Whether you want to be a scientist, stylist, writer or you have no idea yet, there’s something cathartic in hearing about the multitude of winding paths. That’s why Man Repeller launched a series wherein various team members answer your career questions — anything from how they got to where they are to what they wish they’d done differently to what they still hope to do. There’s always a lesson to be learned somewhere or, at the very least, relief in knowing that it’s more than okay if you’re still figuring it out. Haley, Crystal and Patty have already answered your burning career Qs, and up this time is Edith Young, MR’s Senior Photo Editor. Below, she answers some of the questions recently posed to her on Instagram.
Photography is one of those weird things to try to make a career out of. How and when did you decide that it was worth pursuing photography full-time?
I interned at a small editorial platform the summer before my senior year of college, where I learned that the pace and thoughtfulness of media spoke to me. I then freelanced as a photographer and writer as a senior in college, trying to accumulate clips and listening to the Longform podcasts while clone-stamping photos for my thesis. At some point during my senior year, I realized that I had to decide between pursuing an editorial path and a visual one. Evaluating my options, I knew that ideation for stories came naturally to me while I preferred to follow a prompt or solve a problem in visual projects, so I decided to pursue the dark arts full-time and figured I could keep pitching/writing freelance—just the stories I wanted to write, no required assignments to meet some quota—in my spare time. Many months later, the Man Repeller door opened and I saw it as a tremendous growth opportunity.
What is it exactly that you do at Man Repeller?
I’m responsible for producing photographic imagery across Man Repeller’s platforms, photographing the majority of shot imagery across channels (editorial, partnerships, social) and driving production of photos from beginning to end, including conceptualizing, scheduling shoots, casting models, project managing and pre-production (drafting up call sheets, scouting and securing hair, makeup, locations and sourcing props), photographing, making selects, photo editing, and uploading and formatting the final story. This all involves collaborating with the other half of Man Repeller’s art department, Emily Zirimis, and with the editorial team. I assign, art direct and manage freelance photographers for outsourced projects, while also contributing to other aspects of our visual process, like making collages. I also write one or two stories a month.
Did you formally study photography? Do you need to study photography in school in order to turn it into a career?
I did formally study photography and will tell you that it is completely unnecessary for pursuing a career in the field. I learned more technical skills in practice during my first month at Man Repeller than I did at art/design school.
That said, the best thing about my school in particular was that it championed the conceptual over the technical and focused on teaching you how to think and problem solve creatively, or in a way that differentiates you from others. I went to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and the school emphasizes on day one that your choice of major isn’t designed to specialize you to the point of no return. RISD likes to make an example out of alumni like Walton Ford, the major contemporary artist who paints John James Audubon-esque watercolors of animals at an almost impossibly tremendous scale, because he didn’t major in painting at RISD: he majored in film. If this is something you’d like to learn more about, I recommend these books: The Art of Critical Making and Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century).
While I’m grateful for my quite singular experience at Man Repeller, I also know that I still have a lot to learn—I have a shortlist of more seasoned photographers and creatives whose wings I’d like to be under at some point.
What’s the misconception of your role as a Photo Editor?
I’d assume that when misconceived, people think I’m literally editing photos in Lightroom and Photoshop (which I am) but that’s not the crux of my role. Am I spending most of my time sourcing images from Getty and other editorial outlets? Or managing the production of freelance photographers’ shoots? That’s what I imagine many “photo editors” are doing when they email me about licensing our images for their publication, but that is only one small part of my role at Man Repeller (and likely a small part of theirs, too!).
Was being a photo editor/photographer always your dream job?
I’m not sure that it is my dream job! But this role is a really good place for me to be right now.
Do you have any regrets or make any mistakes along the way?
I can connect all of the dots in retrospect. Even if I feel like maybe I made a wrong turn, or took a position that ended up not going in the direction that had been discussed, I always learn something along the way that makes the next step possible. So, I wouldn’t classify any decision I made as a misstep or a mistake (and therefore would urge you to relieve the pressure you put on yourself of “making the wrong decision” when it comes to your career. You have to follow your instinct—and the money—at a certain point).
I just realized I wrote almost the exact same thing here, maybe more eloquently.
How does an aspiring photographer build a good kit of cameras/lenses/tripods without going totally broke?
What was your first camera and what camera would recommend for someone buying/investing in their first?
My first camera was a Nikon D60, I think.
I’ve had a Canon 5D Mark II since the year 2011 and that’s the same camera I’m using to shoot everything you see on Man Repeller with my photo credit. Many would argue that your lens matters a lot more than your camera body.
The great thing about cameras is that they end up paying for themselves (one or two jobs can cover the entire cost). I’m not much of a gearhead evidently but I do love my Pentax 67.
A hot tip: One of your family members may still have their 35mm camera lying around. They have not loaded it with film since the mid-nineties. “Borrow” it from them. Those cameras were built to last.
If you ever work with other freelance photographers at Man Repeller, I’m curious how you find them and what the hurdles are to making a decision?
