First, introduce our readers and us to your magazine and yourself.
I’m a photo editor at The New Yorker. I’ve been at the magazine for about five years, and prior to working at The New Yorker, I worked in the photo departments of Esquire and Time Inc. Before entering publishing I worked for the photo agency VII, the Stephen Cohen Gallery in Los Angeles and as the producer of Photo LA. I’m originally from New Mexico, and went to school at Scripps College before moving to Los Angeles, and now New York.
Does photography (e.g. planning shoots, selecting photography, briefing photographers) play a big part in your job? Any special treatment to start an assignment?
At The New Yorker, I work with an incredible photo team and art department. I am primarily responsible for commissioning and producing the magazine’s portraiture, and photography for the arts and culture features and for the “Goings On About Town” section. I also write for our website’s Photo Booth blog. I work on a broad range of stories of amazing caliber, and even though my day-to-day job is the same in terms of production and editing, the subjects I am working with constantly change so I stay inspired and engaged. I love commissioning portraits of people who exist outside of the celebrity world, and otherwise wouldn’t have this type of photograph made with them. I feel like I am making an important visual document that will last. The logistics of producing shoots take a lot of time. That’s probably what I spend most of my days doing, but for me, that is a small part of the commissioning and conceptualizing of a shoot. Editing the photography is an art of it’s own. I work with many photographers frequently enough to get a sense of their editing styles. It’s a very intimate thing - to share your work, and I really appreciate the bond that develops. At The New Yorker, selecting a photograph is a balance of aesthetic strength, the voice of The New Yorker, interpreting a story’s concept, and understanding the tone.
What kind of photography do you want to see more?
In editorial portraiture, I want to see real moments - those “off” instants that convey something authentic, vulnerable, or strong, or funny--basically, genuine. I like to see photographs of people engaged, and photographs that have energy and life and express a range of real emotion.
What kind of photography do you want to see less?
For the most part, I don’t want to see anything too contrived (think extreme stock). I’m tired of seeing images of people staring vacantly at or away from the camera, and I’d like to see fewer photographs that are so clearly concerned with being cool.
Working in and around photography, what steps do you take to publish / distribute / create the kind of images you want to see more?
I commission photographers whose work I believe in, and discuss in depth how we want to approach a subject. And, in general, I try to orchestrate the most optimal situation for the photographer to do their best work. I am working on stories I believe in, and this makes it much easier to create photographs I believe in.
What is your opinion on Instagram? How has the web changed the way we look at photography?
I love Instagram! Personally (@jmwender), I find it to be a creative outlet, and I love following friends, photographers and people whose activities I’m interested in. It gives me access to other communities and lifestyles. I love how The New Yorker (@newyorkermag) uses Instagram - handing over the account to different photographers each week. In general, I find Instagram is a lighter and social way to view photography, but there are people who are using it very seriously as a medium.
I’m not sure how the web has changed how we look at photography. The web has always been a part of the way I’ve seen photography and part of my professional life. In New York, I always try to go to galleries – to see art in person - but sometimes I just see jpgs online. With the web, I can see any work, anytime, and often I can read about it’s background.
Everything has been done before, people used to say that very often, how do you find something new and different?
I depend on blogs, galleries, smaller publications, schools, recommendations and photographers reaching out to me directly to introduce me to new work. In terms of new work, I see more and more photography that is exploring the boundaries with other mediums – video, sculpture, performance, etc.I am a huge supporter of emerging artists. I love seeing what young photographers are making and creating. And, I love seeing how established photographers are really pushing the boundaries of their work. In my own commissioning, I am more concerned with quality than with newness. It is a great challenge to commission a new portrait of someone who has been extensively photographed. Within the parameters of budget and access (and a million other things), I always strive to create something unique.
What have you learned from working as a photo editor?
Mostly I’ve learned (and am still learning) how to visualize the written word. I’ve learned how to communicate more clearly – especially how to communicate visual ideas. By contributing weekly to Photo Booth I’ve also learned how to write. I am in touch with many of the same photographers, publicists, agents and other industry people repeatedly, which shows you just how important it is to be professional, and to treat everyone with respect. I’ve learned how to ask for things. I’ve learned not to freak out--that there is almost always a resolution, and if there’s not, you’ve got to move on. It’s important for me to be there for my photographers, to be organized and available. I love working with artists and with creative people. I see myself as a collaborator and an enabler.