Harbutt is a photojournalism brat. She is the daughter of Charles
Harbutt, one of the most distinguished photographers who contributed
to magazines in the last half century. She grew up knowing photographers,
and listening to their stories. In 1989 she went to work for Kathy
Ryan, the photo editor of the New York Times Magazine and learned
her craft as a picture editor there.
Two years ago, she was hired by Newsweek, which had been going
through a terrible indenty crisis regarding photography. Morale was,
as Dan Rather would say "lower than a snake's belly on a hot
appointment coincided with the formation of the Editorial Photographers
group, an online discussion forum that was trying to raise photographer's
day rates. She was able to accommodate the photographer's pleas to
raise the day rate from $400 to $500.
Sarah has found herself in the cross-hairs of an industry in transition.
In the meantime, she has to get out a magazine, and field photographers.
The Digital Journalist interviewed her in the Newsweek offices
on West 57th street. Less than an hour before our interview, there
had been an anthrax scare in their offices. Neverthleless, Sarah,
gave us an hour of time to talk to talk about what interests her most
a Gallery of Pictures
from Newsweek Magazine
a freelance photographer must do... has changed..."
the supposed demise of photo departments.
energy in my department is so alive..."
how Newsweek uses its resources for photography
the types of shooter that she's looking for:
"Someone who can push the limits..."
agencies have gone into a business climate which does
not reflect photographers rights or authorship or needs.
the Newsweek staff dinners:
"It's a wonderful moment
to talk about ideas..."
I would resist the temptation to polarize...
I would encourage bridge building."
TDJ: Please tell us about yourself, and your attitude towards what
is going on in photojournalism today.
SH: I worked for 12 years at the New York Times Magazine under
Kathy Ryan, an extraordinary photo editor and I watched her cultivate
the NY Times Magazine under four different editors and in the course
of that, she chipped away at the way photography was used, the authorship
of the photographer, the rights of the photographer, and has created
a magazine that is exceptional on those scores in the world of magazine
photography, so with that as my professional lesson, I come to Newsweek
very much in the frame of mind that the world of photojournalism
that I would like to create is something that I need to work on,
to create myself. Its not something that is going to be handed
to me. Its not something that exists in the world, and I think
that this is very much the posture I would ask everyone to take.
The freelance photographers who have developed VII are developing
that. A world of agents although there is no particular
agent at VII
an agency that is of their own design,
that speaks to the photographers needs, speaks to the rights
of their work, their authorship of their work, and can move forward
in the industry, blazing a trail for the kind of utopian world that
we all want for photojournalism.
I think that a lot has changed in America, not just photojournalism.
I think the magazines have changed
the numbers of magazines
. the magazines that can survive in this economy
have changed, and therefore what a freelance photographer must do
to meet those challenges has changed. Existing in the kind of isolation
that a freelance photographer used to have is no longer acceptable.
What that does is breed a sense of alienation, an us versus
them and misunderstanding of what happens within the magazine,
a misunderstanding of the mission of the magazine, a misunderstanding
of their role within that relationship with the magazine, and that
ignorance can create enormous hostility which is not helpful. So
I think by getting involved, and getting informed and connecting
to the authorship of your work, whether it is Richard Drews
picture of people jumping out of the World Trade Center or Jerome
Delays work out of Pakistan, that its not just wire
service photography, but that the photographer behind the lens is
a name, an author, and has a signature on their work, and this too
is something that is new for wire service photojournalism. It is
investing oneself in the business as well as the work of photography
at magazines and thats new, and I think very exciting, and
very good for people.
Now it goes one step further, in that the photojournalists who are
able to also make a mark for themselves in the art world have enhanced
their prestige and power and strength within photojournalism even
more, so if Eddie Keating is showing at a gallery, they increase
value to their work, their eye, their signature, and that is new
for the masses, that is new.
TDJ: Thats really interesting. If you look at Perpignan in
the last couple of years the wires have really emerged, and are
doing a great job.
SH: Its the wires and the newspapers
the two groups that
have staff jobs.
TDJ: Lets jump to September 11th, which was a watershed in
many ways. We have been saying at The Digital Journalist the last
couple of years that photojournalism as we know it, is dead
the demise of Life, the change of the big newsmagazines from news
to lifestyle issues. At some magazines the picture department was
like a morgue; then with September 11th, photographers responded
just like police, fire and EMS people did. They did some of the
best work in their lives. Then the pictures came to the magazines.
And the magazines got back to their business of journalism. Can
you comment on this?
