The following presents a summary of the findings produced by an informal survey taken of various editors who happen to be LS members. This thread is locked, as it will be permanently entered under the Tutorial category of the Resources section; however, any editors who would still like to contribute or suggest changes to what I have written here are welcome to PM me, as I can continue to add to this piece. While the editors often made the same points, each contribution was valuable in and of itself, and every one of them provided very thoughtful comments and new ideas. The LS community is indebted to their diligence. Any LS members who wish to comment can continue the discussion on a separate thread which I am posting about the Tutorial initiative as a whole.
“The guy who takes a chance, who walks the line between the known and the unknown, who is unafraid of failure, will succeed.” (Gordon Parks)
1. What are the best ways to approach an editor, either with a specific story pitch, or a more general appeal for work, using one’s previous work as evidence of the ability to carry out such work? What is the preferred medium these days to show one’s work: website, pdf files, html pages, hard copy portfolios?
2. What sort of approaches work best? Should photographers research the magazines and make proposals with the magazine’s special interests in mind? Make a very specific approach or just show their general work?
Recommendation: There is no consensus among editors as to the best manner to present one’s work and introduce oneself for the first time, which is not surprising given the range of different media and different publications out there, but certain criteria were stressed by everyone: brevity, focus, proposals specifically geared for each particular publication, and strong ideas. If at all possible do your research, survey other photographers or people in the biz to see what any particular editor prefers, and then follow suit. One way of conveniently covering all the bases is to send out promotional mailers and follow these up with an email presenting a short pitch and a URL identifying a specific page on your website that would be of interest to that particular editor. Attached to the email should be either a few Jpegs or a pdf file of 2 or 3 pages of imagery. That way, the editor is given a range of options, and you provide an approach that is both economical and comprehensive.
Many of the editors who responded emphasized the need for researching a particular publication before approaching the editor, so as to present a focused and usable story pitch or portfolio. Don’t approach them in a general way. Is the publication daily, weekly or bimonthly? The first will want people with an eye for spot news, people with speed and access; the others will want someone who understand the publication’s style and themes. You pitching to a newspaper or a news magazine? First consider whether your story is newsworthy. Ask yourself why this topic and why now? What is its shelf life – immediate spot news, or a longer term story? You pitching to the wires? Then they are going to want to see strong single images, maybe 10 to 15, along with a couple stories – bear in mind that the wires want people who can shoot anything anywhere, so you should strive to present a variety of situations: a good grin and grab, a fire, a perp walk, etc.
General emails such as “hi, look at my website (URL given)” or “hi, I am a photographer in X country” just frustrate the editors and get the photographer nowhere. If you have a story pitch, make sure the magazine is the right one for that story, and keep the email brief and to the point. Research the magazine to see if they have run similar stories, and then hone your pitch so as to convince them of the need for a different angle on the story. The idea is to tailor the approach to the specific needs or features of the magazine – if you want to contribute to a particular column, for example, find the editor in charge of that column and make your pitch. Several editors stressed the need to present concrete and original story ideas—while they may decide they cannot use your idea, at least you have one. This is what they are lacking. As Bob Gilka put it, “I’m up to my neck in photographers but only up to my ankles in ideas.” Finally, be prepared to follow up on any advice an editor gives you: if they are interested enough to suggest ideas or changes, then they are interested enough to view the results and possibly publish the material. Why stop short and fail to deliver? The door is open, walk on in. Besides you need to stay on their radar.
Emails can be effective, but they have disadvantages, chiefly because a PE’s email box is likely to be crammed daily with messages, and they are easily deleted. One editor said that he considered an email solicitation no better than spam. If however you do send emails, don’t overload them with jpegs and make sure the files are low-resolution. Send a well edited sample with only the strongest images. If you send a pdf file – and there are editors who like these – then send only two or three uncluttered pages, no more. If you give a URL address, then identify the particular page on your website that would be of interest to that particular publication – don’t expect them to navigate the whole site just to find the thing that is supposed to make them sit up and take notice. One pet peeve shared by practically every respondent was their disgust when they open a website and encounter a message that reads “Loading . . . “ Any kind of delay in the downloading of your imagery and you are losing your audience. Many of the editors expressed their impatience with Flash displays and other bells and whistles; they almost all voted for simple html pages, though a few admitted they looked at slideshows. Remember that editors have no time, they are multitasking like mad, and you need to grab their attention in one shot: you have possibly one moment snatched from a hectic work day to make an impression. This brings up another point: make it easy for the editors: hand it all to them in a quick glance. Make sure your contact information is right there in front, and do everything you can to make your message salient and informative. An email has a subject field: use it! Be imaginative, don’t just write “submission to your magazine.” Be funny, concrete, different. Finally if you have a domain name of your own, your emails should be sent from that address, and they should definitely identify you properly, so when an editor views the inbox he or she can read your name, the name of your domain (which might just be your name, or the name of a “company”) and the fact that you are offering photography. This could save you from being deleted as spam.
