Five Questions for an Art Buyer—Katie Noble, Improper Bostonian
Thursday September 9th, 2010
What makes a photo great?
When I started my first job as a photo editor, I remember asking myself that question. In a sea of images, how would I recognize a great photo? So I gave myself a rule to help sort through images faster and feel confident in my decisions. It was as simple as… if I paused on an image. If I took an extra second to look at an image for whatever reason, then I knew that was a good image. Lots of times, maybe the majority of the time, I’m not sure why I like it in that initial pause. It’s just that gut feeling. After that pause, I realize it’s the composition, sense of humor, use of light, etc.
How did you get to your current job?
I grew up in a family that encouraged and practiced the arts (my mom is an oil painter and my parents own an art gallery in Vermont). I was terrible at math and standardized tests but did well in art classes. In college, I was an Education major, but it never really felt like a fit. On my last day as a student teacher, the naughty kid in my class stuck rocks in his ears and, at that moment, I thought this isn’t for me. So, a year or so later, after lots of jobs and a long trip through Europe, I moved to New York to study at Parsons School of Design for an intensive summer program. I then applied and became the assistant photo editor for Travel + Leisure. I’m still so thankful to the photo editor David Cicconi (now a photographer and owner/founder of Trunk Magazine) for hiring me. T+L was a dream job. But after about three years in NYC, I found myself leaving the city most weekends to get outside and visit friends in New England. I applied for the position of photo editor at the Improper Bostonian, and I’ve been here five years. Time flies.
What’s the best way to get your attention?
I think the best way to get my attention, or anyone that you want to meet in general, is to be passionate about what you’re doing. To me, this means getting involved. Reaching out to members of the artistic community, joining non-profit and photography groups online, going to local photo shows, participating in shows and getting to know other photographers you admire. I don’t think this means you have to pay yearly fees to join organizations, enter lots of photo contests or spend a lot of money; photography is expensive enough! I think it just means putting yourself (and talent) out there. I found this PDN article very interesting that talked about finding a charity that you can support through your work. I believe this type of involvement can lead to other opportunities.
I also think it’s just as important to have a great body of work that’s technically strong and shows a signature style. I really appreciate a well-edited website of recent shots. I get frustrated when photographers send me websites and their images look like they’re from 1982. That work may be visually interesting, but it doesn’t apply to a lifestyle magazine that’s trying to look relevant.
What annoys you the most?
I think I get frustrated the most by budgets. Working for a local magazine, with limited resources, I’ve never had much money to put an issue together. The magazine doesn’t have deep pockets, and I’m given a yearly and issue-to-issue budget. I find it hard to pitch a story to a talented photographer with such a tight budget when I know they’re worth so much more. It’s all very humbling. To make up for the low rates, I try to be respectful of photographers. It’s important to me that their photo contracts are fair, they get paid on time, shoot something of personal interest and have artistic input.
What’s the most satisfying part of your day?
I was working on a shoot recently where the photographer I hired had to back out because of health reasons. I heard through the grapevine that a young photographer in town had shot the same subject a month or so before and was probably available. I gave him a call and within 10 minutes my problem was solved. He answered his cell phone right away, replied to my email, got totally on board with the shoot. It’s great when I can go from a big question mark to feeling confident I have a photographer who’ll nail a shoot from beginning to end.