SH: Yes, I have two thoughts. First the photo department at Newsweek
has not been a morgue. It has been incredibly charged in the last
two years. I think Newsweek, unlike Time was coming out of
the effects of Digital Journalism, and coming out from under the
death of Maynard Parker, who had been the spirit of Newsweek
for about 20 years. Under the leadership of a young editor, Mark
Whitaker, we were faced with the challenge to reinvent Newsweek
in a very different climate than had existed in the 1970s. However,
in the 1970s, Newsweek still did a cover on the wedding of
Luke and Laura in General Hospital so the concept that Newsweek
is suddenly doing cultural news is not well grounded. Newsweek
has always straddled the ground between cultural news, and what
people call hard news in foreign arenas. September 11th
shook America, not just newsmagazine editors. It shook America and
I think for the newsweeklies, who have always had the interests
of the American population at heart
those are readers
4 million readers. They are not New York City residents, they are
Americans, and trying to speak to their interests, to respond to
their curiosities, and speak to their needs, is what newsmagazines
do to survive
thats your audience
you are speaking to, so I think what happened September 11th is
that the whole country was shock, and the whole country started
to look at events beyond our borders, that seemed irrelevant prior
to September 11th. The FBI, the CIA suddenly found themselves short
of intelligence outside of our borders in areas that were suddenly
critical. That will be reflected in what the newsmagazines cover.
How the event shaped the photography in particular, I think is that
Newsweek instituted a feature called a thousand words
a couple of months ago. The premise behind it is that there were
images that tell a story better than words that can convey the impact
of a story better than words. So Newsweek had been committed
to its photography well before September 11th. The September 11th
events were visual. The number of witnesses will recount the image
of people falling from the tower
the fact that the fall took
so long, that you could watch the person leap, look away, turn back,
and still see them falling, falling, falling, their tie rippling
in the wind, a detail that you will never, ever be able to erase
from your mind. Thats visual. The theatricality of the event,
the enormity of this event, is visual not verbal. It was a story
that defied words. It could only be told in pictures. The data is
contained in a couple of paragraphs, but the visual theatricality,
drama, trauma, the horror, is all-visual. Its been a long
time since America has had a story that relevant to itself. It was
all of America that was focused on America, not just the news magazines.
TDJ: Do you think this is a passing thing, or will we go back to
predominantly cultural issues?
SH: Thats hard to answer, because the question is really:
how is America going to respond to this? Does America goes back
to business as usual? Is America going to go back to its television
programs? Personally I think America has been profoundly changed
and I dont think the events of September 11th are over, and
may not be over for a very long time. Certainly, for those of us
in New York City, its going live with us as a wound. Its
going to take them a year just to remove the debris. The stench
of downtown Manhattan is like living in a crematorium. Its
disturbing. The anthrax scares are terribly alarming. People are
moving out of New York City. Poeple are changing the way they live
their lives, the way they do business. Some are seeking greater
isolation by working at home, others are seeking community. Its
impossible to predict how America will recalibrate its sense of
self after these events, and I think the newsweeklies will try to
stay in touch with that, and reflect those shifts, rather then being
some sort of authority that is dictating what should America should
be reading about. Its more a relationship with the American
reader, reflecting back and enhancing their interests, so I think
that is a difficult thing to predict.
When I arrived at Newsweek two years ago, I was able to pull
together a team, very much along the lines of what Grazia Neri is
wishing for. Incredible enthusiasm for photography, for great pictures,
for getting a great picture published, and as each of these new
staff members have been able galvanize the whole department in this
quest, suddenly, we are able to work much more in concert with the
text editors about telling the story. I think for magazines that
are typically led by text editors, becoming comfortable with the
subjective world of photography, and a news environment where they
are hoping to be objective is a very interesting process. It is
a process of gaining trust and respect, communicating, articulating
the power of a photograph in words to win inch by inch your way
back up to a respectable position. Im speaking because I love
photography. I look at Newsweek and I see two thirds of the
magazine is photographic. Text editors dont look at the magazine
that way. They see the magazine as text, and the photographs are
decorations. Thats a point of view. There are two points of
view that need to be negotiated within the magazine. The more successful
that relationship is, the more successful the magazine. The photography
the text is enhanced, and then the magazine is
enhanced. I think that has probably always been true. There are
letters from Walker Evans to his editor at Fortune, complaining
about the poor use of photography in the magazine, the design, the
picture clutter and they dont speak to each other and now
its 60 years later, and the newsmagazines have the same debate.
