Christopher Anderson- Return of the Staff Photographer

by Grayson Schaffer

On Tuesday, New York Magazine announced that it had signed longtime contributor and well-known photojournalist Christopher Anderson as the weekly magazine’s first-ever “photographer-in-residence.” In a statement released to the British Journal of Photography, New York said the 41-year-old Brooklyn-based shooter would tackle a “broad array of subjects in a full range of styles, from photojournalism to portraiture to conceptual work.” Anderson will now work exclusively for New York, at least where print magazines are concerned. The odd thing, here, is that the era of the staff photographer was supposed to have ended when National Geographic gradually moved away from the practice. We called Anderson to try and make sense of the sudden turn of events.

Grayson: Congrats. We thought the staff photographer position had gone the way of the film camera, what happened?
Christopher: I’ve had a close collaboration with [photography director] Jody Quon and [editor] Adam Moss for quite some time. They came to me and asked if I would consider taking this kind of position as an experiment—a way to reaffirm the magazine’s commitment to exciting photography. It’s a great opportunity.

Grayson: What are the specifics of the arrangement that you can share?
Christopher: The amount of time is, as of yet, undetermined. We’re going to see how it goes for at least a year.

Grayson: As much as you can produce for them? Are you like an all-you-can-eat buffet of photography?
Christopher: Well this is the real world, and of course they’re going to want to use me as much as they can. It is, in that sense, an all-you-can-eat buffet. But I don’t think that was the point. The idea wasn’t to say “Let’s put him on staff so we can use him up as much as we can.” The point was to have my undivided attention. We want to see if working together in a concentrated way like this can produce some interesting work over time.

Grayson: So it looks more like a professor’s chair than a hamster wheel.
Christopher: Right. They have my undivided attention, but I also have theirs. As a freelance photographer, you spend a lot of time trying to drum up business—shooting just to eat. Now I feel like I can focus on the creative side. I genuinely like working with that magazine, and I love the current projects they’re presenting me with. You might think your hands would be tied and you’re owned by them, but in a weird way I feel much freer.

Grayson: Why do you think staff jobs went away in the first place?
Christopher: There were never many to begin with, though there were some contracts. I used to be on contract at Newsweek. But the implosion of the publishing industry in general, and the photography industry specifically, led to the end of that practice. In the end, it’s cheaper for magazines to use freelancers. It makes economic sense.

Grayson: So how does this arrangement make economic sense?
Christopher: I don’t know that it does. It’s kind of an experiment. But my sense is it’s not about economics. It’s hard to put an exact price on the value of this kind of collaboration. This is more about a creative partnership. I think that they’ve looked at models of how this is done before, particularly by the New Yorker. That magazine has had a long tradition of staff photographers over the years: Richard Avedon, Gilles Peress… and I think this is sort of that New Yorker model where it’s about letting my identity stay independent, even though I’ll be attached to the magazine.

Grayson: They’ll probably end up with some great work to show for it.
Christopher: I hope that that will be true. I also hope that I can produce some great work for myself. I see this as a mutually beneficial relationship.

There Are 17 Comments On This Article.

  1. does “staff photographer” imply a “work for hire” licensing model or does the photographer retain copyright and ownership of the work produced during their employment?

    • If he were an employee it’s possible all the photography would fall under “work for hire” but this is something they would have negotiated beforehand and my guess would be no, considering his agency (Magnum) was founded by photographers wanting to retain their copyright.

  2. Loved this post. I’m curious to see what transpires over the course of the year. I subscribe to New York Magazine so I will be able to follow his journey as a staff photographer. I also am told over and over again, that unless you choose a focus, you’ll lack credibility. Yet time and again, I see magnificent photographers successfully pulling off being a generalist. I hope that aphotoeditor follows up with this story when his contract expires. I’m curious to see how he felt about the experience.

    • There was an excellent interview with agent Julian Richards somewhere a while ago where he explained how photographers have to choose a focus in order to establish themselves but then once they’re established they often branch out into other areas and try to show that they can do more than just what they’re known for.

  3. I just left a job as a staff photographer in an aerospace corporation. I know it seems crazy to walk away in this market but when I signed up I was supposed to do marketing material and in the end 90% of what I did was fill out TPS reports and head shots. I became a photographer because I love the feeling of creating amazing work. I use to dread going to work every day. Then last month I landed a big Ad. campaign and suddenly I didn’t feel like I was working despite the 14 to 17 hour days I was putting in. I was creating great work again.

  4. Good for Christopher, and good for the magazine. I’m sure memorable work will result. Curious, however, about the copyright question.

  5. A new thing for New York magazine, but not for other weeklies. New Yorker has at least 1 contract photographer, and Time and Newsweek still do, I think. I believe in those cases, the copyright remains with the photographers, though haven’t seen the contracts themselves. I know everything Chris Morris did while on contract with Time is available for license in the VII archive, so my guess is the Time contract photographer contract has similar copyright/licensing terms as the standard contributor contract.

    Seems like a good idea for these magazines. The best way for publications to survive is to distinguish themselves with quality and uniqueness. Getting some level of exclusivity with such talented photographers guarantees the magazine some level of repeated quality and uniqueness over the term of the contract.

  6. This could be a wonderfully hopeful turn of events… But isn’t his wife the photo editor there? Christopher is undoubtedly talented, but I wonder how many other photogs got to apply for the job.

      • Why do you think that is? For the sake of discussion, let’s say positions opened up in the top 25 outlets, do you think photographers would opt out?

    • He was invited to take up this job, he didn’t apply for it as it did not exist previously. And that invitation came as a result of a combination of great talent and much hard work.

  7. I also wondered about the copyright. In the 90s I was offered twice to be a staff photographer for an ad agency. They liked the idea that I could shoot a variety of subjects but their biggest was pharma which I had done a lot of. The issue was that they wanted to retain all rights to the images, so I said no. I wonder if ad agencies would be open to the same idea.

  8. I’m really happy about the Christoper Anderson x NYMag partnership. Like everyone else, also very curious about the work that entails.

    Hey… anyone remember the spread he photographed for them during Fashion Week two to three years ago? I felt like I was there… totally awesome!

  9. Can an editorial photographer make a living being full-time? I know my husband, who works for a newspaper, not a magazine, makes less than a Magazine editorial photographer, and he does not get to retain rights. Newspapers pretty much make it the norm that they get all the shots, and retain all rights, at least in my experience through his eyes.