Photo Editors Series – Sarah Leen

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 combines 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 sixth episode, we speak with Sarah Leen, founder of The Visual Thinking Collective and the former Directory of Photography for National Geographic Magazine and Visual Media.



David Campbell: So, Sarah, you’ve had a long career, a lot of editing. Tell us a little bit about when you started working as a photo editor and how you came to that, and how you came to work as a photo editor. And then what path have you taken from there to the current position that you’re in.


Sarah Leen: Um, so I started out as a photographer, and, you know, all photographers, we were editing our own work, right? You have to—you go out, you do a shoot, you edit it down, you pick your favorite photos. So, I think all photographers are editors, you know, in a sense, and I also was teaching a lot of workshops, photography workshops, and then you have students, and then you’re editing their work. And I, you know, quickly realized how much easier it was to edit somebody else’s work than my own work, which I think most photographers have experienced. And I really enjoyed doing those edits in class. I spent, and as a freelancer, you know, freelance photographer, you know, you’re always kind of cobbling everything together, whether some photographers do commercial work or something, but I was also working with my husband, who had a design and packaging company, and I did some editing for them. And I just always really enjoyed it. And I kind of thought, you know, as I went in my career, you know, I don’t know, maybe someday, you know, maybe someday, I’ll hang up the cameras and, you know, try editing more seriously. So, a position opened up at the National Geographic Magazine, an editing position. And they—in those days, those positions did not open up very often, a senior photo editor. And I knew the director of that department at the time. He was Chris Johns. And he shortly after that, became editor of the whole magazine, and I had worked with him as a photographer, a small newspaper in Kansas. And I felt like, well, I’m just going to apply. Eh, you know, I’m fine being a photographer, but you never know. And I thought I had no, you know, sort of published credentials as a photo editor. So, I thought, if anybody might hire me, maybe it’s the Geographic because they know me, you know, and lo and behold, I got the job. And so, I worked as a photo editor for about eight years before becoming director of photography. And, you know, when I show the presentation, I’ll talk a little bit more about that, but I just loved it. I actually felt— I love being a photo editor. I love working with the photographers. I love the stories and trying to figure out the coverage because as a photo editor, you’re doing more than just picking the photos, you know, you’re involved in conceiving the whole project to the budgeting, doing the research, helping the photographer figure out what to photograph. And I just really loved it. And I actually had more confidence as a photo editor than I ever had as a photographer. Right? I was, I don’t know, I was one of those pretty insecure photographers, you know, always feeling like, well, this is my last job and imposter syndrome and the whole nine yards, right? But I felt more confident and settled as a photo editor and felt like I could really help people, help photographers, so.


David Campbell: Tell us a bit bit more about your process, as it were as a photo editor at National Geographic in that transition, because what you described there about being involved in all aspects of the project, I mean, it’s a bit like being a project manager as well as kind of editing the outcome.


Sarah Leen: That’s, you’re absolutely right, David. You are very much like a producer and project manager. The ideas, you’re often assigned a story by the—usually the Director of Photography assigns the stories. Sometimes it could be your own idea, and the ideas might come in by a photographer or it might come in by the editor or some, any staff at the Geographic, and you would get assigned the story. And then, often without a photographer attached or any—nobody’s attached at first, sometimes they are, if it’s their idea, and then so you immediately start researching the topic. You start figuring out what is there to photograph? And what is the story and you have a whole team of people attached to that project. So, you have the text editor, you have the maps and graphics people, you have the design people. So yeah, there’s a lot of conversation, figuring it out. And then, you may, probably, then you might start suggesting photographers for the project, if the director does not already have somebody in mind, or yeah, and then you have the conversation, like, who would be good to do this, and then get the photographer involved in the researching as well and figuring out like—because you’ve got to make a budget, you know, and the budget would depend on well, we’re going to one place, we’re going to three countries, we’re gonna spend four weeks, we’re going to spend eight weeks, so you kind of make your plan, and then you make the budget, and that’s what you’re going to pitch, and then that photo editor, then the whole team will pitch the whole concept and idea to the editor of the magazine, and the executive team. And you just pitch like, here’s what we want to do, here’s where we want to go. Here’s what the maps and graphics people, here’s the online version, here we want to make video, you know, all the bells and whistles, and then see if you get it approved.  An editor may say, Well, I kind of like that, but I’d rather do some of this and less of that. And then you adjust.


David Campbell: Would you describe National Geographic as a typical example of an institution in the media industry, or an atypical example, given the scale of what you talked about there.


Sarah Leen: I think it’s probably fairly atypical. Although I would say, The New York Times does some really big projects, with a lot of time and funding behind them. I think, you know, Time Magazine also, but I think they’re more, they’re not the daily business of those publications. But when they do them, they’re incredible, they do amazing. And where the Geographic, it’s more every issue, there’s a lot of those big stories and a year, you know, can be— well, over the course of photographing it and building it till publication. So I do think it’s more of the exception in the industry. They do a lot more shorter assignments, more than they used to, because of online, you know, those assignments are always less, less as big.


David Campbell: It’s probably fair to say that most people have a fairly negative view of the state of the media industry in terms of declining resources, fewer staff positions, etc. What’s your perspective? How do you kind of characterize the current state of the field?


Sarah Leen: I mean, I think what you’re saying is there is that. All of that is true, and a challenge. I think just over my years at the Geographic you know, the budget was being cut every year. And we had to adjust and we had to figure it out. So, back in the good old bad old days, you know—like, I worked on stories that were 20 weeks as photographer, like four months on one story. Well, that just hardly ever happening anymore. Right? That doesn’t—a big story would be eight weeks now. So, but I also think, on the one hand, but then on the other hand, more and more people want to be part of this. More and more photographers— there are just so many wonderful, amazing photographers coming up and they’re finding a way. They’re finding a way to do their work and get grants. There’s more grants than ever out there for photographers. There’s tons of grants, there’s lots of other kinds of support, not just the big media companies anymore. And there’s so many— like when I, you know, some of the books I’m working on, there’s a lot of, self-publishing going on, Kickstarter, there’s, I mean, people you know—as one thing has shrunk, other things have grown to help support photographers and help them find a way. I mean, there’s great organizations like VII and Noor and all the different photo agencies that are supporting photographers and finding ways to get their work out there. So, as gloomy as the one thing can seem, I see so much amazing work being made and published and supported by all kinds of different organizations. Like just today, I think the Leica Oskar Barnack awards were announced, the shortlist, and I was looking at those this morning. I was like, damn, I mean, really nice work. So, there’s, it’s still happening. There’s still room, I think.


David Campbell: One of the other things that’s going on in the field, too, of course, are something of a reckoning, or maybe that it should be a reckoning around some of the identity questions, diversity questions in the wake of Me Too scandals, and so on? What do you think the state of play is with those issues? And what do you think the role of editors is in terms of handling those issues and taking a lead on those issues?


