Category "Director of Photography"

The New York Times Magazine: Photographs edited by Kathy Ryan

It’s just past the time of the year when everyone has posted their favorite photography books from 2012 and I thought I’d get in on the action, but because I’m very edgy I’m picking a book from 2011. Ok, actually I bought it last year intending to write about it, but my motivation left me somewhere along the way (almost didn’t do it again). My pick for for a timeless book everyone should own is The New York Times Magazine: Photographs edited by Kathy Ryan.

If you’re a fan of editorial photography, you know that The New York Times Magazine is the gold standard. This is not because they have their pick of photographers or because they publish weekly and have lots of assignments to hand out or because they’re not sold on newsstands so they don’t have to do many of the stupid things other magazines do to hit promised circulation numbers. All good reasons but no that’s not it. It’s because Kathy and crew swing for the fences with their pairings. They pair ambitious projects with ambitious photographers. They pair subject with a photographers particular experience and interest. Like a sommelier in the editorial department, they know it’s the chemistry between subject and photographer that makes incredible, memorable, home run photography.

This would be a great book if they simply picked the best photography from the last 33 years of the magazine and shipped it off to the printer. What makes it incredible and a valuable resource for anyone in the photography business is the commentary that accompanies nearly every image. The photographer, the subject, or one of the photo editors gives anecdotes about the subject, the shoot and even the circumstances surrounding the assignment. For me, it was like being in the photo department at The New York Times Magazine. An incredible treat for someone who loves magazine photography. If you’ve spent your career looking at photography like this, you will pick up the subtle difference when a great pairing is made.

Here’s a sample:

RICHARD BURBRIDGE
Author Tom Wolfe. Frome “Wolfe’s World,” published October 31, 2004.

For me, Tom Wolfe’s eccentricity is wonderfully expressed in this picture, by that crazy smile. He was charming. I thing that, above else, Tom Wolfe wis absolutely charming. And when I was equally charming, he was more charming. I like a portrait session to last ten minutes. When it goes past ten minutes, I’m in trouble, of something strange is happening. Because my photo-shoots are uncomfortable for most people. — RICARD BURBRIDGE

DAN WINTERS
Filmmaker Spike Jonze. From “Spike Jonze’s Wild Ride,” published September 2, 2009 (cover image)
I have to say, Dan was pretty patient with my back-seat driving. I definitely had opinions on what the photos should be. I think he has an ego as a photographer, in that he wants to make something he is connected to, but not so much so that he doesn’t also want the photo to represent the person. —SPIKE JONZE

NAN GOLDIN
Artist Kiki Smith. From t”The intuitionist,” published November 5, 2006.

Sometimes the slightly out-of-focus image is the one to go with. To me, this image is absolutely alive. It just breathes. And that celestial blue light brings to mind the hues and spirituality of Giotto. Goldin is a defining photographer of our time, who skips back a couple of centuries for her inspiration. — K.R.

GUEORGUI PINKHASSOV
Petlyura’s artists’s squat in Moscow. From “Young Russia’s Defiant Decadence,” published July 18, 1993

Gueorgui Pinkhassov says that he doesn’t have a particular intention when he is photographing; he is interested in something he doesn’t know. When he is shooting, he ignores the action and concentrates on the movement and intersection of purely visual elements–line, form, light. “Don’t be afraid to take bad pictures,” he says, “because good pictures are the mistakes of the bad pictures.” In this photograph, there are four separate actions that all weave together: one person lifts a cigarette, one tosses a ball, the dog looks on, and the Lenin-like figure drops the flag to the ground. For Pinkhassov, life is really like a tapestry—he’s never shooting just one thing, there are often several things happening simultaneously. –K.R.

Vanity Fair DOP Susan White Joins Trunk Archive

I found out last week that Susan White, Vanity Fair’s long-time Director of Photography, was leaving to join Trunk Archive as their Executive Director of Licensing. I sent her congratulations along with a couple questions for the blog:

APE: Tell me how you got your start as a photo editor and how you ended up at Vanity Fair?

Susan: I had been a fashion assistant to Polly Mellen at Vogue Magazine when an assistant photo editing job with Elisabeth Biondi opened up at Vanity Fair. Then I worked my way up through the ranks.

Do you have any techniques for dealing with the outsized personalities that Vanity Fair specializes in?

