Heidi Volpe- Art Director, L.A. Times Magazine

- - Art Director

Heidi Volpe and Michael DarterI’ve known Heidi for quite awhile now, we worked on and off together at Outside Magazine over a few years and still talk frequently about photography and the industry on the phone. She has an impressive resume of magazines where she’s worked that includes: Philadelphia Magazine, Men’s Health, GQ, TimeOut NY, Outside, Outside Traveler, Men’s Health 18, Muscle and Fitness and finally the L.A. Times Magazine. LA Times MagazineI think the makeover she’s given the LA Times Magazine is nothing short of brilliant. Sure, I’m biased towards full bleed images and minimal design fuss but her 18 Society of News Design awards last year proves the design community is behind that aesthetic as well. What’s even more remarkable is that a place as troubled as the LA Times would allow Heidi to continue to do such brilliant work. I think it’s more a testament to the power of a strong willed Art Director than it is any genius on the part of the management.

It must be impossible to work without a photo editor I mean honestly, how any magazine survives without the sage advice of a photo editor is beyond comprehension. Ok, seriously there’s a fairly large group of publications out there that don’t employ a photo editor and my theory is that it changes the photography choices because the person making them is concerned with how they will work with the design. Do you think not having a photo editor on staff effects a publications approach to photography?

LA Times MagazineI don’t think it affects the approach at all. I think it can be a great benefit. When I worked with Dan Winters and Christian Witkin they saw it as a great opportunity to have ultimate creative control and that’s how I see it. I’m smart enough to know superior photography is everything. I heard David Carson speak a long time ago about design, he said the answer is always in the picture and that stuck with me. LA Times MagazineAt a previous job I even got myself ejected for my taste in photography. I told the editor it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t recognize good photography because he’d only been exposed to a certain genre of imagery his entire career, which, I had no interest in working with. We had a battle over images John Huet shot for us which eventually led to an early departure.

There’s not much magazine publishing going on in LA or really, anywhere west of the George Washington bridge for that matter. Does that put more pressure on you to represent magazines that aren’t located on an island in NY? Why aren’t there more great publications in LA?

LA Times MagazineSure, I really wanted our book to be creative outlet for LA photographers. People gripe that there are no good photographers in LA, I strongly disagree and wanted to prove it and along the way support the photo community out here.

There are a few reasons for this, Life magazine (1936), Esquire (1933), New Yorker (1925), all started in New York City and they in turn spawned many more magazines. LA Times MagazineThey also raised an entire generation of editors, art directors, writers and photographers who went on to create and work at other magazines. Plus, now with the high cost of publishing you need corporate support to get started and all the publishers are in New York.

When it comes to awards and use of photography, newsstand magazines have always felt that newspaper inserts have an unfair advantage. You’re not subjected to the crazy newsstand, advertising and even some of the audience demands because your publication rides along inside the newspaper and is more of an added value then something that needs to pull it’s own weight. Would you agree with that?

LA Times MagazineInsert? Gawd, I hate that word. No, we compete with ourselves actually. We have to be something the paper isn’t and that can be hard sometimes because the Los Angeles Times itself has award winning photography. The LA Times Photo Director, Colin Crawford is amazing (examples, here and here).

Our struggles are different, it’s a content war to see who gets there first, we can’t cannibalize the newspaper’s feature sections so we always have to make sure whatever we are reporting is fresh and that can be difficult. Most magazines traditionally use newspapers to locate stories to further report in depth. We can’t do that. We do however have fewer coverlines on the image which is nice and no upc but we have advertising in every issue so it’s no different than a newsstand magazine. We need to pull our own weight especially now with many, many cut backs in this industry.

What are your main sources for finding photographers and how do you like to be reached?

I talk to a lot of photographers, go to openings, visit Art Center, look at magazines and look a lot online. Art Streiber is also a great resource and ambassador for the photo community out here (on top of being a great photographer).

So, you don’t really use promo cards or book drops?

No, I still rely on promos and book drops but word of mouth is my favorite method for finding photographers. I love talking to photographers about other photographers they’re into.

With your focus on all things LA will you hire photographers from other cities? Do you ever shoot anything outside of LA County?

We just shot a feature story in Paris. Is that far enough out of LA for ya?

If you have any questions for Heidi leave them in the comments.

There Are 33 Comments On This Article.

  1. i always appreciate these interviews….

    thanks for the inspiration and i wish you continued success.

    cheers and blessings….

  2. Kent Dorfman

    Is there an HD version of the magazine available someplace? I get constantly depressed at having to witness some of the best imagery being delivered on Newsprint and then subsequently winding up in the recycling bin.

  3. Kudos, on the redesign! … and the interview.
    It’s great to see things are going so well for you. Hopefully we can catch up sometime soon.