In some ways, I am hesitant to say anything is dead, partly because
the energy in my department is so alive. My enthusiasm is great,
and the potential of Newsweek is extraordinary.
TDJ: We hear about the atmosphere at Newsweek, the open newsroom,
which is how people get ideas and energy, but we still come to the
problem about how we are going to pay for all this. In this climate,
with advertising reduced, how are you going to find the resources
to pay for what promises to be a very expensive period ahead?
SH: I think that I am very lucky to work for the Washington Post
Company, and the Graham family. They are not AOL. When September
11th hit, and so many of the advertisers pulled their advertising
from the magazine, they put out four issues, two special issues,
Johnson and Johnson helped with one. Thats
a commitment to journalism. Thats not a commitment to bottom
they went the distance
they felt they had great stories
to tell, with great photography, and we felt we could do it, and
we did do it. The magazines left a vapor trail on the newsstands,
so I think Katherine Graham was a maverick, and I was enormously
proud to have worked for her while she was alive. Her family has
taken on that baton
they are deeply committed to news and journalism,
and I think in some ways that enhances Newsweeks ability
to ride this out. Of course, we have to be careful. We have to make
sure that the photography that is produced is very pointed and directed,
that we are not spending money shooting tangents to stories that
are not absolutely necessary. That forces the whole magazine to
be much more organized, much more pointed in its direction each
its a fantastic response to news, to respond this
quickly in a weekly
. its almost like improvisational
you respond instantly and you are only as good as those
instincts, so to keep that alive, to keep the urgency, and the intensity
of Newsweek alive, we will continue to shoot, but we have
to be very careful. We have to make sure we are not overpaying.
We are going to have to let a few things go by us. Were going
to have to realign our resources to tap wire
photography more, we can do that skillfully, by tapping wire photographers
who we think are very strong, like Jerome Delay who I mentioned
a phenomenal photographer, that pushes the limits of
how to see the story, and that makes it very exciting to follow
to cover your bases in a different way. Rather than
have 17 photographers scattered around Afghanistan, assuming they
will be our only sources of strong work, we say, OK, so Jeromes
whos there? and
what we can be counting on from those sources? And how do we supplement
it? And who do we send in that will really make it special, that
will ratchet it up a notch of coverage
. to make it unique
to Newsweek and give it that voice and signature, to make
different from what everyone else is doing? I think that will enhance
TDJ: What do you look for in a photographer these days?
SH: Well, like the example of Jerome Delay, I am looking for someone
who can push the limits on how you can visually tell a story, as
opposed to a neutral, objective distance from the subject or a graphic
alignment of a story. You see it when you are editing, its
what you expected the picture to look like. It confirms your preconceived
notion of what the picture should be
thats the kind of
photography you want to stay away from. I want to push it to a point
where somebody could give me either another way of seeing it
reality or something that challenges my preconceived notion of what
it should like, not just same war, different year. Each thing is
unique, so I need to find that. I need to find the person who is
going to see it in a unique way.
TDJ: Where do you find those photographers coming from?
SH: There is not one source
thats what is so fantastic
about it. It could be a portraitist, like Jonathan Torgovnik. I
ran into him in Perpignan, and he said he was interested in doing
well he did September 11th for us, and did a
lot of the interiors that ran in the magazine of the office spaces
that were spectacular. He has continued on [assignment], has gone
to Fort Bragg and he is continuing [to do] the story for us. But
he was somebody that I would not have expected this from
stylized portrait photographer. So it could be a video artist
still life photographer
anybody who is going to stop for a
moment and say this is interesting, look at this! This is
interesting, who would have expected that? Thats what
I want! Otherwise were confirming the obvious and not challenging
the reader or ourselves.
TDJ: Where is the convergence? It seems like photographers are going
down one side, and corporations, like Getty and Corbis are going
down another path. How do you see a resolution eventually that brings
photographers and magazines back in synch?
SH: I think this is an area where we have to trail blaze. The conglomeration
of American publishing is the conglomeration of American business.
