WSJ. Magazine launched in 2008 with the aim of combining eye-catching photography and insightful reporting in a publication that brings us to the cutting-edge in the worlds of fashion, technology, travel, design, art and entertainment.
The magazine works with some of the world’s top photographers, from well-known names in editorial work like David Bailey, Juergen Teller and Peter Lindbergh to more unexpected artists like Nobuyoshi Araki. Curious to learn more about how the magazine’s high-profile shoots come together, we reached out to the magazine’s director of photography (and juror for the LensCulture Portrait Awards 2017) Jennifer Pastore, to learn more about the monthly publication’s perspective on photography.
LC: Portrait photography is deeply associated with the still image and with fashion photography in particular. What makes a powerful portrait for you? What do you look for when trying to convey (or commission someone else to convey) a subject in an original, memorable way?
JP: The most powerful portraits leave me with the feeling that I am witnessing either the subject in an unguarded moment or in some kind of tête-à-tête with the photographer. At WSJ., we look for photographers who will hopefully draw something special out of the subject during the sitting—whether through their particular set-up or through their interactions during the shoot. There is a certain alchemy that goes into a successful portrait shoot; as a photo editor, I try to assemble the best ingredients and then let the process happen.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about a portrait series of babies in profile by Bettina von Zwehl and also some recent portraits of children by Pieter Hugo. As a new mother, they move me in very different ways, and yet I find both series to be hauntingly beautiful. They stay with me.
LC: You work with a wide variety of photographers—from the well-established (e.g. Peter Lindbergh) to the up-and-coming. Reflecting on the photographers that you enjoy working with, with whom you have a good relationship, what would you generalize as useful rules for photographers to keep in mind as they build up a rapport with their photo editors? Something like a “short field guide to getting along with your editor?”
JP: Getting along with your editor is pretty much the same as getting along with anyone in your professional (and personal) orbit, though I would add a few key things that are particularly important in the deadline-oriented world of magazines. Most important is clear communication. It is essential that the expectations on both sides are understood and that you enter into any assignment feeling good about the shoot parameters, timing, budget and creative brief.
If you foresee any problems with the assignment, you should discuss them with your photo editor before—or even during—the shoot. It is always better for the photo editor to hear that there is a problem while there is still time to fix it rather than after the fact. Another key thing is to always deliver on or before the deadline. Magazine timing is usually very tight, so delivering even a day late can have major repercussions for the production cycle. Last but not least, humor, charm, a positive attitude and flexibility always go a long way!
LC: Would you mind taking us briefly behind the scenes of a cover shoot? How far in advance is it planned? How big is the team? Is it all done in one day? One morning? Are you often on site at these shoots? Basic questions, but ones that I’m not sure are obvious to many people—editorial photography is a rarified world!
JP: The logistics surrounding our cover shoots vary with every subject in terms of location, photographic team, timing and creative direction. In general, our cover shoots take place in one day. For our celebrity stories, we have a crew of people on set: the photographic team, styling team, prop stylist, hair and makeup artists, digital tech and one or two people from the magazine.
LC: You have mentioned the importance of festivals and seeing work in person. Given where you discover work, what do you think photographers should keep in mind when they are trying to “get noticed”?
JP: Considering how much work I see online these days, it is more important than ever for me to see work in person. You can really understand the level of artistry and skill that a photographer has when you see a print in front of you. With that in mind, photographers should not underestimate the value of a print portfolio. It is often worth it to invest the time and effort in learning how to make beautiful prints.
LC: For artists who are interested in developing careers as professional portrait photographers, what are some of the best things they can do to get their careers started (or to take them to the next level)?
JP: I think above all, a photographer interested in a career in portraiture should be doing as much personal work as possible to fully develop their visual language. Feedback and exposure are also important, but having a clear photographic voice and an understanding of why you are shooting and what draws you to your subjects is even more essential.
—Jennifer Pastore, interviewed by Alexander Strecker