  4. Rob, Thanks again for these great interviews.

    A question for Heidi: Want to look at my book? HA…Just kidding.

    My real question is:

    I’m in the middle of relocating from a place I’ve worked for over 20 years and my books are pretty much all personal work – most of the people in this area know of my commercial work. So, it works just fine. However, I’m moving to California and no one knows my commercial work.

    So, when you look at someones book, who you’ve never heard of before, do you like to see personal work or more commercial photographs?

    Thanks.

  5. Hi Heidi, what’s the easiest way get in touch with you?
    Email, or just a promo?Maybe i just did..
    Thank You.
    Great job Rob, this is very interesting.

  6. Hi Heidi!
    We overlapped briefly while I was at Outside (and you were designing the Traveler). Your redesign looks beautiful. I love the fonts! I’ll have to try and get my hands on an actual issue.
    All the best wishes,

    Jana

  7. Lucas,

    First off, welcome to CA. I would like to see both. I am an art direction, remember? it’s all about options. Plus it’s always good to show range as long as it’s organized in separate books. I especially like to see personal work because it’s what you respond to, gives me a little window into your head. I like seeing what people are interested in, because if an assignment comes us that can tap into their own personal passion, they’ll bring that extra layer to the images.

    Thanks for the question,

    Heidi

  8. Hey Jana,

    Nice to hear from you. You are at Portfolio right? Looks great and lucky you for working with RP. Let me know if you are ever in LA for a shoot.

    Some Santa Fe people were just here, they got shot for Outside and I finally got to meet Leslie Meyer.

    Heidi

  9. Hey Kent,

    What does HD mean? Hard copy? If you want an issue, I’ll send you one, just give me your address. Plus we have an online presence and photo galleries for our pictorial narratives.

    latimes.com > look for Magazine in the menu bar on the left

    Heidi

  10. Hello Heidi,

    So in an ideal world its photography first, then design? When does the photographer “having ultimate control” become counter productive?

    Thanks for another view from the inside Rob.

    Chris

  11. Hey Chris,

    Well I think photography should inspire design but design can also lead you to how you want something shot, how the type will integrate with the image, fit on the page and what not.

    I love it when you go into a shoot with an idea, you get that, then you push and get images that go beyond what you originally had in mind.
    Shoots need to stay somewhat organic b/c it is a dynamic situation.
    Plus who doesn’t love surprises ( and options )

    “The ultimate control” is mine, not the photographer, and what I mean by that is I have the unique position of being the photo editor and the art director / designer so I know exactly what I am going to do with the images on the page, how those images will fit and flow with the rest of the book.

    I do let the photographers shoot their craft, that’s why I hired them.
    So they do have a lot of control but the end game is all mine. Make sense?

    Heidi

  12. Heidi

    Really like what you’ve been doing with the magazine. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better under Nan Oshin, you’ve taken it to a whole new level. Congrats.

    With LA Magazine being such a force in this town, do you see your magazine as competition or partner in crime when it comes to covering all things Southern California?

    Would love to shoot for you sometime.

    Steve

  13. Great interview. Really enjoying this series, Rob; behind the scenes of a critically important part of the photo world. A question for Heidi; what about photographers in far-off cities? You mentioned the shoot in Paris. Being in China, book drops are hard to do, and mailed promos are unreliable at best and can take weeks or months to arrive. How did you find the photographer in Paris? What’s the best way for a foreign-based photographer to get in touch and maintain the relationship? We all know emails very often go by without even a glance.

    Scott

  14. Interesting…and thank you Heidi for your insights. Since your magazine is apart of the LATimes, I am curious how you feel about the line that gets drawn between what is considered straight shooting, and photography that is heavily altered or manipulated (though I cringe at the word). Do you find it difficult to present work to your audience that might seem to “mis”represent reality? Do you consider it more along the lines of illustration?

  15. Hey Steve,

    Well, the crew over there is doing a fantastic job both creatively and editorially and I would think we complement each other. They just kill it when it comes to service and have the pages to support the indepth information. They do alot of thing really well actually, I love their sense of humor, use of photography, incredible voice in that magazine, great writers. All great elements when it comes to a consumer magazine. We are more of a news magazine, that is sometimes funny and do a little bit of service so we are kinda different animals.

    I would say we compete with them only in that most of the staff that is there has worked here at one point. We lost a lot of great people to them this year.
    Thanks for the question and I’ll check out your site.

    Heidi

  16. Hi Scott,

    I would say email is the best, and I really try to look at all my emails.
    Not everyone hammers the delete button.
    Maintain by sending out great images and updates but don’t always expect and reply. Plus, think about who needs images that you can generate in your locale, what stories are relevant to whatever client you are pitching.

