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January 13th, 2014

Danny Lyon Criticizes Media; Says How He Would Edit National Geographic Magazine

Photojournalist Danny Lyon delivered a sharp critique of the media, explained the main goal of his career, and reminisced about his work on the civil rights movement, motorcycle gangs and Texas prisoners at a rare public appearance last week.

Lyon was the headliner at the 2014 National Geographic Photography Seminar, a day-long event held January 9 before a standing-room-only crowd at the National Geographic offices in Washington, DC.

“I took it for granted that all the magazines lied, and since I chose the media as my field I was determined to create an American media that was truthful,” Lyon said during his talk.

He also imagined himself as editor of National Geographic, and suggested story ideas that would probably rile the magazine’s audience (read on for details).

In addition to Lyon, photographers Tyler Hicks, Wayne Lawrence, David Maisel, Newsha Tavakolian, and Vince Musi lectured about their careers and past projects. Media artist Hasan Elahi also gave a talk about his surveillance project.

Following is an edited transcript of Lyon’s talk.

(more…)

December 9th, 2013

Photogs Richard Mosse and Zanele Muholi Named Top “Global Thinkers” by Foreign Policy

Two photographers, Richard Mosse and Zanele Muholi, made Foreign Policy (FP) magazine’s list of “The Leading Global Thinkers of 2013.” The list of 100 people Foreign Policy chose to single out in its hefty digital feature includes Edward Snowden, John Kerry, Elon Musk, The Pope, Rand Paul, scientists, innovators, politicians and artists.

FP cited Mosse for “seeing war through a new lens.” His pink-hued images of military and militia in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, created using now-discontinued Kodak Aerochrome film developed for the U.S. Military, have captivated audiences through their unusually esthetic interpretation of a conflict-ridden landscape and population. FP notes that Mosse’s film, “The Enclave,” “stole the show” at the 2103 Venice Biennale.

Mosse’s works “are allowing viewers to see conflict in a way they never imagined they could,” FP writes.

Zanele Muholi, a South African artist, has documented the black LGBT community in her country through striking black-and-white portraits. FP singles Muholi out “for photographing hidden lives,” and notes that her work has been widely published and exhibited, bringing much-needed awareness to the gulf between the legal rights of LGBT South Africans and their actual treatment in their communities.

FP divided their list of Global Thinkers into groups that included “Artists,” “Advocates,” “Challengers” and “Decision-Makers” among others. Mosse and Muholi are considered “Chroniclers,” people who, FP says, “[show] us novel ways of understanding the world and our place in it.”

Related: Theft of South African Photog’s Work May Be Attempt to Silence Her
Field Studies: Exploring the Complexities of War-Torn Congo

December 5th, 2013

The Pleasure—and Challenges—of Photographing Nelson Mandela

©Jillian Edelstein

Nelson Mandela in 1997. © Jillian Edelstein

Nelson Mandela, the legendary African National Congress leader and former South African president, was a symbol of hope, justice and human rights to people around the world. South African photographers who saw him up close over the years—both before his international fame and afterwards—recall a man who was every bit as charismatic, gracious, and good humored as his public image suggested. Despite all the access Mandela gave them—or perhaps because of it—photographers found it challenging to get a unique portrait of him.

“He was unendingly charming,” says South African photographer Louise Gubb, who covered Mandela as a freelance photographer, and shot several portraits of him for various publications in the 1990s.

Gubb recounts one of Mandela’s ceremonial walks around the presidential compound in Cape Town. Mandela was surrounded by a phalanx of photographers when a photojournalist working for a local Afrikaans newspaper suddenly fell backwards into a fish pond.

“And Mandela—he was so sweet—he went and tried to help him out” of the water, Gubb says. After that, whenever Mandela saw that photographer at official events, “He would say, ‘Now you all watch your step today. I don’t want you swimming in my fish pond again.’”

The last time Gubb saw Mandela, four or five years ago at a press conference, he greeted her, “Hello, Louise. I thought you would be on pension by now,” she recalls.

