I gave a lecture last week with Heidi Volpe (former Art Director of the LA Times Magazine) at Art Center in Los Angeles and thought I would highlight a couple things we talked about here for anyone who couldn’t attend and of course to open it up if anyone wants to chime in. The best part for me was meeting so many people who are enthusiastic about shooting editorial photography and also the time Heidi and I spent working on the lecture, comparing notes and just sitting around talking about editorial photography. We both love working with photographers and the process of putting a shoot together and seeing the work published on the newsstand. Preparing for a lecture is a good exercise for anybody working in this field because it forces you to analyze the way that you do things and the process behind your actions and I can certainly see how it would it be beneficial working with a staff and in meetings with editors to have it well thought out.
The first part of the talk we got down into the nuts and bolts of editorial photography and magazine making and I’m not going to rehash the whole thing for you here except for a couple important points that play into the second part of what we talked about.
The office politics and relationship between the DOP, PE, AD, CD, EIC, Publisher and Owner has an effect on the way that photographers are hired and how decisions about photography are made within a magazine. It’s important to realize that there are forces at work inside the publication that can have a weird influence on the photography.
In the very early stages of picking photographers it has as much to do with pacing out the magazine, creating visual variety, making powerful entry points, tackling old stories in new ways, deciding where to spend big and where to save as it does with matching the right photographer and subject.
Everyone keeps a list of photographers that they work off for these decisions and I’ve always organized mine with the front page for every photographer I’ve ever worked with (several columns) then the next page for photographers I want to work with and then several more pages of photographers organized into different categories. Many of these category groups come about because I’m forced to make a list in a category I’m unfamiliar with (cars or beauty) and after spending several days working on a list I want to hang onto it for the next time I need someone in that category. After the lecture I got to peek at another PE’s list who was at the event and saw all the familiar chaos of a list in flux with boxes, stars and highlights and notes running down the side. It’s always a mess till you retype it again.
After getting through the nuts and bolts we settled into a topic I’d like to refine even more if we ever give the talk again that we called “defining your personal style.” Essentially we wanted to get at the things we pickup on in a photographers work that convince us they are the right person for that particular job. It usually boils down to style and/or expertise in the subject matter and of course there are many other little factors that play into pulling the trigger on someone but we wanted to try and connect the dots with the work in the book and the what was published in the magazine. Heidi and I got a good laugh out of a few of our choices because it looks like any monkey could preform the job when someone who shoots swimmers is hired to shoot swimmers. I’m not afraid to poke fun at my profession and always tell photographers to not be surprised when their first assignment is the most obvious choice.
At the lecture Heidi and I whipped though 30 photographers and I think that was a mistake as we really just glossed over them and made it all seem so superficial and next time I would not only drill down into a couple of photographer’s styles (famous and not) but then pick a specific genre and discuss who is on our list for that and why. It really is a good exercise to look at a photographers work and define their style because you find yourself coming up with all kinds of strange words like integrity, crisp, finished and I’m sure it’s different for everyone who does it. So, for someone like Jake Chessum who is a personal favorite of mine I put him at the top of the list for portraits that are unguarded moments. The I would also define him in my head as easy to work with, subjects enjoy him, shoots celebrities, lives in NYC, shoots film, cover, feature, color and B/W. Anyway you get the idea on how it works and we provided 30 examples of photographers and the shoots we gave them. Heidi gleefully pointed out that I had nothing but A-listers in my examples which is hardly a good teaching example, but I had only scanned the A-list tears for my portfolio so that’s what I had to work with. If there’s another chance to do this lecture again I would certainly include more up and comers and unknown photographers.
Heidi had David Drebin as one of her examples and he’s someone who was always on my list of people I would like to work with but never have. His style can be described as shooting lifestyle, caught moments with a produced and or finished look to them (lighting, background, props, hair, makeup, set, casting all feel meticulously done). I would also put him in the category of people who shoot rich and dense color, interiors, lit, lives in NYC, shoots women well. Again you can see where this is going and the kinds of terms we use to describe and categorize photographers.
So, that’s just a quick overview of what we covered and there were a lot of good questions from the audience that we answered as well. Heidi and I really enjoyed the event and it was cool of Everard and Dennis to bring me out for it.