    I found the photographer in Paris through an LA based agency, they had someone over there that was already on a job so I could piggy back and not get buried with the travel. I did this after I:

    #1
    I reached out to some Paris based agencies but it became really hard with the time difference and my time was running out.

    #2
    Had a Paris based photographer interested in the job, then left me hanging for a few days and I burned a bunch of time waiting for an answer

    #3 Had the this photo dude I know named Rob post some things for me.

    Thanks for the questsion
    Heidi

  17. Hi Caroline,

    We don’t manipulate photography, when we do alter anything, we label it photo illustration so we never mislead our reader. That was a tough one coming off a consumer magazine background but I embrace it now that I am here and fully support it hard as that may be at times. It forces everyone to solve it in camera, with light and keep things tight. There is no cleaning up later.

    There was a great article in the New Yorker you should read
    about Pascal Dangin written by Lauren Collins.

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/05/12/080512fa_fact_collins

    Thanks for the question

    Heidi

  18. Hi Heidi

    Thanks for answering all our questions. I notice on the LA Times web site you shot the photos for the “At Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn, the luxury guilt-free. Go ahead, indulge” article. Is that something that happens often? If you ever do anything else in the Big Sur area I have a friend that is an amazing photographer that lives there. http://www.kodiakgreenwood.com, if you like word of mouth.

    So one quick questions do you ever use stock photography?

    Thanks again for your time….
    Ryan

  19. Kris LaManna

    Hi Heidi,

    How can you forget to mention Working Woman Magazine in that impressive resume of yours!

    Your redesign is amazing, hope you and MD are doing well.

    -kris

  20. KRIS!
    How are you? Gotta say that was one of the most FUN art departments to work with. All of us stuffed in that little room, can you believe it?!?!
    Plus, we knew how to party, oh and of course work hard. Michael always tells me you are doing great, that’s so nice to hear.

    All the best and let’s catch up soon!

    Heidi

  21. Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for the question and link.

    Yes

    We use stock photography, most often for travel when we can’t afford to shoot everything. (Like if we are doing a big service piece) We do like to cover travel at least 2x a year and always look for ways people can indulge themselves near LA.

    H

  22. hello Heidi,
    A little late getting to this.
    I am wondering what your thoughts are on working with photographers for the 1st time, photographers that don.t have a great deal of editorial background. do you work with green photogs and if so how do you know that you can trust them on an important shoot.
    also how many images does it take to sell you on a newbee. whats the good number, to much or to little?
    thanks for your attention to all the questions.

  23. Rob thanks for this KOOL interview with Heidi. Wow! Now she is like the nextdoor girl. I just need to place her “poster” on my wall.

    Heidi thanks for taking the time for all these answers and for the inside look.

    And girl, keep doing your brilliant work and enjoy life, the mountains, the air, the ocean, the people. the great food and wine of California as much as I have been doing since I moved to California in 2001

    Let the spirit and creative forces of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and John Steinbeck guide you.

    Manuello Paganelli

  24. Hello Robert,

    Sorry for getting back to you so late. I’ve been distracted as they’ve decided to close the magazine and turn the operation over to the business side.

    —–

    Everyone is a first at some point.

    It’s fine not to have a significant editorial background, I am choosing you because of something you are bringing to the table. Fine art, commercial…

    No I don’t work with green photographers, no only purple ones.

    I use the front of book and back of book to experiment with new photographers. All shoots are important on some level, but I would work with newer photographer on a smaller project, see what the images look like, how the project is delivered and take it from there.

    There is never a magic number. Solid work, well thought out, visually articulate are good things to keep in mind.

    Thanks for the question

    Heidi

  25. Hello Heidi,
    thanks for reply, I actually got an email from Aaron Falon, and read your more recent interview with him.
    extremely sorry about the magazine.
    I am wondering how the general reader is going to react to that change.

  26. Hey Robert,

    Hopefully they are pissed off and mad as hell. Yet again, the Times takes something away from the readers.

    We buried the notice that the magazine was closing at the bottom of the masthead. Totally lame. LA and it’s dwellers deserves better.

    The Tribune Towers and the Times building are up for sale.
    That says it all.

    Heidi

  27. Hi Heidi,
    I really enjoyed reading your article.
    I’ve been a bit frustrated with the editing process of my work.
    I love cinematic images, there is always a sense of fashion,drama,lighting and composition.I have been shooting documentary style -behind the scenes for some fashion designers, I also have done studio looks books, beauty and portraits. I just don’t know how to choose the right images..
    Is there a way for me to showcase my work, in a way that it make sense to prospective clients? If I have different styles?
    Are there a set of guidelines, to proper editing..I feel that you might know the answer..
    Thank you…for sharing your knowledge and expertise..and great energy!!
    I found you article to be very inspiring.
    All my best, Franco