Guardian Picture Editor on Finding and Hiring Photographers in the US

Caroline Hunter is Deputy Picture Editor of The Guardian’s Weekend Magazine which features gorgeous photography. I recently spoke with Caroline about the process of finding and hiring American photographers from her vantage in the U.K.

How often are you hiring U.S.-based photographers?
We hire U.S. photographers every week. I work on a busy picture desk and we often feature contributors and celebrities who are based in the US. Sometimes it feels as though we commission more photography in that part of the world than anywhere else!

©Reed Young for The Guardian

Are you more likely to look for someone who is located in the city you have an assignment in, or to fly someone in who has the perfect style for the story? Does that depend on if it’s a big feature or a smaller front of the book story?
Yes, basically if it’s a big feature or a cover shoot or a very important subject, we’ll almost always use someone that we’ve used before. If the flights aren’t too expensive or the distance too great, we’ll often fly someone to a particular location – it’s just safer and more reassuring to use someone whose work you know very well. If on the other hand, it’s for a smaller feature or a a fairly straightforward shoot/job, we’ll always prefer to use a local person. This saves massively on budgets – although the end result can be unpredictable !

©Reed Young for The Guardian

Walk us through a typical shoot. You get the story from the editorial team. What comes next? If you don’t have someone in mind, where do you begin your search? What are some of your favorite resources for finding people? How much do you rely on recommendations from colleagues?
A typical shoot can work in many different ways. Sometimes we’ll have the written copy/feature already. This is the best way to commission as you know exactly what the story is about. Quite often though, I might not know much about the feature as it hasn’t been written yet. On other occasions, I might commission a shoot that is part of a much bigger and ongoing feature – which will often change as time goes on. Sometimes it will be a celebrity shoot that will require styling, hair and make-up and location scouting.

I’ll discuss the shoot with one of the commissioning editors as well as the Art Director and then will have a think about ideas and photographers. I might do some research on the internet for visual ideas as well as looking at online portfolios. If I don’t have someone in mind, I might look at the Wonderful Machine website or recent editorial shoots for other magazines that I like. I’ll also have a look through the sites of photographers who have contacted me recently – just to refresh my memory. I like looking at websites like Nowness, which is great for visual ideas. I don’t rely too much on recommendations – sometimes it’s nicer to discover fresh talent.

©Danielle Levitt for The Guardian

How can a US photographer get on the radar of an editor in Europe? Obviously they can’t network with you at parties, and planning trips to show their portfolio can be time and cost prohibitive. With all the noise online, how can they get through to you in a memorable way?
I think it’s quite hard. The most effective way is a meeting – but I know that this is very tricky and expensive to set up. Photo-festivals are a good way of potentially seeing/contacting many editors/agents in a short space of time – but these too can be expensive. Being located in a city where there isn’t much competition and you’re a ‘big fish’ in a small pond is quite a good way to get stand out.

Most of the photographers we use are based in NY and LA – two of the most competitive cities for creatives on the planet ! Having an interesting and consistently high standard of work will ensure your work always stands out – and a well-designed, easy to navigate website is essential. Being well-connected and getting known in certain circles is important too. I often get recommendations from other photographers and editors.

Do you have favorite blogs that you follow to stay up to date on what is happening in the US photo scene?
I like looking at the NYT lens blog as well the New Yorker Photo booth, Time magazine and blogs like Flak photo and Lens Culture.

©Danielle Levitt for The Guardian

Do you make trips to photo festivals or portfolio review events to meet new photographers? I know in the past a lot of European editors went to Visa pour l’Image and Arles, but it seems like travel budgets aren’t what they used to be. 
Yes, I regularly attend photo festivals. I find them really energizing. I like doing portfolio reviews as it gives me a chance to meet and spend time with new and existing photographers.

What are some of the trends that you’re seeing when it comes to the kinds of photographers that are getting assigned? Any trends in promos you receive?
I get a lot of monthly newsletters (always emailed) from photographers who have just done a shoot or e-zines where they’re telling me what they’ve been up to in the last few weeks. I think the trend for highly retouched, digitally remastered images will be with us for some time. This seems to have replaced the very natural-looking painterly style imagery that was fashionable around a decade ago.

Can you share some pet peeves when it comes to photographers courting you?
For a photographer, I think that it’s important to know the market that you’re pitching to. If you’re ringing up a photo editor, agent or art buyer – don’t expect them to give you a page-by-page description of their product. You should already know which sections you’d like to contribute to and be able to ask questions and comment on recent work that was featured. It’s really no point pitching a lifestyle or travel feature to a magazine that only deals with current affairs. It might sound like commonsense but you’d be amazed at how many times this happens.

 


Caroline Hunter is a magazine photo editor and Deputy Picture Editor of The Guardian’s Weekend Magazine. She has over fifteen years experience of commissioning and art-directing portraits, photo-journalism, celebrity shoots, still-life, interiors, beauty and conceptual photography. Previous to the Guardian, she worked for Time Out London, Emap publications and The Saturday Telegraph magazine.

 She has degrees in Fashion Journalism and English Literature from the London College of Fashion and the University of London respectively. She is a regular portfolio reviewer and judge at international photo-festivals. She lives and works in London.



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