Images that Sell

by Marianne Fulton

"Images that Sell" was the name of a panel at Fotofusion, the large undertaking of the Palm Beach Workshop. The original panel consisted of Jimmy Colton, picture editor of Sports Illustrated, who previously served as executive vice president and general manager of SIPA Press, and was senior photo editor of international news and director of photography of Newsweek magazine; Pete Cross, assistant managing editor for photography at the Palm Beach Post; Dieter Steiner, retired from a long career in photojournalism including Keystone agency, International News Photos, UPI, and 25 years at Stern magazine as picture editor, and Robert Stevens, associate photography editor at Time. His years at the magazine have always been in international news.

The Digital Journalist requested that the subject be taken up again and the result was straight talk on magazines and how to approach editors with the additional informative discussion on digital photography and its influence on the market. In this session Horst Faas stepped in to discuss the Associated Press' impact on a changing world.

Faas began at Keystone agency (with Dieter Steiner) 50 years ago. He joined AP in 1955 as a photographer, winning two Pulitzer Prizes, and is now the AP's senior European photo editor based in London.

The first and recurring advice to photographers was "Do your homework." This covered a wide range of topics, such as, why do you want to be a photographer, know whom you are approaching, both the editor and the magazine.

Dieter Steiner said that when a photographer came into his office and said "Here's my portfolio, what do you want?" Steiner knew that there were other photographers he should be talking to instead. The magazine editors agreed that it was much better to be approached with a great idea or solid portfolio than open-ended questions and requests to be sent somewhere exciting.

Jimmy Colton was quite clear on portfolios. There is no one all-purpose group of photographs. What one would show Sports Illustrated is not the group with which to approach Time. [Do your homework.] Sports Illustrated has the "Leading Off" section that Colton pointed out wasa good way to make contact with the magazine. Intriguing and unusual photographs having "something" to do with sport are encouraged and considered.

Colton and Stevens reiterated that the photographer must find out the closing days of the magazine and avoid those times for making contact. The staffs at the magazine are in high gear and cannot stop to talk on the phone to a prospective photographer.

The ability to make a fine portrait in many lighting conditions and environments will eventually find the photographer a place in the business, Colton said. He looks for high quality portraits and an ability to do feature stories when he goes through a portfolio. Robert Stevens, too, is interested in the photo stories presented at Time.

Not every editor is the same; Dieter Steiner wants to have the photographer present as he goes through the work. He is also wary of portfolios and how they are constructed. Steiner said he much prefers proof sheets so he can see the photographer thinking and how the choice of finished image was made.

The Associated Press receives many applications every day. The main concern for Horst Faas, besides picture quality, is reliability. Can the photographer deliver the image swiftly? Do they have digital equipment with which to transmit? There are cases where equipment is supplied to an outside person, particularly a proven photographer living in a country where he or she cannot possibly buy the correct equipment for AP's needs. Faas looks for maturity and the ability to handle any situation. Inexperience with the many kinds of conflict that can turn up and a "hotshot" mentality can put the photographer at great risk and even cause death.

The next two subjects discussed were captions and working out-of-country. Captions would seem to be simple enough but all the panelist agreed that if they themselves have to do all the background checks because a photo comes in marked "Bosnia," the photo may well be dropped and the photographer given a warning. At AP the captions are delivered with the data package. Any pertinent material missing makes the image unusable. Faas added that if a photographer editorializes and does not heed the editor's warning to stick to the facts that person will no longer work for the organization.

Many photographers approach editors wishing to be sent to a hot spot in global news. Sometimes they want to live in Africa or India where something newsworthy happens frequently.

Both Faas and Stevens agreed that they do not "send" photographers for that reason. Robert Stevens pointed out that a photographer could call him before or after the trip and talk about his aims. On return Stevens speaks to the photographer by phone to get a sense of the work brought back. At one point Stevens said he would like to pay more if someone would turn up with a good non-violent take on a foreign situation.

AP generally hires in country. Faas said that AP and other news bureaus such as Reuters have many more photographers. The AP has multiplied its bureaus and sub-bureaus in most countries. In India, for example, Faas explained that for years AP had only two photographers for all of India. If something happened in another place they would miss the story. Now they have sixteen photographers and more bureaus so they can get to the site of a news event faster than other agencies. With photographers living in the country who know the political situation and speak the language, the process is speeded up considerably. Each photographer in the field has enormous responsibilities with the switch to digital imagery and transmission. The photographer makes the photographs, edits the work, adds the full caption, codes the image for regional, national or international delivery and sends it.

Robert Stevens works with contract photographers on big stories, such as, the President's appearances and trips while he uses AP and others for hot news. Stevens's remarks combined with Horst Faas's description of faster, high-quality delivery and multiplying photographers around the globe puts a whole new face on the photojournalism of today. As Faas put it, "the culture of news photography has changed because of technology," including the use of video in this assessment. He reiterated that "speed and equipment dominate production today."

The word "dominate" is key here. It implies that smaller agencies are moving out of breaking news or out of business altogether and we have seen this begin to happen. Speed has historically been the prime mover in the advancement of technology for photojournalism and newspaper printing. Speed of film emulsion, speed and adaptability of the camera, speed of the photographer to the location and subsequent transmission or delivery of image to the organization's office, all these aspects have been taken for granted and improved upon. Now with instant editing and transmission in the field, groups of news photographers fall by the wayside.

This method of work does not as yet affect Sports Illustrated and some other periodicals. However, speed has pulled competitive organizations along in its wake for the 100 years of photojournalism. Only those who anticipate its power control it and move ahead of the pack. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

Marianne Fulton
Contributing Editor

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