It’s a cliché but I try to stay calm and flexible…and give them as much room as they need.

If you had to pick one picture to be remembered by what would it be and why?

It’s impossible for me to boil my years down to one image. I’ve had too many collaborations with too many great photographers to single one out. I suppose I’d like to be remembered as a supportive presence for all of the photographers I’ve worked with over the years. I certainly learned that my aesthetic had to be modified to a certain point to suit the magazine. In the beginning I was eager to work with very creative and painterly photographers like Jahvier Vallhonrat but the truth was that this kind of work was often too rarified for a commercial, general interest publication. I considered it a small triumph when I was able to have Nick Knight shoot Bridget Fonda and it actually made it to print (this was so long ago, I cannot give you the year off hand).

Still, the one photo that stands out and had a fairly significant impact was Annie Leibovitz’s cover of a pregnant Demi Moore. That may seem obvious but it really did seem to shift things a bit not only for its beauty, but for the impact it seemed to have in terms of so-called celebrity photography. As I remember it, that shot was never taken as an actual cover. Annie sent it in because the image was so stunning it had to be seen. I believe it was taken as a personal photo for Demi. The shoot was actually one of two and was the follow-up sitting. Our intention was just to get a head shot for the cover. Charlie Churchward, the art director then, laid it out as a cover to be provocative, not realizing that the female staff would have such a strong reaction. Every woman in the office who saw that photo with the VANITY FAIR logo lobbied hard to get it to the newsstand. It was a memorable moment.

Trunk Archive seems like a good match for you, but you must be feeling bullish on the future of stock photography. Can you tell me why?

I am not sure that I am as bullish on stock photography as I am on Trunk Archive. I am very bullish on them. In fact, I never think of the word ”stock” in relation to what they have and what they do. I think of “luxury option” instead. As to the future of stock photography, well, let’s accept that dwindling budgets will continue to have an impact on how much original assigning can happen. The budget tightening we’ve all experienced these past few years is now the norm. No one seems interested in bringing back bloated shoot budgets. We’ve learned to do fairly well by artfully combining existing imagery with assigned work. Because Trunk has such high standards it seems to me a safe and sure resource for editors and art buyers to locate selective imagery.

Are you excited for the change after so many years working on VF?

It’s certainly a thrill to take on something new after the long tenure I’ve had at Vanity Fair. I’ve got quite a bit to learn, so I’m looking forward to working with the incredible team at Trunk Archive.

5 Questions For Jennifer Pastore, DOP Of Teen Vogue

JENNIFER_PASTORE1. Can you tell me how you became Photo Director at Teen Vogue?

I started out as a graphic designer, working freelance for several years and ended up working on the first few issues of T: The New York Times Style Magazine. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to try photo editing for the magazine and I found that I enjoyed it more than design. After four years or so, I moved to Teen Vogue to be the Photo Director.

2. Who are your go-to photographers for the magazine?

TEEN_VOGUE_SEPT_2010_COVERWe work with several photographers who have been shooting for Teen Vogue and Vogue for years including Patrick Demarchelier, Arthur Elgort and Raymond Meier. Some other favorites include Daniel Jackson, Jason Kibbler, Sebastian Kim and Bruce Weber. For portraits we love Paul Jasmin, Tina Tyrell, Abbey Drucker, Poppy de Villeneuve and so many others. More recently, we have started to work with Alasdair McLellan, Ben Weller, Miles Aldridge and Paul Wetherell.

3. Where do you find new talent?

I spend a lot of time looking at magazines, gallery shows, student shows, reading blogs and looking at the portfolios that are sent in. Agents are also a great source of new talent, they often have a good sense of what will work well for the magazine.

4. What’s the best way for photographers to introduce you to their work?

The best way for photographers to introduce their work is to send in their book or a link to their website.

5. Do you have any advice for aspiring photo editors on how to break into the business and what makes a good photo director?

I would say that internships are great ways to start to build contacts and to learn how magazines work. The most important thing for an aspiring photo editor is to look at as much photography (and art, video etc.) as possible while simultaneously trying to meet people in the industry to build up a network. Photo editors need to have a strong contact base as well as a knowledge of what is going on in the world in general. I think that a good photo director should be able to remain calm in difficult situations (often with very difficult personalities) and work with the inevitable challenges that arise in photo shoots, including tight budgets and deadlines. It is also important to be able to put together a strong team which requires a good knowledge of the industry and an ability to identify talent.