Sarah Leen: That’s a really good question. And you could do a whole session just on that. Right. We could talk a lot about it, but I think it’s, well, I definitely, you know, maybe since when I started, which was decades ago, you know, I mean, and I’ve, you know, I’m ashamed to even say it, we didn’t even think about it. I mean, it was not on our radar, hardly, you know, like, you know, what, but now, you know, it’s on all of our radar. We’re all thinking about it. And I think most of the media companies, for sure, I think everybody’s thinking about it, and addressing it. Like, while I was still there, as you know, the director of photography, we talked about it a lot. And we looked on how to increase the diversity, and what programs—we had a second assistant program, for people of color and different, you know, ethnic and gender to work as assistants, funded by the society, you know, for people to work as assistants, especially in some of the fields like science and natural history, where it’s very one color, one gender, you know, photographers. So, I think everybody is working really hard. So, I think it’s getting better, a lot better. You know, there’s plenty of room for improvement still. But I do think it’s much more top of mind. And I think people are really working on it and I think editors have a lot of influence. Like, when I get an assignment as a photo editor and I have to think of who the photographer is, you know, well, there’s an opportunity, right, for trying to rebalance the scales, and getting much more diversity into whatever your publication happens to be. So, I think editors have a really large role play.


David Campbell: Yeah. Thinking generally about kind of the role of the image, the role of photography, I mean, how do you characterize or how do you think about the role of photography in storytelling itself? Is just another medium? Does it have a particular quality to it that distinguishes it from other forms of media? If so, what kind of, what makes it distinctive and powerful?


Sarah Leen: Well, you know, I mean, it’s obvious, but it crosses language barriers, right? So, I think it’s so we can speak to one another in images without knowing one another’s language, right? It’s a universal language. And as you know, the last 10 years has really shown us how much photography is being used by people to communicate with each other through social media, and through so many other venues that we now use where we speak to each other more in photographs than writing a letter so, I think that it’s incredibly important and useful. And also, it’s, I mean—what I just love about photography is that sense of universal language, and how it’s so much about feeling. It’s a felt language, as much as intellectual. I mean, it does both. There’s information in a photograph, but there’s also a lot of emotional communication happening as well. So, I think that it’s so important and when it’s combined, then—all by itself, it’s fabulous—then when it’s combined, you know, with words or sound or something, you know, we’re just upping the game all the time in terms of how we can communicate with each other. So much just love that about that. You know, I get to see how people see, I get to see what you see. And kind of what you think about it, about what you’re seeing. And I think that that information, it’s transmitted quickly. You can see it right away. But it also, you know, the best photos for me, they kind of give you that information, but they’ve got a real long tail, like, I can come back and find something else and come back to it and get a little more and then I just this kind of a photo, but, you know, I, I think it’s, I mean, we’re so lucky, you know, to be, aren’t we, in this community.


David Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. So I think you’re going to show us some work. Take us through a presentation on some projects. A little bit about the decision making behind?


Sarah Leen: Yeah. Okay, now it’s on me, we’re going to do the technical part of the program here. I’ll share my screen, we practiced this so hopefully, it’ll work. That works. Good.


David Campbell: Just a reminder to everyone while we’re getting this set up, you can drop questions into the q&a box, there are some there, we will get to them, we’ll either bring them into the conversation at the right point, or we’ll certainly cover them at the end. So feel free to ask.


Sarah Leen: Okay, so we’ve covered a little bit of this already. So, this is just some of the work as a photo editor, things that I worked on while I was— those eight years that I was editing for the magazine. And you know, as we talked about a little bit about diversity, one of my sort of missions that I sort of gave myself as a photo editor was to, I really wanted to help bring in the next generation of photographers that could be National Geographic photographers. And this whole idea of, you know, editing someone’s else’s work being so much easier than your own. Since leaving the Geographic, I’ve been working on a lot of editing photo books amongst teaching and mentoring. So far I’ve been, I’ve worked on about seven photo books, two and two that have not yet started that will probably start next year. Here are three of the published books. One is this, Habibi by Antonio Faccilongo, who was the 2020 WordPress Book Award winner, Like a Bird by Johnanna-Maria Fritz about Islamic circuses, and Aderswo, a personal memoir by Petra Barth. I’ve been really lucky to be working a lot with publishers like PhotoEvidence Books. Habibi was one of those books. Upcoming this fall is We Cry in Silence by Smita Sharma about trafficking of young girls in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The Phoenician Collapse by Diego Ibbara Sanchez, which is at the printers now and I’m going to talk more about this one later. And our very own, A Troubled Home, which is being self-published by VII member Anush Babajanyan, about the lives of Armenians living in Nagorno Karabakh designed by the fabulous designer about Bonnie Bryant. And sorry, I can’t show you the cover yet because it has not yet been released. So, just check the website to order and see it. So, one thing about editing books versus magazines is with the magazine you have a lot less space, you have a defined paper stock, a defined size and shape of the magazine, and often a very more particular type of story with a good amount of text. And books are a little bit like 3D Chess, there are so many variables in terms of size and type of paper and bindings and the number of pages and whether, is this kind of a storybook? Or is it more of an essay? Or is it even more of like visual poetry. And it’s a bit mind boggling, trying to understand all the options and determining what’s best for the work. And I want you to know that I’m very much still learning my way around all of this, and I love the challenge. And a photo book is such a personal object that I feel a big responsibility of the photo editor is to help make the photographer’s dreams and desires come true for their book and to be their second pair of eyes and advocate for them every step of the way. So, I want to walk you through the editing process for The Phoenician Collapse in more detail. Diego— I had worked a little bit with editing some things with Diego and he contacted me in around 2020 and asked if I would help him edit a book about living and working in Lebanon for the past 11 years of his life. And initially he sent me about 900 images, and we ended up having about 1100 that we worked with, but I think because of my work at the National Geographic, I really need to have a strong understanding of the subject matter before I can edit anything. Because it’s for me, it’s not just picking the best pictures, because I’m really always looking for this underlying idea of what the story is. So, Diego and I had a lot of conversations about his life in Lebanon, the politics and the history of the place. And also, his personal story about raising his son in Beirut with his partner, Evelyn.


Sarah Leen: Diego had created a list of chapters he wanted to use for the book. So, after I had cut the work down to about 400 images, we organized into these chapters. And Diego and I had a lot of meetings, after I got to about 400, going over the work and deciding what to keep what to let go and if I had left out anything that he really wanted to see in the book. So, I created this image catalog with a lot of topical folders and many edits. I’m like, kind of, you know, a little anally organized about things. And I went from, like 1100 images to 445. And then to 287, and to 236. And finally, 269. And one of our challenges, and Diego will won’t mind that I mentioned this is that I would edit it down to like 250. And then he would send me like 30 more photos, and then you know, so and then I would edit it down to the 225. And then he would send me like 30 more photos. So we did a little bit of that for a while until I started worrying about our deadlines. The book ended up with about 163 images, plus a lot of miscellaneous documents and illustrations. Diego did amazing research, finding a lot of historical documents and maps and old advertising from the tourist industry. And we tried to also incorporate that into the book. And then we had all his personal family photos of his life there and also of his son Hugo.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: So, a question. You would make the edits very thoroughly. I love how this looks with all the different folders. Would he then sometimes instead of sending new images also say like, oh, you took that image out, I really want it in. Were there a lot of discussions?


