The Photo Editors Series are conversations with well-known photo editors about how they view the media today, the role of visuals in reporting, the work they like to see, and advice for photographers on how best to connect with publishers.
In this event, hosted by David Campbell and Ilvy Njiokiktjien, the series will combine an overview of the contemporary media landscape with practical tips. The editors in the series speak as individuals rather than representatives of their organizations.
In this fourth episode, we speak with Andrea Wise, Visual Editor at ProPublica.
David Campbell: So welcome to this VII Insider event, our latest installment in the Photo Editor Series. It’s great to have Andrea Wise as our guest today. Andrea is a visual editor at ProPublica and co-founder of Diversified Photo. So thanks for joining us, Andrea.
Andrea Wise: Yeah, thanks for having me.
David Campbell: Tell us a little bit about your background and passage to being an editor because a lot of people usually have very different career paths to get to that. How did you get to being an editor? And what were the steps along the way?
Andrea Wise: Yeah, um, I think my path kind of started, I’ve always been really curious about people. People have always sort of confounded me. And I’ve always been curious why people do the things that they do and how they end up kind of in the positions that they’re in. So when I started college, I thought that I was going to, you know, kind of crack the human code by studying psychology and neuroscience. And then in my final year of college, I got into photography and it felt like a whole world kind of opened up to me. So after I graduated, I started interning and freelancing as a photojournalist and I really loved it. But I got to a point where I started to feel sort of stagnant in my career. And I was, you know, in some ways, largely self-taught at that point. So I decided to go back to school. And while I was in grad school, I noticed that all of my classmates would come back from the field and they’d be like, Oh, I don’t want to sit in front of the computer and edit all day. And I was like, I don’t want to go out into the field, I just want to look at pictures and build the stories and construct the narratives. And so I had a lot of really wonderful professors, but one in particular, Mike Davis, really became a really critical mentor of mine. And yeah, so I kind of made the switch in grad school. I was totally freaked out and was like, Ah, how do I become a photo editor and Deb Pang Davis, who was also one of my mentors, one of my professors, was like, well change your website to say that you’re now an editor. Start editing classmates’ work and you know, start a blog and write about photography and just start doing kind of the thing. And so then I got a— my first photo editing job was with a startup right out of school. That was really intense, just sort of like the Silicon Valley tech thing. But I got to meet a lot of photographers and then I freelanced for a number of years as a photo editor at a bunch of places like Newsweek and most recently, National Geographic, before starting this current staff position at ProPublica. So I’ve been at ProPublica for about a year and a half. And that has been my path. Yeah.
David Campbell: Were there any particular courses in grad school covering editing that you did? Or was it editing kind of a skill that you picked up along the way, like other people pick it up along the way?
Andrea Wise: It was sort of a mixture of both. So I studied photography at Syracuse University in the Communication School, and it’s a very interdisciplinary and kind of flexible program. One of the things I loved about it is that they really tailor the curriculum on a course-wide level and like at a specific level within each course to the interests of each specific student. So I was able to take some, like actual picture editing classes with Mike Davis. But also in some of my other classes, I was able to sort of gear those assignments towards editing, instead of, you know, being out in the field photographing.
David Campbell: Yeah. And when you left grad school and then you started working as an editor, what was the biggest difference in working as an editor to kind of what you’d learned in grad school? Or was there no difference? Was it a seamless transition? Were there any surprises when you started working compared to the education?
Andrea Wise: I mean, I think a lot of photographers will probably relate to finding out that you spend a lot of time doing stuff that has nothing to do with photography and a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with editing pictures, you know. In grad school, when you’re studying picture editing, you’re looking at photography all the time, you’re sequencing images, you’re talking about projects and all of that stuff. And in some ways that becomes maybe like 30% or 40% of my day, if I’m lucky. But you know, a lot of time is just spent on thinking about projects and kind of the journalism side of it and also the corporate desk job part of it, the admin stuff, the communicating with colleagues, the figuring out if drafts have landed, all of that kind of stuff. I think a lot of photographers think that photo editing, and I definitely thought that photo editing was sort of like the cushy version of being a photographer. And I didn’t realize, at least when I was first getting into it, that in a lot of ways, I think it feels a lot more like a corporate desk job that happens to work with photography.