Photographed by by Alasdair McLellan, styled by Havana Laffitte

Photographed by by Alasdair McLellan, styled by Havana Laffitte

Photographed by Miles Aldridge, styled by Lawren Howell

Photographed by Miles Aldridge, styled by Lawren Howell

Michele McNally Answers Readers Questions on Talk to the Newsroom

Some good questions coming in for Michele McNally over on the NYTimes website. I reprinted a couple I like here but there’s still time to send her a question and more to read ( here).

Ms. McNally joined The Times as director of photography in June 2004 and was promoted to assistant managing editor in July 2005.

Before joining The Times, Ms. McNally was picture editor of Fortune Magazine from November 1986 until May 2004. Previously, she was picture editor of Time Life’s Magazine Development Group. She began her career as a sales representative for Sygma Photo News in 1977.

Q. Besides superb picture-editing abilities, what are the most important skills to have in your position?
— Lauren McFalls
A. Here’s a list, not necessarily in order. An ability to assess talent in others so you can surround yourself with great people. And an ability to build the team, get the team members excited and let them grow. Gaining the trust of the team is also important. A love and a nose for news — and endless curiosity. The ability to handle extremely stressful situations — the hardest being when you have people in dangerous places. Being flexible and ready to go in any direction at any time in an ever-changing world. Being collaborative. Being willing to take risks and being unafraid of failure. Lastly, the housekeeping of managing a budget.

Q. Nowadays everyone is a photographer it seems and newspapers are encouraging the public to send in their on-the-spot photos for publication. What, then, is the future of photography? Will there be professional photographers in 10 or 20 years? If so, how competitive will the field be and how would you recommend someone get his foot in the door?
— Bruce Wood
A. Mr. Wood: Your question is important and of the moment. As I view the images coming from Iran that are being posted all over, I am reminded and indeed pained by the fact that a skilled visual journalist has not recorded many of these events. This situation in the hands of a truth-seeking photojournalist could be extremely powerful, and not a mere “digital document.”

It seems obvious to me that the presence of a mindful storytelling photojournalist is sorely missed. I am indeed troubled by not knowing the sources of these pictures and their agendas, the disclaimers from the agencies providing them, and the validity of the captions — let alone the addition of “best quality available.”

It brings to mind the amazing work of Gilles Peress from Iran, in 1979-80 and his book “Telex Iran: In the Name of Revolution.” Surely a visual interpreter like Peress and many others would provide pictures that would have more impact and staying power.

Photography is indeed a highly competitive field — now. Photographers come to publications in various ways. Though I don’t recommend sending me a “shoe” in a box, saying you want to get your foot in the door! I hope that wasn’t you.

Know the publication you want to work for. Sounds easy — but I do get e-mails, and mailers that are not appropriate. Then find the right person at that publication for the work that you want to do.

Go to photographic workshops — it is so much easier to see a picture editor who is not facing a daily schedule. When you show a portfolio ask, only if they like the work, who else they could reccommend for you to see. When a picture editor gets a referral from another picture editor from a magazine or another paper about a photographer, it is noted.

Q. What happened to the good old days of photojournalism? You know, first-class airfares, unlimited expense accounts, scotch with a magazine’s picture editor in his office on Friday nights?
— Matthew Naythons
A. Hi Matthew: Yes, I do remember those days — robust ad revenue, 500-page magazines, monthly expense accounts that surpass yearly these days, off-site meetings in Lanai, catered gourmet dinners on closing nights, and yes showing pictures to the editor in a bar! I remember getting 5 figures for pictures that weren’t shot yet — and the competition so stiff the prices would escalate — and the picture editors not even knowing what their budget were. Wow, what a long time ago!

Many things have changed since that time, budgets have been slashed, newspapers and magazines have folded, and staffs have been cut. Along the way something else happened — the birth and rise of digital photography and the wire agencies getting more competitive and hiring really strong photographers. It became easier to cut the photo budget when you no longer had the expense of film and processing, and did you really need to send someone so far, at great expense, when the wires had the fastest transmitting abilities and had accumulated a great new roster of photographers? All that said, we did not have the Web back then — and it is a very visually hungry medium. There are new ways to showcase photography these days, and different, exciting ways to tell stories. I guess we will just have to use our budget for newsgathering and forgo the (admittedly missed) perks.

