Deborah Castle - Picture Director, Grazia Magazine
How did you start off in the industry?
My first job after university was as a picture researcher for the now defunct Telegraph Picture Library. I spent my days looking for transparencies of businessmen shaking hands to sell at great expense to the advertising market.
How did you career progress from there?
I only stayed for 9 months at the Telegraph as I didn’t want to end up on that side of commercial photography. My next job was then at the then called Hulton Deutsch Picture Library. It was an amazing collection to work with (and still is – as part of Getty images). I went on to work for two other picture agencies – Alpha and Scope Features, before making the move onto a magazine picture desk - firstly Best Magazine, then Empire, then YOU Magazine. Initially, I was a Picture Researcher then became Picture Editor.
What does your job entail day-to-day?
First thing is a daily conference where I show all the photos from overnight, then my usual day is organising shoots – be it a celebrity shoot in LA, a news story in Kabul (we once photographed an American woman married to an Afghan warlord – she ran a beauty school there), or an interiors story in Paris. There is such a variety of subjects all over the world that we cover. Time is of the essence though – sometimes I only have 24 hours to organise production for a big studio shoot – location, hair, make-up, props styling as well as getting an amazing photographer.
How do you view your relationship when working with a photographer or an agency?
I find it very difficult to work with people I don’t like. Luckily, all the Grazia contributors are an amazing bunch of creative people. If you are on the same wavelength, a shoot can run remarkably well, with everyone bringing a different skill to the table. I also rely on agencies a lot when shooting abroad – they can suggest locations or make-up artists that I am not familiar with. It’s a real team effort and I really enjoy the collaborative process.
What do you look for in a photographer and their work when commissioning?
I look for originality and a freshness of vision. Also, someone who suits the house style or who can bring something new to our look. Again, personality is important. If I am not able to attend a shoot, the photographer is the magazine’s ambassador. I rely on photographers being able to get on with people. We often shoot sensitive news and health stories that require very gentle handling.
Where do you stand on the importance of creativity?
It’s very important that we are all creative, constantly coming up with ideas and news ways of seeing the world. Working for a women’s magazine can bring up the same sort of features or themes and it’s great to have creative input from a photographer as to what they would do with a subject. At the same time, this creativity mustn’t be too single –minded. You always have to keep the magazine’s vision and style in your head when coming up with a concept for a shoot.
Where do you stand on the importance of technical competence?
We shoot both in the studio and on location, so technical knowledge is very important. Often when shooting celebrities, we have a very limited time with them, and so I rely on a photographer to know exactly what he is doing and have the confidence to know what will work in terms of lighting and composition. There’s no room for mistakes!
How should a photographer approach you with their work? What makes a portfolio stand out?
Most photographers e-mail me with a weblink to an online portfolio. If I like the work, I will contact them to make an appointment to come into see me. Sometimes I get visual overload – when I‘ve looked at the same sort of work over and over you can become a bit numb. What makes me stop and really look is that fresh look I mentioned - something quirky and original. It’s not always a definable equation. You just know in your gut if someone is right for the magazine.
What are the most common mistakes photographers make when approaching you to show their work?
Not doing their homework! I often get sent e-mails by people who patently don’t know Grazia and whose work is not suitable. One of the common things that get said is “I can shoot anything”. I find that disconcerting. I prefer photographers who are passionate about what they like to shoot and who have definite preferences of how they like to shoot.
Lastly, do you have any tips for photographers that want to work for you?
They have to love the publication. There’s no point just shooting for a magazine for the money – it has to be for love, too! For if they like the magazine they will have an intuitive feeling for what will work visually. There are too many photographers out there who have lost the passion, which is a shame.
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