David Campbell: Yeah. Yeah. Many jobs are like that, when you have to send the stuff to the finance people or the HR people or whatever, there’s always that element and so on. That aside, how would you define kind of your major responsibilities in your current role, or recent roles, like at National Geographic and so on? What were the primary responsibilities being a photo editor?
Andrea Wise: Yeah, I mean, my current position is a really exciting and fun one, that’s a little bit of a departure from some of my previous photo editing roles, because it is an interdisciplinary role. The visuals editors at ProPublica work with illustration, we work with animation. We do a lot of cinemagraphs, obviously photography as well. But even within photography, we have a pretty wide range of kind of genres in photography that we work with. So my, yeah, my role involves, basically finding out about investigations that we’re working on, figuring out what visual approach makes sense for that. We have a lot of stories that are investigating things that have taken place in the past. So a lot of stuff can’t be photographed. And sometimes it can be a little challenging to figure out what can be photographed if we feel like photography is, you know, the right thing. That yeah, I mean, I think the biggest thing is just figuring out what the right visual approach is, even if it is working with photography. Is that portraiture, is there an opportunity for reportage? Is this a story that might benefit from somebody working in a special process? Or, you know, is there a particular aesthetic? Or what is kind of the personality of the person that I want to hire for this assignment because, you know, we’re dealing with sensitive, like traumatized sources and I want somebody who’s gonna be able to relate to them in a way that won’t re traumatize them. So there’s a lot of that stuff.
David Campbell: Yeah. I mean, you’ve had interesting experiences coming from the startup through National Geographic to ProPublica, which, as you just said, is really into investigations and kind of deep dives on a lot of stories. How would you characterize the state of the media industry? Big, big question, right. But from your perspective and your experience, because a lot of people, of course, immediately have a negative assessment of the state of media today, as it were, particularly in the place of photography, and that. What’s your sense? And how would you characterize things?
Andrea Wise: I think that it’s a really interesting moment in the industry. I think the industry is definitely changing, obviously, for reasons that everybody here knows about. But I’ve noticed a few shifts that are actually kind of exciting to me. One, I feel like in the last, maybe three or four years, I’ve seen a lot more organizations hiring full time staff editors, which to me feels like—whereas before that I feel like it was there was a lot more reliance on on freelancers. I don’t have data to support this, but it seems to me like it may be a signaling kind of a shift in upper management’s valuing of the work that we do and wanting to invest in it internally. So that’s exciting for folks who want to be editors. And I think that’s exciting for photographers, because, you know, the more you have editors and people making visual decisions who are not always editors, inside organizations, you know, the more likely you are as a photographer to have somebody who’s going to bat for you inside and who’s you know, who understands what fair rates are and like what fair contract terms are and stuff like that. I also think that I’m really excited about the kind of Instagram, Tik Tok, influencer space. So, I’m logged into Instagram yesterday and got a little pop up from Instagram saying, you know, if you make reels you can make up to like $1,200, where you can be paid directly by the platform for making content. I know everybody hates content. But I’m starting to see some photographers building an audience and finding ways to monetize the audience by making their own content that might not be making money off the photographs themselves, but it might be making informational reels or tiktoks about how to do photography. So I feel like there’s a lot of, there are, I feel like I’m seeing opportunities within sort of legacy media organizations that feel like they’re maybe growing in some ways, even if kind of slowly. But I also feel like I’m seeing a lot of opportunities for photographers to make money without being reliant on some of those sorts of industry gatekeepers.
David Campbell: Yeah. Yeah. Good. I mean, in many ways, thinking also about broader issues in photography, I mean, it has had, or at least, should have had kind of a reckoning of late, post Me Too scandals, questions of diversity, lack of diversity in the industry? I mean, you have a very good perspective, having co-founded Diversify Photo and so on to address some of these things. How do you think the current state of play is in the industry around those questions and issues? Is progress being made? Probably not fast enough if it is, but what’s your assessment?