Photo Editors Organization

Moya Mcallister and I have formed an organization for Editorial Photo Editors with the hopes of strengthening the community and providing a place where photo editors can share resources and ask questions. We already have 140 members.

If you’re interested in joining send an email to myself or Moya (moyamcallister (at) mac (dot) com) with information on where you work as a photo editor and we will let you know all about it.

Getting A Story Made at National Geographic

After talking with several National Geographic photographers about shooting for the magazine I became intrigued with the process of getting a story made. The collaboration between the photo editors and photographers and then the photographers involvement in all the steps along the way is unique and important to how they make stories. More magazines should spend this kind of time with their contributors. The few times I’ve had photographer come into the office and present their images to us have been incredibly rewarding and certainly I think made the story that much better.

I asked David Griffin, National Geographic’s Director of Photography about the process of getting stories made and the rumored years it takes for a story to go from idea to printed page:

Many years is a bit of an exaggeration harping back to days past, now it is more like many months. The typical process:

1. Story proposal is accepted by editor (this can take a few days to a few weeks, depending on how much back and forth we have with the photographer honing their proposal). BTW, all proposals from photographers go through me first to determine if the idea is something I’m confident the photographer can pull off. We have a firewall to protect the photographer’s intellectual property if they are rejected.

2. Once accepted, the photographer is paired up with a photo editor and they work together to expand the proposal into a story coverage plan, including estimated budget. This is then reviewed in what is called a “story pitch” where the entire story team (photog, photo editor, writer, text editor, graphics and map staff, designer, web producer, and executive editorial team) meet with the Editor-in-Chief. If all goes well, the story is given the full green light. This can take about a month to prepare for.

3. Then it is off to the races. Stories can take many forms and lengths of field time–far too many variables to pin down an average. We usually try to do most stories in two trips so that half way through the coverage the story team can re-gather, review the photographs to-date, and make any necessary course corrections. This “Interim Projection” also gives the Editor a better handle on which issue of the magazine the story should run.

4. After the field work is complete, the photographer typically comes in to headquarters and works with the photo editor to hone the completed coverage into a “Final Projection.” Pretty much all the same folks who see the Interim, see this show. This takes about a week (although the photo editors are reviewing the photographs much sooner and at greater length then when the photographer is in the office to construct the show).

5. Then the story goes into layout and work begins on any special web features. The photographer is very much a part of that process. From our viewpoint it would be both financially and journalistically foolish to not involve directly the person who we invested our resources into for the story. The person who best knows which images capture the truth of the story is the one that was there. It may seem like a luxury, but we feel it is a part of our process that makes a tangible difference in the accuracy of the final published stories. Layout takes about a week.

6. Then it is pretty much all typical pre-press and printing process from then on out. Finalizing of design and color correction takes about a month or so, printing takes about a month, world-wide delivery about two weeks.

So from beginning to end a story can take from about six months (rare) to about a year, and in some cases–particularly with natural history coverages–a couple of years.

I’ve glossed over many details here, but these are the main milestones.

Bill Black, Director of Photography at Readers Digest

I had a serendipitous encounter with Bill Black, DOP at Readers Digest and on a whim asked him a few questions about the magazine. I hadn’t seen it in awhile (mom’s house maybe) and was unsure what they were doing with photography, but boy am I glad I did and you might be as well.

I haven’t been following Readers Digest lately. Is it still the 2nd largest magazine in the country?

Yes. Reader’s Digest actually has the highest paid circulation of 8 million subscribers in the US.

Can you tell me how you got started as a Photo Editor and how you ended up as DOP at Readers Digest?

Bill Black and kids

Bill Black with his kids

I studied photography in school and had every intention of trying to shoot magazine editorial work. I had an incredibly lucky start when I was interviewing with Adrian Taylor, then Art Director of Travel & Leisure magazine. He was hectic and answering his phone during the entire 20 minute interview. On one call he was distracted and yelling while flipping rapidly through my portfolio, dropping cigarette ashes on my pictures telling the person “there was no way in hell his messenger had lost the slides.” Convinced he had only looked at one picture in my book I got a perfunctory “nice work kid ” and then he asked if I’d ever consider taking a photo staff position at a magazine like T&L. He laughed when I replied with an emphatic yes before he finished asking the question. I told him I would make sure they didn’t loose any more slides.