“He always told jokes. He would have been a good comedian,” says Jürgen Schadeberg, who first photographed Mandela in 1951 at an African National Congress meeting, and took his portrait in 1952 in his law office. Schadeberg and Mandela met many times in the coming years, when the photographer was freelancing for Drum, the groundbreaking magazine that covered black life in South Africa.  Says Schadeberg, “He was what we call in German a mensch.” Mandela always held the press in high regard for the role it played in freeing him, and moving South Africa beyond apartheid. He didn’t play favorites, and never seemed to tire of the media attention (or the long parade of politicians, activists, and celebrities who trekked to South Africa just for an audience with him).

South African-born photographer Jillian Edelstein photographed Mandela for The New York Times Magazine in 1997. Meeting him at Tuynhuys, South Africa’s presidential office in Cape Town, Edelstein says she was awestruck.

“I started smiling and I thought my face would crack. It was like meeting a saint,” she says. “It was something I’d never experienced before or since.”

“I suppose for me, he emerged from what had been the bastion of the government oppressors.”  Seeing the first freely elected president, she says, symbolized “the oppressor supplanted,” Edelstein continues.

Since Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 (he ascended to the presidency of South Africa four years later, in an historic election), photographers have shot thousands upon thousands of images of him at public events. He was almost always smiling, as if he was truly delighted to be there, and he was often seen interacting with children or the downtrodden, giving them his full attention.

“He [would] always break ranks to say hello to the person in the wheelchair, or some little child,” says Gubb, noting that Mandela particularly loved being around kids.  “So if you knew that, you could [anticipate] and get great pictures … If there were children there who were going to sing, he would go over there and dance, and sometimes sing back to them.”

Because Mandela was photographed so often, and because he had one predominant mood (bright and sunny), it was a challenge to photograph him in any truly distinctive way. Edelstein says that when she photographed Mandela in 1997, his automatic reaction was to make a “thumbs up” sign. Finally she caught a moment when he looked reflective and “somewhat poignant,” she says.

“I think that up until that time the only images I’d seen that were coming out were him dancing or thumbs up or smiling.”

A year after his release from prison, he took a retinue of press back to Robben Island, where he was incarcerated for years. There, Schadeberg took one of the most reproduced photos of Mandela, showing him gazing through the bars of his former cell.  Photographers were given access to Mandela in the cell one at a time, Gubb says. “He was like a piece of putty,” willing to do whatever he was asked to do.

But after he was elected president, media access was much more limited. Still, Mandela hated to say no to photographers who asked for time with him.  “He’d say, ‘I’ll have to talk to my chiefs,’” Gubb says. “He  would hide behind his [handlers] because he didn’t like to refuse.”

A few photographers had privileged access. The late Alfred Kumalo of the Johannesburg Star was a family friend, and had freer range around the presidential grounds than other photographers, according to Gubb. Peter Magubane was Mandela’s official photographer between 1990 and 1994, and followed Mandela everywhere. Magubane, who had shot for Drum magazine and later Time magazine, tells PDN he had been hired as Mandela’s official photographer “because [Mandela] knew my credentials, and knew I wouldn’t sell out.” But Magubane describes their relationships as “strictly business.” By most assessments, no single photographer had the defining take on Mandela’s life, public or private.

Says Gubb, “Photographers, writers, television—everyone was [treated equally]. He took them all in their stride, and nobody was excluded.”

One challenge for photographers was that they couldn’t use flash when photographing Mandela; the rule was strictly enforced by his bodyguards. The reason was because his eyes had been damaged by the bright, reflective light of the sun at the limestone quarry where he was forced to work while a prisoner on Robben Island.

For the past six years, Mandela was largely out of the public eye. Several years ago, he invited Schadenberg and his wife to his home for lunch. “He was sitting in his armchair in his slippers. He said, ‘I’m an old man who isn’t doing much, just sitting around. It’s so kind of you busy people to come see me,’” Schadenberg recounts, adding that Mandela was always saying that he wasn’t anybody special.  “It wasn’t to make an impression.  It was genuine.”