Andrea Wise: I cannot claim to be an expert in this arena. But I think that I don’t think that we’re really making a lot of progress as an industry. I feel like in a lot of ways we kind of regressed from the 90s or so from what I’ve heard from some mentors, there were, you know, a lot of really successful DEI programs that were getting a lot of people of color and women into newsrooms and creating a lot of opportunities. Those programs were the first things to be cut, as you know, before the entire departments were cut. I feel like there’s such a, there’s so many barriers to entry in this field in terms of, you know, the expensive equipment that you need just to make the work to have a portfolio to get the work that can then pay for the equipment. And I just think it’s really, really difficult. And I also, I don’t know how much this is actually playing out in different organizations and obviously, I can only speak for myself, not speaking on behalf of my employer, but I also think that just the way that, like the affirmative action Supreme Court cases are making their way through the courts is freaking out a lot of people were, you know, how can you create some type of programming that targets people of color or people of the global majority and tries to sort of level the playing field by targeting those opportunities towards people who have been excluded from those opportunities if the laws in the United States, at least, are possibly shifting to say that that very thing is illegal. So it’s, I think it’s really complicated. And I don’t, I feel somewhat discouraged at the lack of progress that I feel like we’ve made. I just, I think we talk about it a lot. But I don’t really feel like we’ve made a lot of strides.
David Campbell: I mean, it’s way too much to expect you to have an answer to this. But what would you like to see as a practical step to get a little bit more progress, do you think?
Andrea Wise: I mean, I do think that there’s progress in that I think individual editors have really great intentions and are I think making hiring decisions that are mindful of the ways that different people’s lived experiences inform what they can bring to an assignment and informed expertise that they might bring to an assignment. I feel like the only thing that any of us can do is sort of leverage whatever power we have in our own little spheres of influence. So if you are an editor and you can, you know, I don’t know if I can say that you can prioritize hiring people from underrepresented backgrounds. I don’t know if that’s legal. But I think considering the totality of experience that somebody brings to an assignment. And that is a combination of your identity and where you grew up. And you know, what kind of stories you’ve worked on. And it’s like a whole mix of things. That’s great. If you’re, you know, if you’re a photographer, I think, if you can’t take an assignment, recommending somebody else, things like that, and just like having conversations with one another.
David Campbell: Yeah. Yeah, in the end, social change is going to be the product of all those tiny little steps culminating in something hopefully. But yeah.
Andrea Wise: Yeah. I mean, the industry is like a little microcosm of the world. And so a lot of the issues that we continue to be experiencing in the industry are also just things that we’re experiencing in society outside the industry, so it’s difficult.
David Campbell: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Kind of getting back to the role of visuals and photography. I mean, do you think when you’re editing that photography has a particular function in storytelling? I mean, clearly, there are moments where it’s simply an illustration, illustrating something, but how would you think about and talk about the particular role of visuals like photography and storytelling?
Andrea Wise: Yeah, I think, I mean, obviously, because I chose this line of work and I’m still doing it, I think it is immensely important. I mean, you know, for my work at ProPublica, for example, we do these, you know, massive investigations. And they are often really, really long reads, with a ton of detail and a lot of statistics and a lot of careful data analysis and really, really important stuff. But it can be really difficult for me, at least, as a visual person to kind of get through and I think it’s difficult for audiences sometimes to get through, you know, a lot of text. And so I think that visuals can serve a few functions. One, in some cases, visuals can be evidence. They can be sort of proof that something happened. We use a lot of visual evidence at ProPublica that is like screenshots of emails, or you know, we call them receipts. So like screenshots of emails that were, you know, some politician sent to someone else talking about something proving that the exchange actually happened. Or, you know, it might be somebody’s hospital bill, or that type of thing that, you know, might not be super exciting as a photograph, but has a lot of like evidentiary kind of informational value. And I think sometimes photojournalism can also bring that if it is, you know, the image showing, you know, this person was at the Capitol on January 6, and then it’s not a matter of I say that I saw this person there. So, there’s that value. I also think that there’s so much distrust in the media that one of the things that I think that photographs of people especially can do is just dispel any sense, you know, if there is suspicion that we’re like making this up or this is not a real person, there’s the like, emotional connection that we hope that people make with people that we’re reporting about. But I also think that there’s just like a certain veracity of like, this is a person that we get with with photography. Sometimes I think it can also be explanatory. I think illustration can be incredibly helpful with sort of making sense of complicated, abstract systems of power and stuff like that. So yeah, I just I think it’s—there are times when visuals can be more illustrating an idea, sometimes the visuals are carrying the idea. Sometimes the visuals are kind of a design element that makes a page more enticing to read. Sometimes the visuals are the thing to read. And I mean, my favorite thing about photography is that you don’t— like it’s very accessible in terms of you don’t need to translate all your captions. It doesn’t matter what whether, you know, it doesn’t matter what your literacy level is. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, like everybody reads photographs and responds to them. And that still I think, is just really magical.
