Interview with A Photo Editor

Mon 31st Dec, 2007

Posted by Staff in Interview

Interview by Keith Green

In the fall of 2007, the photo industry was captivated by a blog with the musings of an anonymous magazine photo editor within the New York photo industry. The blog became a daily must-read for many in the industry and touched off rampant speculation as to APE's identity. Last December APE outed himself as Rob Haggart, the departing Director of Photography at Men's Journal who was headed off to Tucson, Arizona. Eager to know more, EP Board member Keith Green peppered Rob with questions.

In your blog, you exhibit a strong passion for photography as well as voicing an advocacy for photographer's rights. Where does that come from and is this a shared sentiment among your colleagues? I started out in this business managing and assisting Wade McKoy and Bob Woodall, a couple ski photographers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They shot a lot of stock and a handful of editorial and commercial jobs every year. I had to make magazine submissions, negotiate deals, create contracts and cold call people looking for work. So, really I started out on the photographer's side of the business first and that's where my advocacy comes from.

I'd say most of my colleagues are advocates for photographer's rights as well; the problem is always how willing we are to challenge the status quo of the system or assert ourselves with the editor and creative director when it comes to that type of stuff. Then, on the business side of the magazine the Photography Director really needs a good grasp of how finance works in order to change budgets or change how the budgets are allocated and that's not always there.

Could you provide a short how-not-to list regarding methods for contacting magazine Photo Editors, Creative Directors, and Directors of Photography? Cold calling is the worst method for sure and those impersonal spam emails are growing into a bit of a nuisance.

Being persistent works but what I hate the most is when someone calls, emails or writes and then becomes increasingly irritated at me when I don't respond. It's just not possible to reply to every person that contacts you, even if you like their work and want to hire them someday.

During your tenure at Men's Journal, how did photographer contracts and money affect your decisions on assigning photographers? We had a contract that I had very little power to make changes to. I tried to be up front about the terms as much as possible–when given enough lead-time by the editor to make an assignment–so that photographers who didn't like the terms could walk away. I spent an inordinate amount of time lobbying for very small changes when photographers I was determined to work with balked at the terms. Unfortunately, It just wasn't possible to do that with everyone.

Our rates were the same for everyone as far as creative fees but the expenses could vary wildly so I usually grouped photographers into one of three categories. High expenses, moderate but flexible expenses and low expenses. I made hiring decisions with this in mind to tried and spend my budget smartly.

The cost of digital photography is a growing issue for both editorial photographers and magazine publishing entities. Have the digital fees and pricing structures altered photography budgets in terms of the quality of assignments? Did you mean quantity?

I'd say on average I spend about the same as I used to on film, processing and prints so, no the quantity is not lower. Some of the high-end digital shoots are very expensive, but then with the younger emerging photographers or even the established photojournalists who have low overhead the cost is now less than film and it all balances out.

How do you deal with the frustration of not always being able to publish the photography (or photographers) that you really like? That's something I struggled with every single day. I tried to remain detached and objective about the photographers and individual images but I always ended up becoming emotionally attached and would take things way too personally. It's really not a healthy way to work and it eats away at you over time and was one of the big reasons why I left photo editing in New York.

Making magazines is a business and business decisions need to be made not emotional ones and that proved nearly impossible for me.

What is your viewpoint with regard to photographer/editor personal friendships? Well, I don't have a problem with it I just wish more of my editors were friends with Irvin Penn and Sebastiao Salgado.

Being told who to hire sucks. It's the most important decision I get to make and so if the friendship gets in the way of that I don't like it. I also understand that writers and photographers need to work closely on some assignments so hiring people they enjoy working with can make the story better.

How much of a role does editorial stock photography play as opposed to editorial assignments in this current state of the industry? If good stock exists we'll use it first. The biggest change is in celebrity photography where everyone is running the exact same pictures of the hard to shoot celebrities. Editors used to care more about using original and unpublished material but now it seems like just finding a photo that's serviceable is all that matters. I think the reader's care and this practice will eventually bite everyone in the ass. I personally have no interest in picking up magazines with photographs I've already seen and rehashed stories of someone I barely care about.

Are you more prone to work with photographers who've paid their dues through years of assisting other photographers or does it really matter in this era of online educational resources? I'm not aware of a bias towards photographers who assist but I've come to believe there are huge advantages to learning photography this way and I've always made an effort to work with the former assistants of my favorite photographers so… oh, there's a little bias right there.

Do you foresee the demise of the editorial print format in lieu of the more cost effective online magazine publication format? Well, the demise will come about because the publishers cause it not the audience. Magazine production is a terribly inefficient business and becomes even more so the broader the audience you try and attract. If they would stop pandering to everyone's taste and focus on serving the audience and advertisers they have now they could become more efficient and more profitable. Magazines spend way too much time trying to be all things to all people instead of just trying to be good.

A group of photographers and photo editors all meet in a bar. Which group should buy the first round? Photo editors with their expense account of course. I like to wait till we're all sauced and the tab is nicely racked up before convincing the other photo editors to play a game of credit card roulette with me. Everyone puts his or her credit card in a hat and the bartender pulls one out. Always good for a laugh the next day when you realize how much trouble you're going to be in for putting all those drinks on the company card.



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