There appears to be no consensus about the best way to present your work: emails with a URL given, pdf files, a series of Jpegs, mailers, portfolio drop offs – all of these were mentioned by one or another editor as acceptable, but not necessarily all of them: some preferred a quick email with a URL, others liked pdf files, some prefer a portfolio drop off. There were a few liberally minded editors who expressed no preference, so long as the presentation allowed for a quick overview of the material. Some publications or organizations would obviously be better off with a simple email and URL – the wire services for example. They just want a quick look at the kind of work you do. However, while emails are acceptable, remember that editors receive hundreds of these daily, and they are easily ignored or deleted. But a hard portfolio is not. A hard portfolio commands respect. Mailers also make an impression, and they can be filed away for future reference; however, a couple of editors stated that they hated mailers, because they clutter up the desk! Still, hard copy seems to have the advantage over digital presentations, insofar as quality and impact are concerned, and several editors mentioned the pleasure derived from looking at prints. Some also said straight out that they felt seasonal mailers were a good way to maintain your presence until that day when an opportunity arises.
One trick you can try is to send out mailers, as a way of introducing yourself and whetting the appetite, and then followup with more specific proposals by email, which might include a pdf attachment as well as a URL address, so that you offer the editor a variety of options. This approach has the advantage of being both terse and comprehensive at the same time. You should also include tearsheets in one way or another (scanned and placed on your website for example). These indicate your experience and make your bona fides pretty clear. One editor mentioned receiving a very funny throw away mailer: a photographer simply scrawled his URL on a piece of lined notebook paper and mailed it in a brown craft envelope. It was so off the cuff that it caught their attention, and everyone’s curiosity was piqued. The point is that your approach needs to stand out from the crowd, and a bit of wit or innovation can work wonders. My feeling is that whatever the medium you choose, as long as it is short and sweet and a little flexible, it will do the job, and the rest is up to the needs of the magazine at that moment and the tastes of the editors. Timing is crucial, of course: if you arrive at the Times office with great shots of the twin towers coming down, just after they come down, then you are going to get an audience. The ripeness is all.
Whatever the medium you choose, you should consider the overall “design” of your approach: if you send an email solicitation for the sake of speed and convenience, then be sure to be speedy and convenient – don’t send a vague or broad message. If you send a mailer, which is intended to impress the recipient, then by all means present them with something that impresses them somehow: mailers come in all forms – they can be quite elegant, like a silver print, or they can function like a little booklet. You can investigate back issues of Graphis to see the kinds of presentations that regularly attract work for the photographers. Don’t underestimate the value of little details: I knew a photographer who regularly got work simply because of the unique design of her business card. Finally, try whenever possible to target the right person, and personalize your communication with that person.
Some editors were quite candid about the fact that having a go-between of some sort, a contact, an agency, someone with some pull or a connection, will often produce results where no amount of mailings, phone calls and drop offs will suffice. Sometimes, the go-between can facilitate a face to face meeting, and this is ultimately the thing you aim for. If you have someone whose calls are welcome and can phone on your behalf, then by all means ask them to do you a favor. If you do manage to schedule an interview, be prepared: bring your business card or promo card, your portfolio, a camera (yes, appearances count), a couple well honed story pitches, and wear some nice clothing, nothing flashy. Be punctual, be considerate, be personable – in short, be professional. And don’t just present the same material you already showed them in order to get invited; bring something more. One wires editor suggested that you shoot something along the way to the interview – not a bad suggestion, considering that a wires shooter should be ready at a moment’s notice to capture something.
Many of the editors surveyed objected to receiving cold calls, or worse, voice messages from strangers asking the editor to call the photographer back – several stated that it put them in a bad mood. They cannot handle the volume of communication traffic, and the phones are usually reserved for more urgent business, so in some cases it is best to avoid calling and offending your prospective employer. The phone call can be a useful tool once you have received some indication that further conversation is warranted, or it can be used to request an appointment, if appointments are given. This is legitimate. But if you don’t initially get through to the editor or secretary, don’t leave messages, just keep trying! One exception to this is the NGO or other such organization, which may well have a dedicated, permanent editorial staff, but they in general indicated that phone calls were ok so long as the photographer’s images are made readily accessible thereafter.