David Campbell: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So let’s have a look at some photographs. You’re gonna share a story with us and explain the story and a bit of the background and some of your decision making process in making the assignment and selecting the images.
Andrea Wise: Yeah, so I will share this story. So, the reporter, Hannah Dreyfus, a really, really talented reporter, had been investigating Liberty University and their mishandling of students reports on sexual assault. So we had a number of sources who were on the record, or some that were off the record, some that were on the record, but had varying levels of comfort level, you know, varying levels of comfort with being identified. You know, everybody had been traumatized in it through their assault, and then re traumatized by the way that the university handled their cases. In some cases, for example, the university fined students who were victims of sexual assault for things like drinking at like underage parties, and like, it’s wild. You should read the story. But it was complicated, because, you know, again, like all this stuff that’s taking place in the past tense. We have, you know, sensitivity with sources, folks were in different places, we had a lot on the photography side, we had a lot of decisions to make. We wanted to show as many of the survivors as we could. We wanted to respect their comfort level with how identifiable they were. We also had a lot of material that we could work with, that was that visual evidencematerial, documents that survivors had of reports that they had made to the university, or, you know, paperwork from therapy sessions afterwards that kind of informs the trauma. So I mean, one of the biggest priorities for me with this was finding a photographer who’s really, really sensitive, who I just, I knew was going to, like, have the right heart in interacting with everyone. And we had discussions about you know, whether— I think there are some times when you want to hire a different photographer in each location and hire as local as possible. And there are other times when you want to have that continuity of a single person who can really get to know the story, who can really connect with everybody who is going everywhere. So we worked with Sarah Blesener, who is one of my favorite photographers. I love her. She just is, she has the best heart and she has the utmost professionalism. She’s just absolutely incredible to work with. And we, so we did send her to all these different places. So, you know, this opener gives a pretty good feel of kind of what we did. We talked about the art direction of obscuring some of the frame, photographing through glass. This is something that Sarah was already doing, and a lot of her personal work, which is also just, I know, we’re going to talk later about, sort of tips for photographers, but I think, you know the more you put your your own personal visual voice in your work that you put out on your website, in your portfolio, the more likely you are to be hired to do the thing that you uniquely do in a really special way. So we had some like, artsy fartsy conceptual reasons for wanting that kind of visual approach. But, you know, we talked about themes of purity culture, which is a really big thing with Liberty University and the Liberty Way, which is this like code of conduct. So anyway, this is the story. We also embedded a lot of this visual evidence. My colleague, Maya Eliahou, who works on our audience team, she did most of the visual evidence stuff. I mean, this is like a catalogue of injuries after one of the survivor’s assaults and yeah, so we had a lot of these.
Andrea Wise: Yes, yes, exactly. So yeah. And then when it came time for the edit, one of the things that they do at National Geographic that I have not seen done as much at other places is a really collaborative editing style. I loved that at NatGeo for almost every story we would get on zoom with the photographer and like, literally edit together side by side or face to face over screen and I just think it’s really powerful, especially for a story like this where the photographer, as well, as the photographer is always the one on the ground, they know more about the story and about the experiences interacting with everybody than I do. So I want to hear from them. And it’s just really nice when you can kind of have that dialogue. So yeah, we worked with Sarah and with Hannah, the reporter, we had some back and forth with some of the sources in terms of there’s, you know, there’s always kind of this like, delicate thing with working with sources who don’t want their identities revealed or who have different comfort levels with being identified. Because obviously we can’t give people that were photographing prior review of—they don’t get to choose which photographs, unless that is like the specific conceit in which we’re working. But we did, in some of these cases, show the photographs to folks to say, you know, are you comfortable with this much of your face showing? Or, you know, is that alright? And in some cases, people, you know, didn’t want us using their photographs. And so we removed those images from the edit and just tried to handle it as sensitively as possible. I will stop screen sharing. And I can put a link to that story in the chat, right? Yeah.
David Campbell: And I think we should also just explain for people outside the US, Liberty University is a particular kind of university. So this is a very strong story, because it’s a very religious university.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. Maybe you can share it in the—
David Campbell: In the chat, yeah. chat.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’d be lovely. Oh, thanks. That’s great.
