Geoff Waring - Ex Art Director of Australian and UK Vogue Magazines
How did you start off in the industry?
I did a foundation course in art but failed to get a degree place doing illustration. I then took a gap year and worked as an art room junior on a bi-monthly magazine called Home and Freezer Digest. The following year I applied to a number of graphic design courses and landed a place at Manchester Polytechnic.
How did your career progress from there?
While at college I freelanced on magazines to supplement my grant, including the pop magazine No1. When I left college in 1984 the editor on Home and Freezer moved onto Family Circle magazine and offered me a job as senior designer. I tried to design it like Elle magazine, which had just launched in the UK, and eventually I got a freelance position on Elle.
Elle was my first taste of good creative photography. Later I became art director, when Clive the launch art director became too expensive for the recession climate of the early Nineties.
At what point did you begin to become more involved with photography and in what context?
During the Elle years I learnt a lot about photography, particularly fashion, and how it works in a magazine, but I had always been passionate about photography, even whilst at college.
Which photographers were you working with at that point?
At Elle it was people like Gilles Tapie, Andrew MacPherson, Julian Broad, Kevin Davies, Kim Knott, Pamela Hanson, Steven Klein, The Douglas Brothers, even Mario Testino.
After this stint at Elle, you moved to Australia in 1999 as the art director of Vogue. How did you feel that the photographic industry there differed from the UK’s at that point?
It was quite lame, either too arty, which meant it was out of focus and blurred, or too contrived and self-concious. They were really into copying American or European fashion photographers, but with bad models and bad clothes. The fashion designers there were pastiche merchants and that fed into the photography. That said, there was some great work being done by photographers such as Hugh Stewart, Paul Westlake and Derek Henderson.
And then you returned as the art director of UK Vogue. What was your involvement with the photography produced there?
They had a picture editor Robin Muir, who commissioned portraits, and the fashion was mainly commissioned by the fashion editors and Robin Derrick the creative director. I would generally art direct the portrait shoots.
You’ve worked for some prestigious magazines and launched titles such as Red and Easy Living. In what way did photography influence your designs for those launches?
Red and Easy Living definitely required a lifestyle look to the photography so I chose photographers who fitted the ‘style’ of the magazine.
Unlike Vogue where you want the photographers to push the boundaries, on lifestyle mags you want the pages to express a feeling. It’s less hard and less editorial.
What do you look for in a photographer when commissioning?
It depends on the particular publication, but they should always produce interesting work and be good to work with in the collaborative process.
What are the most common mistakes photographers make when approaching you to show their work?
Too pushy is always a turn-off. Too cocky doesn’t go down too well either. Turning up with a laptop that takes ages to set up is also a problem, but these days I see some very slick DVD portfolios.
If I see a ‘man with saxophone’ shot or a shot with hands reaching out to the camera I know it’s going to be a terrible portfolio. And for still life anything rusty like a key means ‘70s advertising portfolio to me.
Be unassuming... Craig McDean came to see me at Elle when he was still an assistant. He was very quiet and very excited just to show his test that he’d done whilst assisting Nick Knight. I didn’t give him a job, but he was great. He just had a bunch of shots of the model Lorraine Pascale in Levis and a few other images. They were good, but I’d maybe not have guessed then just how far he was going to go!
I saw Tim Walker when he just had a box of assorted 10x8in black & white prints of Devon. He’d recently returned from assisting in New York and was just a nice bloke, who wanted to show me his pics.
Where do you stand on the importance of technical competence?
It’s quite low on the list for me. A great photo doesn’t have to be a technical exercise at all... great photographers can produce great images even on a pinhole camera, because they are creative!
And the importance of creativity?
Numero uno. There are no great photographers who aren’t truly creative, but there are many, many photographers who can make a living with minimal talent, who usually labour under the opinion that the great ones get all the work because they know the right people, which is a delusion.
Photography has obviously been a major part of your design career, but what’s your personal relationship with photography?
I love to take pictures all the time. But to do it for money would spoil it for me.
I don’t think I would be any good at following a brief.
Finally, any tips for photographers who want to work for you?
Have a website, be creative, be nice and don’t make excuses for why this or that didn’t work. Which happens all the time with bad photographers. Bruce Webber can take a good picture anywhere of pretty much anything.
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