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.