Sarah Leen: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Usually, you know, so we would be working with this catalog. So, I would, we wouldn’t really, you can’t do that for 1100 images, right? I mean, you would never get anywhere. It would just take, to go through every photo. So, once I got it down to about like 400-ish, that’s when we sort of started to really hunker, oops, hunker down and go through this or that. But I had to have things organized. So, we had a lot of protests. So, we would have a whole folder with protest pictures. And I had, here’s the protest pictures, I think are going to work the best. Let’s go through those. Is there anything left out? Do you want me to bring something back? Can we cut this? Let’s cut this more. So, we would go by sort of the topics and cut within, like edit within that topic. So, that’s why I’ve got like a gazillion like kind of folders here, right. So, we would edit the daily life, or the detail photos or the domestic workers or something. And within that we would cut, within each of these, like, kind of idea topic folders, right? And then that would get us to that 200 or something, which is when we started, I brought it into Keynote, I bring everything into Keynote. And that’s where I like to start sequencing and make pairings and triptychs and really, this is the fun part. All the rest of it is like really hard work, and especially for the photographer to let go of these photos that mean so much to them. And you kind of have to be that reader, when somebody’s looking at a photo and they’re trying to convince me of its value with like paragraphs and paragraphs of words, then I really start to wonder, is this picture going to communicate all that, you know, is it really going to do the work that we need, when we’ve got four others that are very similar and we’re going to have to make some tough decisions. So, once you get kind of it down and start to sequence and play, it’s like fantastic, really fun. So, then we start making pairings and triptichs and just and I go crazy with this stuff. I love making all this stuff and then, we, and he would make some and send to me and I would make some and send to him and I just feel like sky’s the limit at the beginning. Let’s just try everything. We’re going to edit, but right now we’re just going to brainstorm and we’re, and kind of, you know, create sequences. And I think a lot about like, what’s the experience turning from page to page? You know what, you saw this and now you saw that? And then what did you feel? And is it kind of like an ooh. Are people going like, ooh, you know, when they— kind of that emotional feeling. And also, the work has to, like in many photo books, there’s no captions with the photos. I mean, if you look at most photo books, they don’t have any captions. Photographers never want captions by their photos. It’s always at the back, they’re kind of at the back, or there’ll be certain pages that have the words on them. But you know, nobody wants more like, right there. Right. So, you know, you got to it’s got to speak without words, it’s got to really kind of encapsulate, so I try a lot of things. And when I’m making, you know, various groupings and stuff like that. And some of these we didn’t use, I’m just showing you sort of the process. And we just keep—sometimes you put two photos together, or you do something and it just like snaps, it’s just like it goes through, yes, me, me. I’m the one you know, and that, then you go, yeah, you are, this is a, these two photos are so happy with each other. So, let’s keep that you know, so this is,


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And this is all before, you know how many pages the book would be, and so on. You’re just like playing, well, not playing without any restrictions.


Sarah Leen: Sometimes you know. I mean, sometimes the publisher we’ll know, we’ll have a definite, this is 150 pages. So, don’t make any more than that. So, then you’re constrained, but I think at this ideation process, you don’t really want that leaning on you. Because you might, you know, it might constrain you too much. Because we can, you know, but at a certain point, it’s like, Okay, now we have to get serious here, you know. So, also, there’s a lot of design ideas that— Diego had a lot of design ideas, and really great ones like you putting these like little paper flaps in the middle of a photo, and he was going to have some text, and we did do this. And we had ideas about making gate folds, you know. So, you know, so it would open up, open up a third page. We did that a couple of times. And then you know, the designer was Enrique Salvo Rizalde, he’s Spanish. And this university was helping support, supporting this book. And one of the first things—and then we’d send everything, you know, this massive amount of ideas and sequences and pairings, we would send it all to the designer. And you know, that’s when we’re kind of got, okay, like, how many pages can we really have? Now it’s a 250-page book, right? It’s huge. It’s ridiculous. You know, we have to, we have to get serious here. So, then we’re like, and the first thing that they always want to do is what’s the cover. Because the cover is used for promotion, if you’re going to do a Kickstarter campaign. So, the cover is really important, you know, it’s, I have a little bit of a marketing job sometimes if it’s going to be in a bookstore or on a stand or something. So, the first option, these are some of the options that Enrique did. And Diego went with that first one, because that’s a cut out, you know, and there’s a picture, it’s like a cut out of the country of Lebanon. And then you see through, and you see a photo, right?


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Ah, I see. So, the photo behind it is the photo that’s on the second cover?


Sarah Leen: Yes, so that’s option two that we didn’t do. We only did option one. But yes, that’s the photo, that’s the photo that you’re seeing a glimpse of, and then you turn—


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I really like it.


Sarah Leen: Yeah, you’d see the whole, the whole cover. So, we had a lot of, you know, then we started having a lot of zoom meetings with the designer, and the publisher showing the sequences and I’ve made a gazillion PDFs every time you know, the all the design ideas and everything and they affect the edit. And the sequence, especially, you know, books are done in signatures. So, there’s eight or 16 pages in what’s like a little signature. And so, you have to, when you’re adding a fold out or you’re adding additional paper or different papers, they have to come at certain places in the book. So, that can affect the sequence. So, then you have to change the sequence. So, this is just a little opening chapter, one of the chapter openings, these are the chapters that he had, that we started with. And I’m totally meddlesome. I meddle in everything. I copy edit the text. I like to read everything. I always have a lot of design ideas because I love books and I’ve got a whole room of photo books.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: When you were working at Nat Geo, were you also that involved into all these different things? Or were those different roles for different people?


Sarah Leen: Well, you’re less involved in the text at the Geographic because they have definite text editors. You get to express an opinion. But it’s not like, you’re not copy editing or doing any of that stuff. You’re more involved in the captions for the photos at the Geographic and that they get them right. And you’re definitely part of the layout, a process. It’s like you work very closely with the designer for the layout and the sequence of the stories in the magazine. So, this is basically sort of a mockup of what the book will look like. I think it’s just coming off the printers that will have a little booklet in the back that has the separate booklet that has all the captions and some of the translations. It will be in Spanish and English, 500 copies and distributed by PhotoEvidence sometime this fall.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I love the back as well. I don’t know, what’s that called? Like an open—


Sarah Leen: It’s an open binding. The thing about sometimes these open bindings, if you open it, the cover is, the front cover is kind of loose from the, it’ll lay flat. And this allows when you open the pages not to have like the, you know, the like, like this, right? Yeah, it’s flat, it’s flat. And photographers love that. Because then it’s out no gutter, you know, eating up the middle of your photo.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, it’s much nicer. I really love this. So, how much time did this take from beginning to end for you? When did you get this?


