The Daily Edit – Friday

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UCLA Magazine

Design Director and Photo Editor: Charlie Hess
Art Director: Suzannah Mathur
Editor: Jack Feuer

Photographer: J Bennett Fitts

Heidi: How did this idea come about?
Charlie: When I was art directing Buzz Magazine (too many years ago) I was able to run a photo essay in every issue for a few years. It was immensely satisfying and fun. The subjects would come from my relationships with photographers I liked and admired. And always from the photographer’s personal passion projects — basically the stuff they’d shoot for love, but needed a venue to show the work.

With my current magazine clients I suggest photo essays whenever my editors have the space. Everyone seems to like them and they’re a nice break from the copy-driven features. The concept I pitched was this: Everyone knows the picture postcard views of UCLA (as seen in countless TV shows and movies) but what about the real UCLA campus, the seemingly mundane places, the in-between spaces, the landscapes that everyone passes but few people notice. Let JB explore campus and find the hidden beauty of UCLA behind and between the landmarks.

Did you give any specific art direction other than in-between spaces?
It turns out that JB used to sneak onto campus as a kid and skateboard. He knew the campus well (or at least the ramps and jumps!) but he hadn’t been back for years. So I pretty much set him loose, with a few general guidelines. I wanted his perspective, not mine.

After he’d been shooting early mornings and late nights for a few weeks he felt he had some work prints worth looking at. We spent a lunch going over them, which was great because at that point he was pretty deep into it but it was all fresh to me. I gave him some notes and suggestions of where he should focus. He went back a few more times and then we settled on about ten of our favorites. It was pretty seamless and I think the essay is much stronger because I knew when to butt out!

What do you look for in photography?
Legendary music producer Don Was, after remastering “Exile on Main Street,” said that what defines rock and roll is the imperfections, what happens when the drummer is slightly OFF the beat. That’s what makes it rock and roll and not digitally auto-tuned drivel. That’s what I wanted JB to shoot — the human imperfections and random moments, the “off-beat” — NOT the visual equivalents of Auto Tune.

Now that everything’s digital it’s too easy to make it “perfect.” What I love about JB’s landscape work (and even more so in portraiture) is the mistakes and imperfections that make it real. We try to do as little “airbrushing” as possible; I think it makes photographs more credible and sincere, though I know I”m fighting a losing battle!

Note: Content for The Daily Edit is found on the newsstands. Submissions are not accepted.

Heidi Volpe

There Are 16 Comments On This Article.

  1. I got a sense of an implied contrast between the calm, pure visuals of the photos, and all the hyperactive left brain thinking, lecturing and arguing that goes on there. So very interesting indeed.

    • Charlie Hess

      Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful comments. NIce to see the hard work and JB’s talents appreciated. But I have to say, Tim, you really nailed it in a way I hadn’t fully articulated. You can’t really tell in the jpgs but I designed the background as this subtly frenetic map of campus, and intuitively I think what I was after was that sort of left brain/right brain friction.

  2. First, I really like the photography. Second, jeez…I hate to turn this into a talk about money, but this IS a business…how many days did he spend shooting this and could an editorial with that kind of budget please call me? Smiley face.

    • Shane,
      I spent four days walking around the UCLA campus. The first two I used to get an idea of the light and architecture and the last days were the more intensive shoot days. I was fortunate that Charlie came to me with a deadline conducive to this approach, a definite luxury in the editorial world.

  3. Thanks for posting this! A great concept to get real glimpses of the campus through a photographer’s eye, and wow, great design and play in the magazine. Beautiful work, JB!

  4. I think what makes it work is the thought process of not trying to make an essay of perfect photographs. I think there is a mentality that a photograph needs to be manipulated so it is perfect from corner to corner. You can see it when you cruise social media sites. This is natural and real, leaving you to wonder….

  5. What a gorgeous essay. Really enjoy how the photographer plows through the high energy and chaos of a campus to find these lovely moments. Charlie, your layout and typography are truly an inspired supporting role!
    Thanks Heidi!

  6. This is the best of the best: absolutley non existent subject matter made important and profound simply by paying attention. Genius work by Fitts but getting this to see the light of day is an equal accomplishment. Congrats to Feuer and Hess as well!