Christophe Gowans - Art Director, Stella Magazine
What does your job entail day-to-day?
I design pages myself, oversee the designs of my staff and authorise the release of pages to repro stage. As we output pages all week, days are more or less the same, with perhaps a slight dip in activity at the beginning of the week, giving me a chance to consider how the general visual tone of the magazine is holding up. I am involved in picture selection with the picture editor, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the subject matter.
You worked as art director at Blitz magazine – how has this influenced your work today?
What I learned at Blitz - particularly during my apprenticeship under Jeremy Leslie - was that is it possible to create arresting and refreshingly unusual design composition on the page while remaining easy to follow/read. Also that for the most part, it is unneccesary to 'embellish' good photography by plastering type/design twiddles all over it.
Do you work with photographers in a different way to when you were at Blitz, and if so why?
It is in the nature of a weekly newspaper supplement that I'm more hands-off with photographers than I was at Blitz, where the commissioning and editing was performed mainly by the design team of two. With a faster turnaround and a strong picture editing team at Stella, I am now rarely involved in the nuts and bolts of commissioning photography.
How has the photographic industry changed since then?
There are now many more photographers of a higher quality. Combined with the technological revolution (digital/internet) this has brought about a glut in the possibilities, from a buyer's point of view.
Now, more than ever, choosing photographers to work with is as much about their working practices and individual viewpoint as much as the quality of their photography. Also, with high quality imagery available from libraries at very low prices, there is far more pressure on the modern photographer to produce individualistic imagery on a tight, tight budget.
How do you feel about the change in fees and budgets for photographers?
There's a financial squeeze on, and while I can sympathise with independent photographers having to cope with it, the situation is dictated to by market forces, as touched on above.
Do you encourage new talent or prefer to stick with what you know will work?
A bit of both... There are stories we can experiment with, and others that require the tried and the trusted.
What photographic challenges do you face at Stella Magazine?
Tight budgets. Fast shoots. Inferior paper stock compared to the glossy magazines.
How does your design and photography differ to monthly fashion magazines?
Probably not that much. Part of our brief is to provide a look on a par with such publications. Perhaps we need to be a little more sober - for want of a better word - than some of the monthlies. We have more thoughtful editorial, and a wider target audience, so our look needs to address this.This results in a relatively quiet design, and in calm 'truer' portraiture, in general.
How should a photographer approach you with their work?
A link to a straightforward website with clear, big pictures is a fine start.
What are the biggest mistakes photographers make when approaching you?
The main mistake I see is someone trying to convince me they can do it all. I'd rather see someone who is totally preoccupied with one area, unafraid to say 'this is what I like', however 'niche' or obscure. This communicates a genuine enthusiasm, and also lets me know what I'll get if I commission them.
What makes a portfolio stand out to you?
Clarity of vision. Clarity of layout. Focus.
What are your top tips for a photographer looking to get commissioned?
Apart from what I have already mentioned about having a focus on one area of work, let the pictures speak... no need to crack jokes or in other ways try too hard to get your personality across. In our busy, pressurised editorial environment a calm and simple approach is best.
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