Sarah Leen: This one took a lot long time. It—because we started in, I think we started in late 2020. And it’s just being published now. But it was not the only book I was working on, right? So, I’m going back and forth between different books, and they’re in different phases of production. And even, he even photographed a bit more for it while we were, because Lebanon was having huge issues. I mean, the economy was collapsing, literally collapsing. And so, he was doing some work with the New York Times. And so he got some new images that we added to the book.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, that must have been quite difficult, because I can imagine there were certain stages where you thought, where you maybe both thought, Okay, it’s done now. We’re almost done. And then the new cycle?


Sarah Leen: Absolutely. Yes. But yeah. Because you want it to be as current as possible, a story like that, right. So yeah, we definitely had to add, we added some really nice—I’m glad we had that opportunity that we kind of took our time working on it. Yeah, it was great. I learned a lot doing it.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thanks for showing. It looks amazing. Looking forward to see it in real life.


Sarah Leen: Me too.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I can imagine.


David Campbell: One of the things, can I come in, because I was curious about like the negotiating process with the photographer and so on. Because obviously, in a lot of situations when you’re working, collaborating with someone in an organization or whatever you’re trying to find common ground. And that means people compromise. But in a situation like this, it seems to me that compromise might lead to something that’s a bit, eh, and someone’s a little bit happy and a little bit happy. But no one’s really happy about it. So, when you’re negotiating with a photographer, are you looking for compromise? Or are you looking for one of you is trying to persuade the other?


Sarah Leen: Well, I think, so for the magazine, you know, which is different, because we’re all working for the magazine, right. And their agenda, you know, it’s more so like, their agenda about the story, you know, so while the—and the photo editors, you know, we’re the advocate for the photographer’s voice and their vision for it, right, and getting it right, visually. On a photo book, you know, I mean, this is the photographers, baby. I mean, this is like a whole different thing. And I am at the service of that, right. I feel totally at the, you know, what can I do to help us get where you want, so that, you know, well, I will maybe definitely try to convince or persuade about some of the photos because when we’re cutting, you know, I’m thinking we could lose this and the photographer’s thinking, we can’t lose that. I’m like, Well, yes, you can. And so, you, because you’ve got this one, kind of this dialogue. But you know, if a photographer like, you know, they feel super, super strongly about a photo, and maybe I feel less so, well, they win for sure, you know, because they’ve got to be happy. I mean, they must be happy with it. There’s no like, I’m happy and they’re not. Absolutely not because it’s their book. Right? And you know, how many books will you do in your lifetime? You better be like ecstatic. I want you to be ecstatic about it. Right?


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And does this go through the Visual Thinking Collective? Or is it you personally? How does this work? How can people like, can they ask you to do these kinds of things? Or does it go?


Sarah Leen: I mean, yeah, the collective is more like, we’re like a support system for one another, more. So, we do some projects together, mostly, like we’ve done some Photoville exhibits, we’ve done some workshops and stuff like that, but everybody’s kind of got their own, like business as it were. So yeah, it’s a good way to contact me or one of the others. We had somebody recently who contacted like, October, I don’t know, who contacted and was looking for somebody to work on a book. And with them, and I’m just I’m, I was, I couldn’t do it, I’m too busy. But somebody else is going to do it from the Collective. So, Lauren Steel will do it. So that’s great. So that’s a good place to come come in. And you know, just check out our BIOS and see who you might want, or you just send a group email, or our somebody directly, as well. But yeah.


David Campbell: And that’s one of the questions that’s in like, q&a, we’re just kind of a business type question. Joan is asking, who pays you to edit? Does the photographer page as the publisher pay? What’s the— does that vary, what’s the approach?


Sarah Leen: It varies somewhat. When I’m working for PhotoEvidence, they pay me. But in most, and in some cases, if it’s, if it’s going to be a self-published book, the photographer will pay. I, myself, I work sort of on a flat fee. Because if I did it by the hour, it would be a ridiculous amount of money. Because I put in a ton of time, but I want to, you know, it’s how I work. And I love it. And I want to, and I need the time to like really understand the work. And I like to, you know, for me, I could like never stop editing, you know, I really needed a deadline. Because I always, like if I it’s hard to even look back, because yeah, I think, why did I do that, and you should be here and not there. And you know, you can drive yourself crazy. So, you know, but I like to have the time to get away from it and come back to it, because I will have fresh eyes and ideas. So, but yeah, mostly, it’s like, most publishers, and not all like if you’re super here, so God, oh, you probably don’t have to raise money to say to some publish your book. But you know, God bless that, you know, but I think a lot of photographers, a lot of publishing companies, they have really narrow profit margins, and you have to raise some money for your book to publish your photo book and bring that to the table. So, that’s why a lot of photographers, you know, do Kickstarter campaigns like Diego did a Kickstarter campaign, Anush did one. I think Smita did one all of them did Kickstarter campaigns to raise some of the money will often the publisher is the person who you know, they put their publishing stamp on it, and they’ll distribute, and they’ll send it out. And they’ll run the buying of the book on their websites and stuff like that. But I mean, it’s not like a you’re going to make a ton of money on making a photo book. And most of the print runs like Diego’s is 500 copies, you know, they’re not big print runs. You know, some photo books go on to sell tons and tons and get reprinted. And then they’re on their third and fourth and, you know, additions. So, yeah, but I think it’s, I mean, but you know, everybody wants, I don’t know, a single photographer that doesn’t want a photo book. I meet photographers that have been shooting for six months and they say they want to do a book. Like, okay, great. Let’s work toward that, right.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: It’s so true. You teach a lot. I know, I teach too and sometimes you’re teaching for like three weeks, and it’s the start of their first project. And they’re at the end of the three weeks and they want to publish a book.


Sarah Leen: It’s a book, it’s always a book, right? These days, you could do a blurb book if you wanted to, you know, without huge cost. Right? So yeah, there’s a lot more accessibility too.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yeah, that’s true. Let me check some of the other questions. There are quite a lot. Let’s see. Oh, yeah. Carrie is asking, I would love to hear Sarah’s advice for someone who wants to break into photo editing mid-career. I’m coming from a creative tech background. Yeah.