October 29th, 2013

PPE 2103: Inside the Mind of a Photo Editor

Have you ever wondered what a photo editor actually does? At the 2013 PhotoPlus Expo panel “Photo Editing: A to Z” attendees got an inside look courtesy of two speakers: Elizabeth Krist of National Geographic and Bronwen Latimer of The Washington Post.

The panel was broken up into short-form and long-form journalism topics, as the two have widely different lead times. Latimer, the deputy director of photography at The Washington Post, noted that the lead-time for an article in the newspaper is anywhere from two to eight hours. She added that the lead-time is even shorter on the Web. Krist said National Geographic has a minimum lead-time of six months, and that they are already working on stories for 2015.

Latimer said she’s constantly looking at photo sources, including blogs, websites and galleries, for work that provides a fresh perspective on a subject. Her presentation included examples of photos from promos, e-mails, and websites that she has hung on to because she either likes the image or may have an article in the future on a topic that the image illustrates. Latimer gave the following advice to photographers interested in catching the eye of newspaper photo editors: always keep your website up to date so editors can see what you’re working on; show the work you want to be shooting; and pitch ideas to the digital extensions of newspapers because they are always looking for new content to post on their blogs and websites.

To discuss long-form journalism, Krist, the senior photo editor at National Geographic, showed David Guttenfelder’s work that was featured in the October issue for an article about North Korea. She shared the edit of images that she pitched to Editor-in-Chief Chris Johns and noted that she likes to have a rhythm to a layout so she often organizes work by different themes, in this case by categories like city life, the countryside, propaganda, etc. (These categories helped to avoid repetition in the layout so there was enough variety to warrant the 20 pages, including a gatefold, that National Geographic dedicated to the story.) Krist also briefly spoke about the exhibition “Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment,” which she curated.

Both Latimer and Krist mentioned that they appreciate photographers who explore a topic in depth. Krist added that she likes to see a whole body of work when photographers show her their portfolios.

When asked what they look for when choosing a layout’s opening image, Krist said she likes an image to be unexpected and draw the viewer in. Latimer noted the photo should grab a reader’s attention, and be the photographic equivalent of a gut punch. This advice seems as applicable to portfolio and presentations as it is for publications.

October 9th, 2013

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue a Key to Walter Iooss’s Access to Top Athletes

iooss coverWhen you’re trying to get access to top professional athletes, there’s no calling card like a steady gig shooting swimsuit models for Sports Illustrated.

Walter Iooss Jr, whom we interviewed in our October issue about his close professional relationship with basketball legend Michael Jordan, has been photographing sports and athletes for 50 years, and photographing the models for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue for about 40 years.

“You have to ingratiate yourself [with athletes],” Iooss told us. “I’ve done it for so long, so my reputation helps me. They [star athletes] already think you can do something, so you’re not wasting their time.

Then he adds, “The swimsuit issue is obviously a big help with all these horny athletes. They love that. It’s remarkable how I could walk into a clubhouse and photograph anyone, as long as I give them a phone number of someone (in the SI Swimsuit issue).”

Not that he ever does that. “I’m not going to give it to them. They have their people contact the [model's] people.”

But he shakes his head with wonder. “They think I can pimp for them. Some days I feel like a 69-year-old pimp. It’s disgraceful that they need me to find a woman.”

See more about Iooss and his work with Michael Jordan at PDNOnline.

October 4th, 2013

If We Spend $25K On A Photo Essay, Readers Should Pay to See It, Says Harper’s Publisher

Harper’s publisher John R. MacArthur wrote a letter for the October issue of the magazine in which he took a strong stand against publishing free writing and photography on the web. He tackles the question of how journalism should be funded and distributed today, arguing that publishers, readers and journalists should reject the idea that good journalism should be given away for free in hopes of gaining page views. When he talks about good journalism, he includes good photography. (We’ve noted previously that Harper’s has become a great publisher of photography, winning National Magazine awards and other accolades.)

