For the past 19 years photographers and photo editors have gathered near the Spanish border in Perpignan, France for a grand festival to celebrate photojournalism. This years festival from August 30th to September 14th will mark the 20th such meeting and I have been handed an interview with Jean-François Leroy the festivals founding and current director, where he tackles a few of the hard questions facing photojournalism and acknowledges completely missing the boat on the internet.
In 2000 I was scheduled to attend for my first time and my ticket was abruptly canceled by the editor when it was determined that visiting the festival was an unwise expenditure of our resources in suddenly tightening budgets. The opportunity to go never presented itself again and so I’ve been stuck hearing the stories of what went down from the people who visited but never having access to the photography or lectures presented at the festival to incorporate into my own magazine.
This of course, is the problem with Visa pour l’Image, everything that happens in Perpignan stays in Perpignan. And, now it’s even more serious because not only have you missed the opportunity to reach hundreds of photo editors who couldn’t attend you now need to reach beyond the magazines and convince consumers that important, powerful stories like the one’s featured at the festival need to be seen in publications. The consumers are in charge now and it’s only going to get worse so convincing Editors and Photo Editors to buy stories is no longer good enough, you also need the support of the end user.
The internet is the perfect medium for photojournalists and documentary photographers to show their work and if Jean-François is serious about keeping Visa pour l’Image relevant he needs to find ways that the festival can reach beyond the city limits of Perpignan, so we can all hear about the great reportages that were shown and the one’s that need a home and in many cases some will reach consumers online without a publication.
It’s time for someone with a powerful voice in the world of photojournalism to take the reins and lead this industry to the next level. I think Jean-François Leroy may be the right person to do it. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
You’re great friends with Paul Fusco, from Magnum Photos, and often work with him. What’s the story behind that friendship?
In 2000, Jean-Bernard Maurel, who was working with Magnum Photos at the time, told me he’d found something in a drawer and was I interested. He pulled out a report Paul Fusco had done in 1968 after Bobby Kennedy’s assassination. Paul had covered the funeral train carrying the coffin placed on an open car and draped with the American flag, going all the way from Los Angeles to Washington. Thousands of Americans had gathered along the railroad track to see the funeral train go by and pay their last tribute to Bobby Kennedy. Paul, who was beside the coffin, photographed all these people, this cross-section of America bidding farewell to a dead man. For 32 years, the report had never been published! No one had shown any interest in it! We featured it as an exhibition at Visa pour l’Image, in a linear presentation, as if we too were in the train and were traveling across the States. When Paul arrived in Perpignan, he gave me a hug and said: “At least there’s you to understand my work.” And we’ve been great friends ever since. I really admire him as a photographer; his work on Chernobyl was outstanding and had all of Perpignan in tears. I think it’s such a shame that there are some people today who make millions, and a man like Paul, whose work is of such historic importance, is virtually destitute! That really riles me!
Without mentioning any names, some of the top ten photographers in the world today, including war photographers, “live in a garret”, surviving on less than 1000 euros a month, struggling to make ends meet.
Yes, it’s a real problem; I’ll give two examples. Yuri Kozyrev is a contract photographer for Time Magazine, and has been going to Baghdad a couple of times a year for the last five or six years. Now look at his work, at what he produces, then compare it to what you see in Time. There is a gaping abyss between what his real work is and what gets published. Another example is Stanley Greene who wanted to do a report in Afghanistan and needed to find 8000 euros to get there, but couldn’t raise the money. I’m sorry to have to say this yet again – everyone’s getting sick of it, and I’m told that I’m biting the hand that feeds me– but we have to stop saying that the press doesn’t have any money! The press can find the money to buy exclusive rights to celebrity photos. A couple of years ago, one weekly magazine paid 150,000 euros for the exclusive rights to Jean-Paul Belmondo’s wedding; and they can’t fork out 10,000 euros to send Stanley Greene to Afghanistan for a month! It just makes me wonder. Fifteen years ago, when a newspaper commissioned a report, the paper would insure your equipment, pay for 150 rolls of film, cover all the lab development costs, and so on. Nowadays, you do digital work, your cameras aren’t paid for, you’re not even given a memory card – nothing. A digital camera costs a lot more than the camera you had fifteen years ago. And we’re not supposed to voice any criticism? Over the same period, the price of a page of advertising has gone up by a factor of 2 or 2.5; compare that to the prices paid for photos which have gone down by a factor of 2 or 2.5! Christophe Calais told me that he wanted to go to Kenya to report on the events there; he called a magazine he often works with, and was told “Listen, if you get the chance to take a shot of Obama’s grandmother, and if we do a double-page spread, I’ll give you 300 or 400 euros.” Hell! He wasn’t going there to do a Grandma Obama celebrity shoot! That’s the real problem, you see. Everything has become celebritized, everything is nice and clean, and we’re told that we mustn’t show any violence, but celebrities instead. Yet when you look at “real TV”, you’re shown violence! Lucas Menget, a top reporter with France 24 and a member of the Visa pour l’Image team, did an excellent 26-minute report on Iraq, and you can see violence there in his report. Just talk to Stanley Greene, Christophe Calais, Enrico Dagnino, Paolo Pellegrin, Noël Quidu, Laurent Van der Stockt, and so many others whose names I haven’t mentioned; they see violence out there in the field, in the events they cover. That’s the real story!
