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Design Director and Photo Editor: Charlie Hess
Art Director: Suzannah Mathur
Editor: Jack Feuer
Photographer: J Bennett Fitts
Heidi: How did this idea come about?
Charlie: When I was art directing Buzz Magazine (too many years ago) I was able to run a photo essay in every issue for a few years. It was immensely satisfying and fun. The subjects would come from my relationships with photographers I liked and admired. And always from the photographer’s personal passion projects — basically the stuff they’d shoot for love, but needed a venue to show the work.
With my current magazine clients I suggest photo essays whenever my editors have the space. Everyone seems to like them and they’re a nice break from the copy-driven features. The concept I pitched was this: Everyone knows the picture postcard views of UCLA (as seen in countless TV shows and movies) but what about the real UCLA campus, the seemingly mundane places, the in-between spaces, the landscapes that everyone passes but few people notice. Let JB explore campus and find the hidden beauty of UCLA behind and between the landmarks.
Did you give any specific art direction other than in-between spaces?
It turns out that JB used to sneak onto campus as a kid and skateboard. He knew the campus well (or at least the ramps and jumps!) but he hadn’t been back for years. So I pretty much set him loose, with a few general guidelines. I wanted his perspective, not mine.
After he’d been shooting early mornings and late nights for a few weeks he felt he had some work prints worth looking at. We spent a lunch going over them, which was great because at that point he was pretty deep into it but it was all fresh to me. I gave him some notes and suggestions of where he should focus. He went back a few more times and then we settled on about ten of our favorites. It was pretty seamless and I think the essay is much stronger because I knew when to butt out!
What do you look for in photography?
Legendary music producer Don Was, after remastering “Exile on Main Street,” said that what defines rock and roll is the imperfections, what happens when the drummer is slightly OFF the beat. That’s what makes it rock and roll and not digitally auto-tuned drivel. That’s what I wanted JB to shoot — the human imperfections and random moments, the “off-beat” — NOT the visual equivalents of Auto Tune.
Now that everything’s digital it’s too easy to make it “perfect.” What I love about JB’s landscape work (and even more so in portraiture) is the mistakes and imperfections that make it real. We try to do as little “airbrushing” as possible; I think it makes photographs more credible and sincere, though I know I”m fighting a losing battle!
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