Sarah Leen: I think that that’s a workshop I want to have. I need to teach—I teach workshops on photographers who, on how to edit their own work, but I think I’d like to, I have come up with one where I teach people who want to be photo editors. That’d be a totally interesting workshop. But I think mostly, hopefully Carrie if you have friends that are photographers, right? And I would say, start by editing with them, they all need help, whether they know it or not. So, it’s like, I think, you know, if you could start with editing other people’s work, like, if you have photographers who are friends, just volunteer, start up by volunteering to help them and start, you know, learning how to work with a photographer, which is super important. And what’s the goal? What are we working toward? Are we gonna make it a magazine? Are we just doing a portfolio? Are they—is this an edit for a contest? You know, there’s all kinds of end products besides books. I mean, I help photographers, like with all of those things, build their portfolio, they want to enter some contest, and they need a 30-photo edit. I’m not only just doing like photo books, so I think that that’s a good way to start, and then see how you feel about it. Like, is this right for you, and maybe you can help them get it published somewhere, maybe you can help them about pitching this work, like sometimes how to help them make a pitch I, I do that too. I help photographers sometimes organize the work and make a pitch to somebody you know, how to present the work in such a way that somebody might be interested in actually either publishing it or font helping you continue the work. You know, sometimes that’s what you want, you’re not ready to publish. So, I think you have to start by working with photographers and editing their work. There are jobs out there, too. I mean, I see lots of jobs coming up more than say, five or six years ago for photo editors, I think it’s becoming more of a— people understand it’s a real job and a real role. And I think that you can, I think you’d need some experience probably to get those jobs. But which is why, you know, if you can start editing with other photographers, and then you on your website, you can show edits that you’ve done with different photographers.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I think that’s some solid advice. Also, there’s not really, as far as I know, there’s no edges, like school for editing, right? Like, or is there? Am I missing?


Sarah Leen: There’s some schools in the United States, like Rhode Island School of Design RISD, and they have some photo editing classes. So does Ohio University, University of Missouri journalism school, it’s like they have some classes that are photo editing. So, I think it’s, you know, it’s happening more, and I’m sure that there’s probably other schools out there that I don’t know about that are also having some— I think it’s become more like I say, it’s become like a real career path.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: There’s also definitely room I think, for you too.


Sarah Leen: It would be fun.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: And you just mentioned pitching. I know your current role is not well, a photo editing that sense anymore, that you are looking through pitches, but I would really love to hear some advice. I know a lot of the people that are usually watching would really love some advice on pitching. Would you be able to share some of your thoughts?


Sarah Leen: Absolutely. I think, so the easiest pitching is to somebody you already know, like a photographer, like a photo editor at a publication, they know you and they know your work. And I think then it could be just in an email, you know, like you can you could say I’ve either started working on or I’m thinking about working on XYZ. Here’s how I see it. Here’s why it’s, answering the questions of like, so what is the story? Why now? Why should we do this now as opposed to like, last year or next year? Especially if it’s an editorial publication? You know, what’s it going to take to do it like, I need or I’ve already I’ve already put in three weeks and I’m probably going to go out and do a couple more weeks. You know, the idea of, do you have ideas for text? Are you going to do video? You know, things like that. And you know, what’s it going to cost you to do — if you’re looking for continued support. And I think with somebody you know; you can do all that. You can say all that. And you might not even have to show them any photos because they know you already and what you can do. Now, if it’s somebody you don’t know and they don’t know you and they don’t know your work, then I think it’s a whole, it’s really different because they might not even look at your email right away, because they don’t know who you are, and they’re getting bombarded with them. And they should look at your email. But and most a lot of photo editors really try to, but you know, they are being bombarded. So, I would say in the email you want to have hi, here’s who I am, blah, blah, blah, introduce yourself. I’m a student, I’m a professional, I’ve worked for some of these other places, I’ve been—and I think if you’ve already started on it, that’s even way better than a just an idea if you’re an unknown to them. So, I’ve been working for the last two months on this story about XYZ. And it’s really, really important because and it’s really relevant to your publication, because and make sure they didn’t just do it last week because that doesn’t look good at all. Like, you know, then it’s like, well, why aren’t you looking at our magazine if you want to be in our magazine, you know. We just did that story. You know, so that’s really, really important. Never promised you can do something unless you can really do it. Like you have access. If it’s something I’m gonna go do go, I want to do go My name Peru, well, can you get in, you know, don’t like pitch it unless you think you can, you’ve got good contacts on the ground, and good local collaborators, and you can get in, I think that’s really important. And then I would add a PDF. So, you want to get that in the email— not too long. But then I would add a PDF showing some of the work you’ve already done. If you have a title, that’s great, because that kind of really focuses it and it could just be 10 photos, it could be 15 photos, it could be 25 photos, it really depends. And then at the end of that you want a little like bio and contact information. Because PDFs, once they leave that email, they can get lost, right? And then it’s like, oh, who sent me— I literally have had PDFs, and I can’t remember who sent it, you know, because it’s not— and in the subject line it could be Peru mining, you know, David Campbell, and then the date. So, got it all right there. You know, I know who it came from, and then how can I get a hold of you at the end. You know, your website, your email, a phone number, your location. Also, I think when you’re pitching to someone you might maybe don’t know, I think it’s really helpful, and we all think about this a lot more like well, why are you? Why should you do this story? What, have you got some skin in the game in a particular way? Like I speak, I speak the language. I’ve been there 20 times, I live there. I, something? Because if it’s just like rando, you know, I live in California, but I want to do a story in Tibet, and I’ve never been there. And I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know, I don’t think so. You know, it’s kind of like, why, why? Why you, so what’s special, like, how is this special for you? And what’s your relationship to the story?


David Campbell: That’s good. Um, we’ve got a couple of questions.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thank you. Very helpful.


David Campbell: Couple—we have a lot of questions. But we’ve got a couple of questions on captions. So, I’m gonna put these together. One is from Jim, one is from Neether. Because they’re both asking similar sorts of things, because when you were going through the book, you talked about the way in which the captions were at the back, and so on. And they’re both asking well, in the National Geographic magazine, or to avoid misinterpretation, photos often need captions. So, why would you put the caption at the back? Not with the photo? What’s the justification and the rationale behind those decisions?


Sarah Leen: Well, the magazine for sure, the captions are going to be right there. In magazines, in general, the captions are generally right there, or on the following page with a previous page signifier. Yeah, so magazines you’re always going to have that. But a book is like a totally different thing. A book is like, well, I don’t really mind having a caption with the photo in general, but you know, it’s also a bit of an art object. Right? And I think photographers feel very differently about them. They’re not that magazine story. They’re something else altogether. Even though there may— there’s an underlying story perhaps to this. It’s much more of an experience than education in a way. It can be educational, but photographers and mostly this is photographers. Like, I would never force somebody to put captions, you know, with their photos, I mean, I have so many photo books and they’re all at the back. They’re all pretty much at the back. And there’s many ways to do them at the back. So that’s not a big pain, where you’ve got to keep going back and forth, you know, I’ve done books where we’d have a little thumbnail photo at the back, and then the caption. So, it’s really easy, and which is— I kind of like that, you know, because then it’s really easy for me to read the caption for that photo. And it’s really a lot about aesthetics in a photo book. It’s an aesthetic choice. Sometimes, you know, maybe all you could—it depends on the book, though. You might have, the way the book is designed or something, like a photo here, and then a blank page here, and then you have a little chunk of text. You know, that explains it. Maybe you want that for every photo, maybe you just want that with some of the photos. I mean, these are why it’s 3D Chess, right? Because there’s so many options on how to do it. And there’s no one way. You’ve got to find that way for this particular work. And a book I’m kind of working on that may be, will be—it’s kind of on hold for a little bit, the photographer got COVID. But um, you know, I think that location and date would be helpful on each of the photos for this particular book. I don’t know if the photographer is going to agree, but I think that could be— because it is a bit of a timeline-ish kind of book. So, maybe that would be helpful. But, you know, we’ll see.