When we ask our parents and grandparents what they did about the Nazi concentration camps, they tell us that they didn’t know about them. And it’s true that many people only discovered what had really happened in the camps when they saw photos taken by Lee Miller and Margaret Bourke White. Today we’re lucky enough to be able to see everything. No country is completely closed off; it might be difficult to take pictures in Burma or North Korea, but you end up getting something. With modern transmission facilities, satellite phones and all the advances of communication technology, it’s much easier than it used to be. So what will we say when our children and grandchildren ask us what we did about Darfur? It’s a philosophical problem. Photographers and journalists, whether with the written press, radio or television, often run the most extraordinary risks so that they can show what’s really happening. For years we were told we had a duty to history, then a duty to remember, so let’s now say that we have a duty to see and to look! I don’t want to live in a virtual world, a nice little, cuddly, fluffy world where everybody’s happy, where everyone is sweet as sugar candy and where everyone has heaps of money. People often say that Visa pour l’Image is a festival with commitment; I would say that we are activists, that we want to be militant because we, the organizers and photographers at the festival, are journalists.
I just rediscovered Photo Lucida and their Critical Mass project (here) which is a good resource for Photo Editors looking for new talent. I highly recommend working as a juror because then you are exposed to all 150 photographers that make the first cut and there’s truly some amazing work from people you’ve never heard of.
Via, Exposure Compensation.
Here are the GOLD winners from last weekends SPD awards (more here) in Photography.
Magazine of the year
The New York Times Magazine (over 1M circ)
Director of Photography: Kathy Ryan
Photo Editors: Kira Pollack, Luise Stauss, Joanna Milter, Clinton Cargill, Leonor Mamanna, Stacey Baker
Wired (500k to 1M circ)
Photo Editors: Zana Woods, Carolyn Rauch, Anna Goldwater Alexander
Blueprint (under 500,000 circ)
Photo Editors: Mary Cahill, Darlene Schrack
Photographer: Nathaniel Goldberg
Director of Photography: Dora Somosi
Photographer: Vincent Laforet
Director of Photography: Jody Quon
Photo Editor: Caroline Smith, Leana Alagia
The New York Times Magazine
Photographer: Sasha Bezzubov
Director of Photography: Kathy Ryan
The New York Times Magazine
Photographer: Dan Winters, Gareth McConnel, Richard Burbridge, David Sims, Andres Serrano, Paolo Pellegrin, Rineke Dijkstra, Katy Grannan, Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Robert Maxwell
Director of Photography: Kathy Ryan
Photo Editor: Kira Pollack
Feature, Spread/Single Page
Photographer: Jill Greenberg
Director of Photography: Dora Somosi
Photo Editor: Justin O’Neill
Senior Photo Editor: Krista Prestek
The New York Times Magazine
Photographer: Inez van Lamsweerde, Vinoodh Matadin
Director of Photography: Kathy Ryan
Best Life Magazine
Photographer: Mary Ellen Mark
Director of Photography: Ryan Cadiz
Photo Editor: Jeanne Graves
Photographer: Paolo Pellegrin
Director of Photography: Jody Quon
Photo Editor: Lea Golis, Nadia Lachance
Photographer: Annie Leibovitz
Director of Photography: Susan White
Photo Editor: Kathryn MacLeod
Photographer: Daniel Stier
Photo Editor: Carolyn Rauch
UD & SE
Photographer: Casper Balslev
Photographer: Dan Winters
Photo Editor: Carolyn Rauch
Daryl Lang over at PDNPulse catches Esquire running the same Platon shot of Obama that Time did 6 months ago (here) and asks:
We wonder how the Esquire editors failed to get an exclusive Obama portrait for their cover. Awesome type treatment notwithstanding, are they honestly satisfied making the same visual statement Time made six months ago?
