I’m always trying to stay up-to-date with editorial and commercial photography trends. Once a month, I’ll skim through magazines like GQ, Vogue, Vanity Fair, ESPN, Rolling Stone, and others to get a sense of who’s shooting what and which styles are emerging.
Last month I was flipping through Vanity Fair when I caught Chiara Marinai’s name on the masthead. Chiara is the Photo Editor of VanityFair.com, which means any imagery you see on their site goes through her first.
I connected with Chiara over email to find out a little more about what her role entails, including some of her biggest challenges, her specific photography needs, and the one thing she does before making a final decision about a photographer.
How did you arrive at Vanity Fair? Tell us a bit about your background in photography and photo editing.
I got into photography in high school and decided to pursue a BFA in college at SUNY Purchase. I was always interested in print magazines and photo editing and interned one summer in the photo department at The New Yorker. It was an incredibly formative experience where I understood how rigorous photo researching is and how much time goes into finding the right photo. After college I worked at Time Out and a small independent photo magazine before arriving at VF.com.
Tell us about your responsibilities as the photo editor at VF.com. What are your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge at VF.com is juggling between larger features for our three different verticals, which focus on celebrities, hollywood, and news, and the day to day breaking news cycle. It keeps us on our toes and requires us to be proactive and work closely with the editors and writers as the news breaks.
Describe your general needs for photography. Are you looking for a specific type of aesthetic or does it range?
VF.com does a lot of photo research as well as commissioned work. We are always researching for the most poignant image for a post, and welcome a touch of humor and sarcasm with our images. I feel like there is a renewed interest for black-and-white images that are graphic and have gravitas. For commissioned projects, I’m always on the lookout for photographers with a focus on portraiture and reportage work.
My litmus test is seeing if a photographer can take a great portrait of a subject that is not a model and how they use natural light.
What advice do you have for photographers who would like to get attention from a photo editor like yourself? Anything you advise them not to do?
Email is the best way to get in touch and personalized pitches go a long way. One thing I see a lot of are pitches that are not VF.com material. A photographer should always do background research on the site to see how we cover certain events or topics before pitching.
Where do you typically look to find new photographers to feature or work with?
I look at a lot of agency sites and I always look at bylines in magazines. I love seeing what subjects photographers have been assigned to shoot. I’m always curious to see MFA shows, as well as contests like PDN’s Photo Annual and FOAM Magazine’s talent call. Instagram is also a great place to browse and see what’s out there—you can really go down a rabbit hole—but I will always go to the photographer’s portfolio site before I make a final decision on their work.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
What I love the most is the diversity of the job and working with the writers and editors from the different verticals. I can go from working on a research slideshow on Kate Middleton to producing a portrait portrait project at the Cannes Film Festival to figuring out how to cover the woman’s march on Washington. It’s a challenge to work on these wide ranging topics, as well as knowing what the VF spin is for each, but the most satisfying part is seeing the completed work on the site.
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