Its not unique to editorial photography or editorial news
magazines. Its part of a phenomenon of what is happening globally
in business. How we respond, how we maintain individuality, authorship,
rights, fair pay, all of that is something we need to negotiate
and navigate as we go. I think the folks that started the agency
VII [have created] the agency with that in mind. The role of an
agent has changed tremendously in the last 20 years, and all the
people that have been involved of the negotiation of day rates to
where they are now, all of their roles are changing, the photographers
role, the agents role
all that is changing. It used to
be that a newsmagazine could call Sygma or Gamma, and they would
put 5 photographers on. Thats gone. There is no more delegating
like that. If I call Gamma it is because I want Noel Quidu to go
into Belgrade for us. So thats changed the ownership of the
its come back to the magazine, and back to
the photographer. The personal relationship is between the magazine
and the photographer, and the agent has gone somewhere else
so have most of the agencies. The agencies have gone into a business
climate which does not reflect photographers rights or authorship
or needs, so in the vacuum that has been created by that, the relationship
has to be forged between the photographer and the photo editor,
and on up. They are a signature, as much as any guest writer is
a signature. The more they are engaged in that process, the more
they engaged in what happens within the magazine
what the interests
are of the magazine, the better they will be able to navigate that
relationship and decide whether or not they want to continue that
relationship if those needs are not mutual. For the staff that I
have in the photo department its the same thing. I may not
have these people for 20 years. I may have them for 2 years as they
go into a creative arc into their next phase, but during the 2 years
they are present, they challenge, and stimulate, and push the visual
potential of Newsweek even further, which is fantastic and
all I ask. I just have to keep that roster up so I am constantly
tapping talent like that, talent and energy, so it doesnt
become a bankers job. I think you will find a lot of people
at the newsmagazines that have been doing the same task for 20 years.
At some point that has to be like shoveling coal
who are doing the same tasks every day, whether its the White
House, the Rose Garden, whatever, the same thing, day after day
shoveling coal. Well, thats what we are sorting out now, you
know, its got to change.
TDJ: Explain to me the Friday night dinner process. I think it says
something about the way you work.
SH: Newsweek years ago started hosting a staff dinner at
our Top Of The Week cafeteria. Its a candlelit
dinner with white linens and silverware. Its a fabulous meal,
and I think that basically the intention is to encourage staffers
to eat dinner in house; I think it was probably for budgetary concerns,
to keep the prices down, also the lengths of dinners down on closing
day. But we were also invited to invite guests, and this is something
the photo department does fairly regularly. The wonderful thing
about these dinners is that there is no hierarchy. You can sit down
at the same table with tech support and the Managing Editor. It
is a wonderful mix of people engaged in different parts of the magazines
production. I have had several dinners there with my department,
where we will be talking about something we produced that week,
and trying to jigger it, because it had been done so quickly
had three different photographers and we were playing with it in
our heads, and we were talking about it, and we decided the better
way to go would be to take one photographers work, and tell
that whole story with the one photographers work, so I bolted
from dinner, ran downstairs, to the art department, and started
tearing up the layouts, to show it in this other way, and it is
the way we went. But the moment we had a chance to relax and discuss
creatively what we were producing for the magazine that week was
at that dinner. We have had photographers come in, agency editors
. its a wonderful moment to talk about ideas, about
projects, to get to know each other, to break bread together, to
enhance a sense of community and accessibility between the photographer
and the magazine.
TDJ: Do you have anything you would like to add to this?
SH: I guess the thing I would want to say to people who have looked
to me and to Newsweek as sort of a stone-faced arbiter on
the industry, that it is a process
a fluid process we are engaged
in. A lot of things are changing now
industrially, politically, and culturally
given that a lot
of photographers are going to have a hard time
a lot of photographers
have always had a hard time. There have been great photographers
that have a hard time. I would resist the temptation to polarize
those of us at the magazines, both in the picture department and
editorially, versus those that are freelance. I would encourage
bridge building and not the polarization of the two camps, because
I think that creates the paranoia, distrust and malcontent, which
is not necessary.
TDJ: Who builds bridges with whom?
SH: I think it is a mutual thing. EP (The Editorial Photo List)
has built enormous bridges within the photographic community by
exchanging information, not always accurate but creating a community
for the once completely isolated freelance photographers. I was
married to a freelance photographer. I know how isolating it is.
It is all word of mouth, gossip and rumor, and feeds on itself,
and people feel they are being left out and not considered, and
dropped, and it gets to a pitch where tempers are very short. So
I think none of these magazines consider themselves picture magazines.
Not a one! So, we are dealing with that too, and I think that to
assume a spirit of amity and not a spirit of abuse, and if you dont
like the way something is being handled, you yank your stuff
yank your stuff! It has to be that clear, instead of not yanking
it, and getting mad. Its a process.
an email to Sarah Harbutt
a Gallery of Pictures
from Newsweek Magazine