Expanding the Boundaries for Photo Editors

I’ve decided to start Photo Editor Awareness Day. Who’s with me?

Not long ago, it didn’t occur to me that such an event might be necessary. When I lived in New York City, I enjoyed a successful career as a photo editor. I loved what I did and for the most part found steady work in the publishing industry — whether full-time employment, contract work or freelance assignments.

What Does a Photo Editor Do, Anyway?

True, my friends and acquaintances would often ask, “What does a photo editor do, anyway?” It was OK, though. I would just explain to them that I was the person responsible for, among other things, finding, selecting and organizing photo shoots, and obtaining usage rights for visual content in a given publication, print or Web.

That answer worked for them and for me.

I didn’t bother going into the details, or sharing the frustrations that photo editors experience on a daily basis. Like handling crazy creative directors, editors and graphic designers with bizarre image requests. Or trying to stretch a low-resolution image to fill a page when no other size is available.

What mattered is that I loved the career I had chosen for myself — or that had been somehow chosen for me, as is the case with most photo editors.

Moving to Jerusalem

Then, about a year and a half ago, I moved from New York to Jerusalem. Things are a little different here.

People look at me like I’m from Mars when I say I’m a photo editor. When they ask me what a photo editor does, my old explanation no longer works. The most common response is, “Huh?”

I got a part-time job with the Jerusalem Post when I arrived. Because they have no picture desk, I was an assistant night editor, whose job included answering the phone, ordering dinner for the night editor and finding pictures. Since they literally have no photography budget, I was forced to use free images — or wire-service images from the cheapest subscription plan.

The publication did not care where the images came from, what they looked like, or how they were credited. After about a month of this, I got fed up and fired myself.

A Non-Existent Occupation

I began sending off resumes to every publishing house in Israel, large and small, with no response. I learned the hard way that the position of photo editor is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent in Israel. Editors or graphic designers find their own pictures, relying on microstock and a willful ignorance of copyright law.

Israel is very cultured in the fine arts, including photography as art. So it surprised me to see the lack of value placed in the job I loved. It was a real disconnect.

I was left with two options. Either I could switch careers (in fact, I started taking courses in interior design) or I could get creative in finding ways to apply my skills to the work that was available.

Getting Creative

I had a meeting with the head of image resources of the Israel Museum. She had a position that desperately needed filling, and my skills and experience turned out to be a great fit. (Unfortunately, she was denied funding for the job.)

I started networking in the high-tech industry. I found a niche for my expertise among startups that needed images for their investor PowerPoint presentations, marketing materials, and so forth.

I also began providing my knowledge to help startups pursuing photography-related applications, assisting with their product development and marketing strategies.

As part of my journey, I recently launched a Web site, The F Stops Here, that advocates the value of photo editors. I fully expect my definition of “photo editor” to evolve over time here — just as photography itself is evolving.

5 Responses to “Expanding the Boundaries for Photo Editors”

  1. I couldn't agree with you more. I was floored by how bad digital rights abuse is over here. Having worked in U.S. newspapers where taking an image off the Web was tantamount to grand theft auto, I had a rough adjustment to the Israeli newsroom.
    You've clearly got a wealth of expertise - not to mention the ability to write well. No doubt you're right around the corner from a great gig - keep at it.

  2. The biggest asset you got,is your will to pursuit your interests no matter what. Got to look for ways of finding stimulating jobs!

  3. Thanks, Kelli!

  4. This is news to me.
    Your story shows great spirit and motivation.
    My respect for you Jessica !
    Especially for firing yourself (that gave me a smile)


  5. I'll be signing up for the RSS feed to your website, for sure.

Leave a Reply