David McKendrick, Art Director: Esquire
Need to put a face to a name, get the background story, the right advice and the inside track on how to get commissioned? This month, we speak to the Art Director of Esquire David McKendrick about his approach to working with photographers and how he commissions.
How has your career evolved?
The first six years of my career were in graphic design, so although there was some photography involved, I never had a great amount to do with the commissioning process. It was when I took a career move towards magazines that commissioning began to play a much bigger role. Now it’s a major part of my job at Esquire.
Is the role of commissioning photography solely down to you?
The basic idea is that I over see everything, but different members of my team commission different things, such as the technology and celebrity shoots. We work as a team; we’ll work through the whole issue and divide up the commissioning. I strongly believe in letting people have their own opinion and their own take on things, I think it brings a real freshness to the magazine. For one thing, I don’t think my own knowledge is as great as the entire team combined, plus I think that being open to other people’s influences and tastes is beneficial.
Tell us about your approach to shoots.
The cover is a big part of my responsibility every month, essentially it’s the most important page of the magazine, our ‘shop window’. Because there is often a celebrity involved, commissioning the right photographer for the shoot is essential. Get that wrong and the whole process can go wrong quite easily. When I’m commissioning a cover shoot I consider things such as whether the subject is a man or a woman, as well as their personality and then I think about who might be the right photographer for that shoot. It’s a bit like trying to find the perfect marriage. Even the seasons make a difference, I’m trying to create a different mood every time so the choice of photographer will change according to that.
What else do you consider for cover shoots?
We commission two covers for each issue, the one that goes on the news stand is our poster, our selling card, while the other is for subscribers who have already bought into the brand. On the subscriber’s cover the image can sit on its own so I can break more rules and have a bit of fun. For example, for one cover I commissioned an image of [Plasticine character] Morph on his 30th birthday and got Prada to design clothes for him. It was the first time he’d been shot wearing clothes, so we were able to have some fun with it. With a more conventional cover it’s about creating an image that readers want to buy into.
Have things changed much in the time you’ve been involved with photography?
I think it’s changed hugely in the 10 years that I’ve been working with photographers.I’ve seen a huge shift in the process, the most obvious being the move to digital.
Has this affected the way you work?
I think the way I edit photographs is changing and the way celebrities are photographed is changing, because people can see the images on screen as they are shot. I try to work with traditional film as much as I can, although it’s not always practicable or even the right thing to do. I think it does help when the subject can’t see the images on the day of the shoot. When you see a RAW image on the screen, the logo, coverlines and text are missing, so there is no context. Also, when you’re photographing a subject and they know everyone on the shoot is looking at them on the screen they can get quite tense. I’ve not met many people who like having their photograph taken. We did a cover shoot with Keith Richards on film. We showed him one Polaroid, then shot 20 rolls of film. It was a brilliant shoot but had we all been able to see the images as we went along it would have taken the flow out of the day.
What is it you love about working with film?
Everything. I love editing film images, I love contact sheets. I can edit them away from my screen, on the Tube or at home in the evening. When I’m looking at images on screen, they’re backlit, which is not how they are going to appear. Even with digital images I’ll print them out and get my chinagraph out so I canmake crops. I’m only 33, so I’m not that old;it’s just the way I like to work.
Does that mean you tend to work withphotographers who shoot film?
It depends; some of the photographers I use shoot exclusively on film because it’s just what they do and part of their aesthetic, whereas with others it doesn’t work for them. For those guys it wouldn’t be right to force them to shoot film, because their digital images work really well. The bottom line is we shoot film if it’s appropriate. However, it’s not always appropriate and it’s not always economical. Budgets are always a factor.
Do you stick to tried-and-testedphotographers or seek out new talent?
I do try new people, in fact I commissioned a new photographer for the cover of the next issue and it worked very well. It’s slightly frustrating because if you don’t give people a chance then they’ll never be put forward to shoot someone famous. While I do like to try new people I also have a roster of photographers, especially for the celebrity shoots. When shooting someone famous you have to work hand in hand with their people and show them a list of photographers whose work they may or may not like.
Do you see a lot of portfolios in the course of your day?
I feel terribly guilty saying this, but I don’t, first and foremost because I just don’t have the time. I love looking at photography and if I could, I’d sit and look at people’s work all day. I do see a few portfolios every month and if I see something amazing, even at an exhibition, I’ll get in touch with the photographer. Having said that, if I get websites through, I’ll always try to look at them. If someone’s bothered to find out who I am and send me their website I’ll have a look at it.
Any tips for photographers showcasing their work on a website?
For me if a website is under designed, easy to navigate and doesn’t hit you with lots of effects such as Flash, for example, then that’s good. I want to be introduced to the work quickly, not have to wait for images to load up and then fly around the screen. It just makes it harder for me. If the photographs are good then they should stand alone. My main advice would be to keep your website simple. If I’m thinking of using someone for a cover I’ll go straight to the website, so if it takes ages to load that’s not good. It’s a time thing, really.
What do you look for in a portfolio?
I think it’s good to show a spectrum of work. Even though I’m commissioning editorialphotography in a men’s magazine, I also like to see images of advertising and womenswear.If someone tries to target me with all their menswear images, I almost feel I’m not getting the complete picture of their capabilities.It’s really good to see the full gamut of whatphotographers are capable of. Obviously, I work for a men’s magazine so I will be commissioning menswear features, but if you’ve got still lifeand portraiture, then show me that. If, however, you’ve only got a certain style, that’s fine too, just be honest and show me what you’re capable of.
Do you seek technical competence over creativity in a photographer?
I think both are essential. The reality of putting a magazine together now means we’re very busy all the time, so you need to work with people who are technically competent – there’s no time to work it out afterwards! When it comes to creativity, that manifests itself in a lot of ways – howa photographer gets on with the subject on a shoot, whether they come to me with ideas or even suggest different ways to do a shoot.Working with a photographer to come up with ideas is a healthy way to work. For me and the team it’s a real privilege of the job to work in this way and be able to commission some great photography. It’s a really exciting part of the job.
What would be your advice for photographers hoping to work with you?
Recommendations are always good, keeping things simple works. It’s nice to get postcards of great images through; we’ve got a board at work that we pin great things to, so we often keep cards that photographers send us. I’m not sure if there’s one way to do it, to be honest.
Designer: Graphic Thought Facility
Senior designer: North Design
Art director: Bespoke* division,
Art director: Esquire
Back to Categories
- Average Article Rating 0 Stars
- You must be a registered user & logged in to rate this.
Login | Register