The Daily Edit – Portland Monthly: Michael Novak

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Portland Monthly

Art Director: Michael Novak
Photographer: Andy Batt

How often do you have celebrities on the cover? Is this a unique cover story?
This is actually almost unheard of for Portland Monthly. As a city mag, our covers tend to stick to standard tropes such as Best Restaurants, Travel, Schools, Real Estate, etc. Occasionally we experiment with more “newsy” subject matter, but those covers have typically fared poorly on newsstand. And more specifically, our covers almost never feature actual people, except in cases where they’re fairly anonymous, eating in a restaurant or hiking a mountain; our readership responds better to more tried and true reader service. In the 8 years I’ve worked here, we’ve published only three celebrity covers—so it was definitely an experiment to try this approach.

Is this an an annual theme: exceptional Oregon women?
We’ve never done this topic before. The subject was championed by one of our executive editors, Rachel Ritchie, and embraced by our founder, Nicole Vogel, who had experienced plenty of sexism herself in the process of raising capital to start this magazine 12 years ago. Nicole wrote an essay in the issue, about the disrespect she encountered in a city considered a bastion of liberalism.

What makes an exceptional woman for your title?
We chose women across multiple industries and geographies—all of them bravely innovating in their given fields. Our criteria was really just that the women included be doing impressive work that our readers didn’t necessarily know about. We wanted each profile to feel both surprising and inspiring, from the chief of staff for the Governor to a death row investigator to Portland’s first female head brewer.

How did the concept evolve, was it hooked on the idea of these women being pioneers?
The concept was always tied to the pioneering spirit of Oregon women; from a journalist’s perspective, it’s just such a rich subject with so much material to work with. The feature’s evolution was mainly due to our selection of individuals to profile and the format those profiles would take. We could’ve easily made a whole magazine on this subject—we started with a list of more than 100 women to whittle down to 10—so the real challenge was smartly editing our aspirations and limiting the feature to the 13 pages available.

What made you choose Andy Batt for this project?
Andy brings the right skills to the table. He’s worked on many Portland Monthly projects over the years, from shooting a school bus of screaming 7-year olds (never try art directing 7-year olds!) to ballerinas to the March Fourth marching band. He always comes to a project looking to try something new, and though he’ll always execute the client’s ideas, he also brings his own. In the case of the Carrie Brownstein shoot we only had an hour with her, so we had to figure out an approach that was simple enough that we could get options for both the cover and the interior. We had conceived of a Northwest referencial set, with Carrie standing on the stump of a tree with a rough-hewn wooden background. But when I got to the set on the day of the shoot, Andy had commissioned a prop builder to assemble a green background made out of fanned fern leaves, another powerful NW visual. And in the end we went with his fern idea because it just made a better visual.

Do you ever have photographers from out of state shoot for you?
Typically no. Occasionally I’ll have someone from Seattle shoot for me, but honestly our coverage is tightly Oregon-focused and we are blessed with an abundance of local talent so I almost never have to hire from out of state. I often joke that Portland is where photographers come to retire. We seem to have more of them per capita than NY and LA. That’s probably not strictly accurate, but it’s gotta be close!

What’s the best way for photographers to get in touch with you?
The can email me at mnovak@pdxmonthly.com.

Heidi Volpe

There Are 3 Comments On This Article.

  1. Nice to see my city mag in here. Two notes: Mike’s last name is spelled wrong, it’s Novak. Second, I shot the entire women’s feature, Andy only photographed Carrie. That’s all.

    • Heidi Volpe

      Thanks for the update Nicole. I had fixed Mike’s name yesterday, since I only posted the cover and the opener I didn’t know there was more, typically I don’t credit when there’s not additional images.