Taylor was a great mentor and with his introductions I was in some of the world’s best photographers’ studios talking shop and editing their work for a Tenth anniversary issue. I could not believe I was bringing Ernst Haas over a six pack of his favorite beer to discuss and edit his best color work of Venice …then over to Arnold Newman’s place to look at portraits. Burt Glinn, Jay Maisel, Pete Turner, Inge Morath, Elliot Erwitt, Mary Ellen Mark, Tom Hollyman–the list went on and on. Eventually I was promoted to Picture Editor of T&L and had the most amazing eight years that anyone could have had in magazine publishing.

The editor in chief, Pamela Fiore, was a firm believer in offering her staff opportunities to grow professionally. As a result I got to travel and photograph stories we published on exotic places like Papua New Guinea, Africa, Asia and regions north of the arctic circle. Even though I had such a rich and unique learning experience and had been given so much, I was still naive enough to think that I should pursue a freelance life of shooting for other magazines so I impulsively resigned my post. Big mistake. I really missed the comradery and the social interactions within a magazine staff and its contributors.

It was then I met Travel Holiday’s editor in chief, Maggie Simmons. The magazine was owned by Reader’s Digest and in the midst of being relaunched and redesigned. She was looking for a photo editor that had solid connections in Travel. I was so fortunate to have another incredible 7 year run with her at Travel Holiday. We racked up over a 100 prestigious awards for the photography alone and many others for writing and desig . She promoted me to DOP and gave me unprecedented creative license on hiring and directing photographers. Unfortunately, Reader’s Digest decided they couldn’t figure out what to do with an award winning travel magazine and sold it to Hachette. Hachette brought in their own staff and it subsequently folded. Reader’s Digest then asked me to become DOP of their flagship magazine. They wanted to overhaul the magazine and introduce more original photography. Voila.

I can imagine that one of your biggest challenges is assigning photography that’s compelling yet not challenging for your readers to comprehend, because isn’t the whole idea behind Readers Digest to take stories and compress them down so they’re easier to read?

Photograph by Kevin Horan

Photograph by Kevin Horan

You might be surprised to know we frequently run 10 to 12 page features that are photo driven. Our newly hired editor in chief, Peggy Northrop is a passionate supporter of great photography. She has made it a priority to articulate a mission and aesthetic we’re all proud of. I think she is less concerned with compressing previously published material and more focused on commissioning great writers to write powerful, inspiring stories and give the magazine a louder more authoritative and original voice.

The photography needs to mirror that quest. Its size certainly presents challenges for photography but our readers love it for it’s portability and convenience.

Photograph by Kevin Horan

Photograph by Kevin Horan

When producing photography we generally subscribe to the less is more concept as we want the images to have the most impact within our framework. This places a bigger burden on the images to engage the reader immediately with opener photos that reach out and grab you, that are uncluttered, appealing, well composed, graphically fresh, emotionally relevant and ultimately memorable. I don’t think it’s a matter of risking that our readers won’t comprehend the photography as much as will it hold their attention and pull them into a story. The magazine reader of this day is very demanding and highly sophisticated visually. They want to get into their story, absorb the information that’s important to them and move on. The photography needs to be the catalyst to that experience.

Your next biggest challenge must be attracting a younger audience to the title. Like most magazines out there I assume your demographic keeps getting older each year and we all know that the key advertisers want to reach the younger demographic so what can you do photographically to make this happen?

Photograph by Tamara Reynolds

Photograph by Tamara Reynolds

Hire young minded photographers who want to help us. These are photographers who have studied us and tend to be highly creative, collaborative professionals who are constantly reinventing the norm, staying away from formula and coming to the table with fresh ideas for new approaches and solutions to breaking out of familiar patterns. This is a two way street and if we can team up with photographers on every project with this kind of joint energy and passion then I think you have the ingredients to produce quality in pictures that will transcend any generational differences or sensibilities.

You mentioned that you were assigning more photography than ever. Why is that?

It’s a requirement of the new direction and design of the magazine. Fewer pick up articles less stock photography and more original content that needs to be illustrated.

How much emphasis is on the website now? I see you have rd.com as a website, so somebody must have thought way back when, that the web was going to be useful to have the foresight to register rd.com. Any thoughts on how photography on-line will change in the coming years?

