low budget shoots on a case by case basis. How is my month going, does it sound fun, is it possible I could get some good images for my book? Eventually if I feel taken advantage of, I choose not to work for the client again, or it falls low on my priority ladder. Which is the best part of being self employed.

  16. @17

    Even though I’ve made the fair share of my living and reputation with live music photography I have to agree with Roy. Too many people in our culture think mere representation of a subject is enough. “Hey look I got a pic of Kanye singing into the mic and it’s in focus. Maybe I can shoot for RS now.” Live photographers need to give us something more – a new technique, a moment (that should be a given but rarely is), a new way of thinking about the nature of performance, and so on.

    Years ago i showed a pic I took of Eddie Vedder to him. I took it from 3/4 behind and framed him tiny in the very bottom left corner looking out. The rest of the frame is nothing but a sea of black. He studied it for a couple of minutes and then told me in his gravelly voice “I never thought about it that way before.” It was the highest compliment I could’ve been paid.

    That should be the goal of every photographer – to make people see the subject in a way they never thought about. Otherwise why bother.

  17. @10-well put. When I started out I worked with select non-profits in trade for ABC sponsorship level. One, it was a great opportunity to do more than write a check for the causes I felt strongly about. Two, more times than not there are creative directors from agencies involved that are doing the design end..a great way a to get a foot in the backdoor of a firm that might not otherwise work with someone they don’t have a relationship with. Third, because of the extensive PR outreach of larger non-profit events (i.e. collateral material, t-shirts, TV/print ads, etc. etc.) the logo placement/name recognition from the sponsorship (as well as the work itself) speaks volumes to the general/business community that you’re a guy that’s involved.

    It also got me off my ass to shoot stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise shot, with the total creative freedom to shoot it the way I wanted to.

  18. Right on Bri@n. It’s so true… pro bono can be a great way to get your name out there, do something positive, and get off yer keester (sp?) and shoot. For a long time we wanted to donate to a big non profit here in our area…. I mentioned our desire to do so to someone in their marketing department in passing one day… next thing I know we are shooting their national campaign. We are still only in pre production right now, but already the sincerely great feeling that both my business partner and I are getting from this is rewarding enough… not to mention we got to nail down our own concepts for the campaign. Sure, we aren’t getting paid for the job, but sometimes payments aren’t always in dollars and cents…

  19. This – along with event or “social” photography is what our little group do. To be honest we’re similar in nature to sites like The Cobra Snake and Last Nights Party. I don’t know what peoples perceptions are of these websites but I can’t imagine it being overwhelmingly positive.

    I guess our difference is that we’re placing a stronger emphasis on photography, although we’re all very much learning.

    We were commissioned to shoot a recent festival here in Sydney (with Kanye West headlining, funnily enough 20). Basically we shot backstage, around the dressing rooms and on stage as well as some stuff in the pit.

    The two principle galleries are here: http://www.hobogestapo.com/gallery.cfm?id=393 and here: http://www.hobogestapo.com/gallery.cfm?id=391

    Any feedback appreciated, as always.

    The majority of the festivals we shoot we do it for free. Although next year our plan is to strike deals with the artists and touring operators to be able to tour with the festivals and get more behind-the-scenes stuff.

    A lot of these tour operators are reluctant to pay when everyone does it for free, so revenue opportunities need to be found elsewhere – books, exhibitions, photo sales to media outlets and licensing fees from musicians if at all possible.

    Another festival we received a lot of exposure and positive feedback on was the Daft Punk shows in Melbourne and Sydney. The photos are here: http://www.hobogestapo.com/pages.cfm?id=85

  20. Great interview! Such a real person (not that she wouldn’t be… but yeah, very cool!)

    And that’s HILARIOUS that she gets promo cards from portrait photographers shooting babies… wow…

  21. Nice interview and useful insights for a concert photographer.

    “Find something special you do well and different from the others and work on an interesting and unique portfolio…”

    so why not checking contemporary music on old fashion B&W film on liveon35mm.com

    ciao
    Valerio

  22. This is a fantastic interview! Very cool!

    @Jeff: I started shooting raves for free with the biggest electronic music promotion company in Utah. I’m still shooting for them, but now I’m getting paid — not just by them, but by DJ’s, their management, websites that syndicate the galleries I produce, etc…

    Keep in mind that you have to get creative about how you sell your photos — look at who could potentially make money using your photos — those are the people who will pay you.

