Set up in 1854, the British Journal of Photography is the world’s longest–running photography magazine. Deputy Editor Diane Smyth tells us how she started out in journalism and where she looks for photographers to feature in the magazine…
I didn’t set out to be a journalist.
I always enjoyed reading and writing, so I studied English at university. I worked on a magazine in Birmingham while I was still as university and the summer after graduating. Then I spent a year in Athens teaching English. I deliberately chose a big language school that had a textbook department - it was good experience in publishing. Back in London I interned at Bloomsbury Books, then I got a job at Marshall Cavendish, a company that publishes part works – magazines you collect over years and put together in binders. After about a year I got a job on a website. Then the internet boom busted and I was made redundant, which was a tough experience.
Following that, I worked on a financial magazine for three and a half years. I didn’t find the subject matter that interesting but it was well paid. BJP was part of the same company. I’ve always been interested in art and photography, so I became friendly with the girl who was Features Editor. One day she told me, “I’m leaving – why don’t you apply for my job?” So I did and got it.
Photography is interesting [to write about] because it covers a broad scope: it can be fine art, it can be someone taking pictures of their kid or a journalist documenting what’s going on in Kazakhstan. It’s also a medium that’s well adapted to the digital age. Painting can’t be represented in the same way digitally, whereas photography can make that transition. I like writing for a readership that’s knowledgeable about photography, because it means I can get quite in depth.
There’s no shame in taking jobs that aren’t exactly what you want. Sometimes we get interns applying to us who haven’t worked [in a paid role] for years – I just can’t believe they can possibly fund it. Maybe you’ll take a job writing about finance – it’s not your first choice of subject matter, but there’s a lot you can learn while you’re there. Get those skills, build on them and then go somewhere else.
We find photographers from many different sources. Some send us images by email, some post something interesting on Facebook, on their blog or on their website. Some we find judging competitions – I think it's well worth entering competitions, as you get in front of the judges. Even if you don't win, you may find your way into a magazine that way.
Some photographers we find via portfolio reviews too, so I think they're also worth doing, although they can be very expensive so I can understand it if people give them a miss. Some photographers I see in exhibitions or published elsewhere, others are recommended to me by photography friends.
In general, I'd advise people not to be shy about getting in touch – I think people sometimes feel they're bothering me by sending me work, but I have 100 empty pages to fill every month so I need lots of photography! The best thing to do is to send an email with four or five low res images and a link to a website where I can see more, plus a brief description of the project and yourself. It's better not to hound editors though – we're really busy and it can be stressful to get phone calls "just checking you got the email I sent". I do look at everything I get sent – sadly it's not possible to answer every email I receive, but you'll definitely know about it if I'm keen.
Image by Jonathan Worth on a CC BY-SA license.
Diane Smyth was talking to Rachel Segal Hamilton.
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