10 minutes with Lisa Parisi

Interviews with Photo Editors December 13, 2013 7:42 am

When did you first become interested in photography?

I first became interested in Photography in High School. I was taking painting and an advanced placement art course when I decided to try my hand at it. My high school always placed a great deal of importance in the arts and our Photography facility was pretty great for being several years ago now. It was bare bones black-and-white film photography processing and enlarging. Photoshop existed but our school really only had one class devoted to graphic design. There were no digital photography courses offered. So I learned the basics of film and realized it lent itself really well to how obsessive I can be technically. There was no room for error like there is now with digital photography. If you used the incorrect ratio of chemicals in processing your film would be ruined. If you developed prints incorrectly you were wasting money on photo paper. It made me become really focused on that one craft and seeing it through. Processing the film and images I had taken days before was so exciting. That’s not to say I knew right then that I wanted to study photography. It was not one singular passion of mine. I’m not sure if it ever will be because I feel all art is comprised of small and larger pieces of one another. It was one of many I was really interested in and the practice of it and application to my own life totally roped me in.

And how did you get into photo editing?

I studied Photography in college and also minored in Language and Literature. I loved shooting but I graduated knowing I did not want to be a commercial photographer. I landed two art gallery internships shortly after moving back to New York. One was at the Derek Eller Gallery in Chelsea and the other at Knoedler and Co. on the Upper East Side. They couldn’t have been more different. The Derek Eller Gallery focused on emerging artists and showcasing the vision of young contemporary individuals. Knoedler & Co. was huge. It was founded in 1846 and when it closed, was one of the oldest commercial art galleries in the US. Despite the reasons of its closing and unethical practices, I worked in their massive and amazing library cataloging authentic work from some of the most established artist’s of our time. This included old photographs from the 1800s. I read books all day long and built a better art history education than I received at MICA. The whole while juggling these two art worlds, I struggled with what I really wanted to be doing. I knew it was art or photo but I did not know where I belonged and what other jobs offered a marriage of them with the commercial and relevant space. It needed to be something new that I could still learn and grow from, and build upon. Shortly after, I found a posting for a photography internship at Every Day with Rachael Ray Magazine. I knew I loved food, and still wanted to be involved in photography, so I applied. It seemed interesting. I interned there for 6 months and the rest has been very organic. I started freelancing at Gotham Magazine and from there eventually landed at Fast Company Magazine for four and a half years. After I left I freelanced at Inc. Magazine and Family Circle and since then I have been at Complex for close to two years.

Given the publications you have worked for, you have been able to work with a wide variety of photographers. How do you find the photographers who you hire? 

The publications I have worked for definitely have given me an opportunity to work with a range and diverse group of photographers over the years. The process of finding photographers for me varies a ton depending on the situation and how much time I have. I try to keep on top of all of the photo blogs – yours! Feature Shoot, PDN, NY Times Lens Blog, etc. I often use Photo Serve in a hurry and I need someone in a city not as heavily condensed with photographers. I actually have realized that some of my favorite photographers I have found on non-photo blogs. Or in more resourceful ways. For example I always read photographer’s personal blogs if they share a link on their portfolio site. It’s such a valuable resource because usually they share their friend’s work and other creatives they admire or know. I think it takes more digging than just going to the usual websites and areas of the Internet everyone frequents.

Whats the best way for a photographer to get your attention?

The best way a photographer can get my attention also depends on the day, and that is a really tough thing. If I am super busy at work I don’t always have time to click into their email newsletters or take a call if they decide to reach out personally. The thing to not do is a send email newsletter so frequently that I want to just delete them. The promos I love most are the ones I receive regular mail at the office with a handwritten note. I know the same example applies and not all photographers have the time to write notes to every Photo Editor they want to solicit, but it definitely catches my attention and makes it more special.

Is it important for you to meet with photographers in person? And when you do, do you prefer to see a book or iPad?

I think it is definitely important to meet photographers in person if at all possible. It helps to know how they will be or act/react on set. And plus it’s great to know a bit about them on a personal level. It affects the way you view their work and can add a connection that wouldn’t exist before.

I love seeing and holding actual prints in a book portfolio, and I think there is something to be said for viewing work in such a traditional way. I only ever printed work in college and I do miss handling them, seeing what paper the photographer has chosen, etc. We are all on our iPhones and devices all day long and I do think viewing work on an iPad sometimes takes away a certain artistic quality. That said, I feel the iPad definitely offers things a printed portfolio cannot. Shadow detail looks better, the images are more crisp, glare is eliminated, it’s transportable and easy to handle. I also think it helps to be able to tell a story or narrative in your work on a digital device since that is definitely the future of editorial content. It can only help at this point. I like both.

What do you think the future of editorial photography looks like?

The future of editorial photography is everything transitioning over to a digital platform. When I first started as a photo editor, commissioning a shoot meant still images and that was it. In my first job I used to scan negatives and contact sheets, which seems so unreal to me six years later. Now video is expected, more and more photographers are making GIFS of outtakes from shoots for their website or personal use. Magazines and websites are launching inventive and engaging digital covers (Complex, Pitchfork, etc). The landscape of editorial photography has completely changed. To be a photo editor in 2014 and beyond means adapting to everything web-based and taking on a hybridized thought process. How things are viewed and consumed in a print publication versus a website is entirely different. It is something we all in media are aware of every single day. More publications will shoot for web and launch digital covers and web narratives. The role is ever changing and the creatives that adapt themselves to this will fare the best.


Photo by Andy Hur

Lisa Parisi is the Associate Photo Editor of Complex Media. She has worked at Fast Company and has freelanced at Family Circle and Inc. among others. When she’s not working you can find her cooking or baking in her tiny kitchen.

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