David Campbell: I suppose a lot of these things are determined by the purpose of the book really, aren’t they—


Sarah Leen: That’s true.


David Campbell: —exactly what you’re trying to communicate, because if it is purely an art object, then these are questions that can be handled aesthetically, but if it’s a book that’s actually trying to communicate something, either for an advocacy campaign or some other thing, then different criteria are going to come into play.


Sarah Leen: That’s very true. And that’s, that’s absolutely true. It’s also what is the purpose of this book? I think most of the—well, most photographers I’m working with are photojournalists. But they still want an art object.


David Campbell: Yes.


Sarah Leen: It’s like finding that, you know, crisscross place. Yep. You know, so it can, it’s going to communicate. It’s an intersection of art and journalism. Can we make that work? That’s kind of the sweet spot. Yeah, I think.


David Campbell: I guess the answer to that is, yes, you can make it work. But it takes a lot of work.


Sarah Leen: True. Anyway.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Sure. Do we have time for questions?


David Campbell: We have lots of time for questions. Do you want to work through some of them, Ilvy?


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Yes. Let me see. No, maybe you have what I’m reading through?


David Campbell: Well, let me ask one.


David Campbell: I’ll ask this one from Guillaume. This might apply more to a magazine experience than book experience. But you never know. Have you edited a project you didn’t feel compelled about? Not because of the quality of the images, but you didn’t have interest in the subject. And if so, how did you find a way to work through it? And what did you learn in the process of doing that?


Ilvy Njiokiktjien:You go.


Sarah Leen: Good question. Um, I, the stories that I kind of liked kind of not be in my office when they came around to hand out the stories, it was mostly science, science stories, right? They’re really hard. And it wasn’t, and I just felt like, oh, my God, I would have to go back to college, you know, so. But I had a few. I had one that was like, an archaeology story. And I had that, I just thought, well, I didn’t get to say, couldn’t say no to it. I had, you know, it was being assigned to me. And what I found was, yeah, and you just dive into the research, right? You just start educating yourself and dive into the research. And almost anything starts to get really interesting. Right? You know, I mean, all of that. And I got really into this, you know, I was on the phone talking to paleobotanists. What did they eat? And what did they grow? And, you know, do any of those seeds still exist? Because I was thinking, oh, we’ll take the artifacts or put them with the seeds, you know, photograph it like that, but I didn’t know which seeds, the right seeds and then I had to get the seeds. And then I had to, you know, it was with the Smithsonian, they had the artifacts, we had to freeze them for two months to make sure there’s no little bugs got into the Smithsonian. So, it was like fascinating, you know. And for me, that’s the door always, is the research. That’s how I get interested because well, I’m just curious and love to learn things and one of my favorite ones I ever edited was a story about vanishing languages with Lynn Johnson who’s like, you know, my hero. She’s an incredible photographer and a real thinker too. So, it was about vanishing languages. I’m like, vanishing languages, you know, how do you photograph language? What are we going to do? You know, so but then it was the same thing. It was like digging into the research and we had a linguist attached, a linguist had proposed it, was gonna write it and read his book. And, you know, as I’m reading his book, and one of his locations was in Siberia, and, you know, they had really detailed language about their yaks. You know, the yaks were like, one— so whatever is important in the culture gets a lot of intention. And it gets a lot of language, right. So, you know, a little, little white, six-month-old yak with like black spots, there’s a whole word for that, that whole phrase, that is all that, that’s different than the year old one with brown spots, right? You know, so it’s a very particular language. And I thought, okay, we can photograph that. We can photograph the culture that’s embedded in the language, you know. So, then we came up with ways to do photographs that kind of illustrated the language, you know, these phrases and words, and we had word lists. And we worked with all these linguists and Lynn was just a champion. And it’s just beautiful. And I’m so proud of that story to this day. It was really cool.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Fascinating.


Sarah Leen: Yeah, it was fun.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: There is a question from Angela that I really, like very curious about it myself as well. Is there some go-to strategy that you use to start a story in a photo book? What is the best way to start a story? I mean, it’s always different, but—


Sarah Leen: You mean to start the book?


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: No, like, which kind of— the way I kind of understand the question is to start the story. So not the making of the book. But when you’re storytelling, is there kind of like a go-to way? Do you dive in? Will the first picture tell the story? Or is it like a slow start better?


David Campbell: What sort of picture do you start with? I think, that’s sort of the question.


Sarah Leen: Gosh, that’s, you know, there’s really no exact answer, right? Sometimes, you know, the photographer has a real idea. I mean, some photographers that I’ve worked with—like Diego was one who had real ideas about the kind of book he wanted, and what he wanted and how he wanted to do it. But I think that some don’t. Like, I’m dying to—come on, tell me, and they’re like, well, oh, I like that, like, well, yeah but don’t you like something else, too? So, it’s kind of like, they don’t know, so then you kind of —it’s on you to just present, you know, then I present ideas and see what, like, the light comes on, you know, and they’re, like, excited about it. But God, there’s like, it’s like snowflakes. There are millions of ways you could start any book. And it’s really, I think, knowing what is this book about. What gives you joy when you look at it? Like, I know I love that picture. And I love it to be—we could start here, you know? And then that sets the tone, right, for what comes next, the next the next and then how it goes, you know, like, what are those pictures that, you know, do want right out front? Because I think the beginning is so important to really grab people, you know, and really kind of engage them, you know, those first—even though many of us look at books from the back, you know. We’re so worried about the beginning, but then we flipped through the back. Right? So the back is important too.


David Campbell: Or randomly at any point in the middle.


Sarah Leen: That’s the thing about a book. It’s not like a magazine, where, I mean, you might kind of flip through it, but you know, there’s a text that, you know, if you’re going to read the text, you know, you’re going to start at the beginning. And with a book, you can almost start anywhere, so, but I still you know, when I’m editing and so I’m thinking about what’s that mood and what’s the mood we want to create at the beginning of the book. Is it somber? Is it joyful? Is it a tragedy? What, where’s the best— and often, you know, I kind of, you know, start with a few photos that are not attached to anything in particular. They’re just setting a mood for the book, but yeah, there’s, it’s a really good question because it It’s hard to figure out what sometimes where to start. You might have to try a number of things till you find what’s really working. Because it’s not just that picture, it’s linked to all the rest of the photos. It’s that one, and then you turn and then what? That second picture is just as important, because it’s going to be a surprise. It’s going to be the next step in the story.


