Cheryl Newman - Photographic Director, Telegraph Magazine
What does your job entail on a daily basis?
I like to be at my desk a little early, before the phone starts ringing or the day-to-day running of the desk begins, to catch up on emails, check my appointments and confirm forthcoming shoots. I have to keep a note of everything I’m working on, as I have a terrible memory and cannot risk a shoot without a photographer. On a day-to-day basis, there are stories to commission and edit, portfolios to look at, book lists to mull over, exhibitions to visit, blogs and websites to investigate, as well as meetings with photographers. On Monday morning the editors meet to look through the weekend’s papers, pull out anything of interest and size up the competition. I then have a features meeting with Michele Lavery – the magazine’s editor, the managing editor and each of the commissioning editors to run through their stories, discuss new commissions and explore how a story should be shot. We have weekly ideas meetings and boarding meetings where we decide which stories go into which issue, starting with those that are date sensitive and then adding other stories to ensure a good editorial mix. We also have to plan the additional supplements, which are largely picture-led, and so demand much more consideration – this is the opportunity to use both highly regarded photographers such as Tim Walker, and to introduce new talent, so it’s an extremely exciting aspect of the job.
How closely do you work with the art director?
Gary Cochran and I work closely on the editing of stories. We have very similar visual sensibilities, so can edit a body of work independently and come up with virtually the same edit. We prefer not to crop an image unless absolutely necessary due to space constraints, and treat the photographs presented to us with respect. We enjoy looking at a photographer’s edit, but at the end of the day we have the final decision, based on what the story is about and what the editor has asked of it. Gary and I have a shared love of photography and design, which makes us a formidable team on the magazine.
What kind of a relationship do you have with photographers – do you tend to stick with your favourites, or do you experiment with different photographers?
Of course one can’t help having favourite photographers, both as artists and people. I try not to restrict my commissioning to the tried and trusted; I enjoy taking chances with young photographers, as the results can be exciting and surprising. One has to think out of the box when commissioning stories to avoid the predictable or
becoming too literal, and I always strive to keep the photography fresh and provocative. But, of course, there are times when you need a safe pair of hands, or the particular skills of a certain photographer, and then it would be foolish not to use that person.
You are known for your support of photographers – tell us a bit about this.
This year, for various complex reasons, has been very busy and challenging, and I have to admit that I have not had the time to see as many photographers face to face as I would have liked to, but I try to have an open-door policy to students and young photographers. I am always happy to review portfolios and visit colleges. It’s really important to encourage new talent and to build confidence, so I am happy to give advice when I can.
What are your top tips for photographers approaching you with their work?
Do your homework: look at the magazine. It is imperative that you know the style and content. Even though our editorial spectrum is extremely broad, not all photography is relevant to the magazine. Look at the masthead – it’s surprising how many photographers don’t know who they should be speaking to. Email me personally with a link to your website – which should be simple and easy to navigate – then leave it for a couple of weeks before calling me to discuss your work. Finally, don’t be too pushy, but do have confidence in the work you’re showing.
What are you looking for in a photographer?
I try to work with photographers who have a strong sense of their own image making and identity. When commissioning, it is important to consider what the photographer will bring to the shoot and if they can tell the story in an interesting and unexpected way. It is important that photographers can work independently and are self-reliant, and that they remember that the photographs we use in the magazine are primarily journalistic. Although we put the story in place, it is ultimately their responsibility to make sure they get the story. They need to be adaptable, pleasant, and keep their ego in check. As the stories I commission are extremely diverse, I need to consider how we are going to shoot the story; as a photo documentary or using a more artistic approach. Earlier this year I worked with Mark Power on a three-part story on the recession. Although we initially considered a documentary photographer, I chose Mark because I had previously run his Airbus series and felt his dramatic, large-scale images would bring an interesting dimension to the story. And I believe that is exactly what happened: the empty streets of Mark’s pictures of familiar urban landscapes are the perfect metaphor for the financial crisis.
What kind of photographs do you typically need for the magazine?
I don’t think we have a typical need. The issues and the genres of photography we use are so varied.
How do you edit the photographs that you receive for each commission?
I am happier editing from prints or contact sheets than on screen. When editing a large body of work, I like to revisit the pictures a number of times and reflect on my choices. Ideally, I like to have read the copy before I start my edit. Clear caption details are imperative on all stories. My editing is a mixture of an emotional response to the images and the journalistic needs of the story.
Has the way in which you work with photography changed because of the recession?
At the beginning of 2009 our budgets were cut by 50%. Although this seemed impossible, I have continued to commission in the same way. I have been touched by the support of our photographers.
What tips would you give to a photographer trying to get commissioned?
Personality plays a huge part in editorial photography; be confident to make conversation. Don’t ask about budgets right away – remember the 50% cut mentioned above. Ask yourself if the publication is relevant to your work. Don’t bring too much work – I can only look at so much!
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