Clinton Cargill, director of photography at Bloomberg Businessweek, sat down with PDN to talk about what he’s looking for in the photographers he hires, who he’s recently hired for the first time, and what makes for successful photo stories and portraits at Bloomberg Businessweek. (Below: Clinton Cargill, photo ©Kathy Ryan).
PDN: How do you find photographers?
Clinton Cargill: I definitely get cold emails from people who have work to show and try to have meetings when I can. But I would say I’ve had a lot of good luck meeting people at good portfolio reviews like the LENS portfolio review or Review Santa Fe or [the reviews] here at PhotoPlus Expo. I also look at a lot of contests. I’m not as good as some other people at following social media…because I’m [too busy].
PDN: What are you looking for in photographers you hire?
CG: The thing I really look for is a sense of curiosity and self-possession. The question I most often ask people is: Why did you take these pictures? And a surprising number of people can’t answer that articulately. Even if it’s work that doesn’t resonate for me, if somebody can articulate what drew them to a particular subject, or what they’re driven to show in a picture, that I feel is the mark of somebody who can probably handle what you can throw at them.
PDN: Can you give me examples of photographers you’ve recently hired?
CG: One of my best experiences in a portfolio review setting was meeting a photographer called Christopher Gregory, who had three projects. One series was artifacts, another was portraits, and the third was [documentary]. He uses a strobe in an interesting way, and he had a journalistic investment in the stories that he was telling, but he wasn’t necessarily limiting himself to the classical tropes of what you would expect from documentary photography. (See video for more details, and examples of Gregory’s work.)
PDN: Who else has gotten your attention?
CG: Another photographer I just assigned for the first time is named Christopher Lee. He had shown me some pictures from the conventions where he had been photographing mainly protesters or people at rallies. He didn’t have credentials to go inside the conventions, but he was photographing the circus outside. (See video for more about Lee’s work and assignment.)
PDN: Do photographers often pitch you stories?
CG: I do get pitched stories, and I don’t get to say Yes as often as I’d probably like, just because the perfect photo essay for Businessweek is like threading a needle. We’re a magazine that has to be really focused on business, the exchange of dollars, economies and economies of scale. Finding a photo essay that’s a strong fit for the larger editorial slant of the magazine can be tricky.
But I can think of one recently: Katie Orlinsky pitched me a story. She had secured access for a few days to the Crystal Serenity, the first commercial cruise ship that traversed the Northwest Passage. So it was an interesting story that dealt with climate change, and luxury cruising is a large industry, and at Bloomberg Businesweek there’s an innate interest in people who are wealthy, and [fares for Crystal Serenity] start at $22,000. So we assigned her to shoot it and ran it [over] 8 pages in the magazine, which for us is a pretty high number of pages for a photo essay.
PDN: What sort of direction do you give photographers for assignments?
CG: It depends. You can find a way to arc any story in a rush if you have to. And we often don’t have access to subjects, or access is tricky, or you want to stay away from photographing a corporate CEO and get more toward images that reflect what the larger story is. It’s a very design-driven publication. That means when I make assignments, I have to have pictures that speak loudly, that jump off the page, that get away from what you expect to see in a business magazine. Energy and looseness are the buzzwords for how to make a portrait that feels a little surprising.
PDN: Can you define those terms any more precisely? Is it the lighting, or what?
CG: We have at different times used a lot of bright flash, maybe more hand-held, and that’s something you wouldn’t expect to find as [a] lighting approach to photographing a CEO. We recently had a portrait of Vladimir Putin on our cover, and the picture we ran [on] our domestic edition covers was really informal, [with] on-camera flash (shown in video above). It was a straight presentation of this person, as opposed to a heavily lit portrait with a lot of artifice.
And then there’s just a kind of way that powerful people expect to be seen and shown. It’s so often the case that people read the name of the publication I work for and [think] I want to see a heroic sense of a business person. [That] is exactly what we’re trying to avoid.
PDN: How do you identify photographers who can get a subject out of their comfort zones?
CG: it’s definitely just from looking at websites or portfolios, and certainly there are a lot of people we’ve worked with before. And the other thing is that we are a weekly magazine and there’s a ton of content that we’re producing all the time [so] I have a lot of freedom to experiment. I don’t feel any compunction about meeting somebody for the first time and saying, “Can you go shoot this feature that’s going to anchor a special issue?” Most of the time we don’t had the luxury to look at somebody’s work online, and then meet with them and talk it out. Most of the time it’s: “Can you be there? I need you to fly out tomorrow.” So it’s made me kind of uninhibited in my willingness to try things out.
PDN: Anything else you want photographers to know about Bloomberg Businessweek or what you’re looking for?
CG: The only thing I would say is: Look at the magazine. We have a lot of fun, we have a lot of interesting assignments. We have a lot of firecracker art directors that are doing interesting stuff. So, take a look!
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