Marissa Bourke - Art Director, Elle Magazine

Marissa Burke

The right advice and inside track on how to get commissioned

How did you start off in the magazine industry?
I studied Graphic Design at Swinburne School of Design in Melbourne. A really brilliant school with inspiring lecturers. From there I secured a work placement in London at The Face magazine. I planned to only be in London 6 months but 15 years later I’m still here.

What was your progression from there?
From The Face I went to Arena Magazine then decided to go freelance and worked at Esquire and GQ and ended up mostly at Vogue which I really loved. Fortunately a full time position came up and I stayed for 7 years.

An extraordinarily talented team – inspiring Editor and Creative Director. They work with the best of the best. The challenge at Vogue is to have the biggest idea you can. I loved it.

For those that don’t know, what does your current role entail?
I’m the Creative Director of Elle so I’m responsible for the visual side of the magazine. I oversee every page and every picture that we print. I go on almost every cover shoot most of which we shoot in New York or LA or sometimes Paris as that’s where the celebrities tend to be – so my work involves quite a bit of travel most months.

My job is a lot about meetings – planning pages and working closely with the Editor to establish the visual feel for the magazine. Its really hard work and I think it shows on our pages. Fortunately I am lucky to have a very talented Art Department.

You won BSME’s art director of the year – what an achievement!
Yes I was really very pleased to win that as the competition was really tough. And it’s Editors judging it – they are tough customers.

Was it always an aspiration of yours to work for Elle?
Yes. I have always been really into magazines.
I always loved The Face and Arena and Neville Brody’s work so it was a dream to get a job there. I remember buying my first ever copies of Vogue and Elle – I think I was about 10 - they were so big and glossy and luxey. I kept them for years.

It’s a real privelige to work for Elle as I get to work with some brilliant people and travel to meet some really exciting celebrities too. We recently shot Courtney Love which was memorable – she’s an icon and an awesome talent. Kylie Minogue is another favourite – we have worked with her quite a few times over the years and she has always been completely charming.

How much direct involvement with photographers do you have?
Lots. Too much sometimes! I work closely with all our photographers – particularly our Cover photographers. We discuss how we will shoot each cover at some length to make sure there aren’t too many surprises on the day – although there always are some with celebrities. It’s a very collaborative process as our images have to be right for the magazine. Small details can make a big difference. Hair is always the tricky part of a cover shoot – makeup I can retouch after – but hair you cant.

What is the best way for a photographer to approach you with work? What are you interested in seeing?
I do get a lot of emails and calls about seeing photographers. I pretty much know who I want to shoot with so if we are interested we usually approach them. It’s an extremely competitive industry and only a few lucky photographers get to shoot the big editorial shoots. It’s very rare for me to commission from a cold call.

What should they definitely not do?
Call me everyday in case I change my mind. I never do.

Whose photography do you particularly love?
Glen Luchford, Craig McDean, Mario Sorrenti and David Sims.

How important is the collaboration between an art director and a photographer?
Very. I think the best photographers understand the needs of the client or Art Director but still manage to produce inspiring work.

What makes a really great issue of Elle magazine?
I think the cover has a big impact on the feel for the whole issue. You can have a great fashion well and a bad cover and the fashion suffers. If you have a great cover the whole book looks much more convincing.

Lastly, do you have any tips for photographers trying to break into the industry?
It’s getting ever more competitive. I find there’s a lot of photographers who aren’t very realistic about what who or where they should be shooting. They get very paranoid about “the right direction” and this can continue for years and they tend not to end up shooting so much. I think its better to take some risks.

Get advice from a good agent – even if you aren’t at the stage where they will take you on – listen to their advice and act on it.


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  1. this is the sort of attitude that makes the career of a photographer very hard,maybe marissa should take her own advise concerning booking a snapper
    "I think its better to take some risks."

    Comment made by: drbeaven
    02.07.09 03:06:40

  2. I think that a very good Photography Art director should have a brave attitude, keen eye, i.e take some visual risks (looking for the new image makers not the established ones). According to her answers it is not the case, she has the same attitude of most of the Art Directors towards photographers in the. fashion arena and this a real pity for creativity.

    Comment made by: danfromP
    07.12.09 14:43:13

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