Yes our web forefathers were smart to do that and the current web team is also evolving the url to www.readersdigest.com. Right now both addresses will get you there. Currently we are producing a minimum of one slide show or multi media presentation from one of our features every issue. I strongly believe the web will become more and more of an outlet for quality photography. I love that photographers and magazine publishers/editors are thinking together in those terms. I think it can really enhance what is accomplished in print. There are those who forecast that the web will ultimately replace print. Not having a crystal ball, I think the mediums will both remain valid and offer different experiences for quite some time.

Tell me how you like to be reached by photographers and what types of photography you’re actively looking for?

We really aren’t staffed up to handle hard copy portfolios via mail or make appointments to review individual books at this time. I would highly recommend email and web links. We can’t always reply as our emails are overflowing but we do bookmark work we want to consider for future projects and are always adding to our talent pools. We’re a general interest magazine with a mass audience. Our visual DNA at its core is people. People in every spectrum of the human experience. The photographer’s work that can show us he/she can navigate easily through difficult emotional landscapes gaining trust and access with their subjects quickly is usually someone we will watch closely.

Email linda_carter(at)rd.com or bill_black(at)rd.com

Another DOP Blog, David Griffin at National Geographic

I was checking out the TED video of David Griffin, Director of Photography at National Geographic (here), that I discovered on Shoot The Blog and wanted to send him an email but instead discovered a few blog postings that I think you might be interested in reading (here).

The last one from May tackles Film vs. Digital (here) and ends with this wonderful quote:

“At National Geographic we do not require photographers to shoot one way or another—we support both approaches. Ultimately, we care more about what is being photographed, and less about how.”

Maybe, we will start seeing more blogging from working DOP’s in the future, National Geographic is certainly ahead of the curve when it comes to websites.

Simon Barnett, DOP at Newsweek Prepares for the Olympics

Courtesy Daimen Donck/NEWSWEEKWith the Olympics just around the corner I thought I’d check in with Simon Barnett of Newsweek, because he’s hired his very own dream team of photographers (Laforet, Miralle and Powell) to provide coverage of the event.

The Olympics start next week. Are you ready? Can you explain a little bit about how someone prepares to cover an event of this magnitude?

I think we’re ready!…. There’s a tremendous amount of pre-planning involved in this, I’d say more than any other event, period. The fact that so many events are happening at different locations, often at the same times, makes the correct scheduling a pivotal part of how well we’ll do. We’ve been working on it for about a month and are just about done. We’ve gone over and over the schedule trying to predict the big stories while not forgetting the interesting smaller events, and also factoring in that the photographers are, occasionally, entitled to a little sleep.

How did you come up with the dream team of Laforet, Miralle and Powell?

All are ex-Allsport staffers (now gone, an early Getty acquisition), as I was I too. I was Allsport USA’s managing editor in the 90’s and worked closely with Mike Powell, so we go way back. Vince and Donald joined Allsport after I left to be a part of the team that started ESPN the Magazine. Even though I don’t get to do that much sports nowadays with Newsweek, I’ve always kept an interested eye on the sports photography scene, and I know that I have assigned the three best, most original sports photographers available.

Allsport really was an amazing place for photography—at it’s peak it was to sport what Magnum is to photojournalism. There was an incredible hunger at the agency, and often a quite intimidating rivalry amongst the shooters. I remember clearly the harsh ribbing that some of the youngsters would get if they couldn’t follow focus 6 frames of an athlete running at them on a 600mm. They’d all be challenging themselves to shoot difficult pictures, on massive tele-photos, using 50 ASA Velvia in the shade, skillfully timing the peak action at the only possible moment when it froze sufficiently to yield a sharp image at a 1/60th of a second. That era produced the likes of Simon Bruty and Bob Martin, both now at SI, and guys like David Cannon and Clive Brunskill who are still with Getty today. Allsport photographers were always shooting portfolio-type images, trying first to make art, and, in a classic sports sense, driven to beat the hell out of the competition.

For this Olympics, I thought I’d to try and approach it that way again, this time for Newsweek. I have given Mike, Vincent and Donald a dream brief at the biggest event in the world—go make great photographs first, worry less about recording every medal.

With the media revolution that’s underfoot and the ability consumers and professionals have to publish text, photography and video, instantly to a world wide audience, this will certainly be the most published sporting event ever. I know the media is granted special access but you’re still sitting there shooting from same perspective as hundreds of other photographers with the exact same global reach. How do you produce original work in an environment like this?

