by Jim Colton
Tuesday night, October 30th, 1984. The phone rings around midnight. Myra Kreiman, one of my colleagues in the photo department at Newsweek, was watching ABC’s Nightline which claimed at the very end of the segment, that Indira Gandhi may have been assassinated! She wanted to give me, the Acting Director of Photography, a “heads up.”
Over the next two hours, after confirming Gandhi’s death through a variety of sources, we “scramble the jets.” I wake up all of the major photo agency heads in New York and tell them I want first right of refusal on any images related to the story. Next, I dispatch our contract photographer Peter Turnley on the first available flight from Paris to New Delhi.
Two hours later, feeling confident that I have done all that I could do to insure we have the best possible coverage of this breaking news…I go to sleep.
2:30 a.m. -- the phone rings, it's Tom Mathews, the senior editor for international news at the magazine. In his southern drawl he says, “Jim (pronounced as a three syllable word) Indira Gandhi has been assassinated!” I respond, “Again?”
That’s how we rolled back then. In the pre-digital world, whoever moved the quickest reaped the rewards…especially when it came to meeting the weekly deadlines. Being the “first” to contact the image makers and photo agencies was critical… especially if you wanted to beat the competition, which in our case was TIME Magazine.
As Newsweek’s last print issue rolled off the presses at the end of 2012, I reflected on those “glory years” when picture display was paramount and the competition was fierce! Now, in 2013, TIME Magazine no longer has a direct competitor. Yet the magazine is still as relevant and vital as ever and its online footprint is becoming larger every day.
One of those footprints is LightBox, TIME.com's online home for great photography. LightBox affords the magazine the ability to publish work on a real-time basis as well as supplement and compliment images also appearing in its weekly print edition. The person who holds the baton for the visual orchestra at TIME Magazine is Director of Photography Kira Pollack, who would have been a formidable adversary back in my time.
To find out how she manages all of TIME’s photographic coverage for the print version as well as their web site, I asked her about the many hats that a director of photography needs to wear.
Jim Colton: Who comes up with the ideas for the subject matter and galleries published by lightbox.time.com and how many people work producing it?
Kira Pollack: LightBox is a collective effort by my entire team and reflects the taste and passion of all of the terrific photo editors in the department. Paul Moakley, the deputy photo editor and I, oversee the editorial vision and sometimes assign photo editors specific stories to work on, but the bulk of the ideas on LightBox are generated at a weekly pitch meeting in which every photo editor is expected to pitch an idea and then execute it, once it’s approved by us. The pitch meeting is a moment for the department to come together to look at images and discuss ideas as a group. It is a sacred pause in our very hectic week.
Regarding staffing: Vaughn Wallace is LightBox’s producer. He oversees every detail of each post as well as promoting our posts via social media in collaboration with Associate Social Media Editor, Amy Lombard. We also have a terrific intern dedicated to LightBox, Adam McCauley. Ben Cosgrove (concurrently the editor of LIFE.com) is joining LightBox this year as our text editor. He is responsible for assigning and editing the majority of text. Ben replaces Feifei Sun, who did an exceptional job in 2012. Paul and I read every post before it goes live.
JC: TIME Magazine recently ran an Instagram photo on its cover during Hurricane Sandy. There was a lot of press about it. I actually thought it was very cool but there were some detractors out here. Could you speak about that specifically?
KP: On October 29--the day that Sandy hit ground-- we assigned five excellent photographers; some of whom are known for their approach to photography via cell phones: Benjamin Lowy and Michael Christopher Brown in New York; Ed Kashi and Andrew Quilty in New Jersey and Stephen Wilkes in Connecticut, to cover Sandy for TIME across the regions most affected. For over 48 hours, these photographers uploaded breaking news images from several different locations to TIME's Instagram feed. The resulting photos were then shared through TIME's main social media outlets, reaching more than 11 million of our fans and followers. (http://lightbox.time.com/2012/10/30/in-the-eye-of-the-storm-capturing-sandys-wrath)
Two days after the storm hit, TIME’s Managing Editor Rick Stengel decided to publish a regional cover of Hurricane Sandy. When we tried Benjamin Lowy’s haunting photograph of a wave in Coney Island in our cover template, the image worked immediately. The fact that the picture was made with a cell phone camera rather than an SLR seemed irrelevant in the decision making process. It was a strong image of a news breaking moment and it had an emotional impact.
We got a lot of attention from the Instagram assignment, but we covered the story in multiple ways on multiple platforms. In the weeks that followed, we commissioned Eugene Richards to cover Staten Island and Finlay MacKay to cover a housing project in Far Rockaway for LightBox. Photographer Stephen Wilkes made an astounding set of pictures for TIME from a helicopter of devastated landscapes from the air, which ran as a photo essay in November 26, 2012 issue and a 21-picture series on LightBox.
JC: Do you see Instagram or any other app based photography being any different than say using a holga as a tool during the analog days?
KP: Instagram is revolutionizing the way that we communicate through images. It’s a vessel for a picture to reach a potentially massive audience in an instant. Once the picture is uploaded and reaches the followers of the specific feed; from there, it can reach thousands and perhaps millions of others through other social media.
One of the most unique aspects about Instagram is that it’s direct from the field-- from photographer to viewer. By handing over TIME’s Instagram feed to a photographer covering a breaking news story--whether it’s Ed Kashi on Hurricane Sandy or Brooks Kraft on Obama’s election trail--we are giving the photographer the opportunity to file direct from the field to our viewers. No editor involved. That’s revolutionary.
There has been a lot of debate about filters and whether the filters applied through Instagram, Hipstamatic or other devices put the journalism in question. The filters that are used by our photographers are well within our boundaries. We see whatever post-production or set filters that our photographers use similar to photographers back in the day selecting which film that they use or how they print the image in the darkroom.
JC: How do you manage your time between the print version of the magazine, the online version, LightBox, etc? How many hats do you have to wear? Which are your favorites? Which are not?
KP: As the Director of Photography, I try to wear one enormous hat, rather than a number of different ones. There has to be one powerful photographic vision threaded throughout TIME, and while we are working on several different platforms at once, the more that we can maintain a strong unified photographic approach, the more consistency we can provide to our audience of 50 million who are accessing TIME in all different ways. I am always looking for overlaps and ways in which the staff and the platforms can be woven together rather that seeing them as separate pieces.
JC: How has the shuttering of Newsweek’s print edition in favor of an online only version affected you, if at all? Could you see that ever happening to TIME Magazine?
KP: Of course it’s sad that an institution like Newsweek is no longer in print. We've been a very different business for a long time and we're thriving on all fronts— digital, social and print.
JC: What’s the best way for photographers who want to contribute to TIME Magazine or to LightBox to get their work in front of you?
KP: We have set up an email for LightBox submissions that is reviewed every day: Light[email protected]. If a photographer has a story pitch, he or she can send it to this address or to individual editors. One thing to keep in mind is to try to make the pitch four sentences or less and define its news value at the top.
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