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Understanding Your Art Director
Posted By Wayne Ford On October 2, 2009 @ 12:05 am In Photojournalism | 18 Comments
As group design director for a large U.K.-based publishing company, I’ve found that understanding the photographers I work with is an integral part of my creative process.
What motivates a photographer to take the photographs they do? How do they like to work? What are their influences and interests? These are all questions I ask myself before commissioning a photographer for a specific project.
Do You Know Your Art Director?
But I wonder how many photographers really understand their art director in the same way? I’m not talking here about understanding the brief — I’m talking about understanding the person and what motivates them.
For me, the photographer/art director relationship is a collaboration; the photographer and I discuss our ideas and thoughts. I’m not one of those art directors who creates a sketch and presents it to the photographer for execution. I want to have a dialogue through which we explore the brief. In some cases this might entail a brief telephone conversation, but in others it might require a number of face-to-face conversations over a period of time.
Nothing is better than face-to-face communication for building a relationship. Having said that, I can also learn a lot about the photographers I work with — or am considering working with — online. And photographers should be using the Web to learn about their art directors, too.
Today, when photographers call to make an appointment to show their books, I will generally look at their Web sites to gain a certain understanding of them, so that when we do meet we are able to discuss their work and approach in a little more depth.
Social media tools like Twitter enable photographers and art directors to learn even more about one another, and to build upon their relationships. For example, I used Twitter to ask photographers what I should write about in this blog post — and I plan to continue using Twitter to get your feedback and questions that may form the basis of future posts.
Understanding Passions and Influences
So what if you are interested in learning more about an art director that you work with, or would like to work with? Well, in my case, if you follow my Tweets  or my Posterous postings , you will quickly pick up information about my influences and passions.
In terms of magazine design, these influences include Russian émigré Alexey Brodovitch, who art directed Harper’s Bazaar from 1938 to 1958; the German title Twen, art directed by Willy Fleckhaus; the British magazine About Town in the 1960s, art directed by Tom Wolsely; and the art direction of Swiss magazine Du by Roland Schenk, who would later become design director at Haymarket Publishing — a position I now hold.
Of course, many other magazines and art directors have inspired me and continue to excite me, but these four art directors are constants and have one passion in common — photography. As photography is a passion of mine as well, I am an avid collector of photography books and regularly attend photography festivals. I also interview and write about photographers from time to time. And I post about all of these loves on Twitter and Posterous.
I also post about things I don’t like — which can be equally valuable to a photographer who would like to work with me.
And the same is true for many art directors today. It’s easier than ever for you as a photographer to get relevant background information before you ever pick up that phone to ask to show your book.
Understanding your art director can help you to earn assignments, build relationships and, ultimately, do better work. The best photographer/art director relationships are stimulating, exciting, fresh, even symbiotic — all of which ends up being reflected on the printed page.
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