Andrea Wise: Sarah did a really wonderful job.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, it’s really, really beautiful. I actually read the story a while back and it’s a very strong story with matching images. I think that’s what I like about a story like this, where you actually have people who might not want to be totally shown, but it’s so sensitive the way it was written as well. And then to have matching images. Really, yeah, well done. Beautiful. So, um, I would love to hear some more like practical things about you as a photo editor. And I know there’s a lot of photographers listening in at the moment, I’m sure. So I’m sure Oh, actually, I saw I think there’s a question, some questions coming into the chat as well. But please, everyone, if you have any questions, put them in the q&a if you can. But what I would really like to know is, what kind of stories throughout your career as a photo editor so far, do you personally like working on?
Andrea Wise: Oh, you know, I just, I love variety. I think that’s one of the things that drew me to journalism is I was interested in art and I was interested in psychology. And sometimes I was interested in history, and like, no topic is off limits in journalism and in art. And I just find that variety to be really thrilling. I there, you know, there are times when— I don’t do a ton of news coverage in my current position because we focus on investigative work. So it’s a really different type of work than I’ve done previously. But I do find that sometimes when there’s like, crazy things happening, and it can be really upsetting just because news can be upsetting that having kind of a sense of purpose of like contributing to helping the public understand what’s happening, that can be really gratifying. Of course, it can be really stressful as well. But it can, you know, it can feel really good to feel like you’re sort of part of something and that you’re in a position of helping. I also just always love stories that are about people doing kind of surprising or interesting things. I think that, yeah, I don’t know. I love it all. I love variety. I think I would be really bored if I had to only do one type of thing all the time.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. Yeah, that’s, I think, a really nice part of this job in general, in working in photography. If you’re a photo editor or photographer, we’re always working on different stories. So every day is kind of different in a way, I guess. Yeah. That’s what I love about this as well, actually. So how do you, you were just talking about— I’m actually not sure if we were talking about it before all the people came in to watch, but you said earlier that what you liked about editing is, or that when you were in school that you were really drawn towards the editing and not the photography part as much. I went the other direction. I was like, Ooh, send me outside, I want to. So I’m always struggling with editing, I’m not as, it takes me a long time to make good edits. So I would love to hear some advice, like, how do you edit? How do you— do look at the images on your screen? Do you print them out? Do you like to receive a hundreds of images from photographers? Do you want like a narrow edit? Can you talk a bit about that?
Andrea Wise: Yeah. I mean, it, it depends, obviously, because there’s such a variety of like, you know. I’m gonna edit differently if I’m choosing images for an Instagram post versus for like a book or like a long form read online. I rarely print things out anymore just because it’s not really practical. And I don’t actually have that much space in my messy office. So, I mean, I think that for photographers, if you can get a buddy, and it might be a fellow photographer, just having somebody who has fresh eyes, I do think that it’s valuable in an edit to hear from the photographer, again, who was there who was on the ground, who might be able to provide some extra context about what you’re seeing in a photograph. But it’s also just, it can be also somewhat blinding if like you had specific intent as you were making a photograph that like the photograph may not actually be doing what you were hoping it was doing. And having somebody with fresh eyes who wasn’t there can sometimes say, you know, oh, this frames not actually accomplishing that. But oh, this other frame that maybe you made as an accident, and you thought it was a throwaway frame actually has something really special going on. And I don’t think that you necessarily have to work with like, a formal editor for that. You know, in some ways, I think it might even be really helpful to, like, show images to a significant other, or a friend who’s not in the field at all, because ultimately we’re making our work not for other photographers, we’re making work for the general public in most cases. But yeah, I mean, I loved at NatGeo having every single frame. That was really, really exciting. That’s not practical in kind of quicker turn types of environments. I do tend to like—
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Oh yeah. At Nat Geo you have to send in your whole disc, with all your images, right? Just for the people watching so they know, you send in everything.
Andrea Wise: Every single frame. You can’t delete a single frame. You have to show all your raw files. And that can be really intimidating for photographers. It’s also, you know, the best photographers make a lot of really bad pictures too, so you’re not alone in that.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s, it must be crazy. I remember going to the Nat Geo, to the to the seminar, what’s it called, the—
Andrea Wise: The Storytelling Seminar?
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yes. And I remember they had a video showing at the beginning of the first day, where all the photographers explained what it felt like to them to show their full edit and send the whole disk of images and many of them said it felt like I was standing naked in front of a crowd. It was so like, yeah.