Daryl let me count the ways:
1. Platon didn’t tell them it was the same cover that Time used. Probably didn’t go down this way but it’s not unusual to be told after the fact by photographer (or stock agency) that they assumed I knew. Usually someone on staff (copy editors are good at catching this stuff) will recall the previous cover as it’s going around the office in a round and we’ll have to make a last minute swap.
2. Obama’s camp didn’t give the photo department enough time or agree to their conditions for the shoot. Again, probably not the case since Esquire has pulled off it’s share of 5 minute cover shoots so it could be that there were other scheduling conflicts. Also, when you’ve done your stock research beforehand you know you’ve got to beat the best stock cover you can find so if the photographer you’ve agreed on, the time limit and location don’t lead you to think you can do it, save the $20,000 for something your audience really cares about, like getting a photographer over to cover the Burma cyclone and don’t just shoot a variation of the 5 min. cover with a different suit on.
3. The writer or fact checker asked questions that caused the PR Director to use the Cover shoot as ransom to make changes to the story. You always save the hard questions and fact checking the difficult quotes till after all the reporting is done and the cover is in the can. If you don’t they can hold the shoot as ransom to make changes. If that happened here, Granger likely told them to go to hell and so went the cover shoot.
4. Esquire had a different cover they didn’t like that much and Obama clinched the nomination as the magazine was in the final week of shipping, so they found the best stock available and grabbed a story they’d been preparing for months hoping the timeliness would make up for the obvious duplication.
5. Only PDN will notice so who gives a flying rats ass.
Keren Sachs is the Merchandising Director of Photography for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in New York City. She got her start as a Photo Editor at National Geographic Kids spent time at the Wall Street Journal and then as an Art Director at Corbis where she refined the more commercial aspect of Photo Editing that she utilizes today.
Keren oversees the photography for all the merchandise at Martha Stewart where all advertising, packaging and marketing is done internally for their 17 selling partners. She produces all aspects of the photo shoots and hires a wide range of photographers to shoot everything from food, wine, bedding, lighting to glassware. She retains long standing relationships with a number of photographers and tries to balance that by seeking out fresh talent as the opportunities present themselves. The company maintains 5 studios in the office and she’s able to spend time on set with all photographers and shoots throughout the day.
I had a few questions for her but I would encourage anyone else who wants to ask something to drop a question in the comments and we’ll try and get it answered.
Tell me about the shooting all the merchandise for Martha Stewart Living. How many photographers do you hire and how many products are you shooting and how many shoots take place each month?
This month we have 6 shoots for over 200 different products. I hire freelance photographers for all of our work. Currently, we have 18 partners so there is a great mix from Home Décor to Food and Wine to Crafts, Flowers, Home Goods and Textiles.
How do photographers get on your radar? What are your sources for finding photographers and then what’s the process for hiring them?
Agents update me on their new photographers or the new work from people I already know. I also do research and spend time on agency and photographers’ sites. Once I find a photographer I will call in a hard copy portfolio if I haven’t seen it already. I bring the books to meetings to discuss photographers with our creative team. I can’t do this the same way with a website. However, one thing I keep noticing with portfolios is that most photographers only put their favorite work in their book—a book of lifestyle images shot outside in a field isn’t going to help you land a job shooting interiors or still life here. The best way to get on my radar is to show me work that is relevant to the work we do. If it is not in the book, I can’t get our creative team on board.
These days I don’t get as many self promo cards as I used to. However a fantastic promo by James Tse introduced me to his work and I just hired him to shoot packaging for our line of food at Costco. I also attend portfolio reviews and events where I can meet with agents and learn about other photographers. I find article’s like PDN’s Who’s Shooting What helpful as well.