MacArthur says he has been distressed in recent years as publishers give away the work done by journalists and editors “in the quest for more advertising. Instead of honoring the reader, writer, and editor, this new approach to the publishing business instead insulted them,” MacArthur writes, “both by devaluing their work and by feeding it—with little or no remuneration—to search engines, which in turn feed information to advertising agencies (and, as it turns out, the government.)”

MacArthur says advocates of free content are peddling “nonsense.” “Who needs fact-checkers when we have crowdsourcing to correct the record? Why doesn’t Harper’s give away a particularly good investigative piece… so more people will read it?”

He also has the temerity to suggest that publishers, journalists and editors “have to earn a living.” He singles out a recent photo essay by an anonymous photographer, who risked arrest and imprisonment to report from inside Iran. The assignment cost the magazine $25,000, MacArthur says. “Shouldn’t Anonymous be paid for this courage and skill?” MacArthur asks. “Shouldn’t Harper’s be compensated for sending Anonymous into the field?”

“It is unreasonable to expect that an advertiser would directly sponsor such daring photography,” MacArthur writes. “It is wishful thinking to believe that parasitic Google, now bloated with billions of dollars’ worth of what I consider pirated property, will ever willingly pay Harper’s, or Anonymous, anything at all for the right to distribute Anonymous’s pictures…”

MacArthur will hopefully forgive us for quoting him at length on our blog, which is not behind a paywall. Those who want to read the rest of his statement, and see Michael Christopher Brown‘s fantastic photographs from Libya, or Misty Keasler‘s touching images accompanying a report about a controversial Montana orphanage for Russian children, will have to pick up the magazine on the newsstand, or subscribe for $20, about twice what I will probably spend on lunch today.

September 12th, 2013

Are Women Photographers Being Discriminated Against in the Editorial Market?

A week ago editorial photographer and artist Daniel Shea published a post on his Tumblr, titled “On Sexism in Editorial Photography,” hoping it would “initiate a broader conversation.” Shea began the post with the disclaimer that he is “a white, cis male photographer” who didn’t claim to speak for anyone but himself, before pointing out that, to him, “It would seem that the biggest magazines with the most hiring power hire mostly male photographers.”

The post has generated nearly 550 likes and reblogs on Tumblr, as well as a number of comments.

Without naming names, Shea cites informal conversations with photo editors who offered some interesting explanations as to why a gender imbalance might exist. Some editors said they didn’t know women photographers whose esthetic fit with their magazines. “To further complicate this issue,” Shea continues, “one editor mentioned that most media, art and literature is made to fit a masculine perspective, and perhaps that’s why men are more ‘apt’ at photographing that content.”

Shea notes also that most photo editors are women; one editor floated the idea that women are “natural nurturers” of men. Shea says he’s “skeptical” of that explanation. Instead, he suggests other reasons. One is that sexism in editorial photography is a microcosm. “Larger systems of oppression, like sexism and misogyny, replicate themselves very effectively on smaller scales,” Shea wrote. (more…)

September 11th, 2013

Video Pick: Chris Buck And Jimmy Fallon Get Surprise on Shoot for Variety

When we interviewed Chris Buck last year about his book Presence, which features a series of images in which a famous person is present in the frame of a picture but is invisible to the viewer, Buck told us that one of the secrets to his ability to deliver interesting editorial images is his lack of awe while working with celebs. “I’m definitely not precious about famous people,” Buck told PDN. “I’m making pictures for my clients and for the audience, and not for the subject.”

In this behind-the-scenes video of Buck photographing Jimmy Fallon for Variety we get to see Buck in action, convincing the late night host to work pretty hard for the camera. Check it out, and make sure you watch until the end. Turns out Buck isn’t the only one who is unfazed in the presence of a celebrity.

Related: Hide and Seek: Chris Buck’s Conceptual Celebrity Portraits

August 21st, 2013

From Twitter to TIME: An Egyptian Photojournalist Finds His Voice Amid Violence

A difficult reality of photojournalism is that photographers often define their careers by covering conflict. Egyptian photojournalist Mosa’ab Elshamy is the latest example. Elshamy began photographing as a citizen journalist during the Arab Spring protests in Egypt in 2011, when he documented demonstrations against then-President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Two and a half-years later, he’s made the transition from being an amateur to being a photojournalist who is watched by top photo editors and a nearly 40,000-strong Twitter following.