The Olympics are tough to make look different, and they’ve never been tougher to cover than they are today. Hundred’s of photographers are penned in the same place, all on the same lens, all using the same camera (which begins with C). If you go back pre-autofocus, pre-digital, the best photographers had an easier time of distancing themselves from the pack. But now, with these amazing cameras, much of the technical skill we used to prize in professionals, such as exposure on chrome in changing light, the ability to manually focus, and critical lens choice, has been automated. I’ve told my guys to go author these Games the way they see it, and with that I am hopeful they might be freed to see something unique.

How will you resist the call to publish the images everyone else is publishing and instead present an original point of view?

I should clarify that the plan I lay out here is one that assumes that the Olympics passes as a purely sporting event, and one that does not escalate into an unforeseeable news story, such as was the case in Munich 72, or with a Tanya Harding Olympics. If a big news story overtakes the sports story, we’ll adapt to deliver that. That’s something that I can say we’re pretty used to doing. Statistically speaking, the chances of one of my three photographers being in a better position, and having a better photograph of a news event than the wire services is fairly unlikely. And if that happens, I will surely be looking for the best news picture, wherever it comes from. The Olympics has a habit of producing these bigger-than-sports stories about half of the time, so we are bracing for that eventuality.

So, now that shooting sporting events is no longer technically difficult, is it the job of Photo Editors to ensure the health of the industry, by bringing the next generation of Laforet’s, Miralle’s and Powell’s into the fold?

It is a duty of the photo editing community to mine for the next generation. As I say, technically publishable pictures can now be taken by almost anyone with a 200 dollar point and shoot, so hunting for the people who have a point of view, and can express their unique vision in photographs is more important than ever. It’s now less about how to technically get the image recorded and so much more about the mind behind it.

Tell me a little bit about working on an event of this magnitude from a DoP’s point of view. Lot’s of meetings, last minute adjustments of coverage and a ton of frames to edit?

For us, this is the first time that our focus is overwhelmingly to our web presence, so with that we’ve come up with a new approach to editing. Each of the three photographers will manage their own photo blog, editing and uploading their best images –along with, I hope, some very personal anecdotes about what it’s like to be there experiencing it. I hope this creates a form of photo “Survivor” between them, where they are in a kind of creative competition. Then, I’ll go in to their blogs each day and edit what I deem to be the ‘best of’ which will be up on a showcased Newsweek.com gallery around noon each day. It’s kind of photographic natural selection.

Are you doing anything unique with all the photography you’ve commissioned? Where should people go to see the coverage?

Newsweek.com and our photo blog Visions of China. And we welcome feedback…

Michael Norseng- Director of Photography, Esquire

Michael NorsengI consider Esquire to be one of the great publishers of editorial photography in the history of magazine making. Like any publication there are ups and downs but their standards remain very high and Michael does a tremendous job filling those very big shoes.

He originally moved to New York from Wisconsin to work in post production and editing for film but got sidetracked playing street-ball in Brooklyn (hey, goofing off does lead to great things), then started freelancing and landed a month long gig at GQ that ended up lasting 4 years. After taking some time off from GQ, Nancy Jo Iacoi called to see if he’d like a position at Esquire and 3 years later she left to become the director of Orchard (Getty Assignment). Michael interviewed with the Creative Director and Editor and was awarded the DOP position.

Esquire is among a handful of magazines that influences the editorial agenda for national magazine photography. The people you hire and the stories you publish have a far reaching impact. Are you aware of this and if so, how do you reinforce it?

I am aware of it to a certain extent and I’’d be lying if I didn’t say it was somewhat motivating to know that people are watching, but if it does anything, it pushes me to be smarter about who and how we assign photography. The magazine is held in such high regard, that I think initially when photographers get the call, most know they have to elevate their game. We collaborate, work with them, and still often have to push to go a little bit beyond.

Do you have a specific plan for how you use photography in Esquire? Win awards, entertain your readers, avoid the wrath of Granger?

The goal is to be progressive, cultivate and use emerging talent, just not for every story and every issue. We really try to pace the commissions and be conscious of established and proven artists that still contribute great work.