We have a core group of photographers who have been with the company for many years and do great work in both editorial and merchandising. Victor Schrager recently shot packaging for our Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s. He also shot our Martha Stewart’s Cookies Book.
Do you find that shooting products over and over again can become tedious and if so how do you combat that?
The products we shoot are different every season and for every partner. We also have a diverse and talented group of art directors and stylists working on each shoot. Our products tell a story and inspire the consumer. While we do not want the consumer to see the same image over and over again, we do want them to see an image and know that it is quintessentially Martha Stewart.
There’s a fairly well established aesthetic to the Martha Stewart brand so is it possible to introduce new styles of photography?
There is a way to modernize our photography and make it fresh while still keeping true to our look and feel that people associate with the brand. You’ll notice this in our Self Portrait advertisement campaign shot by both Eric Piasecki and Sang An.
I think the value of product photography goes up as buying decisions go to the web because photography is all you have to grab consumers. Has that become a factor yet in the photographers you hire?
Definitely. Our photography a key aspect of our brand online and in print. However, our products must still remain hero while we build brand equity in our merchandise lines. The images have to be strong enough to instantly grab the consumers and make them stop before clicking through to something else. One way we increase the value is by making sure the imagery is lit beautifully and with purpose. You’ll notice this in the photography for our new line at 1-800-flowers.com shot by Travis Rathbone. Too many times I have seen images with beautiful lighting but the product is in shadow. That doesn’t help us sell products and it certainly doesn’t work on the web.
Not me personally so let me explain.
The National Magazine Awards were last Thursday (here) and the big winners for photography were Gourmet (overall photography), National Geographic (photojournalism) and Vanity Fair (photo essay). I’ll also include Wired who won for design in this group of Ellie (the statue) bastard children because you see the National Magazine Awards are put on by the American Society of Magazine Editors. Yeah, Editors. Up until 2004 there was only one award for photography and then I guess they decided the photography might have something to do with the success of magazines and added photo essay and then photojournalism last year. It’s their award so I guess they can do whatever the hell they want. The only thing I find obnoxious is the editor going up on stage to collect the awards for design and photography.
Now, this Friday we have the SPD awards given by the Society of Publication Designers (here). Yeah, Designers. This is another gala affair where the winners are announced and in the categories where photography is concerned the Creative Director or Design Director will go up on stage and collect the award for you. Not as bad since we work closely with the design department and certainly their contribution to the layout of the photography makes a huge difference. But, if you think photography not surrounded by great design and typography will win an award, think again.
What I should be writing about today is the award ceremony tomorrow night (in between the two so, the Wired photo eds can spend the week in NYC) put on by some society of picture editors where nominations were made and envelopes will be opened announcing the winners of the best covers, portraits, still-lives, photojournalism, fashion, fine art and lifestyle that magazines published last year.
I know we’ve got the PDN Photo Annual and the American Photography book but I’ll be honest with you, I’ve sent a few all staff announcements about landing photography in those books and it’s just not as impressive as WINNING something (“we were selected”). There’s also the Lucie awards but I’m pretty sure that’s just photography in general and more along the lines of lifetime achievement, judging from the ages of the recipients.
So, here’s why I have such an enormous problem with the lack of awards for magazine photography. Awards actually make magazines better. It balances out the commercial pressures and gives you extra incentive to do things you wouldn’t normally do. These awards are incredible resume builders for photo editors and marketing tools for publishers. I’ve put my neck on the line a number of times because I knew the results would not only be great but also might bring in an award or two. An award for Photo Editing would also reinforce what we already know, “the success of certain magazines with advertisers and consumers is directly tied to the quality of the photography.” The CFO needs to know that.
In general pitching stories, that aren’t photo essays, to the Photo Editor is not a bad idea. Everyone on staff at a magazine can contribute to the line-up so the Photo Editor can get something made if they’re in the mood to take it to the right people and make sure something gets done about it.
Here’s a little hint though: The absolute fastest way for photographers to get a story made is to approach a writer that the magazine uses on a regular basis (don’t ask front of book writers if you’re pitching a feature story for chrissake’s) and if they’re interested in your idea ask them to pitch their editor. You’d be surprised how many good writers are looking for good ideas. I’m assuming your idea doesn’t suck, not always the easiest for people to determine on their own.
