Continuing the round of interviews dedicated to photography, I went with my mind overseas, to bring to the light more opinions from professionals. Then, I got in touch with Nadia Vellam, Photo Director at T Magazine, section of The New York Times.
Talking with her about photography has been very interesting especially when she came to the point that is not the equipment the X factor in photography but the image itself. Holy words!
Hope you will enjoy our photography talk and will stay with us for the next interviews.
Hi Nadia, first of all thanks a lot for joining us. Could you please give us some background about your job role?
As the photo director at T Magazine I work with our editors to understand the context of the stories in the issue and then assign a photographer to each story. We work on stories that are very straight forward (shoot a portrait for a profile, shoot a travel story about a place) and also pieces that are more open ended and about a visual experience rather then illustrating text. I really like the mix of the different stories and also being able to mix in fine art photographers and well known fashion photographers, with unknown photographers that don’t have a lot of experience.
I also work with the fashion department for jewelry and accessory stories concepting ideas that will showcase the pieces and still be interesting images. I pitch stories based on images that i want to do and see if they can be made into a story that will have content – or will be something that is only visual and are we interested in doing something like that.
Really the magazine is very much a collaboration of listening to the editors and what kind of story that they are assigning or writing and then coming up with an idea that works within the context of the story and the issue.
As the Photo Director of T Magazine, I suppose you provide guidelines for the content that can be published on it. What is a must have for content to be relevant to the magazine?
I am looking for images that have the aesthetic of the magazine. I feel like we are a good mix of beautiful imagery and unexpected interpretations of things, fashion, places and people. There is a touch of something slightly grand in the way that we photograph people and interiors, and then also a touch of something that feels more natural and not over produced or processed.
For me, it is important that even if something is loose and modern, it still makes it feel elevated. I think it is a very interesting juxtaposition of feeling aspirational but still acknowledging what is happening in the art world and the aesthetics that are interesting right now.
Based on your experience, do you think media content demand is changing and, if so, how?
I think that if you want to be a photographer, you need to also be able to shoot video. It has become a very important aspect to most magazines and companies. There is such a constant quest for more and more content – and magazine budgets are getting tighter and tighter. It used to be that you could make a good living as a photographer just shooting editorial. It hasn’t been that way for a while – but now if you also shoot video you can be working all of the time. It also helps to make the content cohesive for a client – using the same person for online and print.
In the last years we witnessed a big evolution in photography and the democratization of photography, especially through smartphones, certainly has given more people the chance to embrace a new visual language, being able to see millions of images every day… What do you think about it?
I feel very strongly about print. I understand and often look at images online and on my phone – but I think if you truly want to experience the beauty of an image – it is held to a different standard in print. And it is interesting to see that many places that started out as online only, all seem to want to transition into also having a print platform. I think it is still seen as a coveted object.
For me the idea is always about the context in which something is shown. It is the same thought behind art books and how the images are treated when they are published. While online images have opened up the industry and given us more access to people who are self taught and doing their own work – I think of magazines as a kind of gallery show. The flow, the selection of images, how those images are showcased – it all creates an experience for a viewer. It is the difference between watching a movie in the theater or on your phone. It isn’t that you can’t enjoy the experience either way – it is about the commitment required by the viewer.
Do you think that, nowadays, it is still appropriate talking about equipment rather than photography itself?
I don’t think talking about photography has anything to do with equipment, or film, or the type of camera being used. To me, those are the wrong questions. You wouldn’t ask a painter what type of brush they are using because it is just an instrument in making an image.
Photography is amazing because it is a language that everyone has access to and therefore can connect easily with. What makes an amazing photograph are many different things but it rarely has to do with the equipment. You can take an image with a point and shoot and have it be an amazing photograph – or you can take an image with a Holga or a toy camera and it doesn’t devalue what has been made.
Photography is a visual language that is asking questions of a viewer in order to find a connection. It is crossing every barrier that is between people: time, religion, gender, race, and country. A photographer puts an image on a wall, it goes up in a museum or gallery a world away. That image is asking and searching for someone who has a similar question looking to connect with another. No other medium has that ability to reach so many people.
Is there still a difference among photographers and talented amateurs?
I think it depends on what you are shooting. Fashion is something that is a totally different thing. It is about teams and access to clothing, hair, makeup, models. If you are lucky to be taken under a stylists wing – it can be a great collaboration of self taught and experience.
For other kinds of photography (especially portraits) – I try very hard in our magazine to mix unknown or young photographers or photographers who aren’t shooting editorially with well known photographers. I think it is interesting to create that mix and also unexpected. The whole point in being an image maker is that you can interpret something in a different way then anyone else can. And that is what i am looking for – what are you going to bring to this that is unique and different then someone else.
Many people still think that mobile photos can’t support a double spread page. What’s you thought on this?
I think this is more a technical question. I guess it can, apple is using iPhone images on billboards. It isn’t really something that I give any thought to. I am more interested in the images that are being made – not how they are being made.
Thanks again Nadia!
Cover Image: Isabelle Huppert, shot by Craig McDean, styled by Marie-Amelie Sauve makeup by Peter Philips and hair by Didier Savage