Last month, we started a discussion about the problems picture editors face in this period of redefining photojournalism for print. Photographers have been uncomfortably aware, for the last five years, that major changes in publishing are having an impact on their very livelihoods. However, many photographers fail to realize that the people who are associated with giving them the bad news, are themselves being pressured by the publisher, and the dreaded bean counters.
Something has definitely been happening in this arena. To begin to understand the dimensions of the problem, I would like to illustrate how some of these changes have affected both photographers and editors.
Throughout my career as a photojournalist I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have had my skills tested and shaped by great picture editors.
The first of these, is a man named Charlie McCarty. In 1954, McCarty met a 17 year old kid who managed to convince LIFE Magazine to send him off on assignment to Guatemala, where a revolution was raging.
On my way to Latin America, I passed through Dallas. I needed to check out my new Leicas, just purchased with my first advance from LIFE, so I decided to visit the Dallas Times Herald photo department. It was run by a feisty picture editor for United Press, Charlie McCarty. Surely, Mr. McCarty could do me the favor of processing my film.
Bemused by my audacity--between the film processing, and the major assignment from LIFE--he offered me a job, if I ever wanted to move to Dallas.
In 1957, I was back. During the next three years, McCarty took a little bit of talent, and a lot of chutzpah, and turned me into a working news photographer. He did it by mercilessly taking apart every assignment I shot. Some days I went home in tears. But when I got it right, he made sure that not only I, but everyone at the paper knew it. One year, when I desperately wanted to go home to New York for Christmas, he really challenged me. He said that if I could get a picture on the front page of the New York Daily News--the yardstick by which UPI judged their success--he would give me a week off. I took the challenge. I found an orphanage, and shot a picture of infant twins, under a tree, using a side flash. Sure enough, it made the Daily News front. I went home for Christmas.
McCarty, over the years, probably produced
more good news photographers than anyone I can think of. He was really
tough. After the years of working for him, I was drafted, and found that
as loud, and as hard, as those drill instructors were, no one could ever
At UPI in New York, there was a legend that sat behind the editor's desk. His name is Larry DeSantis. Larry LOVED pictures, and loved to create good photographers. Because we knew how much he wanted us to be the best, we took every tirade he had, over our shortcomings, with determination to get it right the next time.
Larry's boss was Ted Majeski, a bear of a man, who was the Managing Editor of UPI photos. He was an avid fan of the theater and movies, as well as the news. Every chance he got he would send me out to do features on the latest news in show business. At one point, he actually gave me six weeks to do an essay on Andy Warhol and the exploding youth culture of the '60s. He then talked LOOK Magazine into devoting an entire issue, including the cover, to displaying the photos.
For this kind of support, I would work
night and day. There was no schedule--just keep working.
Somewhere along the line, I was introduced to John Durniak, who had just become picture editor of TIME MAGAZINE. John had the weird idea that he could turn a mainly text publication into the finest photo magazine in the world. He started to amass a stable of photojournalists who could help him do just that. Not only did he put me under contract, but also Eddie Adams, Bill Pierce, Carl Mydans, Ralph Morse, David Rubinger, David Hume Kennerly, along with a constant stream of assignments to the best in the business.
John would fight for pictures and spreads on a daily basis. When he was having trouble convincing the editors, his face would break out in red hives. Often, he would keep photographers in the field working on projects long after he been told by the top editors to bring them home.
John Durniak was not the easiest man in
the world to work for. On three separate occasions I quit--once in tears.
This happened after John was told by the editors to cancel a cover story
on the U.S. Navy. It was a story that I had been working on, around the
world, for a month. At the risk of his job, John stormed into the managing
editor's office, and somehow convinced Ray Cave to continue working on
the project. It was one of TIME's better stories that year.
The quality that these photo editors have in common was a sense of mission. It was the pictures that were important, and the photographers that produced them had to be motivated, supported, and protected at all costs.
McCarty, DeSantis, and Durniak, were mentors in the true sense of the word. They produced stories and photographers.
The environment in which these picture editors worked, through the'70s, was a far different one from what we find today. The priority shared throughout the editorial chain was to produce the best work. Everyone was always over budget, and the only question was, how bad was it going to be by the end of the year. Then there would be a new budget, bigger than the one before.
Today, the priorities, have by and large, been turned inside out. The most important job the picture editor has, is to administer the department. The budget is all important. This leads inevitably to starting the year out with maximum restraint in order to husband funds for the unexpected big stories that always pop up--generally before the first quarter is over. From that point forward, it is a game of constant cutback, to try to make it through the year, only to be confronted by an even smaller budget after the New Year.
These editors try their best to sponsor a few really good projects each year, but the operative word is "few." The constant meetings with the bean counters sap their energy. The introduction of new photographers is seen as a threat to the few who manage to hang on in a working relationship.
The focus of maintaining the budget isolates the picture editor from the real editorial process of the paper or magazine. No longer seen as an editorial idea creator, the picture editor starts to be shutout of the budget meetings for the editorial content of the next edition.
The mentoring relationship between the editor and photographer is the prime casualty in this process. It is hard to teach someone how to fly the plane when you are running out of gas.
This month, our contributing editor, Marianne Fulton, reviews the new book GET THE PICTURE. It is written by one of the great picture editors of all time, John G. Morris.
After reading descriptions of a picture editor and a photographer working as a team, to produce some of the most important journalism of our century, I think you would find many of today's editors and photographers despairing over what has been lost.
Next month, in the conclusion of this thread, we will look at some picture editors who are still managing to cope. They are not only coping, they are producing outstanding photojournalism. We will speculate on ways picture editors and photographers, together, can lay the ground work for a revival of their important relationship.
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