Editors and Photographers

The relationship between editors and photographers can sometimes be somewhat fraught – and the stories of the battles between Gene Smith and the guys at Life Magazine is one of the great enduring (and largely true) legends of photography. Of course it was a relationship that produced some of the classic photo essays, and although Smith was certainly not the greatest editor of his own work, without these battles I think we can be pretty sure his work would have been less well presented.

Balance wasn’t a concept Smith had a lot of time for, at least when it came to publishing his work, and he almost single-handedly brought Magnum to its knees during his relatively short time with them when he was photographing Pittsburgh, having started the job with one of the most illustrious of photo-editors, Stefan Lorant, who wanted 100 pictures to illustrate a book, while Smith had his own idea.

Although my essay on Smith is digitally “out of print” you can read a few comments about him and editing in a post here, Editing Your Work.  Smith spent at least two years trying to edit the 17,000 images he made in Pittsburgh, but eventually gave up and around 45 years later (and some twenty years after Smith’s death)  it took five years for Sam Stephenson of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University to produce the exhibition and book Dream Street, possibly the greatest testament to Smith’s photography and a book that should be on the bookshelf of anyone with an interest in documentary, but also a warning to photographers.

Like many photographers, I think I’m both the best and the worst editor of my own work. Best because I know it better than others and usually have some idea of what I was intending. Worst because I have a strong emotional involvement and am often distracted by things that are not actually in the picture but are more about the situation and process of making the image.

This train of thought was prompted by a piece on the Photoshelter Blog, written for photo-editors, Top 10 Ways To Make A Photographer Fall In Love With You. It’s the third in a series by Photoshelter co-founder  Grover Sanschagrin which started with Top 13 Ways to Piss Off a Photo Editor and continued with Top 10 Ways To Piss Off A Photographer. All three pieces were based on asking a selection of either working photographers or editors and contain a great deal of sometimes obvious common sense.

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