Because we’re a general interest magazine, Associate Photo Editor Alison Unterreiner and I need to be on top of photographers and work across a lot of different categories like– portrait, still life, photojournalism, art, fashion, etc. We try not stick to the same photographers over and over, because if you do the aesthetic becomes too homogeneous and stagnant. The goal is to give the reader a visual trail mix, offer a new experience or collection each month. Luckily the stories in Esquire dictate a lot of this variety.

Awards are nice but just a side result. All photo editors secretly hope that an assignment, commissioned at any size, will be award worthy.

It seems like the window to produce photography for a monthly magazine continues to shrink because editors want the stories they assign to be more topical. How do you make sure you’re getting talented photographers who are always busy into the book without the long lead times?

If the initial photographer, that I know in my mind is right is unavailable, I’’ll go to the next person on my list. If that person is unavailable, I’’ll go to the next but if it doesn’t happen after that third person, I often step back and think about other ways to visually represent the story photographically or dig deeper, then I’ll have a discussion with David Curcurito (and of course Granger), about altering the photographic approach or going with a new name.

I’ll admit that I poached a good handful of photographers from Esquire over the years do you use any magazines to find photographers?

No, not really, I’’ll go to Universal News maybe once a month and flip through titles and if someone’’s work happens to strike me, I’’ll catalog it to look it up later. But, I wouldn’’t really say I poach. I do enjoy looking at New York magazine though, I think Jody and her crew do a great job.

What are your methods for finding new photographers to hire? How do you prefer to be reached by people?

Alison and I have started to do occasional lunches where we will sit and show each other work and websites of people catching our eye. We’ll discuss their work and make lists of people who we agree on, who maybe will fit at some point in the magazine.

The other ways are through references from people I trust in the industry, mailed promos, portfolio drop offs or members of the creative department saying ““hey, check out this site or this image.”” I have to say that email promos are the worst way to reach me. If I recognize the person, fine, but often there is a problem with the images embedded in the e-mail, or the link to the site doesn’t open. We have so many pertinent work emails that if the email promos are setup badly or confusing, they become almost like digital noise.

You work at a magazine where the story trumps the photography and I’ve been in similar situations myself where “the story is running photography be dammed,” so you’ve got to figure out a solution that’s not going to embarrass you. Illustration is a natural choice but often I’ll see snap shots the writer took running in Esquire. What’s your approach in a situation like this?

I’’m actually fine and in many cases I prefer writers to take snaps while they are reporting, especially if it gives insight to a location or subject or something happening spur of the moment related to the piece. If its trash we of course won’’t use it, but if it can run small on a turn page and it adequately supports a part of the story, I’’ll take a look. Some of our writers, Colby Buzzell for example, have on multiple occasions made the images a key part of the reporting process. Again, it goes back to variety. Do I want all the images in the magazine to be shot with a digi point and shoot, of course not, do I want that kind of shot to be the opener of a story, –almost always no, but sometimes things are what they are. In fact, without telling you what the image is, next month we have a shot opening up a feature story that’s haunting, poignant and was taken by a non-photographer with just a basic camera. Look out for it, the story it’s attached to is fantastic.

Tell me about the recent Obama cover and how you came to run an outtake from a shoot published on the cover of Time.

In response to the original question you refrenced, “we wonder how Esquire failed to get an exclusive portrait for their cover” my guess is that they didn’t bother to read Charles Pierce’s story on the inside of the issue “The Cynic and The Senator Obama.” Charles observed the Obama campaign from the outside, as the millions of us in the crowd are doing, and offered a critical appraisal of the Senator without a sit down interview. As you know, its rare, especially for a guy who had bigger fish to fry at the time of the issue, to participate in a shoot when there is no direct involvement with the piece.

We were of course aware that the Platon shoot was originally commissioned by Time and how they ran the material. However, Platon has a long history of shooting key political figures for Esquire, starting with, one of the most iconic of all time, the Bill Clinton cover in December of 20’00. Since then, he has done others, GOP candidate McCain in ’06 and Senator Edwards in ’07. So, if a shoot would have somehow presented itself, its fair to say that he would have been at the top of our list. Thus, we were extremely happy that the B/W shot was available and that we got it for our cover.

Finally, I think that David Curcurito’s innovative cover line treatments continue to make the covers unique.

So, number five on your list seemed about right, but I did find all the speculation entertaining.

Michael has agreed to take a few reader questions in the comments, so let him know what’s on your mind.