Bear in mind that there is a hierarchy at these publications: the photo editor will have to turn around and pitch your idea to the “word people,” who in turn are accountable to managing editors, who in turn kow tow to the money people. If your idea is to survive the chain of command, it had better be pretty tightly argued. And don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t make it: with so many different priorities operating, the odds are against even the best stories if the magazine’s agenda at that particular moment has no room for them. With that in mind, one editor advised that one should always start at the top: find the senior PE and communicate with her or him first.
One final point: don’t be an overanxious puppy: as one editor put it, “Don’t seem desperate for work in any way. Fake it till you make it.” Courting an editor is a bit like courting your girl or guy – you don’t want to be too “easy.” Many editors stressed that they like to see a photographer with passion for the story he or she is proposing; but don’t misplace the passion and start fawning on the editors. This means, in short, you should never undersell yourself.
3. Having decided upon a particular means of introducing one’s work to an editor, how should a photographer proceed? If one sends an email or mailer, should one call the editor after a given period to follow up and discuss the matter further? Should one make repeated mailings? Sometimes silence is hard to interpret, and it is certainly frustrating to the photographer after making an effort to present the work, so what can we do to clarify things a bit without being importunate? Also, some of us live and work outside the usual media centers, so we cannot be there for face-to-face meetings and it is difficult to present hard-copy portfolios. Does this pose any problems for the editor?
Recommendation: silence can be variously interpreted to mean anything from lack of interest to genuine enthusiasm for your work, so you need to follow up in a regular but respectful manner. The need to know your client here is also crucial, so any kind of background research is a good idea: some like phone calls, some do not. A big publishing concern is less likely to allow you a personal approach, while smaller ones may be quite open to a cold call.
This is a sticky matter, since there are editors, particularly in the major media centers like New York or Paris, who simply do not have the time to field calls and whose constant demands on their time don’t permit them to remember everyone whose work crosses their desk. They are already working with a headset glued to their ear, so the added stress of answering so many calls from photographers seeking work is not going to bring sweetness and light to their day. On the other hand, some editors stated that they expected a person to followup a mailer with a well timed phone call. In addition, most of the editors stressed the need to follow-up somehow and to keep sending some kind of notice to the publication you are courting. Of course, you shouldn’t overdo it and hound them with weekly notices; that is sure to put them off, and if there is really nothing new to add you are just wasting your time and theirs.
While it may be difficult to know just what the ensuing silence betokens, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your imagery hasn’t sparked some interest. The editors might not have a space for it presently, they might be putting a recent issue to bed, or they might be impressed but hard pressed to find a place for it given their particular editorial schedule. They may file you away for future reference because in fact they like your work, but in order to consult that file again they need their memory sparked. Unless someone has made a point of recommending you, or they have something very specific in mind for you, they are unlikely to be able to recall your work from the sizeable mental file of other impressive images they receive every day, every week, in a constant stream. Or they might not in fact think much of it. If they want what you have right now, they will certainly call. If they don’t or can’t, they won’t; but you cannot know for sure whether your work was tossed or was retained for future reference, so you need to follow up. As one editor put it, “it is better to be proactive on your end.”
However, it gets ambiguous here. For example, while the wire services tend to be a particularly hectic place, the editors seemed to invite phone calls. One wires editor cautioned never to call on the day that some important news is breaking (well, after all,that makes sense!), but on the whole they asked for photographers to call them, so long as you take into consideration the timing and preparation: have your pitch ready and make the call at the right time of day. Generally for any paper or magazine you want to avoid calling when they go to press, so you can find out that information without bothering the editors and then schedule a call to them at a more propitious moment. However, most editors concurred that phone calls are not appreciated by everybody and it is probably best, if possible, to find out from other photographers about the habits and preferences of any particular editor (sounds impossible, but in fact given the LS community’s info sharing practices, it is a real possibility now if done discretely). Background research on your potential clients is important.
Take into consideration the type of place you are dealing with: a smaller outfit is more likely to accommodate the personal approach, whereas the bigger outfits like Time, Newsweek and so on will be much harder to approach – in any manner. So you have to act accordingly and use your instincts. Again, research might suggest a point of attack. At the very least you might be able to call a secretary and find out the preferred approach for that particular office.