Andrea Wise: Oh, yeah. I mean, we can say, Oh, we’re not judging you. It’s fine. Bla bla, bla, bla, bla. But I would feel incredibly vulnerable. I would be super anxious about that. I think it’s really brave to be able to do that. So—
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah. One hundred percent. But you like going through all the raws like that? Is it not like extremely time consuming as well?
Andrea Wise: I mean, yes, it is. It is, you know, it’s more time consuming. But also, you know, again, I spend so much of my time doing stuff that is not looking at pictures that like anytime I can look at pictures, I’m just happy as, happy as a bee.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: So, what kind of advice do you have for photographers pitching stories in general? What are the do’s and don’ts for the people listening in now?
Andrea Wise: Yeah, so some of the things that I would say I think are things that everybody says but it’s because they’re true. You have to know the audience that you’re pitching to and that means, you know, the publication, but it also means like the specific desk that the editor that you’re pitching to works on. If you’re, if you pitch a sports story to a business editor, there’s not much that they can do. But I also think that you can kind of get around that if you only have, let’s say, one contact at a publication and it’s not the person at the right desk for your story, to say, you know, hey, I have this story, I’m doing this thing. I realize it might not be a fit for what you do. But could you direct me to the right person at your publication? Or, you know, do you have any ideas about who else I might be able to talk to or other places that I might be able to pitch? I think the biggest thing with pitching is communicating, I think communicating succinctly what the story is, why it matters, why it needs to be told, probably why it needs to be told now. Because even if it’s not like a hard news thing, if there is some urgency, it just helps move things along. So why it needs to be told now. It’s also I think, really important to communicate where are you in the process here? Is this something that you have already begun photographing? Do you have access? Is this just an idea that you haven’t started yet? And like, what are you specifically asking for? Is this something that’s complete? And you, because sometimes, like I’ve seen pitches, where it might be a really cool idea, but like, I don’t know if this person is just looking for a publisher, because this is a completed body of work, or if they’ve begun, but now they’re looking to be sent back for, you know, one week to do XYZ thing, or just like, what is the actual ask that you’re making? What do you need. And I think keeping it pretty tight. I do think that it tends to be more successful, if you have—there’s a certain sweet spot of like, having started a project or started a story, where you at least have some images to show that show what your visual approach is going to be, that are like, undeniable proof that you actually have the access that you’re saying that you have, like, you can pull this off, because you’ve already started and you’ve already shown that you can pull it off. But I think every publication just has such different specific needs for their audiences or for the way that they do things. So I think it can also be challenging to get a completely finished body of work published if you want that work to be published, sort of outside of the like, here’s a photo essay showing XYZ thing. Like, sometimes, you know, photography is published as a feature about the photography and sometimes like the photography is used to tell a story about XYZ thing. So I do think that it can be really great if you haven’t finished the work, because then you’re still open to kind of shifting or adapting your approach for the rest of the project to whatever is going to make sense for that particular publication. So yeah, I think those are, those are some of the things,
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s really great advice, I think it’s quite difficult for many of us to find that sweet spot. You want to start the project, and at the same time, you want to involve a magazine or publication. There’s also sometimes a fear of the project maybe sparking interest, but they might not want to work with you. Is that unrealistic fear that your idea gets used in a way that you don’t like, maybe, or not even with you as a photographer?
Andrea Wise: I mean, I’ve heard of that happening. I know that that does happen, because photographers have said that that happens. Every editor that I know and respect, like, would probably agree that that’s pretty unethical. You know, if you’re pitching something, then— and I mean, I have received pitches from photographers where I’m like, wow, this is a really great idea, but like, I don’t think that the photographer is the right one for this. And I’ve declined those pitches. And, you know, there have been times when like, I have been like, oh, you know, I wish I could hire this other person for it. But you know, if you brought me the idea, then you know, that is, you know, whether that’s protect— whether the idea is like protected by copyright law or not, I feel like that is kind of your intellectual property and we have to respect that. But I also think that photographers sometimes get hung up on like, Oh, does it need to be a PDF as an attachment or does it need to be, you know, formatted in this way or formatted in that way? Does it have to be three paragraphs or four paragraphs like, and I just, I don’t think that a lot of editors are super picky. Like, if it’s a good idea, then it’s a good idea. And so, you know, throw it in a PDF or put it in an email, but just like, don’t overthink the format too much.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s a really good addition. Because I think you’re right, a lot of us are like, oh, yeah, what would be the best way?
