Simon Esterson - Art Director, Eye magazine
Your design career is vast - please tell us about it.
I seem to specialise in editorial projects: magazines and newspapers. I helped start Blueprint, the monthly design magazine, in the 1980s. From 1996-2000 I was art director of The Guardian and I've also worked on the Italian architecture magazine Domus and projects like the redesign of the New Statesman.
You work at Eye (a quarterly graphic design magazine) and Esterson Associates (an editorial design consultancy) - what does a typical day involve for you?
Eye (editor John L. Walters and Hannah Tyson the managing director) shares space with our studio Esterson Associates. In the studio we've got redesign projects going on, while we also design every edition of some of our magazines. For these we commission photography and illustration and manage the pages through design to final repro and print.
What influences you in your role as an art director?
I love magazines and magazine history so I'm always flicking through magazines in newsagents, second hand shops or looking at them online. But I'm also very influenced by art and film. We work for the Tate gallery and I used to design the British Film Institute's magazine Sight and Sound.
What is your personal relationship with photography?
I'm a terrible photographer, so I'm always in awe of somebody who can really take pictures. I think some art directors want to tell a photographer what to do, exactly what the pictures should look like. I try not to work like that. For me the important decision is the initial one: who you ask to do the job. Then you try to clear the path and let them get on with it and achieve the best result.
What makes a photographer's work stand out for you?
I like the pictures to be bold and original. But it's as much about what a photographer's like to work with: how much energy they put into the project. I like building up a relationship over a long term, rather than lots of one-off , one chance commissions. I've worked with Phil Sayer on portrait and reportage projects for over 25 years.
Does photography ever lead the design?
Good photography certainly does and in magazines it often determines how many pages a feature will get. For a magazine layout you begin with the story and the pictures. The design's a narrative which should play out over the pages of the layout. The picture editing is central to the layout and sequence.
What kind of photography makes it onto the pages of the magazines you work on?
For our studio magazine projects we commission portraits by photographers like Jillian Edelstein and Suki Dhanda. At Domus we did a lot of architectural projects with experts like Richard Bryant and Red Saunders. Eye commissions some portraits and reportage but its main role is to showcase and talk about the best examples of photography (and design and illustration) from around the world. So we show photographers' projects (we've featured Robert Polidori's pictures of New Orleans and Chernobyl) or talk to people like Kathy Ryan at the New York Times Magazine about their approach to photography.
What do you think makes a photographer successful?
For me it's good pictures and if they're good to work with. But there's lots of different measures of success. I work in editorial, which I suspect is very different to advertising.
Eye magazine is very design-led - how does this differ for photographers more used to working on mainstream magazines?
For Eye we have a small budget but we think it's a very good platform to have your work seen on. We're interested in seeing people's projects.
How should a photographer approach you?
Just send me some work or an email.
What are your top tips for photographers trying to get commissioned?
Find out a little about the person or magazine you are approaching. Don't mail or turn up cold knowing nothing about the publication you're taking to.
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