One of the ways you can followup is by changing up your pitch, just like a baseball pitcher who follows a curve ball with slider. Send a promotional mailer and follow that up with an email and pdf file. Sent an email and got no response? – this time send them an unusual packet in the mail. Are you working on a long-term project? Let people know how things are developing: now it is being exhibited at Gallery X, now it received a grant from foundation Y, and recently it was awarded Prize Z. Many times editors will ask to be kept informed about the development of a particular project. Emails informing editors of your whereabouts may also be welcome, depending on the relationship you have with that editor.
(NB: no one answered the question as to whether being outside the major media centers, and thus unavailable for interviews, posed a problem. I do know that many photographers in this situation regularly visit NY, London or Paris and try to schedule portfolio reviews or quick meetings during their visits. Otherwise, you are forced to rely on email solicitations, mailers, and phone calls.)
4. What is it that you look for in a photographer generally? What sort of factors enter into your decision to work with a photographer? Be honest and think broadly: personality factors, professional experience, professional manner, their aesthetics or viewpoint, previous recommendations or an inside contact, the resume or reputation of the photographer (if any), agency representation or the fact that they are independent, whatever enters into the equation.
Recommendation: in a word, Professionalism. Be professional in your communications, in your demeanor, and in all aspects of the work. Be serious about your imagery and treat it with the same respect as you would have others treat it. Be openminded and don’t be a prima donna.
Professionalism was the one term that came up again and again. But professionalism does not necessarily mean long-term experience. While experience and previous publications, which can be included in a portfolio in the form of tearsheets, count for a lot, and are a particular advantage when an editor doesn’t know you personally or have a recommendation to go on, there is nothing to prevent a new relatively inexperienced photographer from getting work and being favored by an editor, so long as he or she acts professionally. Being new can work in your favor: you are less likely to be conceited, difficult to work with, or jaded. Plus a willingness to learn and an open mind are important. On the other hand, be reasonable: don’t expect an editor to assign you a job in Timbuktu if you havent already got some experience travelling and getting jobs done in difficult places.
So how are these editors defining “professionalism” and what sort of personality characteristics factor in here? Here are some of the descriptive terms: pride in one’s work, punctuality, good attitude, friendliness or “good rapport,” reliability, good communication (on all levels, the messages you send, the captions you write, your accuracy), being “down to earth,” being consistent, showing some understanding of the publication you are dealing with, and last but not least a commitment to the story and not to the prize you hope to win. One thing that many editors mentioned was the need for solid information, for more than a one-line caption. If you are a photojournalist, then part of that job entails journalism, and you should provide the appropriate information; but even if you are not, information is still part of the job. Other characteristics included adaptability, flexibility, competitiveness, and physical health – if you cant hump your camera bag over the course of a day’s shoot in difficult terrain, you arent fit for the job, and if you are working on stories in difficult terrain you will need to know how to maneuver and think on your feet. Finally, and I thought this was a particularly interesting, given my own belief in education: one editor stressed the need for being well read and broad-minded.
On the other hand, difficult behavior, temperamental fits, flightiness, complaints, insecurity and lack of confidence are going to doom your relation. One editor working for a major NGO said an interesting thing. Working with NGOs often involves living with the staff, so you are expected to pitch in and help out. After all, you have to live with these people for a spell: “So no rockstars, but good guys who do the dishes when it’s their turn.” Photography is really a very small community, and most of the people in the biz know or know of one another; there are few secrets. So you cannot afford to piss people off too much or develop a reputation for being difficult, as this will adversely affect your ability to find work.
I would like to paraphrase and elaborate on what one editor wrote in with regard to creating a relationship with an editor: when you march into someone’s office you are presenting your work and yourself together in one shot. Do you take yourself and your work seriously? If so, then don’t cop a casual attitude: your work is not just “some stuff” you want to show someone, it is an important story that this particular editor needs to see. Moreover, your personality is one prominent indication of how you might behave working out in the field and dealing with people, so if you can’t deal with the editor in the office, that editor will assume you have problems working in the field as well. Commitment, sincerity, frankness, and some charm too go a long way toward convincing an editor that you have what it takes. This does not mean that one has to bend over backwards to please, and any kind of spinelessness will be perceived as a lack of self-confidence or seriousness about one’s work. While you don’t want to behave like a prima donna, you don’t want to avoid contention just to please your editor if it means that you are going to compromise your principles significantly. Like any relationship, you will have ups and downs, you will be brainstorming together, disagreeing, compromising, justifying yourself, and so on. The professionalism and respect is what will guarantee that the relationship continues and is not injured by the strong wills that are likely to be found on both sides of the equation. And remember, just because an editor happens to disagree with you or dislike an image that you favor, there is no reason to fly off the handle or get huffy. Learn to take the criticism, reflect on it, even if eventually you decide that it is fundamentally wrongheaded. You may not agree with an editor, but they usually have very good reasons, apart from personal taste, for the judgments they make. At the very least, they are bound to make decisions that conform to the aesthetic and thematic demands of their publication, so if they deem that something doesn’t fit, then so be it. Don’t take it personally.