Let me just repeat something that’s very important here, find a writer that the magazine already uses or would be interested in using. There is no better way to kill a good story idea you may have than to attach a writer nobody wants in the magazine. You’d also be surprised how often this happens.
Now, if you want to go through the Photo Editor there are three ways this can shake out, in order of effectiveness:
1. The Photo Editor passes along your email to the appropriate department head and lets them respond if they want to.
2. The PE will follow up with the section or features editor to see if there’s interest and act as a go between with the photographer.
3. The PE will help craft the pitch and take it directly to the Editor or pitch meeting and try to get a green light for the idea. Depending on the magazine, if there’s interest in the story it will usually get sent back for clarification on certain points the Editor is concerned with or a writer who the magazine likes working with will be sought before a green light is given. This is the deadly yellow light and can cause stories to hang in limbo for months or even years.
It can really add to your workload as a Photo Editor to start pitching story ideas but it’s also extremely gratifying to see something go from a pitch to printed pages and I’ve alway found it to be some of my most memorable work.
125 blank pages of edit with an additional 85 pages of ads (yeah, it’s a dream but we still gotta turn a profit).
A line-up with a wide mix of interesting subjects to assign: far away places, inspiring people, beautiful objects, crazy ideas, elite sport, humor, conflict, mystery.
Complete autonomy with the selection of photographers and final images.
An unlimited budget to get it done (not because I want to spend stacks of cash just because I don’t want to think about the budget when it comes to approach on a subject).
I’ll shoot everything except events, action and landscapes. I like to use pick-up for action and landscape because they’re so condition and weather dependent, but I’ll shoot it if there’s nothing available that I like.
Working as a Photography Director means the decisions about who I hire will be heavily influenced by 3 important groups of people (since I have autonomy from co-workers in this dream): the competition, the audience and the advertisers. Thinking about this bigger picture and articulating to everyone how our photography serves those groups is a big part of my job.
When I look at the competition the first thing I always do is identify their core group of photographers and try to stay away from hiring within that group. If I want to bump someone out of their group I can hire them on a regular basis and usually the competition will stop using them (that is unless they don’t consider my magazine competition). I’ll also think about their overall use of photography and come up with way to differentiate what we’re offering the advertisers and audience. If they use heavy lighting and conceptual images to get ideas across I’ll try for more available light and real subjects as a marked contrast when we cover the same subject. This is even more important on the newsstand where I firmly believe in hiring a couple photographers to shoot all the covers to create a distinct style that readers can pick-up on month after month.
I have a couple goals when it comes to hiring photographers with the advertisers in mind. First, create an environment where they want to be seen. This can involve hiring photographers out of the same pool of talent they draw from and when possible, using those photographers in a way, because of client constraints, they can’t. Next, I feel it’s important to challenge the aesthetics of the advertisers in some of the shoots you commission. If advertisers wanted to hang out with a bunch of sycophants they would just make their own magazine. Including challenging or controversial photography in the mix ensures that advertisers understand you know your audience better than they do and you’re willing to do things they wouldn’t to reach them.
The number one goal with the audience is to present a range of photography styles that will keep them engaged, entertained, challenged and provide fresh entry points into the stories. I think it’s a huge mistake to do to much of any one style of photography so keeping the mix lively is a priority for me. For the average reader presenting challenging imagery over and over turns reading your magazine into homework and needs to be balanced out with pictures that entertain and surprise.
Now, keeping all those factors in mind I can begin to make assignments for the issue. The story mix is never ideal so pieces that would normally have a similar approach running in the same issue need divergent styles from within a genre to avoid repetition.
So, there you have it, the brass ring that photo editors everywhere reach for every month, the perfect mix. Throw in budgetary constraints. overbearing owner, a late breaking assignment, stories suddenly dropping out or any number of curve balls and you’ve got a real mess to figure out. The amazing thing is that I’ve come close to grabbing that ring several times in my career. It always keeps you coming back for more.
When I started working as a photo editor I quickly learned a few lessons up front about buying photographs from amateurs: always ask how they planned to ship the images (we weren’t supposed to give out our UPS account to the non professionals) and determine beforehand what format the photographs might be in when they arrived.
