Photographs by Ackerman + Gruber/Mpls. St. Paul Magazine
Photographs by Eliesa Johnson/Mpls. St. Paul Magazine
Associate Creative Director: Michael Norseng
Heidi: What advice do you have for any photo director looking to transition out of magazines?
Michael: Over time, (and this is a continual discovery), I have found that titles can often be misleading. And especially people’s perceptions of those titles. “Photo Editor”, outside of the NYC publishing carousel, newspapers, or rarified titles and markets, can be a bit of a limiting designation. Two decades in, I still often get the question, “so what did you do or rather do exactly?” The reality is that for each person, the experience, responsibilities, and creative role in the process is varied. I think it is beneficial to shift the semantics and attempt to make people understand that the term is broad and more of an umbrella to describe a lot of other sub roles. In my case and just a few: Researcher, Producer, Project Manager, Video Producer, Art Buyer, Problem solver, conceptor, and yes, Creative Director. I think that understanding of capabilities and embracing the ability to sell oneself can be a difficult roadblock to overcome, but in the end it is essentially about not limiting yourself to just being defined by one thing, or one title. There is no clear path.
For me it took stepping away from NY, and having someone, Creative Director Brian Johnson, and a company, MSP Communications, realize that I could be an important asset/cog in the wheel of their creative process. I feel lucky in that regard.
You had an impressive run at Esquire, what do you miss most about being in editorial?
I’m incredibly grateful for the time I had living in NYC, working in magazines, and especially at Esquire/Hearst. But there was a confluence of reasons of why the experience was coming to an end, both personally and professionally. I was extremely, (extremely is an understatement), blessed during my time in NYC that I rode this wave and crossed paths and learned from some of the best Photo Editors, Creative Directors, Designers, and Editors in the industry. And additionally by extension, photographers, writers, illustrators, agents, subjects, on and on…and on. I believe, and I hope, I carried a lot of what I learned from those individuals on to this role I am in now.
One of the things that David Granger, former Editor and Chief of Esquire, and by extension David Curcurito, Design Director, instilled in all of us was to continue to be ambitious, curious, and varied in terms of story-telling and put out high quality work into the world no matter what the restraints. Every day it felt like we were constantly evolving creatively. Or at least I hope we were. It was often a fulfilling and exciting place to work, even if not everything we tried landed in the way we hoped.
By extension too, there was a recognition that individuals had capabilities outside of their designated roles, (back to the previous question). So yes, I worked on photography and managed that department, but also contributed a few times little bits of writing, or story ideas, or what have you. It was the sort of environment that fostered ambition and embraced whatever people wanted to contribute and there were no set lanes in which you were forced to stay. In fact, I think the entire reason why I was originally promoted from within there about a decade ago is because I had expressed an interest in producing video content and extending the reach of the stories (mostly in a surface visual way) online or eventually on the ipad.
So it has been exciting transitioning to MSP Communication where that work or my varied background has been valued. I am not only involved in some editorial photo capacities with Delta Sky Magazine and Mpls/St. Paul, but also working on video projects as well. The environment is collaborative, my colleagues are great, and I feel like I’m working in a similar role to put out public facing work which is both ambitious, but of a high quality both locally and nationally.
As a creative, what is the most important ingredient to keep you fully engaged?
I have a broad range of personal interests and knowledge, so I love diversified subject matter. Or the ability to think of ways to poach or have cross-over applications to how something is presented in a unique way. It is one of the reasons why I’ve always loved editorial, and especially what could be called as general interest, because the subject matter, perspective, and story-telling is always varied. I also love the pace that it provides…that there is constant creation on all levels of size each day. If it doesn’t work once, learn from it, and move on. The goalpost is constantly shifting and you have to work fast.
I think I’m also excited by putting out content into the world either in print or online that either engages or people consume in some regard. If it initiates an emotional response, or the person looking at feels like it was well done, enough to capture their attention, then that is the ideal. Personally I want the work that either myself or my colleagues put out to deliver on being high quality.
How much has your video experience influenced your career?
I think it safe to say that if I wouldn’t have experimented with video, or taken advantage of the opportunities to do it, I wouldn’t have found myself in the position I am in today. I believe it is what separated me from the pack when individuals were being brought through the door to interview at Esquire 10 years ago. And it has been instrumental of course to me in this next role I find myself in.
How did this video series come about?
My new(ish) colleagues at Mpls St. Paul Magazine/MSP Communications had this incredibly ambitious video series pitch, (in conjunction with Explore Minesota and The Superbowl Host Committee), already in the works before I started here in December. So although I heard only minor mentions of it during my interview process last fall, it wasn’t necessarily a reality until I started. I think it was my first week of work here when Brian Johnson, (Creative Director), Drew Wood (Editor), and Jayne Haugen Olson (Editorial Director), and I sat in a room and collaboratively said ok, we have this seed of an idea and an opportunity, so how do we execute upon it and what do we want this ultimately to be and look like. Given my background, and some experience in this regard, I think they, and leadership and MSP, collectively leaned on me and my perspective and background in terms of the best way to execute, package, and present these. So we/I hit the ground running. And now we are leading up to week 30 of 52. It has been exciting, to say the least, each and every week putting one of these out there.
Tell us about your creative process for these videos?
Essentially, what these are, and the elevator pitch which I often repeat, is that Superbowl 52 is coming to Minneapolis in 2018, and thus we wanted to figure out a way to capitalize on that and shine a spotlight on the state via videos with 52 notable individuals, one each week until next year, that have connection to the state. The goal each week has been to not only tell their stories through individualized love letters, but also bring in elements of things to ether do and/or see if someone was to come and visit. All within 2:30.
Because of how we/I am executing these, with different contributors, restraints on time and access to subjects, etc., these are all a bit apples and oranges in terms of presentation. I would like to think each one is unique as the different subjects we are covering. The front end title sequence, (with exception of the background) and closing credits are for the most part templated, initially developed along with a former colleague and great AE designer (Tom Losinski), but I am able to alter them each week to be specific to each subject. So I like to think the bookends or cookies to the Oreo stay relatively the same, and it is the cream/content that shifts week to week.
And that constant shifting of sands also goes for my role on the project. For the most part you could say I’m the lead in the creative execution along with my partner and colleague Drew Wood. But there is so much as well that happens behind the scenes with my colleagues that people will never get to see…in terms of how we get the most eyeballs on them, the design of the website, etc. And in terms of myself week to week, I would say my lead role is that I am hiring the individual photographers, directors, cinematographers, etc, to do these and managing the output, the say on the final videos. I’m also working alongside my colleagues sending requests to PR to try to wrangle talent/subjects, which has been fun and extension of some of the moderate communication I did before with PR people. And some weeks, and this has been fun, actually trying my hand at interviewing the subjects off camera. Har Mar Superstar, Lindsey Vonn (upcoming), and Alec Soth have been a few highlights in this regard. Or and additionally, outside of outputting the titles each week, I’m actually from time to time editing the actual videos or shooting some of the b-roll, or just working with the directors on the best final cuts. It has been really fun. Intense at times. But I/we are pleased I think with what we are producing.
And again, back to the beginning of this interview, and I feel like this series is emblematic, there are no clear lanes of responsibility on this. It is just all hands on deck, in a collaborative editorial environment, to put what we hope is good, high quality storytelling to the world…at an extremely quick pace. You can find a few below and the rest here: myboldnorth.com
Alec Soth was shot and edited by Kevin Horn
Jim Brandenburg filmed by Ackerman + Gruber