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Five Questions for an Art Buyer—James Mullinger, GQ

Monday September 20th, 2010

Today’s art buyer is James Mullinger, Photo Editor of GQ Magazine. In his ten years at GQ, he has worked with many top photographers shooting many major celebrities. James has also curated two photography exhibitions, has written extensively about photography for GQ and has also written for magazines as varied as Radio Times, Urban Male Magazine, The Erotic Review, Men’s Health and The Guardian.

-Asad

What makes a photo great?
Editorially, what makes a photo great is it fitting the brief. Beautiful photographs are a wonderful thing, and in a gallery you can hang what you like. In a magazine you have to publish what is relevant to the story, and sometimes that means not running what is aesthetically the best photograph. There are only a handful of photographers in history that I would say are incapable of taking a bad photograph. Tony Kelly. Simon Emmett. Guy Bourdin. Helmut Newton. Zed Nelson. This is, of course, my personal preference. It’s all subjective.

woman in art gallery

"…in a gallery you can hang what you like." (Photo by Max Hirshfeld/Washington, DC)

How did you get to your current job?
I came to GQ over ten years ago for a week’s work experience. I knew that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity so I grabbed every task with both fists and made it so they couldn’t not offer me a job.  A few months of unpaid work, then I was offered a junior picture researching job. Within a year of that I was Photo Editor.

Work experience is a genuine opportunity, yet people do not treat it as such. This is a very difficult industry to get into, so if you don’t give it 1000% every second of the day, then it won’t be enough. I arrived early and left late every day, I never took a day off. Much to the chagrin of my parents, I even missed my own graduation ceremony because I didn’t want to ask for the day off.

What’s the best way to get your attention?
Shoot pictures unlike anyone else. Bring something unique to every shoot. Don’t phone because there is never a good time. Post me something that I want to stick up on the wall. Then the art department will all see it and you are five times more likely to be commissioned.

What annoys you the most?
Photographers sending in grossly inappropriate work for us to see. Look at the magazine before you send your work in. If you can see it on the pages of GQ, we’d love to hear from you. Otherwise don’t bother. Know and understand the product you are pitching to.

Inuit with refrigerator prize

Don't give them what they don't need. (Photo by Domino/Uruguay)

What’s the most satisfying part of your day?
Every day is manic, as we are constantly juggling up to 30 shoots at a time, sourcing thousands of pictures, and there are just two of us on the picture desk. I find it satisfying when the issue comes in each month and we can marvel at how on earth we managed to pull it together. It’s a real balancing act trying to remember all the little details when you are handling that many shoots at once. Every studio has to be booked, every car ordered, every crew member there on time, every prop in place, and it’s all down to you. And when I get through the month without dropping a ball, I feel satisfied for a second or two. And then it all starts again…

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