The Unseen Editors

The New York Times’ Lens blog is taking a look at the picture editors behind some of the great photojournalists. We all see the names on the credit lines, but so much of the great work out there was inspired, cultivated and promoted by unknown editors – really happy they are doing this project. (Part two is here.)

This is from Kenneth Jarecke, talking about Contact Press Images editor Robert Pledge:

The editor/coach is largely extinct. We now have the editor as curator — super-aggregators who don’t have the time or resources to invest in the development of individuals. Instead of cultivating talent, they grab images from the cheapest source. When they assign, they find the closest warm body or someone who is currently “hot.” This is unsustainable but also sad. We’ve lost, or discarded, our teachers and are quickly losing our ability to help good photographers become great.

And it is true, very true. As I’ve noted before, newsrooms are built around words and visual editors are often the last ones included and the first ones excluded.

I got lucky, really lucky, that my first significant experience in the business was under the tutelage of Dan Hansen, then the New England News Photo Editor for the Associated Press. How I got in the door still amazes me – I was young, green and … well … probably not very good.* But he saw something in my portfolio or my attitude and he let me loose on the region for almost three years.

It was his coaching, cajoling and critiquing that helped me focus my storytelling. It was Hansen I wanted to impress, I wanted that confirmation that he thought what I had captured was worthy of being seen by millions on the wire.

A great editor doesn’t tear you apart and walk away, a great editor walks you through what went wrong, guides you on how to handle it differently – and tells you when you got it right.

* Of the four staff photographers in Boston at the time, three of them have ended up with Pulitzer Prizes, yet there I was shooting with them on the big assignments.

Mark E. Johnson

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