I had the pleasure of connecting with Amy Wolff, Photo Editor at Photo District News. In order to frame the interview properly I asked her to explain her role at the magazine.
Amy: Though my title is “photo editor,” the job description is different than it’s been at other magazines. I don’t do any assigning or producing. I contribute ideas for stories, help identify trends and issues in the photo industry, and suggest sources for articles and interviews. My contributions are based on what I know about what’s going on in the photo industry as a whole: I am in constant contact with photographers and photo industry folks (emails, meetings, portfolio reviews, openings, events). When the editors discuss story ideas, our goal is to gather information and present it in a way that we hope our readers can learn from, that will help them navigate the business, or give them ideas on how photographers handle challenges– challenges regarding business, funding, marketing, techniques, landing assignments, getting a grant, finding income, selling prints. We try to strike a balance in our coverage that serves readers working in every genre of photography.
One of my biggest roles is providing content for our photo blog, Photo of the Day (POTD) (http://potd.pdnonline.com/). POTD’s audience is much broader than the magazine. Simply put it’s a place to celebrate great imagery, without regard to specific usefulness or story themes. I have discretion over the selection. Admittedly I’m not a great writer, but I’m getting better.
Heidi: For PDN ‘s 30 typically how many submissions do you get?
Amy: As a photo editor I look forward to PDN’s 30 every year. I’d been asked to nominate photographers in the past. I was really excited to be a part of it this year. I started at PDN in February 2013, so I’ve only been through the process once. I’d say the number of submissions depends on the number of folks invited to upload images. PDN editors ask a wide variety of folks (editors, art buyers, gallerists, curators, consultants, publishers) to nominate photographers. Those photographers are invited to upload images to be considered for PDN’s 30. This year about 400 photographers uploaded images.
What specific criteria do you look for in the work in order for it to be considered?
We look for work that is fresh, inspiring, creative and unique. We also want as varied a list as possible because we want the issue to be useful and inspiring to young photographers. Locations, gender, specialties, styles and subject matter are all things we take into consideration.
Once all the considerations are made, how many make the first cut? Can you describe that process?
PDN’s editors judge the PDN’s 30, and there are multiple rounds of judging. We vote on the entries, and tally the votes. After that initial judging we’ll start meeting, as a group, and go through the top 100 or 125 – and by go through I mean look at their entries, read their bios, go to their websites, Google them…try to find out as much information as possible. We narrow it down from there verbally, collectively as a group.
And then the subsequent cuts after that? Do you break it up into categories internally to cover a broad range of styles?
Yes, subsequent cuts are made based on initial ranking, and for the sake of diversifying the list. We don’t have a specific number in mind though – it’s not like we say we have to have 5 photojournalists, 5 fashion photographers, 5 portrait photographers, etc. But we don’t want to have 20 photographers who shoot fashion and are all based in NYC out of a list of 30.
What would you say is the biggest challenge for that process?
The biggest challenge is that we can only pick 30. Sometimes 20 photographers who shoot fashion are all amazing! We have to hope that they come back the following year and we’ll have another chance.
Once a photographer is selected, do you ever hear about success stories following the nominations?
After the 30 are picked my work has just begun. I can’t begin to estimate the numbers of emails I’ve exchanged with these folks. I’m invested in these photographers – I feel like I know them (as much as you can get to know someone over email or the phone). I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of the photographers in person post-PDN’s 30 and I’ve asked them how things are going. Many have said PDN’s 30 has helped them with networking (ex. when emailing a photo editor they have never met before they put “PDN’s 30” in the subject line) and getting assignments (ex. clients reach out to them saying they heard of them from PDN’s 30).
For promo or personal work, what strikes a cord with the editors? Have you noticed any trends in the imagery lately?
For Tumblr and Promos We Kept there isn’t a formula to what gets promoted on the blog. We post unusual or ingenious promos, or promos we feel deserve some attention. A lot of thought (and money) goes into those and it’s nice to be able to give them a platform. A lot of the promos I’ve received lately have been zines or small, self-published books. In fact, I have a small pile on my desk of promos I need to blog about. Thanks for the reminder!
What does your office walls look like?
No office for this gal – cube with 3 walls. Empty cubical walls are not visually stimulating so I cover every inch with promos and prints. I’ve been in the habit to refresh the décor after each issue close.
How much mail do you get per day and what makes you keep a promo?
I get more mail at PDN than I have anywhere else. But I do open and look at all of it. Sometimes I think photographers over think the promo – postcard, glossy or matte, envelope or no envelope, vellum, label or no label, hand-written or typed. If the image(s) is compelling, printed well, and your name/location/website is clearly noted, it’s a successful promo. I keep promos so I remember them – for a future article in PDN, for a POTD, or to remember to keep an eye out. I look at work digitally all the time. It’s nice to have something to hold.
I know the editorial market is really tough, any advice for seasoned and emerging artists?
