Career Insight - Cheryl Newman - Writer and Photography Consultant

Cheryl Newman is a writer and photography consultant living in London. For more than fifteen years she was the Photography Director of the Telegraph Magazine, a glossy weekend supplement with The Daily Telegraph newspaper in the UK. She raised the profile of the magazine within the industry commissioning intelligent and inventive photography worldwide. She teaches workshops globally on fashion, editorial and documentary photography.

She has been a committee member of the Royal Photographic Society. She has served as a judge for many photographic awards including; the Ian Parry Award, the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery, the Getty Grant 2015, the Lucie Awards, the Santa Fe Editors Choice 2014, HIPA Dubai 2014, PhotoEvidence Book Award 2015, and the Flash Forward Award 2015. She is on the Faculty of the Bilder Nordic School in Oslo and a regular speaker on the photo circuit in the UK, US and Europe.

A fine art graduate under the tutelage of John Hilliard she is photo obsessed and family holidays were spent visiting festivals such as Arles or Perpignan rather than Disneyland much to her daughterís disappointment.

At present she is curating a long-term project on Blindness within the Commonwealth for the Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Trust and running a twelve-week mentorship programme with Capa Gold Medal winner 2015, Marcus Bleasdale.

How did you start your photography career?
I always tell the same story. As a child, my mother kept all of our family pictures in a battered old leather suitcase. On Sunday afternoons Iíd get all the photographs out and arrange them in different groups. Itís very odd that I ended up organizing photographs for a living. As soon as I discovered photography in a more serious form, it took over my life. I became a photo editor because when I needed to get a career I didnít feel qualified to do anything else. But the old family pictures are where my love for photography started. I still have them. These tiny black and white objects with a wiggly border are like treasures.

telegraph magazine cover   What qualities got you to the top as an editor of a major magazine?
Following my degree in fine art where I made photographs and film I worked as an artist and photographer. When my daughter was born in ī89, I had to step up and look after her. I began my magazine career as an intern for Marie Claire and New Woman magazines. It was very exciting to be part of a creative process and I made sure I learnt the business very quickly. I didnít look back and worked as a freelancer for about a year before being offered a job as the photography editor of a very cool movie magazine called ĎPremiereí. The first shoot I commissioned was with the actress Emma Thompson. Iíll never forget it! I chose the photographer Andrew McPherson for the shoot; he made such beautiful classic portraits. I hired a studio, styling and makeup for the first time, which was a massive buzz. During my time at Premiere I was lucky to have creative freedom and a generous budget in those days. I worked with David Lachapelle, Miles Aldridge, Schoener and Terry Richardson, photographers who were fresh and relevant. The work we produced was exciting and really pushed the barriers of celebrity photography. I stayed at Premiere for five years until the magazine closed. I was then offered work at The Telegraph magazine under the editorship of Emma Soames. After a couple of years I become the photography director.

It was an exciting change of pace for me. In the morning I could be sending a photographer to a conflict zone and in the afternoon commissioning fashion. It offered me an unprecedented opportunity to gain a global knowledge of photographers and genres. The magazine changed under my direction. We worked with globally significant photographers both photojournalists and fine artists. We mixed it up commissioning, using Stephen Shore to shoot fashion for example. I was lucky to work with amazing people. Alec Soth, Nadav Kander, Marcus Bleasdale, and Mary Ellen Mark who sadly died recently are just a few. I tried to put my stamp onto the visual language of the magazine, to keep it relevant and provocative.

I made some exciting commissions such as Simon Roberts Piers project, worked twice on projects with extraordinary access to Buckingham Palace, am proud of the womenís and menís fashion supplements and of course our BAFTA issues which although stressful were a treat to produce as we shot about 100 British actors and industry professionals over a three week period. We won numerous industry awards and I loved every day of my magazine working life.

For me it doesnít really matter if the work is telling a real story or if itís constructed or very subjective. It has to affect me somehow in my gut. Like Marcus Bleasdaleīs work in The Central African Republic, which is so visceral, powerful story telling. But I can also feel a similar emotion with something that is constructed. Itís how the photographer chooses to tell their story. The good stuff makes you question yourself, and other people. I believe my knowledge of photography and photographers, my love of the medium and my enthusasium helped me along my path.

What's the best part of being an editor?
The Telegraph was a very exciting place to work, a massive editorial floor with huge screens showing news stories, you really felt part of something special. It was always a buzz just walking through the office to your desk, in my case piled high with books, papers, magazines. Having at least a little creative freedom is vital when trying to fulfill your vision as an editor. I love both commissioning and the editing process. I always tried to challenge expectations whilst keeping the story journalistically true.