I of course learned these lessons the hard way the first time I was handed the task of locating those awesome photographs the subject of a story always seems to claim his friend/mom/uncle/some dude took that will solve all the usual woes associated with trying to run stories about places no professional photographer has bothered to visit. A couple days would go by and I would call back to find the whereabouts of the images only to discover they’d been dropped in the mail with a stamp (duh, that’s how normal people send shit… not FedEx first overnight) and then a week later when the package finally arrives I discover the cruddy 3×5 prints (or worse disk film) and have to start the whole process over again only this time on a serious deadline.
The value in these otherwise unremarkable photographs was not the elusive subject captured by the writer’s uncle poorly depicted on 1-hour prints but rather the difficulty in obtaining the images and ergo exclusivity our publication would enjoy printing them (surely nobody else would go through all this trouble). In fact that exclusive look at things was so important, magazines with real budgets like People would fly a photo editor to the errant uncles house to gather the 1-hour photos themselves.
This has all changed of course, with the advent of digital cameras and the internet these once obscure, hard to obtain amateur photographs are everywhere and their value has evaporated overnight.
News organizations are picking up on this “citizen journalist” phenomenon as if we haven’t always used citizen journalists to fill in the holes and so I find it strange that they think they’ve discovered the holy grail of cost cutting in photography, because everyone seems to be missing one enormous piece to this puzzle. The value of these images to consumers is also zero.
It’s like walking into the furniture store and finding a junk-ass chair made out of two by fours and ten penny nails. “You’re trying to sell me a chair I could have built… drunk?”
Taking it one step further according to Thoughts of a Bohemian a website called Daylife (here) will scan the text on your web page and deliver relevant news images from a tightly edited pool of wire photography. He goes on to say “As newspapers and magazine are suffering more layouts as ad spending is weakening, most of the photo related professional are turning to the internet. However, because of its built in automation, it just seems that some of the jobs will not be recycle but ultimately replaced by machines. We will still need great pictures, thus talented photographers. Not so sure about needing photo editors.”
I totally agree that using wire photos or even citizen journalist images to “decorate” your story should be accomplished by machines because you’re not really adding anything of value to the overall package.
To all those content re-packagers who think any of this sounds like a good idea: good luck finding readers. Maybe machines will read that crap.
There are a couple methods to getting a magazine out the door on time every month. There’s what I call the “ABC” (Always Be Closing) method where the various sections are staggered, heading to production over the course of an entire month, which in theory sounds like a sane way to do it but in practice feels like you never let off the gas and makes it nearly impossible to take vacations or do anything besides ship pages. And, no matter how hard you try there always manages to be a couple all day marathons to ship pages at the end. The other method I’m calling “look everyone this thing ships in two weeks we really need to buckle down if we’re gonna make it,” where you smash the thing out in a week or two right up to the deadline putting in long hours and generally working as hard as you can in a sprint to the finish. Sounds bad in theory but is not too bad in practice because there’s a couple weeks of slacking in between the all-out efforts. But, you know who really gets hammered in this arrangement? The production department. So, the solution has always been to give everyone fake deadlines (I’m not really blaming them as they always seem to stay till 5am on closing week shipping pages).
Whatever method you’re using the fake deadlines are usually a conspiracy between production and the managing editor–who also tries very hard to hide those 5 week issues from everyone–so we don’t completely check out for awhile. One place I worked they had a fake thing they called “the early form” where they duped everyone into thinking they were printing parts of the magazine early. Problem was those parts were totally random which makes no sense whatsoever if you know anything at all about printing magazine forms.
The game for me was to figure out the real deadline and on occasion when a photographer I really wanted to work with needed more time, give it to them. I think some of the more stressful points of my career where those days after the fake deadline had passed and the managing editor, editor, creative director and production department were asking me for the film and I had to come up with an excuse everyday and thinking to myself “If this shoot fails, I’m definitely fired.” I certainly don’t think it was good for my health but I couldn’t resist when a photographer I wanted to work with said they couldn’t do it without a few more days to deliver final art.
So, what’s the drop dead date? Well, that depends on who’s asking. Photographers always get a couple extra days.
Most conventional ideas about success go wrong because they focus on outcomes and results instead of on the processes of living. Outcomes come around from time to time, but life itself — the process of living, acting, thinking, and being — happens all the time.
No outcome is going to make a lousy, miserable process feel worthwhile — especially chasing money, power, or status. If they come to you, that’s fine. But if you hate what you do, no amount of power or money is going to make up for that.
