Design Director: Marshall McKinney
Photography Director: Maggie B. Kennedy
Associate Photo Editor: Margaret Houston
Heidi: You came from the commercial side of photography as a creative director at Williams-Sonoma, Inc. in San Francisco. What surprised you about editorial photography now that your 11 years in the game?
Maggie: I think working on both the commercial and editorial sides of the photo industry has proved beneficial. I had the opportunity to work with so many talented photographers, stylists, art directors, creatives, etc. during my decade with Williams-Sonoma years as well as be exposed to the various company departments and business overall. How a photograph of a beautiful table setting or friends cooking together sets the tone of a brand. So much is thought about before the actual photograph is taken. Many of the photographers I was fortunate enough to work with at Williams-Sonoma shot both commercial and editorial projects. I think that time marked the beginning of the advertising/commercial world starting to explore a more editorial/lifestyle approach you see in campaigns today. I think the two worlds continue to weave together to keep up with new business models, whether for a retail company, a magazine, any business now. It’s all about creating a larger brand, a lifestyle.
When you left San Francisco, what did most of your peers say about your moving to a start-up?
I continued to work with Williams-Sonoma for a few years after relocating to Charleston, SC (Garden & Gun magazine’s hometown). A lot of the photographers and creatives I worked with for so many years in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, etc. thought I had lost my mind moving back to the South!! (I’m originally from North Carolina.) I, too, questioned my decision those first months after landing in Charleston but was ready to be back on the East Coast. But the start-up didn’t enter the picture until a year or so later. I decided to take a leap of faith when I met Rebecca Darwin, Garden & Gun’s president and CEO and one of the founders. She’s an incredible businesswoman and inspiring both professionally and personally. I instantly had a gut feeling and wanted to jump on board! That was September 2006. The first issue of Garden & Gun hit the newsstands April 2007.
Garden & Gun has a dedicated audience. Tell us the story behind the name and how this lifestyle stole everyone’s heart.
The name “Garden & Gun” comes from an old Charleston nightclub, popular in the late ‘70s. The Garden & Gun Club. Rebecca thought the name really captured the personality of this new magazine. The “garden” is a metaphor for the land that is the South, the “gun” for the sporting life. Both are key components of our content as well as food and drink, culture, literature, music and art. Nothing like it existed on the newsstand when the magazine was born a decade ago. And the response and dedication from our readers from the beginning has been like nothing anyone has ever seen. Passionate is putting it lightly! We received a letter from an avid reader in the first few years – “If you ever close down Garden & Gun, we will hunt you down and shoot you.” Jokingly of course but this letter is framed in our office and speaks to the heart of the brand.
The brand has exploded in its first decade and now has a store, hosts events, has a podcast, etc. Tell us about the first few issues and the genesis of the brand.
It really has been an honour and a privilege to have played a role in getting G&G off the ground since the first issue. It’s come a long way and definitely been a wild ride! That first year it was all hands on deck, only a few people doing a little bit of everything to make G&G a reality. From the beginning, photography has played a large part in the brand visually and it’s exciting to see that continue.
How did the magazine benefit from the recession in the mid-2000s ?
The magazine was launched in Spring 2007, right before the great recession. Not the best timing but in the end proved G&G really was a unique brand. We did everything we could to keep the doors open and our readers were so supportive. The recession made G&G stronger than ever and showed us just what this brand could become. It was a time when so many magazines were closing in New York. Even though it was a struggle, I think we benefitted from being independent and not based in NYC. Everyone involved with G&G at that point was fully vested with their heart and soul. It wasn’t just a job, we really believed in what we were creating and so did our readers.
The magazine covers lively people and places off the grid, have you had any production challenges or difficulty explaining to subjects what the shoot entails?
Absolutely! But that’s what makes the best stories after ten years. I think that is one of the reasons photographers like shooting for us. Usually, for me, it’s “how are we going to pull this off with barely any budget and within only a week!” The name of our magazine turned heads in the first few years but I’ve always loved sending a copy of the magazine to a photographer, stylist, etc. so they can experience the content. Then they get it and are intrigued to learn more. It’s definitely helped to have a few years under our belt now to secure more high-profile subjects – actors, musicians, etc.