David Campbell: I also think it’s a little bit like writing in some ways, because if you’re a writer, you’re usually you don’t start with the introduction, or you don’t start with the first page. The introduction is usually one of the last things you’ve come to write in a text. You begin the text somewhere, but it’s very rare that that is actually the beginning of the text by the time you’re finished. So, and because you don’t know where the text is going, and when you know where the text is going, and then you know, where you want to start. So, it looks like the beginning to someone, but in the process, it might be produced at the end.


Sarah Leen: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s also like, and I’m glad you mentioned about text, because, you know, first sentences and a book is what we’re kind of talking about. The first sentence, and there are some amazing first sentences, you know, that kind of is intriguing. And, you know, they’re kind of out there. And I think 100 Years of Solitude has a great first sentence about you know, I can’t remember the Colonel’s name, but he’s saying it’s it says something about, you know, Aureliano Buendia, when he was standing in front of the firing squad started to think about when his father showed him ice.


David Campbell: Yeah.


Sarah Leen: Is that great?


David Campbell: Yeah.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: That’s something too, you’re thinking, right?


Sarah Leen: Yeah. Can you do that with a photo? And it references, like it references one of our main characters. We have a sense of place, some drama, he’s standing in front of the firing squad. How did we get there? And then ice, you know, so it’s like, Can we do that with a photo? Yeah. That’d be pretty cool. That’s pretty cool.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: So, there are quite a few more questions, but one that I liked. It’s a bit, yeah. Okay. We’ll see. So it’s from an anonymous attendee asking, I always struggle with writing bio and artists CV when applying for grants, as I’m not really an accomplished photographer. What do I write? What is your recommendation and any resources to look into? Well, what’s your recommendation? Let’s say that.


Sarah Leen: Well, your bio is kind of, you know, your bio, it’s going to be, who you are and what you’ve done, and good information about yourself, you know. What are you— your bio can also include, like, you know, that you rafted the Danube River. I mean, it can be, you know, can be more than just photo stuff because you want people to get to know you as a person. That you have six cats, or—I think, I find that kind of stuff sort of interesting. You know, you’re a master chef on the side, who knows, like, whatever, but something that’s, there’s all the photo information and what you’ve done or where you’ve published, or if you’ve had a gallery show or, you know, your travels, where have you been? You know, and I think that— so the bio is like, kind of facts, it’s the facts, you know. The quote unquote artist statement, that’s not done quite as much in journalism. In journalism and photojournalism, we don’t really do artist statements. We tell what the story is, or the project is. We explain that. But you know, artists statements, for somebody who’s a bit more tilting into the gallery and fine art world it’s also a description of often the project, or the things that you the kind of art you’re doing, the kind of work you’re doing, and what it means, kind of in a—and they’re often more academic, art artists statements are a little more academic. It’s probably good to like go to people’s websites and see what they’ve written, you know, in terms of their bios, and if there’s an artist statements—I see artists statements when I’m judging like, you know, for grants, and I see sometimes there’s artists statements. One, I judged this past year, this Me and Eve grant, which is done by the Center in Santa Fe, and it’s all for women over the age of 40. And the grant that was selected, the project that was selected, was a really personal artist’s statement about the work and losing her mother and coping with some depression and everything like that. And it was very effective. Very, you know, I think I like to say to photographers sometimes, you know, make it personal. The personal can become the universal. I love, I love the personal.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien:  I was actually this week thinking of changing my bio bit up to, let’s say, updating it. And I’ll keep this in mind because mine is not personal at all. Because I always felt when I started out, actually, when I made the bio a couple of years ago that people might not want to read that or they find it unprofessional, even though for myself, I wanted to add things like, kind of where I grew up, grew up, and that that also shaped the way why I started photography, and I never added it. But now hearing you say it’s, um, it inspires me to change my bio a bit and make it a bit more personal as well.


Sarah Leen: Yeah, I mean, I’m not like that. What do you say, David? I mean, I like the personal information.


David Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. Because, you know, it’s a form of storytelling itself, your bio. So, you want to have something that’s going to catch attention.


Sarah Leen: Absolutely. That’s right. Good point.


David Campbell: You know, none of us wants to hear every single detail of every class you did in high school, but—


Sarah Leen: That’s true.


David Campbell: You know, you want something distinctive, you want something interesting, something that shows your personality a little bit and then conveys the information.


Sarah Leen: Because sometimes, you know, people like to pack it with every publication they’ve ever published. And every gallery they’ve done, it becomes like as chunky paragraph, and you just kind of, you know, I might just go okay, so they’ve published a lot of places, I don’t need to read every single one, you know, but they’ve had a lot of gallery shows, you know, but the other information, like we’re talking about the more personal data that I’ll read, you know,


David Campbell: When you described working with Diego, you talked about having like 400 photographs to begin with, and cutting down to 260 or whatever, Jeffrey’s got a question about the number of photographs that a photographer needs to consider in order to even think about publishing a book. I’m sure, I’m sure there’s not a formula for this, but what would you say about kind of the body of work you need and what you need to get it down to, to be manageable for a book project.


Sarah Leen: So it’s also very, you know, kind of, there’s so many possibilities here, because, you know, you could go out on something and not have spent a lot of time and it has a great amount of depth. And you could do like a little book, right? You know, on something like that. This is 11 years of work. That book was like 11 years of work. So, there was a lot— he had a lot to go through, that he wanted to go through. And for me having worked at the Geographic, you know, we would, because we would receive every photo the photographer took, you know, and we would go through all of them, so I would, could be starting in the mostly be starting in the 1000s. You know, I think Robin Hammond did a story that I worked on with him, and it was like 40,000 photos and you’re going to go through all of them. So, I’m not really afraid of 1000. It’s like, eh, I can look at the 1000. That’s okay, bring them on, show them to me. For me, it’s like, I like a lot, because I’m really trying to get to know the photographer, how they see, what interests them, what they’re drawn to. So, sometimes, and also, I don’t trust them so much for their own editing. So, if they only going to send me like 200, I’m thinking woah, what else is there am I not seeing? You know, maybe there’s some good stuff hidden in there. So, I like to get a lot, but I don’t, I would not say that that’s what every— I don’t know about a lot of other photo editors. They probably, depending, you know, the size of the book is also going to determine the number of pages, the number of pages, how many photos but I think if you have a solid project, you know, 500 photos, could be—I think it’s really probably the editor and the publisher, what they like to get, but you can always ask for more. And I do that, you know, somebody sends me 200 photos I can say, so what else, send me some more, you know. Send me another 200.