At Man Repeller, we assign a few stories per month to freelance photographers, primarily in New York though occasionally elsewhere. These photographers usually demonstrate a degree of creative mindshare with our brand identity, though the real perk of publishing freelancers’ work is the opportunity to represent fresh and varying perspectives on our site. I’m always eager to see the work of freelance photographers near and far: please send your portfolio/websites/etc to firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you have a friend who’s your favorite photographer, those kinds of recommendations tend to be the best way we learn about new(-to-us) talent.
My brother is a professional photographer/photo editor. One issue he has is that people (oftentimes customers) post his work on social media without giving him credit. How would you approach this if you were him?
This is all too common an issue and most photographers are afflicted by it. It’s impossible to prevent to a certain degree, but one action item would be to ensure that all of his contracts mandate credit on any social media posts resulting from his shoot.
It would be really cool if everyone credited the artist they post on Instagram and set a good example for the rest of us. It’s not that difficult to find an image’s origins through tools like reverse Image Search on Google.
Do you think any photographer should know their way around a dark room? How do you feel about analog photography vs. digital photography and are good photographers masters of both?
Having an introductory experience to the darkroom can only be beneficial, though not necessary. For me, it became the entry point for actually understanding how settings like aperture, shutter speed and ISO work: seeing them function in a manual way and seeing the process of a photograph’s conception from start to finish helped me as a visual learner completely understand the relationship between all of the tools. It’s a bit hard to internalize these ideas just from fiddling with a hundred buttons on a DSLR.
In the call-out for questions, my friend Haley teasingly asked, “Edith, how does the internet work?,” a question we ask each other and no one in particular all the time. Spending time in a darkroom does remind you of the absolute magic of photography in our image-saturated world: When you really think about it, how is it even possible that we can freeze a moment in time on a piece of paper? Wild.
There are aspects of working in the darkroom that I don’t enjoy (cracking open and unspooling the precious roll of film you just shot with a sharp pair of scissors in the absolute dark), so now The Color House on Lafayette Street in Manhattan processes all of my film. They’re the best in the city and I hope they stay in business for decades to come.
I try to shoot film as much as I can on our bigger shoots: I find that film is still just better-looking and more evocative in a tactile way. I also embrace the opportunity to be more considered when framing a shot. Isn’t it incredible that there are still filmmakers who shoot entire feature films on Kodak Super 8?
What advice do you have for aspiring photographers? For recent college grads?
My top advice for recent or soon-to-be college grads is to take a blinders-on approach while navigating your own career and choices for the future. Comparing yourself to your peers will not help you land on something that fulfills you. Forging your own path at your own pace is underrated. Also, work hard (less talking and filibustering about what you want to do or make, and just make it) and as Patti Smith likes to advise, get your teeth cleaned a few times a year.
Discovering what kind of pace and scale of projects I liked to work on turned out to be more important than I expected. My first job out of college was as a somewhat ambiguous production/administrative assistant on the creative team of a brand, and we worked on campaigns for which the pre-production, production and post-production would stretch over two months or so. Once the campaign had launched, we started the process all over again for the next campaign. This cadence didn’t speak to me especially. Finding a cadence that engages you may require some trial-and-error and is one reason you shouldn’t put too much pressure on what your first job looks like.
For aspiring photographers: Don’t spend too much time looking at photography. Really interrogate what sets you apart. There is so much sameness in photography now, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Where do you draw creative inspiration from? How do you keep your creative ideas fresh and new to you?
I glean inspiration from everything but fashion photography. Spending too much time looking at and referencing photography starts to make everything look and feel derivative. Thinking about other media or experiences and figuring out how they can be interpreted through photography tends to be where my most fruitful ideas materialize. I went to a talk given by Zoe Latta and Mike Eckhaus in the early days of Eckhaus Latta and it was clear that this was where they were intuitively skilled: translating ideas and visual phenomena in areas so far removed from fashion, and then finding a way that these ideas could fit their medium, in this case the human body.
I often have my best ideas congeal when reading. I recommend setting up an account with your local library. I’ve never had an a-ha moment when staring at a screen.
Who was your biggest photographer icon growing up?
I guess I’d have to say Bruce Weber, Tina Barney or Richard Avedon. Each is a keen portraitist in their own right, though as I mentioned, my inspiration comes in a more concentrated dose from all sorts of people and the ways their minds work: graphic designers, writers, textile artists, furniture designers, musicians, bakers, stylists, illustrators, painters, etc. I love the kind of work that exists in the murky territory between art and design. If you’re in the mood to tab out: Tamara Shopsin, Alex Katz, Alice Neel, Murat Pulat (you need to see the paintings in person), Jonas Wood, Wayne Thiebaud, Sheila Hicks, Solange Franklin, Rachael Wang, Charles Burchfield, Rafaël Rozendaal, Molly Young, Joana Avillez, Happy Menocal, Liana Jegers, Tauba Auerbach, Larry Sultan, Ludwig Bemelmans, the guys making the Online Ceramics t-shirts, and so on.
If you are looking for some contemporary photography inspiration (and are still in the mood to tab out): Shaniqwa Jarvis, Lea Colombo, Susanna Howe, Charlotte Wales, Katie McCurdy, Brianna Capozzi, Benjamin Vnuk, Jody Rogac, Chris Rhodes, Jeff Bark, Hendrik Kerstens, Molly Matalon.