Your magazine celebrates emerging talent, how do you find your photographers?
One of my favorite parts of the job is finding up-and-coming photographers and working with them on a first project. Since we’re a general interest title, I get the opportunity to work with all types of shooters – food, still life, portrait, travel, etc. I enjoy discovering emerging talent through a variety of sources – emails, portfolio reviews, social media, blogs, word of mouth. I’ve been lucky to see some of our younger photographers develop professionally through this first decade of G&G. (And sometimes I can still get them on a project if I’m lucky!!) The biggest compliment is to see a G&G shoot on a photographer’s website and know they were inspired by the assignment.
Every title has some obstacles to overcome, such as remote locations and weather what else are you confronted with and what are your solutions?
G&G covers very specific subjects in unique locations. Probably 95% of each issue is original photography. That definitely keeps a two person photo department on our toes! One of my favorite “in the field” stories was many years ago. Photographer Jim Herrington shot Morgan Freeman at home in Mississippi. It was a project we’d tried to make happen for a long time and once we got the green light, everything had to come together in a matter of days. I checked in with Jim to see how the shoot was going and received this photo. No words, just photo. That’s the sign of an epic shoot!
We always want to think about pairing personalities together (photographer and subject) that will make the best mix. A little matchmaking I guess! Earlier this year photographer Bill Phelps travelled to Gatlinburg, TN for us. The assignment was to take portraits of survivors of the horrible fire that happened last November. A few of the subjects were, of course, apprehensive about having their portrait taken and reliving that awful night. I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen and wanted to ensure they were comfortable and earn their trust. Even the day Bill arrived in Gatlinburg we still weren’t sure if one or two of the subjects would go through with it. Visually, these portraits needed to be artful and stoic rather than documentary in nature to make it feel right for G&G. Bill’s portraits speak for themselves and he and I were both so moved by the project and getting to know these individuals.
Despite being based in Charleston, you’ve been invited to be an SPD judge and involved in the NYC industry scene. What are the benefits of being a bit further from your industry peers?
We all feel lucky to be able to do what we do in Charleston. Anytime a photographer is in town and stops by our office, they want to figure out a way to move here! Rather than an obstacle, our location away from NYC and independence has allowed us to follow our own creative path which is part of the brand loyalty and success. We’ve a national magazine that’s won two ASME General Excellence awards and received other industry recognition in our first decade. We just happen to have a different zip code. I’ve loved being an SPD judge as well as involvement with other creative organizations based in NYC or other cities. I do wish I had opportunities for more regular interaction with industry peers. It’s always an honor to have G&G recognized.
What were some of your favorite images?
I love all the work we do, if I had to choose a cover, I’d say the Oct/Nov 2012 cover – biscuits. One of my all-time favorite covers, we were thrilled to win ASME’s Most Delicious. Photographer Johnny Autry.
Chef Ashley Christensen photographed by Peter Yang. Peter was trying to think of what to do with this portrait when he looked out the window of Ashley’s restaurant in Raleigh, NC and saw a man walking his pig down the street. Barbeque is very fitting for this chef but we didn’t tell the pig owner that. Only happens in the South!
Photographer Rush Jagoe and the 610 Stompers in New Orleans, LA. A photo shoot that was inspiring and fun enough to deliver a little video as well.
Photographer Erika Larsen’s portrait of author Barry Hannah. One of the last photos taken before the legendary Southern writer passed away.
The photo of Morgan Freeman looking in the mirror. Jim Herrington took that in Morgan’s mother’s former home on his farm in Mississippi
Photographer Peter Frank Edwards on assignment in rural Virginia. He has photographed for G&G since the very first issue and is such a big part of the brand visually. Hard to choose just one of his assignments through the years but this falconry project was one of the more challenging and “open to interpretation.” We ended up turning in into a photo essay.