I love both the power of a documentary story and the art of fashion and celebrity commissions and was equally excited shooting a food supplement of Christmas with kids in minus 30 degrees in Norway as working with a photojournalist on a story in Africa or Afghanistan, or putting together a fashion shoot. All have their challenges for an editor.

I love to work on commissions that may be a little more complex or open to visual interpretation. There may be a number of ways for the story to work visually. I will consider how I wish the story to be told; what visual language will work the best. I also make sure I am very clear what expectations the magazine editor has. For me the selection process when editing work is subjective. Iím always confident that what I choose is correct; I have no doubt about what is moving to me. Luckily the art director and I shared a vision so we were pretty much on the same page. At the end of the day itís the power, honesty, intelligence and the formal qualities of the photographs that is exciting.

Is a job on a picture desk still a good career?
Yes itís without question an amazing job. Every day is different with many challenges to be met. I no longer work on a desk as am writing and curating and on the faculty of the Bilder Nordic photo school in Oslo. I began to find the desk a little restrictive as budgets have been slashed across the industry and politically the landscape had changed within the paper. But I do miss working with an incredible team. Working with a group of talented and creative people is always stimulating. Iím not ruling out returning to a desk at some point in the future if it would offer me the opportunity to be creative.

Working on a picture desk isn't your usual 9-5 job is it?
No its definitely not if you want to get the most out of your career. For me it was a commitment, I never really took off my editors hat. In the evenings Iíd be at openings or researching at home. Looking at books, and then dreaming about photography. But I am obsessed! My day was always hectic and I rarely took lunch away from my desk. There would be features, fashion supplement and ideas meetings. Iíd be reading copy, commissioning stories, meeting with photographers, editing content, searching for photographers abroad if we couldnít afford travel and arranging flights if we could. Then dealing with visas, working with stylists, meeting agents and publishers, choosing book projects, writingÖthe days were very varied and so much fun. Often stories would need commissioning last minute in a remote corner of the globe. I always had a map handy! It was demanding and rewarding and kept you on your toes. You need to know whatís happening in the news and be up to date with film and theatre. Look at the catwalk shows during fashion week, and know what happening in art and culture. Itís certainly a constant education. I had an outstanding team on the desk, which sadly got smaller over the years due to budget cuts.

telegraph magazaine cover beyonce Will the role of picture editor and picture desks change in the future?
I donít see how it canít change and evolve with the demands of the reader particularly the youth. Online is so relevant now. Before I left the magazine I was very involved with the online side of the business. I enjoyed the immediacy and the social aspect. I write for online a bit and have a blog, dirtyoldbooks which I really enjoy. The picture editor now has to be able to manage budgets, whilst maintaining the integrity of the publication and make sure online is considered when commissioning. The relationships I built with photographers over the years were mutually respectful which is vital when budgets are so tiny. This is very important for an editor.

In a digital age, paper-based magazines remain popular. Can you see that changing?
I hope not. I still buy magazines but look at news online. Books and magazines is the perfect platform for photography. Niche magazines are very exciting. I was at off Print at Photo London in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern and there was such a buzz. It was packed with publishers and people self-publishing zines and books.

Is the rise of video going to have an impact on picture desks?
It already has. It adds another dimension to story telling which is exciting. Most photographers work with film making now and its integral for online use.

Having reached a very senior position in the editing World, is There anything you still want to achieve with your career?
Yes definitely, I am keen to do more curating and would love to work on book projects, which I have started to do. Iíve been writing far more for the magazine and at the moment Iím working with the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust curating an exciting global project on avoidable blindness. Itís a riveting and important subject that will be shown globally. I also intend to do my masters in the next couple of years, God willing. I enjoy the public speaking Iíve been offered and am judging quite a few photo awards so keeping very busy. I feel excited about the opportunities that are opening up. Leaving the desk has given me freedom to expand my creative horizons and to travel for work, which is great. I also do more teaching now which is inspiring and really makes you dig deep into your own thoughts on what makes exceptional photography. I do however miss working with an incredible team and the day-to-day contact with the wonderful photographers.

What was the best career advice you were ever given?
Think smart, have the courage to believe in your vision and donít go home at six pm.

Any advice for anyone wanting to work as an editor, on a picture desk or on the imaging side of publishing??
When I was at the magazine we ran an intern programme, it was great way to get in the door and many of my old interns are now working within the Telegraph or on other magazines. Itís how I got into the business and I still feel great thanks to those photo editors at the time that gave me the chance. The best advice I can give is to be passionate and knowledgeable. Go to openings and festivals, make a blog, try to connect with people in the industry. Itís not easy to open doors and the competitions fierce these days but there are also many opportunities online now.

We also have another interview with Cheryl where she updates us about her work as a curator, artist and consultant. Find that here.

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