Elshamy’s work in Egypt, and from Gaza during the 2012 war there, has been published by the likes of The Economist and Harper’s among others, and he’s won awards in the Egypt International Photography Contest and Arab Union of Photographers competition. Yet during the last few weeks his photos of Egypt’s descent into violence, particularly his images of the clearing of a pro-Morsi sit-in at Rabaa at the end of July, have earned him the cover of The New York Times and bylines for TIME International and AlJazeera English, among other publications.

Patrick Witty, international picture editor of TIME, says he first heard about Elshamy’s work on Twitter at the end of July. “After the massacre at Rabaa Square on July 27, someone I follow tweeted about a picture he made,” Witty told PDN in an email. “I tracked it back to his Flickr account and reached out to him.” (more…)

August 14th, 2013

Newsweek: An Autopsy (And an Ex-Photo Editor’s Lament)

Newsweek-Autopsy-CoverA new exhibition co-curated by Marion Durand, a Newsweek photo editor and James Wellford, former senior photo editor who left Newsweek last year, celebrates some of the magazine’s achievements in visual storytelling, and also features images that were never published.  On display through September at Cortona on the Move, the photo festival in Tuscany, Italy, “Newsweek: An Autopsy” mixes magazine covers, framed prints and layouts from both the US and international editions of Newsweek from the past 12 years, and offers a window into editorial decision making. In a very candid interview, published in www.emahomagazine.com, Wellford talks about the exhibition and the “painful experience” of being unable to rally interest in serious photo essays. He says he was frustrated by the lack of support even before Newsweek became what he calls a “pamphlet” that covered more personality journalism than hard news. “There’s a lot of compromise,” he says.

Wellford says the problem was partly due to the downturn in print advertising, and Newsweek’s lack of subscription revenue, which meant  “the ability of the magazine to produce pages…and support writers and photographers went down the drain.” But he also talks about much earlier incidents when, according to Wellford, Newsweek failed to support photographers in the field.

In 1994, when Wellford was freelancing for the magazine, for example, he says the magazine supported several photographers who were covering the genocide in Rwanda, including Gilles Peress. “But the fact that you support it doesn’t mean that the magazine is going to run it, because remember the appetite for showing harshness constantly compromises the conversation in the newsroom.” He notes that at certain moments of history-making news, “It’s embarrassing what they were putting on the covers.”

He says, “The biggest regret was not being able to support people in perilous situations.” When photographer Laurent Van der Stockt, who was then a contract photographer with Newsweek, traveled on his own to Fallujah, Iraq, the site of two bloody battles of the Iraq war, Wellford wanted to “make sure he was secure.” However, he says, “someone came up to me at Newsweek” and asked first if Van der Stockt was there on an assignment from Newsweek, and was then “relieved” to learn he wasn’t – so Newsweek didn’t act to ensure his safety. When Teru Kuwayama, working in Pakistan on assignment for the magazine, was injured in a car accident in which the driver was killed instantly, Wellford says only people he knew in Pakistan and “friends of mine at The New York Times and CNN…kept an eye on him.” Wellford still doesn’t know what money Newsweek gave to the driver’s family. “I have never forgiven them for that,” he says.

Wellford connects the lack of concern for the welfare of magazine contributors to a lack of regard for journalism in general. “It was about morality and ethics,” he says.

“That to me has been lost, narcissism and the self seemed to take over. Of course you can’t generalize, but there seems to be no cumulative sense of making statements that in time, historically, will reflect on genuine concern for the world.”

The interview on emahomagazine.com includes a slide show of images by Alex Majoli, Paolo Pellegrin, Charles Omanney and other photographers in the show, as well as Wellford’s explanation of how he chooses to edit and assign photojournalists.

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