Josh Lustig, the Deputy Editor of Photography for the Financial Times Weekend Magazine (FTWM), made the transition from working at Panos Pictures in London to a commissioning role at an international news magazine. Josh talks with Blink’s Kyla Woods about the transition from being an artist rep to an assigning editor and shares some best-practices that every photographer should consider when working on editorial assignments.
KW: Can you speak about the transition from agent to photo editor?
JL: There’s a big difference between pushing out work and pulling it in. I love being an editor at a quality publication as it is immensely satisfying to produce something that you can be proud of.
However, I miss working closely with photographers on long-term projects. As a magazine editor you cultivate strong relationships with photographers, but it doesn’t compare to the time spent talking, thinking and developing ideas, which was what I did at Panos. I’m still very close to many Panos photographers, but I’m no longer the person that they call on.
KW: You’re currently the Deputy Editor of Photography at the FTWM, what does this job entail?
JL: I support our Director of Photography, Emma Bowkett. The two of us take care of all the photography for the magazine. At FTWM, 90% of all the published photography is commissioned, which allows us to shape and develop a real visual identity. My main role is to take care of commissioning and sourcing images for our regular slots: food, first person, pursuits, etc. and then we split up the larger features as appropriate. My main interests are more journalistic, whereas Emma is an expert at high-end portraiture, still-life work and fine art photography.
KW: When you hire a freelancer for an assignment, what are the best practices that they should follow?
JL: Firstly, prompt communication is a key component. I’m an anxious editor, so don’t leave me hanging, or waiting on a response. Even if it’s just one line, like “I’ll get back to you properly later.” I need to know that whomever I have hired is on it.
Secondly, well-captioned pictures are important. Don’t send uncaptioned pictures, even low-res. They’re of no use to anyone.
KW: For freelancers who don’t know FTWM or the Financial Times, what is the style you’re looking for?
JL: We have a very contemporary style which is driven by Emma Bowkett and the art director Paul Tansley. We commission or run stories that reflect not just the world that we live in, but that also engages directly with the way in which it is visualized. This is very important to us. The story and aesthetic must be considered in unison because it is vital for a successful story.
KW: What do you like to see when a photographer pitches stories?
JL: Firstly, I want to see that the photographer has thought about FTWM as a publication, and considered the kind of stories that would be of interest to the magazine. As you know, not all stories are suitable for all publications.
The photographer should have a sense of individual identity. I don’t want to see a portfolio that veers all over the place stylistically. FTWM only commissions people that have a distinct voice.
KW: How were you hiring freelancers before Blink?
JL: It was through a very similar process: photo editors build a network of people with whom they have worked in the past or been introduced to in various ways. Photographers often introduce themselves to me on a daily basis. Before Blink, I used LightStalkers and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter for finding people in certain places. Personal relationships and word of mouth were essential.
Blink allows picture editors to move quickly and work on a contemporary time-frame. I don’t have to wait for L.A. to wake up or a photographer based in Bangkok to get back to me. I can find someone when I need them, where I need them.
KW: Can you talk about your experience with Blink?
JL: I was first introduced to it through Matthew Craig and Julien Jourdes and together we discussed the potential of Blink. Then, as soon as I made the transition from agent to editor, and started working for an actual publication, Blink became an extremely useful tool. I often assign photographers in foreign countries and remote locations where I don’t have a network, and that’s where Blink comes in handy. I log on to Blink and simply find photographers on location. Then, I view their portfolio to ensure they are suited to the assignment.
We have just gone to press on a great story in Moldova where I was able to find a photographer for the shoot on the ground. Blink definitely helped speed up the procedure! Or, for example, when I commissioned a story in Honduras. Through Blink, I saw that a Mexican photographer happened to be on location there. Within minutes of contact, he got back to me and by the end of the day, we were able to set up the shoot. That never would have been possible without Blink.
KW: But how do you verify a photographer’s credibility if you don’t know them?
JL: I view their portfolio on Blink, and then I go to their website. If they don’t have a website, it rings an alarm bell for legitimacy [Editors’ note: Take note aspiring photographers!]. I source tear-sheets, commissioned work, projects and then I like to see how they work on commission, under different sorts of restraints, and a tighter brief. After gauging their online presence, I start an email correspondence. If days go by without response, then I think, “Maybe I’m going to find someone else because if they’re not responding to me on a daily basis, this probably won’t work out well.”
—Josh Lustig, interviewed by Kyla Woods
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Josh Lustig is currently working as the Deputy Picture Editor of the Financial Times Weekend Magazine commissioning covers and features for the UK’s leading color-supplement. He previously worked for Foto8 Magazine as an editorial assistant and Panos Pictures as an assignments editor. He is also the co-founder of the book-publishing wing of Tartaruga, a leading independent record label and print studio.