Remember this: as one editor put it, “You are representing me when you go out on assignment, therefore I have to know you will act professionally, ethically, and try your hardest.” This is a good thing to bear in mind. If you are covering a Palestinian riot, it is not a good idea to start chucking rocks yourself (you may laugh, but I know more than one photographer who did this). Keep your priorities straight. For as long as you are on assignment, any assignment be it journalistic or commercial, you are your client’s representative in the field. That is a serious duty.
5. As for contractual matters, how do you prefer to see the photographers handle things like expenses and fees and the like? Are there any things that photographers do that you would want to encourage or discourage?
Recommendation: Don’t pad the account! Don’t be tardy in delivering the account. Keep your receipts, return a neat expense sheet, and don’t charge for ridiculous expenses, which are usually spelled out anyway by the Photo Editor.
From the photographer’s end, it is well to remember that you are responsible for knowing your rights and knowing the general contractual stipulations and obligations that cover assigned work. You are responsible for knowing how the images are to be used, the compensation offered, and the compensatory norms. If you have questions, ask. You want to be sure that you client will be scrupulous in giving proper accreditation when the image is published. If the client is deceiving you, then don’t work with them. Don’t undersell yourself or work for less than the norm – that is not only unprofessional, but it damages your chances of getting good work in the future. You become known as the second class, off the rack guy who does things cut rate. And no matter how good your pictures, they too will be perceived as inferior material.
On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that you cannot allow for a certain amount of leeway in contractual matters or that verbal agreements are not to be trusted. If you have a regular relation with an editor, you will know how to manage it.
Keep your receipts neat and tidy and your expenses within reason. If you have a half-day shoot, don’t charge for lunch unless there is good reason for it. If you don’t need an assistant, don’t charge for one. Very often your contract, or the PE’s verbal communication, will spell out what they cover and what they don’t. Keep your editor apprized of any sudden changes or developments, and if you are given control over the logistics (when, where and who to shoot), then be sure to tell your editor the setup once it is confirmed and when to expect the results. If something goes wrong – people don’t show up, cameras or lights fail, transport fails – contact your editor immediately. Maybe there is time to fix it. Also, it doesn’t hurt to report in once the shoot is over as well to let them know what to expect: a quick call, “it’s in the can, film or digital file to be delivered at such and such a date. Thank you, bye.”
Settle your bills and turn in your expense sheets in a timely manner. Delays on this head not only stall your compensation, but they also can complicate things in the accounting office and even lead to some unpleasant conflicts.
6. What is your general advice to new photographers without contacts who want to break into the business? What should they be doing to get recognition or to get editors to start paying attention?
Recommendation: the editors surveyed unanimously stressed two points. First, work on that portfolio, edit it down to your very best pictures, and get your website up in a suitably edited form as well. Second, in a word: network. Get out there and mingle: join professional organizations, meet other photographers and get information from them, meet other people in the biz, writers for example, and go to seminars, conferences, and photo festivals. Get active – on Lightstalkers for example. (I mean what better forum can you ask for – the editors are all here and some of them take the time to read our cris de coeur.)
That said, the editors all had interesting things to say based on their personal experiences, which vary greatly. It has to be stressed here that what we do is not quite what I would call a “career” or a “profession” in the usual sense, as there is really no firm institutional and bureaucratic structure that encompasses all our different practices. We are basically, each of us, on his or her own. Yes, we have certain professional organizations – ASMP, NPPA, and so on; and yes, you might be a member of a collective or represented by an agency; you might work for a paper or have a contract with a magazine, but essentially you are an independent contractor, a freelancer, and the fact is you are going to be making it up as you go along. Frankly, I feel that the uncertainty and precariousness that comes with being freelance is a fair enough price for the independence and freedom I enjoy as a result of being only loosely tied to the mix of institutions I depend on to make a living. If you have ever stared out an office window on a grey winter day in New York, you will know exactly what I am talking about.
