10 minutes with Laurie Kratochvil

Interviews with Photo Editors July 22, 2013 7:22 am

Do you remember when you first became interested in photography?

My mom had magazines around the house when I was younger and I really preferred them over books at the time. In high school I worked part time at Road and Track filing and running errands in California and really enjoyed watching the magazine being put together. But my first real interest came when I lived in Amsterdam and became friends with a group of Czech and Dutch photographers, in the 70’s. Wonderful magazines were being published then… Twen, Nova, Camera, and working with Magnum was a dream. After moving back to California I worked in the photo library at the LA Times and by then I was hooked on photographs and photographers. My favorite place in LA was Las Palmas newsstand!

How long did you live in Amsterdam? Were you there for work?

I lived in Amsterdam for three years… Met my former husband there and worked for a a dutch publishing company, although not in editorial. I was surrounded by a very talented group of photographers who were going to school and finding their way in the world.

That sounds pretty amazing. Where did you go after LA Times?

I got an amazing job managing the photo department at A&M Records. We did all the publicity and trade shoots for their artists as well as some album covers. I was responsible for servicing the press with the photos as well as working with the staff photographers there. It was a great time for the music industry and somehow I ended up in the middle of it. That job eventually led me to Rolling Stone Magazine. In 1980 I left LA and moved to NYC to work as the photo editor at Rolling Stone.

I remember you telling me about getting the offer for the job at Rolling Stone. Did it take any convincing?

Well I had to convince myself I could do the job. It was 1980 and Annie Leibovitz was leaving the magazine after many years to go to Vanity Fair and it would be my job to bring new photographers into the fold. And I was moving to New York City where I didn’t really know anyone except the Art Director who hired me, Mary Shanahan. But the challenge was too much to resist.

You were at Rolling Stone for over ten years and within that time you produced some amazing and iconic work and worked with photographers including Herb Ritts and Steven Meisel, among others. You were also dealing with some big personalities between the musicians and celebrities. Do any shoots stand out in particular for good , or not so good, reasons?

Interestingly enough my first issue cover was not even a real person. It was ET… The movie was not out yet and the photographer and I were invited to a special showing with Steven Spielberg. The next day I met ET and we shot the cover.

Having Paul McCartney make me a tuna sandwich at his farm in Sussex England was fun. One terrifying moment was at a cover shoot when Mick Jagger casually asked me to please put on some music… try figuring that choice out… ( I put on Marvin Gaye!) and I guess the worst was our first Prince cover shoot. Prince kept us waiting for three hours and then after taking the first Polaroid, looked at it and walked out… With the Polaroid!!!! We got NO photos that day.

You have witnessed major changes in the editorial world; titles folding, cutting staff, relying heavily on stock and the reuse of shoots. You have also gone from working in print to heading the photo department at an exclusively digital magazine, Nomad Editions. What is your take on all of these changes? Do you have any predictions on what the editorial world will look like in ten, twenty years? Do you think that you would have decided to pursue being a photo director now, in the current magazine climate?

Yes, it’s very sad what has happened to editorial photography in the last twenty five years. The wonderful days of photographers going out and working with writers for weeks at a time or developing story idea’s with photo editors and then shooting them… Between the power of the publicists and the popularity of the overproduced photo shoots magazine photography was pushed into a very narrow space. And then you had the creative directors working closely with the editors and photo editors being either downsized or eliminated and the photographers just lost their insider strength. And then the recession hit and budgets were cut and the stock agencies got better and smarter in what they had to offer and we ended up with what we have today.

The upside is there are more places online to get your work seen but not the revenue. Also if you go to the newsstand there are lots of new publications to try to get into. And it is so easy to self publish. I think we can’t look back and lament… We just need to move forward and create. It is also so much cheaper to make pictures now and better for the environment. Can you tell I’m trying to be positive?

I really consider this time as important as the Industrial Revolution. Everything is changing and we should all try to be excited about it.

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Laure Kratochvil is a photography dealer, appraiser, consultant, curator and editor. She has edited and worked on several book projects including Rolling Stone: The Photographs which was a New York Times Bestseller and Africa by Herb Ritts, among others. Laurie is a board member of the Society of Publication Design and a jury member of the World Press. She is also a faculty member in the continuing education program at the ICP.  Laurie lives in New York. See more of her work, here.

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