It is still possible to be a successful photographer in 2014 but the rules have changed. There isn’t one path to success. If you are good at what you do and you work hard at it, and you’re a nice person and people like working with you, you have a good shot. I strongly recommend to photographers whose phones aren’t ringing to keep shooting. I know it’s hard to motivate but it’s important to keep making new work so you always have something new to share with people either in person or on social media. Keeping in touch is important – I ask that photographers add me to their mailing list (email, snail mail). I don’t remember everything I see or everyone I meet and need to be reminded that you’re out there.
For Exposures: What criteria are you looking for?
To clarify, each issue of PDN has a theme (April “PDN’s 30,” May “Lighting,” June “Photo Annual, July “Fine Art,” August “Publishing”) and we try to think ahead about what stories we’ll need for each issue. All of the editors at PDN pitch ideas to each other. We share photo stories and talk about work all the time. Senior editor Conor Risch fields the story ideas for the Exposures section, and he tends to showcase new personal projects, or work that is currently showing in a gallery, about to be published in book form, or work that we feel our audience needs to know about.
Have you noticed any trends lately, do you try and strike a balance between emerging artists and established?
We’re trying to strike a balance of coverage that serves readers working in every genre of photography and at every stage of their careers. When we consider sources for articles, we look at people who have a useful story to share that other photographers can learn from. I think documentary and more long-term story telling is trending lately.
Have you been surprised by any particular artist? ( meaning it was a departure from their normal work? )
My background in photo editing comes from editorial but PDN has opened my eyes to so much more. What I’ve found surprising is how many photographers are shooting both commercial and fine art work. To me, that would be the best of both worlds – make money with a larger commercial job and have the time & financial freedom to make the work you really want to make.
For the D’Agata feature, do you have any outtakes you can share?
No, we were given a specific number of images provided by the publisher for the exclusive purpose of reproduction in PDN along with the article.
What in particular about his story gripped the editors for this feature?
For starters his images. He photographs addicts, sex, and prostitution. As our Editor, Holly Hughes, says, D’Agata is a “photographer’s photographer.” Many photographers have cited his work as inspiration. Meghan Ahearn, who was our Managing Editor at the time, was looking through the Prestel Spring catalogue and saw he had a new book coming out, and that the book was a fairly large collection of his work. Senior Editor, Conor Risch, ended up interviewing D’Agata in person which turned into the feature (Antoine D’Agata: Photographing Life at Society’s Margins) we published in the April 2014 issue. It’s a great read if you haven’t read it, and it’s still online:
What was the determining factor for the images that did make in the print edition? ( did you have an online gallery )
It’s like most magazines – the number of images published depends on page count and word count. We can include up to 10 images in online galleries which is helpful when we can’t fit everything in the magazine. We did have an online gallery for D’Agata but in this case included everything we ran in print.
Without a real rhythm, do you find selecting the covers a challenge?
Covers usually come from the theme section – April’s cover came from one of our PDN’s 30’s, Charlie Engman, May’s came from the lighting feature, Nigel Cox, June’s came from one of our the Photo Annual winners, Julia Fullerton-Batten. (more in the newsstand q&a)
Do you follow any sort of edit calendar?
Yes, our themes are chosen ahead of time.
How much pressure do you have for newsstand sales?
We do discuss how the cover might look on the newsstand, but probably less than at consumer magazines because most of our readers are subscribers. When we’re choosing a cover (it typically comes from the theme section) we’re more concerned about not repeating something we’ve done in the past, and it’s appeal to a visually sophisticated audience. We never crop photos inside the magazine: Ever. The cover, however, is a different story. We do occasionally crop the cover image with the permission of the photographer.
Knowing we may have to crop either the top, bottom or sides, we initially look for images that can be cropped without changing the image too much The Creative Director, Darren Ching, and I then pick a handful of images and place them in a cover template. We look for images that don’t compete with our logo, and images that aren’t covered by our logo once they’re placed. We’ll edit from there as a group.
Is the cover image always an outtake from the inside stories?
Yes, again, the cover usually comes from the theme section. If we run the image on the cover, we wouldn’t then run it on the inside of the magazine.
I know you have a side business called CoEdit. What can you tell us about that?
I first met Tim Klein when I was photo editing for a magazine based in Chicago (Michigan Avenue). The assignment was rather, challenging, haha, so we kind of bonded over that. A few months later Tim called and asked if I would consult with him on an idea he had. Some of his clients and photo-shoot subjects had purchased his prints. That sparked his idea to sell photography prints online and he needed help with photographer connections and photo-editing. The more time I invested, the more I liked the idea and the more I wanted to be a part of it so I asked if he was interested in a partnership and he said yes. There are a lot of places and ways to buy photography but CoEdit is different. We sell editorial and commercial photographers’ work, provide context for the images and artists, and it’s curated by industry folks and tastemakers.