Andrea Wise: I don’t know how to write a pitch. It’s like, just write an email with the idea and link to some images.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Exactly. And how do you—or where do you usually find new work? Or new photographers to maybe work with? Or do you actively look for them or do you just? Yeah, I don’t know, how do you do it?
Andrea Wise: Um, I mean, I don’t have like a specific methodology that I follow. I have found the pandemic to be kind of, like frustrating in this. Well, in many regards, but especially in sort of, like the networking regards, because, you know, I used to meet a lot of photographers at portfolio reviews and at festivals and conferences and stuff like that. And that, you know, that’s always like super energizing. And, you know, for things like, for example, the Liberty story, and Sarah having like the right sensitivity and kind of temperament for that story. Like, I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t met her and worked with her before. So it’s very difficult to kind of get a sense of somebody’s personality, their communication style, like, what they’re kind of what kind of rapport they might build with someone just through their portfolio or like their Instagram profile. So that is just to say that, I think as the pandemic shifts, and unwinds I hope that, you know, the industry in general can go back to a certain degree to having some of those in-person things, because I just think there’s no substitute for it. But I mean, I also come across folks on Instagram, I mean, I am always kind of looking at what other publications are publishing. And it’s really exciting when you see really great work published by somebody that you’ve never heard of before, like, recommendations from colleagues, you know, of course, I use the Diversified database.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I figured,
Andrea Wise: I do not know, personally, every single —at this point, like, the the list has gotten so long that I still do not know everybody in the database, and women photograph and all of those resources are great places to meet or to come across new talent.
Yeah, yeah. It’s, uh, I just looked at the Diversify, at the list, how it grew over the years. It’s amazing. How many people are in there now, do you know?
Andrea Wise: I think like 1500 as full members and then I think we have more than 1000 up next members, which is also really exciting. So it’s pretty wild.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: It is pretty wild. It’s amazing to click through and to see who all’s in there. It’s, yeah, endless resource of amazing, yeah, amazing photographers. Just as a last question, before we go to the to the q&a, let me check if there’s anything in the q&a. Oh, there are some questions, some questions in there. Please feel free to add more questions, guys. And then we’ll go over them. But I have one last question. It’s a very difficult one maybe, but I’m curious to know what makes a photographer stand out to you. It’s more like a personal question.
Andrea Wise: Ooh, that’s. Yeah, oh, that’s because Yeah. Oh. I love, I love that question. I mean, I think that I think that there’s the work itself and then there’s also what you do with the work. So if it’s a matter of like, how do you make your work different from everybody else’s work? That might be, you know, having a particular kind of visual signature, a way of seeing, it might be the way that you use color, or the way you compose things, it might be kind of an emotional thing of like the types of intimate moments that you’re able to get with the connection that you’re able to forge with the people that you’re photographing. That might be a particular like, subject area, you know. There are some photographers who don’t necessarily have like, the most unique way of seeing but like their knack for storytelling and their knack for finding stories and for like, visually reporting out stories is just incredible. And that can be a way of standing out. But then I also think that if it’s like, how do I stand out in the sense of like, how do I get on people’s radar? And then there’s also like, newsletters, I think can be really great. If it’s maybe like quarterly, maybe monthly, but monthly is maybe a little bit busy. Everybody has different preferences, though. So everyone will tell you something different. But I think quarterly is nice. I do think I think it’s great to like, post a lot of kind of behind the scenes stuff on Instagram on Instagram stories. I think Kendrick Brinson does a really amazing job with this. She shares the work on her feed and on, on on her company’s feed. But then she’ll also post a lot of behind the scenes things, you know, oh, here’s the dumpster that I, you know, found this like interesting pocket of light in. And that can, you know, as an editor, I can see that and be like, Wow, I know that I could send this person someplace and they can find a beautiful pocket of light to make a wonderful portrait even if it’s literally like in a back alley in front of a dumpster. And it can just be like another way of getting your name in front of people kind of staying top of mind, because I think a lot of getting hired ends up being, especially in like a news environment, when things are moving quickly and you don’t have as much time for research. Sometimes it can just be like, who is you know, the first person or one of the first people to come to mind when you think about a certain story. So the more you can sort of associate your name and your work with certain like mental triggers like color or a certain topic or something like that, then the more likely you are to kind of come up in somebody’s mind.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Rise to the surface, kind of. Thanks for that beautiful answer. I don’t know who is—David, is it you or me who are going to go through the q&a.
