Today’s blog is over at Jimmy Colton’s estimable Z PhotoJournal.
It is high praise to refer to someone as a good picture editor. That means that he or she is possessed of certain qualities. Among them, and not in any particular order, would be a deep sympathy for the uncertain craft of being a photographer; an understanding of the near keening need photographers have to engage in their trade, and to tell stories that move people and create understanding; the necessary patience, acumen and diplomacy to be the benevolent bridge between the raging beast of the photographers’s needs, demands (and ego) and the matter-of-fact nature of the publication in question, which is invariably run by at least some folks who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about any need or mandate other than to sell issues and make some damn money.
As a very good editor told me once, photographers think about their story. Editors think about the magazine. The issue, in toto. A picture editor has to think about both. They have to be concerned about the overall look and feel and timeliness of the whole package about to be sent to the newsstand. They have to think of the flow of a story, as it moves from page to page, and the linkages and issues the pictures address. They have to be dispassionate, and judge a picture based on the picture, and not favor the fevered account of a photographer who will occasionally be wildly exclamatory in the description of what he or she did to get said photo. It’s not about the shooter, it’s about the picture, and sometimes bad news has to be delivered. “The take doesn’t work.” Or, “They killed the story.”
They have to deliver this news in supportive fashion, so the photog knows they can rise from the ashes of a tough take and still have the confidence to deliver the goods on the next take.
And a good picture editor has to take the heat and defend the shooter. We are rarely in the room when judgement is handed down, sometimes unfairly. Many a good photo has gone unpublished or disregarded in the world of publishing and it’s up to the picture editor to fight to the last yard, that boundary line where they pull up just short of being fired for their passionate defense of the picture.
Being a good picture editor is a tough, essential job. And Jimmy is one of the best. We started in this business as kids, gadding about Poland, chasing the Pope. I shot probably the toughest assignment I’ve ever shot for him. (I talk a bit about it in the interview. It was a near impossible, expensive picture, and he stuck with me on it, defended the process, and got the image in the magazine. Wheeling and dealing at a major magazine is not for the faint of heart, and many a photog out there knows how good it was to have the certainty that while they were in the field, Jimmy had their back at the magazine.)
I’m so glad he is out there on the internet, writing about the craft and practice of picture making, which is an endeavor he has so much experience with. Z PhotoJournal is a great stopping by point in the cluttered world of photo news. Just like he did at Newsweek, or Sports Illustrated, when he would go through a take, he cuts to the chase, and distills what is important to remember about pictures.
He is a good picture editor, and a dear friend. More tk…..