Recently I got in touch with Andy Greenacre, the photo editor of The Telegraph Magazine. After the interview I have been enthusiastic about the feedback received on my questions. Andy has more than twenty years of experience as photo editor and researcher and also worked in Magnum Photos at the beginning of his career. When he comes to give hints to photographers, he transmits pure optimism. Andy talks about past, present and future of photography without holding back on devices, focusing on “the ability to see, compose and shoot quality pictures” instead.
Hope you will enjoy our photography talk!
Hi Andy, first of all thanks a lot for joining us. Could you please give us some background about your job role?
I am the photo editor of The Telegraph Magazine, the Saturday supplement to the Daily Telegraph newspaper. I commission everything from cover shoots and feature portraits to documentary stories through to gardens, food and interiors’ shoots. Additionally I will research pictures for stories where appropriate.
How do you choose the images for the magazine? What does make you go for a specific content?
First and foremost, the images need to fit the brief. And they need to be the strongest, most visually arresting and memorable images. I strive to commission the best photographers to create photographs that are going to stand out on the page, engage with the reader and hopefully leave a lasting impression. When a shoot comes in I will make an intital edit before the design director and myself then narrow down to the key images. The cover choice or the opener for a feature tend to present themselves organically – they are the images that stand out on screen often from the start.
Often the usage is specific – referenced directly in the copy so that’s what needs to be illustrated on the page. That’s where a tight brief is important and all the more so in documentary stories where it’s vital for the photographer either to work closely with the writer, or if they shoot at a later date, that they fulfil the brief based on people interviewed, places visited, situations encountered. As such a photo editor has to impart as precise and concise a brief as they can. Reshoots are not an option. Researching images can be as simple as grabbing a full-length or tight shot of a celebrity on the red carpet or it can be involved, requiring lateral thinking as you search out the images that aren’t to be found in the obvious place.
If you look back at past and think contextually about present, how would you describe the evolution of photography?
Photography is and will always be about making great images – single photographs or stories that bring to our attention the issues of the day. Giving a platform to those whose plight might otherwise go unseen, or celebrating the diverse nature of the world in which we live. The medium is the same, the technology has of course evolved but that’s to be embraced. Whether it’s someone capturing a unique moment on a camera or smart phone, or opening up new vistas by way of drone cameras for example, the essence of photography is still the same – the ability to see, compose and shoot quality pictures.
I also think it’s interesting to note that whilst digital technology is omnipresent, analogue has never gone away, nor won’t. The quality, colour and subtlety of film has yet be replicated in a way that will make it obsolete and in my opinion, much of the best and most interesting work I see is shot on film. I even get photographers who work with wet plate collodion pitching to shoot for the magazine.
Do you think nowadays photography offers more opportunities?
I worked for Magnum Photos back in the mid to late 1990s and there was much moaning about the death of photojournalism and harking back to a ‘golden era’ that I am not sure ever really existed. The demise of photojournalism has been much exaggerated and there is still most definitely an outlet for it in the times in which we live.
The fact is however, times change: the medium, the opportunities and the emphasis evolves and as a photographer you make your choices, you harness the technology available to you at a given time and make what you will of the opportunities to hand. Editorial work is there, for the talented photographer, but for sure it doesn’t pay the bills. But it can be a shop window – you are showcasing your work through a medium (supplements/magazines) that still has significant reach and has the possibility of opening up commercial opportunities – that do pay the bills.
Online there are a multitude of different outlets but again, immediate financial reward is limited, it’s the longer game. Kickstarter and the like have revolutionised the self-publishing market. I honestly believe that talented photographers will achieve their goals and get their rewards through hard work, creativity, skill and dedication. Utilising the tools available to them in the digital age is key.
Does mobile photography gives more opportunities? What do you think?
Of course, if someone with a smart device gets the only picture of a significant event then all to the good. Smartphones have a role in modern photography and as they become ever more sophisticated with better lenses and higher resolution, what’s not to like? Smartphone images are now good enough quality to be used on some magazine covers – Benjamin Lowy for Time magazine covering Hurricane Sandy for example. He also shot on one during the Libyan conflict in part because that was how the local population documented their everyday life during that period and he wanted to reflect their experience through the ubiquitous tool available to them.
Instagram has also provided a huge platform for sharing and showcasing work. Not only have I discovered new talent through the platform but it’s also a great way of finding out who is where at any given time.
Based on your experience, do you think media content demand is changing and how?
The internet has certainly expanded opportunities for a richer visual experience and more in-depth story telling. Video and graphics are an integral part of presenting a story online and The New York Times in particular combine these elements to create highly polished multimedia presentations. From an editor’s point of view, if a commission has potential for greater online coverage with the addition of video then working with a photographer who can supply that content clearly makes sense.
The Telegraph collaborated with Magnum in the Summer of 2016 on the refugee/migrant crisis and our coverage encapsulated an entire print edition featuring the work of five photographers with video/voice interviews with the photographers and a multimedia presentation online. The opportunities now are fantastic compared to just a few years ago.
© Alex Majoli / Magnum Photos.
Refugees and migrants arriving on Lesbos, Greece, 2015
What do you think are the skills that a photographer must have nowadays?
The basic skills remain the same – stand out creatively from a hugely crowded field in order to maximise your working potential; understand the brief and shoot accordingly; edit your photographs before submitting them to the commissioning editor and work to the deadlines given. You are only as good as your last job and with so much talent at a picture editor’s disposal, it’s crucial to stay on top of your game at all times.
It seems to me that many photography courses neglect to teach much in the way of the business of photography to students and that’s such an important part of the industry. For example, building a website that is clear, easy to navigate, loads instantly and just works is hugely important. It never ceases to amaze me the number of photographers’ websites that fail on these points. First impressions last, and a poorly-designed or glitchy website is doing you no favours whatsoever. You have as little as 10 seconds to make me continue to look at your work, so your website needs to do its job.
Having said that, keep knocking on the door. Picture editors want to discover and nurture talent. Don’t be afraid to approach magazines and outlets that are the right fit for your work. If it’s good enough, the opportunities will follow.
Photographers clearly need good communication skills and be confident: You can take the most wonderful pictures in your personal work but if you can’t engage with the subject or shoot in the time allotted on a commissioned shoot, then it’s all for naught. Personal and commissioned work are two different things.
Can you give an advice to photographers who want to improve their skills?
Keep shooting! Dedication and hard work are essential to your development as a photographer. There are a great many out there but it’s those who bring something extra to the table who are getting the work. That’s achieved through consistency, creativity and vision. Pursue personal projects and build relationships with commissioning photography editors. Refer to the work of photographers you admire and respect and look to assist them where you can. Portfolio reviews are invaluable (free if you get to show your book to an editor at their workplace!). Ultimately believe in yourself and if you are good enough, you will succeed.
Thanks again Andy!