David Campbell: So I’ll go through the questions. We’ve got one from, yeah, one from Matthew about the workflow for the investigative visual essays at ProPublica. He asks, Do you, I mean, how do you get involved in them? Do you quite back into them, have the written story done, and then produce the visuals? Or are you in on the construction of the story earlier on?
Andrea Wise: I would say sort of all of the above. It just it really, it really depends. There are some stories, especially if it’s something that is really abstract, really being reported out from a data analysis or something like that, where we have sort of like the luxury of time in that we’re not going to like miss a photographable moment if we wait for the reported findings to become clearer. Or if we wait for a draft, there are some times when you don’t want to wait for a draft because if by the time you have the draft written, like the moment has passed and you’ve lost your opportunity to photograph. We tend to not, I think— we’ve pretty rarely had well, actually, I don’t know if I can think of a single time when we’ve had like, all of the copy completely finished before we have started. In some ways that might make our jobs a little bit easier. And like, really, what, you know, the most important points are to be communicating with visuals. But you know, right now, we have a photographer that we just were able to hire for a pretty good stretch of time and she’s working side by side with the writing reporter. And, you know, we have an outline, but we don’t have a draft, but they are sort of forging the story together. So it just depends on the story and kind of the nature of the investigation. But obviously, you know, everybody would say, like, get us involved as early as possible. Even if, you know, the conclusion from that conversation is like, Oh, you really need to, like get a little further along in the reporting before you know, we— because sometimes, like you might have some investigative findings, but you don’t actually have a person who illustrates those findings. And so the reporters are still finding the person. There’s literally not a person to photograph or they don’t know, you know, who’s going to be kind of the most important character in the piece. And so, just depends.
David Campbell: You’ve touched on a lot of these points already, but but Fatima is asking as an early career freelance photographer, someone right at the beginning of their career, what would be the most important do or don’t, or do and don’t, that you would say to them in making a pitch.
Andrea Wise: Um, I think that you might need to think about the work and your income as sort of separate things. And work on building a portfolio that’s representative of the type of work that you want to be doing. Whether or not you’re able to have your source of income come from that work. Most photographers at that like any level of their career do not make their favorite work on assignment. I think that that’s like a fair kind of generalization to make. And so, you know, if you have to have like a day job doing something completely unrelated to photography so that you can finance working on the projects that you really care about to build that portfolio, I think that can be really great. Especially if you can find kind of a side gig that is a little bit flexible. So I would say, work on building your portfolio first and foremost, kind of figuring out kind of who you are as a photographer. And also like, what really motivates you. It’s something that was really helpful for me in starting to figure out what I wanted for my career and that I like to share with others is like draw a Venn diagram. I think Deb Pang Davis had us do this in her class in grad school, draw a Venn diagram of what you’re good at. What, wait, what is it, what you’re good at, what you like doing and what there’s a market for. And if you’re really, really lucky, you find something that’s all three. Most people don’t, or at least 100% of what they do does not fall very neatly in there. So you know, if there’s something that you’re good at, and there’s a market for it, but like, you don’t love it, but you don’t hate it, but that can finance what you’re good at and you love, but there’s no market for then like you can sort of figure out how to like craft a career that way. Yeah.
David Campbell: Yeah, super. So final question. All our editors get asked this at some point, if someone wants to reach you. How can they reach you? Is there a good email that you can share?
Andrea Wise: Sure, I can put my email address in the chat. And I’ll also put my personal if folks want to—
David Campbell: That’s great.
Andrea Wise: And I’ll put that one—
David Campbell: Very kind. So three points of contact. There we go. Thank you very much for that. So it’s been an absolutely great conversation, Andrea. We really appreciate your time and your insights. And yeah, it’s been an excellent installment for this.
Andrea Wise: Thank you.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thanks so much.
David Campbell: Yeah.
Andrea Wise: Fun.
David Campbell: Yeah, we’ll finish there. So thank you very much, everyone for tuning in. And the recording will be up on site within a week or so as we always do. And Andrea, stay safe, and we’ll talk to you again soon sometime.
Andrea Wise: Sounds good. Bye everyone.
David Campbell: Thanks.Bye.