Read the rest at Slow Leadership (here).
I’m off the rest of the week. See you Monday.
Usually when a magazine hires a new Photography Director the first thing that happens is all the photographers are fired. There’s no actual firing because the photographers are all freelancers so there’s usually a transition where the previous Photo Editors shoots are cycled through the system and then new shoots are commissioned with entirely different photographers.
It’s not unusual for a few trusted photographers that align with the Photo Editor’s aesthetic to travel from job to job with them. Also, the Creative Director and Editor will have some favorites and depending on the dynamic at the publication those will find their way into the mix. Nothing really unusual here just the life cycle of the photo industry where everyone thinks they have the photographic solutions to whatever maybe ailing a publication at that particular moment in time (newsstand is down, advertising is down, we need a more upscale audience, we need more upscale advertisers, readers don’t send us letters).
A very different more difficult scenario occurs when a magazine gets a new Creative Director or Editor or both and you have to fire all the photographers you’ve established good working relationships with including all your goto’s. The Editor and/or Creative Director will have had to deliver a critique of the magazine to whomever is doing the hiring and I’ll guarantee that somewhere in that critique will be a discussion of the photography and how it can be changed to fix whatever ails the magazine. My advice to Photo Editors in this situation is to fire everyone and start over. You can bring in some of your favorites but only after you fire them first to show your willingness to recast the photographic DNA of your publication.
Of course, these scenarios present excellent opportunities for photographers with a good sense of timing to get themselves inserted into the regular rotation.
Awhile back I worked at a magazine that paid people really, really late. It wasn’t always that way but after the dot com crash cash flow became a problem (along with the bigger problem of advertising declines) and the genius CFO decided that rather than take out the usual line of credit to cover the times when the printing bill and payroll drained the account to the point where there was nothing left to pay contributors he decided to wait until late paying advertising accounts finally delivered a check. This of course saves the company whatever percentage of interest the line of credit would have charged for a cash withdraw and turned contributors into an interest free bank.
The reason this all happened in the first place is because advertising clients decided to stop paying their bills on time. Now that advertisers were in charge, they could set the terms of the deal and magazines had to just let it slide rather than penalize them like they had done in the past. So, really it’s the advertisers who are screwing everyone in this deal not just magazines screwing contributors.
So, every couple of months Getty and Corbis would turn off our account which we’d usually discover as we were trying to put the issue to bed causing much pandemonium in the production department and begging by photo editors to which they’d say “nope, you can’t have any images until we receive a check” and we’d have to FedEx a check to their accounting department. And, sometimes photographers would hold final prints hostage because we hadn’t paid them for the last job we did together, so we’d have to FedEx a check out before we could get the prints. I ended up spending more time then I should have listing to photographers yell and scream about payment and carrying our expenses on credit card and I tried to not take it personally.
One day I got a call from Mary Ellen Mark who’d recently shot a feature story for us. I was so proud that I’d landed her to shoot for the magazine and was so intimidated when I had spoken with her about the assignment and then when she’d called me from location to discuss the images she was getting and in general giving me an update on what was happening. Well, M.E.M. was not calling to tell me what a fabulous Photo Editor I was. No, she was calling to rip me a new one from head to toe because it had been over 90 days since she’d turned in a bill and had yet to receive payment and Christmas had passed and all those expenses we’d owed her would have come in handy. So, I sat there on the other end of the phone for a good 15 minutes possibly half an hour as Mary Ellen Mark shredded me into tiny little pieces and then stomped up and down on the pile of pieces and then loaded them into a cannon with a couple pounds of gunpowder and shot them out so they fell from the sky like confetti.
Some things are just out of your control but if you’re a part of a system that behaves badly you’ve got to take your lumps and go back to work and try to make it better. Just because you can get away with behaving badly doesn’t mean you should. Karma can be a bitch. Ask the record industry execs.
I find the corporate workaholic mentality of, the longer you spend at your desk the better the product will become, utterly ridiculous and literally, ass-in-seat. The best ideas I ever came up with occurred on a morning run in the park in Connecticut not sitting in my office on 6th avenue or any office anywhere for that matter.
Jason Calacanis CEO of Mahalo started a raging debate over in the tech world with a line in a post about how to save money running a startup (here) that said “fire people who are not workaholics…” since revised to “don’t love their work.” He proceeded to get a good shredding from tech bloggers and my favorite response came frrom Signal vs. Noise (here) entitled “Fire the people who are workaholics!”
