Yael Malka: I remember meeting you at the Vice photo show, which you had a few pieces in, last year after being a big fan of your work and just having hired you to do a photoshoot of babies for the FADER. I photo edited there for a good part of last year while Emily Keegin, the photo director, was on maternity leave. The babies shoot was actually one of my favorites that I got to commission. It was really playful and fun, but I know it was also super challenging because, well, babies, and also finding parents who were willing to let their children be photographed. I know it was a lot to put all that work on you but you handled it all so well. I was obsessed with all the photos – it was hard to choose! Shortly after The Vice photo show, you made another trip out to New York and you came to the office to show me new work and the dummy for your book. I really appreciated that you brought physical copies of magazines you had been commissioned to shoot for – and we just went through the pile. It was so old school and refreshing and I loved it. We talked for a long time about making work, commissions, traveling. We were sitting in that kitchen for like an hour! I had a few meetings while I was at The FADER where I was really able to connect with the photographer. This was definitely one of those times – we really got into discussing our process, our ideas, thoughts on photography and that was really fun and exciting. I don’t know if you remember it the same way, ha! I loved seeing the dummy for your book – it was beautiful. Where are you with the book now? I remember last time we talked you were looking for a publisher.
Rose Marie Cromwell: It is always so nice to meet people you work with, and photographers can spend so much time emailing back and forth with photo editors, that I really value the face to face time that I get with editors. I value making a relationship beyond the typical “here’s an assignment!” and “here are your images!”, so I too enjoyed our time in the FADER’s lunch room, and felt lucky that you took the time to look so carefully at my stack of magazines and book. I had been on your site and was really interested in your photo abstractions, they were original and done with care. I had done a couple smaller shoots for Geordie Wood, but I think the babies shoot was the largest I had been asked to do for the FADER at that time. I do like a challenge and the challenges were not only baby logistics, of which there are many, but also it is hard to make interesting photos of babies that do not just revert to “cute” or “upset”. You encouraged experimentation and that was empowering. It was also nice that you were hands on and present, and gave me feedback throughout the process. Speaking of babies, the book has also been incubating for a long time, and it’s ready to be birthed. It has gone through one more iteration since you last saw it, and I feel really good about where it is at, its done. I am excited to put it out in the world, because some of the images in it have only been seen by people who have held a dummy. The project also does not translate well in image edits of 10 or 20 and it was always meant to be viewed in book form. I do not have a committed publisher yet, but maybe by the time of publication of this conversation that will have already changed, fingers crossed. Looking back, how was your experience at the FADER? We haven’t talked since you left and moved to LA… Do you see more photo editing in your future? What is it like to be on both sides, a working photographer with editing experience?
YM: Oh, I loved working at the FADER. I learned so much and worked with truly incredible people. I became really good at negotiating. I learned more about storytelling and how to edit my own pictures. It’s always so hard to edit yourself, but it became easier after that job. I was lucky enough to shoot a bunch of stories for them while I was at that job and it got me really excited about making my work accessible editorially. Prior to that job, I tried doing editorial work and quickly realized it wasn’t what I wanted but I think it just took a few years to understand that I should be getting hired for my style, not just because I can take a picture and know how to use lights. I wasn’t connected to the stories I was commissioned and now I feel like I’ve made a very obvious shift stylistically so I get jobs that make sense for me and my work – which is exactly how it should be. Since I was able to make the kind of work I wanted to that fit my aesthetic, I decided it was something I wanted to pursue again. It was incredible to be able to start building up an editorial portfolio while I was at the magazine because when I left I had so many new photos and combined with my personal work, it was a perfect time to transition to working freelance. For that reason, I don’t think I’ll be going back to photo editing because I want to do my own thing right now. It was great being on the other side of the editorial world because now I know when I can ask for more money, I know how far I can push something, I know I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for something or make requests. I was always terrified that if I wanted to ask for a bit more money or had a concept I thought fit the story better that the photo editor would just be like, “okay, never-mind, let’s move on to another photographer.” This is something I talk with my freelance friends with all the time. I’m sure everyone can relate to that feeling where you’re obsessing and freaking all day about an email you need to send about a job and being terrified of what the response will be. But most of the time, it’s totally normal and not a big deal at all! When I chose someone for a job, it was because I thought they would be a fantastic fit for it and I trusted them. There were times where I was asked to give them a little more money and I was happy to do that when I could, but I would never un-hire someone for asking for more, in any sense. Do you know that dread-filled feeling I’m talking about when you’re waiting to hear back from a photo editor after you ask them a question you were nervous about asking? Have you had any experiences that ended up badly?
RMC: That is so great that you are taking the leap to freelance. That is a scary but exciting time and it is great you have a community to reach out to about business, because that is essential. I had a friend, whom I consider a mentor, who was generous enough to tell me a bit more about some industry standards, and negotiating tactics, and what was and wasn’t acceptable. Without him, I would have been lost. I started freelancing when was 31, which was 3 years ago, and just recently have left side jobs, such as teaching or cultural guiding in Cuba. It has been a learning curve, but what I have learned is that you are running a business.