    If you’re out there shooting all the time, making a name for yourself, the paying opportunities come to you. Stick to your guns. I read in “Successful Self-Promotion for Photographers” (by Elyse Weissberg) that it can take up to two years for a lot of beginning photographers to make a name for themselves and get their business going. I started about a year ago now, and I’m just now getting to the point where I have dependable income streams from house accounts.

    When I started full-time a year ago, I looked at my computer equipment and I thought, “this stuff is going to be outgrown by this time next year.” I set a goal to have enough money to pay all my bills, upgrade my equipment, and still have some money to put away at the end of the day within a year. Since then I’ve invested quite a bit more money in photo gear. Last night I ordered parts for my computer upgrade. I still have money in the bank. This probably doesn’t sound super impressive, but I set a business goal and made it happen, and that’s what it’s all about!

  23. The answer to question #8 is a simple and important takeaway for any aspiring music photographer.

    “Find something special you do well and different from the others and work on an interesting and unique portfolio.”

    There’s a misconception that one has to be good at everything. On the contrary, you just have to be good at what you do.

  24. Back in when I was first getting into shooting live music, I did a ton of work for free or very little pay, especially for local bands who were as broke as I was. This went on for a few years and one night I photographed a local female musician (whom I had shot several times in the past) and on this night she had a guest with her. I shot the show and met her guest afterward, he turned out to be the marketing coordinator for the local concert venue. (The Santa Barbara Bowl) After talking to him for a while I found out they had no house photographer. Long story short, I’ve been the house guy there for eight seasons now. Paid.

    On another note… I recently shot a festival, unpaid, for a online music site for the access. I spent two days wandering front stage, side stage, backstage, the artist lounge, etc. etc. and made some good connections. A couple months later a few of the images ended up in a magazine which paid enough to cover my trip to the festival and a couple of months rent.

    Pro-bono work can be a good thing if you are careful (or sometimes lucky) and selective about whom you give your time and efforts away to.

  25. First time on your blog…via keith green…interesting conversation…Jodi Peckman gave me my “first big break” when she was the Random Notes photo editor. This was back in 1987, and i shot the free U2 concert in SF. EVERY photog there sent their images in. She used mine. I immediately began shooting for her regularly and have probably done over 250 RS assignments since then. I rarely shoot for the mag anymore…every once in a blue moon they will call me…Why? because every Tom, Dick and Sally with an $800 digital camera and a “photo pass” because they shoot for some online pub is willing to shoot for whoever for FREE!! I used to do Live Concert assignments – Big festivals – with a film budget of $3000 for a weekend, + ALL other expenses paid. Fees are $250 or less…now most mags offer a $150 cap on expenses or less for digital processing?? I triple back up my raw files…to the tune of 20+ Terrabytes…including over 70,000 images scanned from film! Photo jobs in the music industry, whether for record co.s or editorial that used to have budgets of $5000 + Expenses are now $1000 including expenses…Hate to say it, bit it is more or less “OVER”…Plus most of those Tom, Dicks and Sally’s are on Auto Exposure, Auto Focus, Auto Creativity, so Like Charles Peterson says, do something different, be original, or you will NEVER go anywhere as a Pro shooter…yeah, you will get published, and if you are with an agency, and shooting the next big festival along with 100 other shooters, and spend 12 hours shooting, and another 12 doing editing, captioning, digital processing, meta data, etc. and you are the Lucky one to have one photo used and your cut is $37.50 after agency fees, than you are NOT making a living!! Most of you have probably never heard of me, but I have had a wonderful 30+ year career as a MUSIC PHOToGRAPHER – That is what I am known as/for?? My 30 year retrospective book, Traveling on A High Frequency comes out in the fall…and yes, I DID shoot a ton of stuff on my own, no assignment, that does not mean I was shooting for free for ANYONE. it means I was building an archive and as Charles also said, I continue to license those photos over and over again, and actually can make more money licensing images that I ALWAYS kept the copyright to, than giving the rights away for a photo pass…it is true, it is a marathon, not a sprint.
    Young shooters call me all the time for assisting, work, advice, words of wisdom…when they do not like that i tell them to go to law School, I tell them the only way you will make it is if you are ORIGINAL! Stop shooting what every one else does, stop taking pictures that look like everyone else’s, be CREATIVE…and you can be one of the few that does break out.
    Best
    Jay Blakesberg