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Miki Johnson: How many editors would a participant in the NYCFotoWorks Portfolio Review potentially get to see?
Marc Asnin: You’ll see 14 if you sign up for two sessions. Our thing right now is that it’s an incredible list of editorial people. Last time we had one of these sessions, most of the people came from out of town, which I thought was very interesting. I think they realized that if you’re paying $399 and you’re getting to meet with seven editors — you can’t FedEx your portfolio for that. And how many people are going to look at your portfolio online? Does it get through the spam filter? All the editors are really into it. It’s refreshing to see that you can get 50 editors to participate. Even in this difficult time, they still want to see new work.
This year, meetings are during the day and into the evening. So let’s say you come in the morning and you have three sessions out of your seven, you’ll be able to hang out. So maybe you only got seven minutes with someone from Vanity Fair, but then you could also talk to them during the intermission. We will also have a wrap party so that the participants can all get to know each other. It’s good to hang out with your peers, too. When I taught at SVA, I always told the students, you can learn much more from each other than you can ever learn from me; you’re the same age, you’re in the same world.
One thing we did last time and we’re doing again is making sure that there’s a certain quality of photography we’re showing. It’s not like I’m expecting everyone to be Annie Leibowitz. But we wouldn’t ask photo editors to give their time to look at work that’s not on a professional level.
We’re also not pigeon-holing people. So if you’re a reportage photographer, that doesn’t mean you can’t see Vanity Fair. That’s an important thing for photographers to understand. For instance, I’ve worked with Bruce Perez at Redbook. If you don’t understand the magazine world, you might wonder, what would Marc ever do for a woman’s magazine? Well, I did a story on breast cancer and another on a boy with brain caner. So you can get interesting reportage work at a woman’s magazine. I used to work a lot for Good Housekeeping and did some other incredible stories there.
MJ: What tips do you give photographers about their meetings with editors?
MA: I recommend that you bring a real portfolio. You may say, my real portfolio is my website. But if your website loads slowly … or what if your computer had a problem in that moment. God help you. You only have 10 minutes. Everyone keeps moving, whether your photos load or not.
But I still give photographers options. You can come in with a traditional portfolio, or people are showing books produced by Blurb or other companies like that. Even myself, the new portfolios I create are with Blurb. I’m so sick and tired of spending $300-$400 on a new portfolio, so I’ve been doing the Blurb thing.
MJ: I was also thinking about how you were saying it is important to have one thing that you do really well, especially in New York, rather than trying to be a jack of all trades. I wonder if you have advice that you give people about how to impress that upon an editor?
MA: It’s like me — I once was up for the Alicia Patterson Grant for my Uncle Charlie work, in like the second round. You do the written round, and then you get a personal interview with, like, six judges. They were all in suits. It was a little intimidating. And they’re asking you these really quick questions. Maybe like these photographers will get asked some questions by our editors.
So these judges are not not photographers. Most of them are journalists or from academia. And one woman asked, in the 20-some years you did the Uncle Charlie project, did you ever hate your uncle? Now, if you’re really a journalist, you are supposed to answer, you know, I’m a journalist and I keep my separation. To me that’s intellectual bullshit. I said, “Yeah, plenty of times. I loved him a lot. I hated him a lot. That’s how life is.” And I got the grant. I think that’s an incredibly important lesson. If you sit down with an editor and try to be something you’re not, they’re going to see right thought it.
But if you know who you are and what you do, there can also be a lot of opportunities to try new things. Like I once did a thing for Men’s Health about firemen in Chicago. Then I got another assignment from them to do these detail shots. I call them my still lifes. And I got another assignment based on the creative director loving those, to do these close-ups on the life of Hemingway. So it’s not like, because I do this one thing, I can’t go to that magazine. But don’t go in there trying to change who you are.
I also think you should dress for who you are. I don’t know if people still do that, but when I was a kid, you had to get dressed up for everything. I’m not saying show up as a slob, but you know, I’ve had some interns show up in suits. I’m like, listen, never wear a tie to meet me. You’re in the photo world in New York now. No one wears a tie, man.
Finally, you need to be articulate. You’ve usually only got about 10 minutes with an editor and you’ve got to be able to talk about what you do, who you are, or what you think of the world. Something. If Chris Dougherty, the director of photography at People magazine, asks you, “So what are you really passionate about? What do you love? What kind of images do you love?” And you say, “Oh, I like a lot of things.” God help you. I think photographers need to look in the mirror and realize that your verbal skills are incredibly important also.