If your start-up can only succeed by being a sweatshop, your idea is simply not good enough. Go back to the drawing board and come up with something better that can be implemented by whole people, not cogs.
The business world is changing and it’s becoming harder and harder to find talented cogs. Corporations need a business plan that attracts whole people if they want to be around in 10 years. Well, that is unless you’re making cogs… cogs are still good for that.
I’ve run quite a few sporting event photos over the years but I’ve never really contemplated what goes into making one so I decided to join a friend shooting a week long sports event. My initial reaction after the first couple days is… ARE YOU FNG KIDDING ME. Where the hell did all these people with cameras come from? I shit you not, I saw soccer moms with 600mm Canon lenses. What the hell are you going to do with those photos? Put them in your scrapbook? There were literally thousands of people shooting pictures of every single person, place or thing you could imagine. I guess I’ve spent all my time sending people to events and buying stock photos but never attending to see what goes down. You photographers can certainly put up with a lot.
After my initial shock with the camera toting public I realized half these people are actually sporting press credentials representing all kinds of magazines, newspapers and even blogs. I’m all for shooting original pictures but if everyone is standing in the exact same spot shooting the exact same thing I’m not so sure I see the point.
The bottom line is, access is everything, which is not really news to anyone but reinforces the idea that bringing your personal vision to photography is the key to making it.
I usually place photographers into one of three groupings according to how expensive I think they might be to work with. I’m not talking about the creative fee because that usually stays relatively the same for everyone. The expenses are where the total cost for a shoot can vary wildly.
Low budget photographers have little or no rental and digital fees, no assistant, will drive 500 miles to save a couple bucks on airfare or even make 3 connections and endure several hour layovers, eat cheap fast food, rent compact cars and sleep in dive hotels or sometimes a ditch.
The medium budget photographers have rental and digital fees but are usually flexible and just looking to not get stiffed. They fly coach but it needs to be on specific airlines where they can upgrade to first class or collect miles. They always have an assistant but might be willing to use a local, eat sushi, rent SUV’s and stay in a nice hotel.
The high budget photographers hire a grip truck, have a preferred retoucher on speed dial, they fly first class and always travel with their 1st/digi-tech and need a second from LA or NY and a third could possibly be a local if they absolutely have to. They always have catering on set and then eat room service, rent 2 SUV’s (one for the assistants and gear) and only stay in hotels from a list they approve and sometimes with a specific room request.
How do I know what category you’re in? By looking at your photography.
Many times I won’t even call photographers because I know they’re going to be high budget and the shoot just isn’t worth that kind of money (vagueness by the editor about the number of pages available or even if it will ever run is usually a good clue). Sometimes, I get myself in trouble and the low budget photographer is actually high budget. That can cause a lot of tension as I try and hack away at the expenses.
Some of the high or medium budget photographers will say “hey, why don’t you call me for shoots like that that one you did with *low budget* photographer I’ll be flexible” but once we get down to an estimate the expenses always seem end back up where I didn’t want them to be.
I’m not sure what the cost of a photographers plane ticket has to do with their level of photography but I assume it’s their willingness to say no.
Sometimes, I’ll get a shoot in and be disappointed with it but then I’ll show it around to the editors, the creative director and the other photo editors and everyone will like it and so I think “Ok, just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not a good shoot.” And, I chuck it in the file cabinet and forget about it.
Then the damnedest thing happens. The story is slated and we pull the film out and scan it in and they start to lay it out and then there’s, a problem. It’s not working in the layout for some reason. The reason is usually one of two things. Either the photos are all very similar and when put into a layout they all look like the same photo taken over and over. Or, there’s something important missing, the key part of the story or someone’s portrait or a photo to match the headline they wrote. The worst possible problem–this happens more than you may think–is there’s no opener. At least nothing that fits the traditional definition of an opener: an image that fits a spread, one and two thirds or single page that either has the power to stop readers in their tracks or represents the scope of the story in that single image. There are other ways to skin this cat but if the designer is unwilling to explore them I need to go find an opener and your photo credit went from display to the gutter.
Always shoot the opener first. You’re always better off if you only come back with the opener and nothing else.