Rami Lippa - Freelance Branding/Editorial Consultant
The right advice and inside track on how to get commissioned
You are someone who had been working in the publishing industry in the UK for quite sometime, could you give me some background as to how you started out and how your career progressed?
I arrived in England shortly after graduating from the School of Visual Arts in New York and having been working as a freelance designer. My visa in the US ran out and since I have British citizenship through my dad, I decided to come to the UK. The person that gave me my first break was David Hillman at Pentagram who was launching a magazine called ‘Business’. I became it’s Art Editor and stayed there for three and a half years, when was headhunted by Paul Harpin the Design Director at Redwood Publishing and became his deputy and everything progressed from there.
I’ve always seen you as a leading figure in the field of customer magazines, was that an area which had always appealed to you?
Not initially. Storytelling and editorial design had always appealed to me and I enjoyed working on newspapers, books and newsstand magazines, but I was then put in charge of running the customer magazine division at Redwood. I saw it as an exciting challenge – how to balance between client needs and fulfill their marketing and communication objectives as a competitive brand, as well as maintaining the utmost degree of editorial integrity for the readers. I always found that balance a very interesting one to handle and in a way got to love the “hybrid” nature of custom publishing.
You were Creative Director of Redwood Publishing in London when it was leading the field in producing corporate magazines for companies such as Volvo, M&S and Sky, did the company’s commercial success allow you a lot of creative freedom with photography?
As a matter of fact it did. In many ways, especially with the more enlightened clients, we were leading the way in our photographic approach compared to mainstream magazines. Volvo for example, was the first car company that allowed us to put non-car images on the cover of it’s magazine. I remember how we ran one of the early covers with a close up photograph of this chap from the Mid West of the USA who was a storm chaser. It was a superb black and white photo with a real gritty look which we added a special blue / grey duotone tint to. It looked amazing and the magazine won an award for it.
What was your involvement in the commissioning of photography at this time?
I had a very close relationship with all my art directors. We worked as a collaborative team. They often asked about who I thought would be good for a specific story and I would call up a few photographer friends and people I worked with to ask for their portfolios. Depending on how experienced the art director was, I’d help them choose the best person for the job or even attend the shoot.
You were at Redwood for a total of 15 years, do you feel that your commercial requirements from a photographer changed during that time?
Yes, as with everything else our photography needs changed and developed over time. The custom magazine business was becoming more competitive and therefore we had to be at the forefront of photography too. In some cases, for example, with Harvey Nichols magazine, we decided to engage the most advanced fashion photographers we could find. We used people like Steve Hyatt, Miles Aldridge and Karena Peronet-Miller long before they became big. Later on, due to lower budgets there was a drive to go digital and also to reduce costs, but we always tried to stay ahead of the curve and go beyond what was happening in newsstand publishing where budgets are even tighter.
You decided to leave Redwood in London and re-locate to Toronto, Canada to work for Redwood Custom Communications, did this geographical change also change your approach to your work?
Not fundamentally, but there were adjustments I had to make to handle the requirements of a different and much bigger market. The North American market is very different in their perception of media. All of the programmes I work on in Canada are broad and large in scope, in terms of creating a communication that runs across multi channel platforms – website, streaming video, email, mobile, in-store, out of home as well as in a magazine. That in it’s self presents different challenges in terms of creating images that work across all media.
And how did you find that photographers in the US differed from those you worked with in the UK?
It would be a generalisation to say that they are hugely different. I know that there’s a perception in the UK that the American market is more “commercial” and less innovative. That may be true in mainstream publishing but there are still some great photographers here doing fantastic work. It’s true that generally speaking, the American public is more conservative in their approach to imagery and consequently there’s a huge amount of mediocre “catalogue” like work being used.
What do you look for in a photographer’s work and personality before commissioning them?
In a nutshell – I look for originality and beauty! I rarely see truly original images any more. I suppose that with the glut of images on the internet and elsewhere, it’s very hard to come across something truly unique. But then I’m always impressed and touched by images that have captured a special moment, an unseen angle or a distilled feeling and are crafted absolutely beautifully.
Having left Redwood and remained working in Toronto on a freelance Creative Director basis, I understand that you are now consulting for Fox Mobile. What do you see as the future for photography within this field?
It’s a very exciting area to be in. The technology is amazing. Soon we will be able to see everything we see on other platforms, be it movies, DVD, online, TV, print etc, on our handheld Mobile phones anywhere we go! Photography will play a very important part in capturing people’s attention in this short and small space. People are hit with thousands of images and messages everyday. This will be yet another vehicle competing for our attention. The role of the photographer will remain to capture the most arresting moments and bring stories to life in a powerful and visually compelling way. I’ve always thought that the best photographers are really great editors, visual editors of what we see.
With all your experience can you spare a little advice for a freelance photographer hoping to get commissioned today?
I know it sounds like a cliché but it’s true: be yourself, be the best, be brave and be bold. I’d add to this that it’s important to be open-minded and always be receptive to learn new things from others and from what’s around us.
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