Those Photos Suck

- - Photography Style

I worked with an editor once who–fairly often when I brought him photos–would tell me the photos sucked. I would then try to tell him that no, you’re using the wrong words, you should be saying “I don’t like those photos” which is fine because you’re an editor and therefore you know nothing about photography. This is why I work here.

In the editorial and advertising world, photos are good when they do their job, but it all depends on where you’re standing.

I’m standing over here with other mainstream consumer magazines. My magazine has a specific agenda that involves overshooting our audience’s taste in photography to attract elitist advertisers, favorable press and awards from the NYC photo mafia.

If you’re standing over in corporate head shot universe there’s no need to get all Terry Richardson on their asses because that will get you fired because it’s bad photography.

So, when I think about who’s the best photographer in Canton, Ohio it has nothing to do with who’s the best at shooting things people in Canton actually need pictures of it’s who’s the best at emulating the NYC editorial style I need to do my job.

Usually, when my editor doesn’t like photos it means I’m doing my job.

There Are 21 Comments On This Article.

  1. Stupid Photographer

    An EDITOR saying, “…you’re an EDITOR and therefore you know nothing about photography. This is why I work here.” Caps mine. That’s so smart it blows my stupid mind!

  2. This is a nice post to follow up on the ‘talent’ post from last week. It seems here you are pointing out that looking for talent in Canton, Ohio, means looking for someone there who can shoot in the style that fits your needs. Everyone in Canton might think your choice photographer has no talent.

    Or am I confusing your use of the terms ‘good’ and ‘Talent’? Anyhow, thanks for the post.

  3. Thanks for the follow up post to talent. I appreciate your acknowledgment that people can photograph different things for different purposes without ‘sucking.’

    Also, more thoughts about talent. You mentioned your difficulty getting the ‘talent’ you wanted for one reason or another.

    I couldn’t help but think that people pursuing their own vision are always more difficult to nail down and are also highly prized for what they bring to the table…

    A personal vision (and by extension a motivation) goes so much farther than than any promotional ever will.

  4. Wait, are you “a” photo editor or are you this big-shot, national magazine’s DP? Either way, it sounds as if the rag’s editors, who you say put out an award-winning magazine, are running the right imagery for their audiences. By now you should know not to bring them photos that suck. Esp. since your former editor kept telling you he didn’t like the photos you presented!

    It sounds as though your job sucks, esp. since you blog away the day. Me thinks this phenom you started to attract attention is starting to fade like a Cibachrome print without UV-protection.

    I think you should become a photographer’s rep where you can really feel some pain.

  5. @ 4. egirl: Big shot. Former editor… as in fired for having bad taste. How long does it take a cibachrome to fade? sounds like yours last 4 months. adjust your chemicals.

  6. As someone who makes a livelihood in corporate headshot universe I can still appreciate good photography. This posting by APE is similar to this one a couple of months ago.
    At the end of the day there is a lot more work in corporate headshots than in top level editorial commissions for a very small number of magazines
    I seem to remember that Cibachromes use azo dyes and consequently not fade, discolor or deteriorate for a very long time?

  7. If I remember correctly, a Cibachrome’s lifespan depends upon processing and storage conditions.

    Photos often suck when not taken by me, or more specifically when taken by someone whose success I’m jealous of.

    Since this is semi-permanent as discussed in a previous post, I’ll follow this up with a statement that the above is, meant to be taken tongue in cheek, and completely irrelevant as my opinion of other’s work shouldn’t, and probably doesn’t, matter to anyone.

  8. @ Everyone: Consider these thoughts about posting comments on blogs:

    Quoting Dave Winer:
    “When a blog allows comments right below the writer’s post, what you get is a bunch of interesting ideas, carefully constructed, followed by a long spew of noise, filth, and anonymous rubbish that nobody … nobody … would say out loud if they had to take ownership of their words.”

    Quoting Joel:
    “You don’t have a right to post your thoughts at the bottom of someone else’s thoughts. That’s not freedom of expression, that’s an infringement on their freedom of expression. Get your own space, write compelling things, and if your ideas are smart, they’ll be linked to, and Google will notice, and you’ll move up in PageRank, and you’ll have influence and your ideas will have power.”

    I find this site–both APE’s posts AND most comments–very clever, informative, and interesting.

    @ APE: Keep up the good work.
    @ Posters: Keep up the good (read constructive) work.

    I hope this is not just spew, which I detest! I’m sure you’ll let me know ;-).

