The Edit Daily – Joseph Heroun: Shape

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Shape

Creative Director: Joseph Heroun
Photo Director: Toni Ann Loggia
Art Director: Andrea Legge
Photo/Bookings Editor: David Baratta
Photo Editor: Erica Meneses
Associate Art Directors: Alan Boccadoro, Lisa Stem
Intern: Grace Barretti

As Creative and Design Director of Shape, one of the nation’s biggest magazines with more than 2.6 million circulation, Heroun has transformed it into a photographer’s publication, an unusual attribute for its category. The challenge and mission are to rock a mix of topics equally well: Fitness, style, beauty, health, and food.

I have had the pleasure of knowing Joseph for almost 20 years now, he had a tremendous influence on me as an art director and photo editor. I was lucky enough to work under him for one of my first national magazine jobs.

In a nutshell, he’s a branding specialist. Heroun’s background spans a wide range of titles including Sportswear International, Sports Illustrated, Mirabella, Newsweek, The Boston Globe, Boston magazine, Best Life, Men’s Health, Women’s Health, The New Republic, National Journal, and Men’s Fitness, the latter of which landed on Adweek’s Hot List six months after his 2013 redesign. I caught up with him about some of his thinking behind Shape’s new sex appeal.

What parts of the magazine have had the biggest impact on your watch and why?
All of it, not one thing has been overlooked. The brand was acquired by Meredith Corporation a year ago, culminating with an editorial and design refresh last summer that has evolved nicely. We built upon ideas and directions from the previous year, with evolutionary changes; and concentrated our efforts on sharpening everything. Our new reality included a significant budget cut that mandated better strategies and smarter decisions. We could not allow that hit to reflect negatively on the product, and, in fact, it had the opposite effect. Over time; we figured out what worked and what doesn’t and our A-Team is now firmly in place with all our shooters delivering consistently exceptional work, and a newly refocused editorial framework to hang it on. Huge props are due my stellar photo staff, Toni Loggia, Dave Baratta, and Erica Meneses.

Who, if any one photographer, has helped you create the signature look of your covers? I know this is always a goal for publications, to own a “cover look.”
Our covers have improved most significantly since assigning the amazing Arthur Belebeau as our primary shooter. We’ve worked together previously on fashion and beauty features, and progressed to covers and celebrity features only since the March 2016 issue. Despite not being considered a cover shooter, in the brief time that Arthur has done them the response has been overwhelming. His cool, hard-edged light is exceptional, modern and dimensional in a way that stands apart from our competitive set. It provides Shape with a distinctive look that evokes the sensation of warm sunlight and an active, outdoor lifestyle.

That carries over inside, where Belebeau shoots cover celebs as fashion or beauty features, often with a bit of camp, and a free-spirited, playfully sexy vibe. In our previous incarnation at American Media, we were required to include cover celebs doing workouts, which was dreadful, effectively diminishing their star power. It’s like discovering an esteemed actor in sweats at the supermarket.

What other elements of the magazine have thrived under your watch?
Food is another core topic that has come into its own with a unique look, featuring images photographed predominantly by Sang An and Ted Cavanaugh. Again, with strong, directional, light and crisp, open shadows that express the upbeat emotion associated with clear daylight. Our look is growing more distinct from the dedicated food mags. Though they do beautiful work, obviously, we just need to assert a unique identity. Recently, we’ve consolidated feature recipes to the last spread, allowing for unobstructed full-page hero shots, which look spectacular. They also shoot our front-of-book sections, so there’s a nice consistency that comes through and carries over into our beauty and style product photography, handled by the criminally talented Claire Benoist. Our studio and location fitness/lifestyle shots share the same sensibility, so everyone is pulling in the same direction and I’m proud to say that the magazine has found its stride.

Describe the thinking behind your approach to fitness photography.
Our fitness features have evolved greatly over the past year and a half. We cut way back on the mechanics of exercising, which can be more effectively delivered online, in favor of an elegant, aspirational experience that celebrates the female figure and which doubles as fitness style. For those features we rotate in various shooters including Martin Rusch, Dustin Snipes, Warwick Saint, and Sarah Kehoe.

What is your policy on retouching, (always a point of interest for in women’s fitness publications).
Since my time at Men’s Health and other celebrity titles it’s been important to me to uphold a policy of integrity on this. To skeptical readers that will sound hopelessly high-minded, but I firmly believe it’s in a brand’s best interest to be as honest and restrained as possible with depictions of people, celebrity or otherwise. It can easily go too far if you are not diligent in holding the line. No one wants to see a blemish and nearly any photograph requires some refinement. But I seriously loathe images overly-perfected in post. To me, it ceases to be a photograph, morphing into something closer to illustration. And the prevalence of that tars us all with a broad brush. Shape’s new platform and tagline, Love Your Shape, affirms our commitment to authenticity. And our belief that it’s a big tent, with many interpretations of what is fit and what is beautiful.

Talk about your typography.
Our typography is intentionally understated to place emphasis on the images, which is what resonates with readers. In my view, design is best when there is nothing left to take out. In terms of delivering service content, over-ambitious design hijinx that neither elevates nor instructs is misplaced. It works against the grounded, well-crafted elegance and precision we want the brand to be identified with.

Where do you see Shape, and yourself, in 5 years?
Me: Traveling abroad somewhere, shooting my own images. As for Shape, it’s at the top of its game in one of the hottest categories that will only get hotter. We are being swept up into a wave of a new-found confidence in print. You see it everywhere with fashion mags and others placing a premium on production, with better stock and larger formats. It’s a complete reversal of what was happening just a short time ago during the panic years. Everyone seems to have come to the conclusion that magazines deliver an unrivaled visual experience and that it’s time to leverage that unique strength. Which is good news for photographers. Though budgets are more restrained, the demand for photographic excellence is only getting louder. And, as always, smart design is smart business.

Heidi Volpe

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