The editors emphasized the need to exploit this independence: if you are courting the magazines, then you need to be a self-starter, assign yourself stories and go out and shoot them. Find the themes that you really feel passionate about and these will elicit your best effort, which in turn will impress editors, even if they cannot use that particular story. One editor summed it up well: “they need to read a lot and make personal work. Choose a good subject and tell the story.” Reading is important: certainly if you are doing photojournalism you need to keep abreast of the stories, but broad reading of any sort is bound to give you new ideas, and the ideas, the subjects you choose, are a big part of what makes new work stand out.
Keep shooting and keep sending your work out: “ask questions later.” In other words, even if you violate some of the protocol defined in this article, as long as you are working hard and constantly producing and disseminating new work, you are eventually going to attract some attention. Moreover, if you take the time to come up with some unusual approach – a funny, witty, or otherwise unique promotion, then you are also likely to attract attention. Anything that demonstrates your thoughtfulness, your imagination, and your dedication is likely to be well received eventually.
There is no formula. As you talk to other photographers you will find that their stories all differ, and each moves at his or her own pace. Accidents, chance meetings, a sudden coincidence of desire and opportunity often conspire to create the break you are seeking. You might have a big break, or you might be treated to a succession of little breaks that build your rep for you. You might find yourself getting work without ever having created a website, visited an editor’s office, or travelled to a Hot Zone. As one editor pointed out, the Turnley twins began their career with a series shot at home – but they aggressively courted, if not to say badgered, the editors thereafter. It is pretty clear that you need to have faith in yourself and a determined if not exactly aggressive attitude when it comes to dealing with editors; but as one of them said, “In the end, it is the work that counts.”
One thing they didn’t say, but I can confidently add here is that there is something of a Catch-22 to publishing, in that your ability to get work depends in part on the work you already have gotten. To get a job, you need to already have a job, in a sense. Once you enter the magic circle, things will become easier. My feeling is that if you work diligently on a particular topic, you will eventually find some publication willing to publish it. It may be that your news story on X is not being picked up by the magazines because they already have their guys in place and delivering imagery. So instead you decide to approach one of the webzines, which may not pay you, but will publish your story in a layout that really adds lustre to your work and gives you (1) a prestigious publication credit, and (2) a great tearsheet. This in turn can help to attract future work or future paid publications, and perhaps you win an award or a grant for the material. That in turn helps to build your reputation, and now you are the guy who is know for doing the story on X, and other magazines want you to do new stories on similar themes. One little victory leads to other little victories. I am certain that if you ask any one of a number of prominent LS members who are working independently, their stories of how they arrived at their present station will follow this pattern somewhat. Thus, I feel that it is a very good idea to scout the local opportunities for publication, and keep an open mind about the possibilities: I have known several magazines, for example, that focused on lifestyle reporting but habitually or occasionally published hardcore photo essays as well. Your local paper or a small magazine might be just the thing you need to start publishing.
Finally, let me sum up the advice with one word: patience. You need patience in this game. You need patience to get the right shot, which sometimes means sitting around in one spot and waiting for that shot to come along. You need patience to court the organizations and publications that will provide you with funds to carry on. You need patience to deal with the thousand little screwups and annoyances that accompany foreign travel to places where very often nothing works properly and there is no infrastructure. You need patience, finally and most importantly, when it comes to developing and nurturing your talent. When I started out I sometimes cursed editorial indifference to my youthful enthusiasm; now I thank the gods that most of my early work never saw the light of day! For some people success comes too quickly and they are hexed afterward. Most of the editors stressed the need to work on longterm heartfelt personal projects, and the virtue of these is that they give you a generous timeframe in which to develop your vision, make mistakes without pressure, and engage with the real issues that motivate you as a photographer. They function as a kind of apprenticeship to the photographic self you want to be as well as a pedagogical tool to help you improve. And they often have the added advantage of getting you such good material that you cannot help but win awards and get more work on the basis of the reputation you earn as a result. If you think back, practically every major award has gone to a personal project which often was not published until such time as it achieved ripeness. If you find yourself at work on a promising series, don’t be so quick to publish if in fact it is incomplete.
As a sort of postscript, I would like to quote one editor’s advice, which seems particularly apt though it doesn’t immediately seem pertinent: “be a good listener. Listen and understand.” For anyone doing reportage, this obviously carries some weight, but I would venture to suggest that it holds good for any photographic endeavor. Look and listen. It is pretty much the heart of what we do.
2006-03-28 14:54:37 UTC
Jun 24 2006