  9. Perhaps been too visually literate or sophisticated in the commercial market is too risky. The PD’s job is to be one-step ahead and at the cutting edge – but perhaps not too far ahead as this might lead to losing your job. Olivier Laude has stated something similar within the posting ‘Visually Acceptable’
    One of the interesting strands of conversation that constantly recurs in this blog. Is good photography something outside the latest technique or fashion. Clearly the editorial market or advertising world just takes it clue from the art market and photographers such as Andreas Gursky, Alec Soth work starts to make an impact on trends within the commercial fields.
    I think the ‘APE’ might feel more comfortable working in a museum or art gallery?

  10. Like most things in life – to be successful takes more than been good at your job – you also have be very good at convincing other people that you are good at your job!
    How many commercially successful artists are producing work that sells for a great deal of money but that does not have any real merit or longevity?
    Emperors new clothes for much work I think

  11. In general terms (ie having no knowledge of the APE’s magazine) I find that editor’s are usually very good at their jobs but they are not necessarily exceptionally visually literate people. They come from the world of the written word. That can lead to a lot of creative head butting and is perhaps one of the reason’s that a lot of magazines never reach their potential. It’s actually pretty rare to find a person who is a great editor and who really understands the subtleties of visual communication.
    Robert Karpa

  12. see post 10 by jain lemos regarding comments. As for editors, I think they get a bit dyed in the wool and the woollies get in their eyes so they can’t see much good about them. Having turned from writer to picture taker, probably both my words and pics suck, but I do my own work and probably would never fit in the corporate headshot world. I keep company with Archie instead. But what I truly enjoy here are the two opposing viewpoints without the protestations of the photographer or writer. It’s reassuring to know that there is some contention in that invisible office and things aren’t always just deposited automatically into the vertical file and editors take up a bat for things that attract their interest. The other interesting conflict that seems to exist that one sees images as an extension or addenda to an article, adding another dimension for the consumer who might casually pick it up in a supermarket; but the editor/ head editor sees things as a style or continuum, overall layout or blend.

    and it smells something of the new yorker — the new yorker might have had incredible writers, but honestly, I almost never read it because it seems so incredibly stuffy and stylized. If it comes to literary rags, I go with the Atlantic. and those other nyc rags…

    could care less. slicks might be smooth but they can be incredibly boring.

  13. Ah, another universal conversation held in magazines’ and ad agencies’ offices across the globe…

    I usually challenge my ADs to think about not saying “This photo sucks,” because that statement and statement-maker can be completely discredited with a simple, “No, it doesn’t.”

    And then all that AD can do is stand there and be all, “Uh, yeah it does…”

    So, for all you ADs out there, here’s some supporting advice given in a slightly different way: Have a strategic, well-founded reason for why an image (or shooter) is good or not good for the assignment at hand. If you have an objective reason for your choice, you’ll win friends and influence people. If you can’t find anything smarter to say than, “I hate it” or “It sucks,” you’ll quickly become the crybaby creative everyone does whatever they can to NOT have to partner with on an assignment. And then you’ll have to drive by yourself to client meetings and shoots. And we’ll all talk about you before we get there.

  14. The short version of this story is that there are very few good editors out there, and the vast majority of publications are top heavy with Editors-in-Chief, Executive Editors, Managing Editors, News Editors, Photo Editors, Articles Editors, Senior Editors, Fashion Editors, Assistant Editors, Associate Editors, and Editorial Interns.

    I’ve worked in magazines as a writer, photographer – and editor – for 25 years. Most editors are either young, inexperienced and clueless, or overly powerful, grotesquely jaded, and often arrogant, vain, demanding, dogmatic, and just plain dirt stupid to boot. (i.e. Bill Keller, NYT). They specialize in the ‘conceit’ of articles, deceptive headlines, and turning interesting or unique writing into a knuckle-dragging formula.

    They don’t know how to assign what they want, they only know how to revile what they don’t like.

    Most of them spend all day in their cubicle, dreaming of exactly the story line or voice they want…or the exact lighting, weather, models and imaginary setting they’d like to see. And then they throw tantrums if somehow, those exact images and articles don’t appear magically on their desk. And even if the story or photos come in exactly as comp-sketched or assigned, the editor will chop and tweak and alter the story, or second-guess the photographer, until it sucks.

    Tightening, clarifying, streamlining, honing in on the concept….all that’s cool. But most editors will hammer anything that crosses their desks just to justify their existence, not improve the publication.

    The can gripe, but they can’t do.

    There are editors that buck these averages, and kudos to them. But in my experience, they’re rare.

    My advice to aspiring writers and photographers is to get on staff at a big magazine. You’ll get paid better, work less, and you’ll always be right.