David Campbell: Probably not 40,000 Because then you become a contest jury at that point.


Sarah Leen: Absolutely. No, they’re there. Because that’s, you don’t want everything because there’s a lot of you know, people think, oh, there’s 40,000 photographs. Well not actually, there’s still only about 1000 photographs. There’s a whole lot of pictures on the way to that photo, you know, like note taking, that discovery process, but what I like about I always liked about looking at everything If you really understand how the photographer works, right, you really see how they move their body when they stop and stay, when they got uninterested and left. Maybe you think it’s too soon. So, in terms of the feedback you can give the photographer, it can be really granular, you know, like, you should have stayed a little longer. Or why did you stay so long. You know, you can have interesting conversations.


David Campbell: Yeah. What about—there’s a question from Joanne. What about advice on the right book publisher to work with if you’re not going to do a self-published book? Do you offer that sort of advice? And what sort of things do you think photographers should think about when they’re thinking about a commercial publisher or one of the arthouse publishers to approach?


Sarah Leen: Well, I think the thing is doing the research on the publishers, right? Like, what kind of books are they publishing? Like? Are they going to— is the kind of book or topic or something that you want to work on, are they doing those kinds of books? Right? You want it to fit in with their sort of their book philosophy, their book list, right? Where the smaller publishers, you know, it’s the same, it’s like they might have wide—like, if you’re doing a book about kittens, you know, well you probably don’t go to Mack Books. Unless it’s amazing, incredible kittens, like, we’ve never seen them before. Right? I should never and I shouldn’t say that. Because of course, you know, two months from now, Mack Books will come out with some incredible kitten book. So, but it’s like, you’ve got to do your research. And there’s Lenscratch, Aline Smithson, she has a whole little section on her website where she interviews different publishers, book publishers, And I love that. You go there and there’s an interview about them. They talk about what their, what kind of books they’re doing, their process for obtaining books, whether they take pitches or not, and it’s a really, really a wonderful resource. And there’s some other—that is the one I’ve found that I thought was like, really great. And but it’s small publishers too. It’s not, you know, Taschen. But it’s, and a lot of some of the bigger publishers, though, they may have a, something on their website that says, how to pitch to them, what are they looking for, you know, so they’ll have a submission, like a submissions policy, and a submission. So, you can go to go to their websites, video, I think you have to, like everything, you know, you have to do your research and study these publishers and publishing houses and see who’s right for you. The other thing is, I think it’s sort of like there’s certain portfolio reviews that have book publishers come, you know, to them, like the Center in Santa Fe, which they also have gallerists, and museums and stuff, it’s a little different than say, say, you know, New York Times portfolio review, which is more the photojournalism world and photojournalism editors. But yeah, the Center and also Photo Lucida, they have some really good, they get book publishers. Also, Houston, Houston Photo Fest, I mean, these are all US. But there’s also the other thing is there’s like the Frankfurt Book Fair, you know. The Frankfurt, that’s a huge book fair. And you can bring your ideas and go from go to those booths. And a lot of them will take a look at your idea. Sometimes they’ll have particular hours at book fairs for certain publishers, because, you know, they’re all looking for their next books, you know, so it’s, it’s, it’s fine to approach them. And there’s a little period of time where I was doing some, I wanted to pitch book ideas, not of my own photography, because I love to pitch photography, and, you know, sort of vernacular photography. So, I had all I had a bunch of ideas for these books, and I worked on making little mockups. And I went to the Chicago Book Fair and was like schlepping around some of my book ideas, right. And I didn’t know anything, but I didn’t know what I was doing at all, but I thought, well, I’m just gonna—then I found out a lot about what I was doing right and wrong by doing that, you know? So I think that yeah, you just had me to do your research and then I think these book fairs are also good.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: I really think with those portfolio reviews and book fairs, the nice thing is as well, that you see people face to face, and that you kind of can feel is there a connection? Is this a person I would or company I would want to work with or? Yeah, so yeah, I think that’s really, really a good way.


Sarah Leen: Yeah, I think so too. Yeah, that face to face connection is, can be really important. Somebody might just love what you’re doing, it might not be exactly right for them, but they’re going to give you a lot of good advice or maybe point you to who you should go see, you know, so I think those are, that’s a really good, good idea.


David Campbell: Well, I think we’re coming towards, yeah, we’re coming towards the end of our time, but we will squeeze in, will squeeze in the last question for you, Sarah, which is a really good question to finish on. From Angela, if I pronounced that correctly, which kind of stories are the hardest for you to edit? And what are the ones that you feel that you edit with ease? Are there types of stories that are more difficult by the nature of them, and other ones that are easier to do?


Sarah Leen: I think for me, because of my background experience, the ones that have kind of more of a definite story to them, you know, as opposed to pure poetry. You know, I love those books, I have bunches of them that are like, pure poetry, because then they could go any way. I mean, there’s, there’s less of an underlying story, right? Or it’s such a broad idea, right? And I find that, you know, a little harder, because there’s just so many ways it could be, you know, and I, and then I get lost in, like, all the options, you know, a little bit and it’s harder for me. You really got to be so in touch with how you’re feeling when you’re trying to do a book that’s really just about, well, this looks good with that and that’s all that needs to happen, right? There’s not necessarily an underlying story. So, the ones that have a little bit more of a story, they at least give me a little structure to start with, like, you know, they get and I find that a little bit easier. I think that’s my magazine background. So those ones that are more challenging the ones that I would call, like, they’re more tome poems or something, you know, I want to get better at that. Because I love those kinds of books and I’m drawn to those books. And that’s where, like, my own growth needs to happen is by like, kind of looking at them. Like, less, less, not literally so much, because I like to put things together that are not literal, but it’s like, I don’t have that story structure. You know, because then sky’s the limit. And I can spend a lot of time with that. Right. So, but yeah, for me, I think that’s kind of one of my challenges, my own challenges that I need to work on.


David Campbell: Great. Well, it’s been absolutely fantastic having you. You’ve given lots of practical advice. And you’ve really also extended our editing discussion into the book world, which I think is really significant for everyone. So, we really appreciate it. Sarah, thank you very, very much.


Sarah Leen: Thank you.


David Campbell: Thanks to everyone in the audience for attending. And we hope everyone has a good summer. We’ve got a couple more events coming up in the next two weeks, then we’re taking a little summer interlude. We will have some new articles on the website while that takes place. And then we’ll be back with more stuff in September. But watch out for the next couple of weeks too. Sarah, thank you very much.


Sarah Leen: My pleasure. Thank you Ilvy and David for having me. I really enjoyed it.


Ilvy Njiokiktjien: Thanks for being here. Thanks everyone.


Sarah Leen: My pleasure. My pleasure. Bye.


David Campbell: Bye.


Sarah Leen: Goodbye.

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