Friday, June 13, 2008

Interview with Heidi Volpe

Several weeks ago I asked Heidi Volpe, Art Director of the Los Angeles Times Magazine, if I could interview her for this blog. I sent her the questions and she went over them and then we made plans to get together in person. Last Thursday we got together (yes, Rob Haggart beat me to it) and went over the interview and I also got a chance to share new work with her. That Thursday things were pretty uncertain as to the future of the magazine, but we really didn't know exactly what was coming. On Tuesday of this week it was made public in the New York Times:
"The Los Angeles Times has made plans to transfer control of its monthly magazine from its newsroom to its business operations and to replace the magazine’s entire editorial staff, according to two executives at the newspaper."
Most of the interview took place before I knew about any of this, but Heidi took the time to go back over and elaborate on some of the questions after everything came to light.

Thanks Heidi.

(At the bottom of the interview are tears of jobs that Heidi and I have done together.)

Here it is...

Heidi Volpe is the Art Director at the Los Angeles Times Magazine and was the former Traveler Art Director at Outside Magazine. She has managed to turn the Los Angeles Times Magazine into a beautiful photo driven publication and was the first person in Los Angeles to hire me with some sort of frequency. She's also a kick ass mountain biker and a way cool woman to boot...

When we first met it was actually on the set of another photographer, great guy that he is, who had called me down to the studio to meet you. He told me not to even bring my portfolio, but instead to bring a personal project I'd been working on called Honk and also to bring some promos to leave with you. I think you and I spoke for about 5 minutes, as you were in the middle of shooting a cover. A week or two later I got a call from your office to shoot a story and I was pretty shocked considering you hadn't actually seen my book. Do you find that personal work or a personal project may indicate something about a photographer that you might not have otherwise seen?

Oh yes, we were on set with Art Streiber shooting our power issue, that was an intense day with no extra time. You see, I totally trust Art’s judgment. He has great respect for his crew he surrounds himself with quality people. I would do anything Art asked, if he asked me to jump off a bridge I’d at least consider it. Yes I think personal projects indicate somethings indeed. It shows initiative, drive. You are essentially showing me your craft your voice and how you visually story tell, not what someone asked you to do. It’s a good window into your eye. PLUS A big part of personal projects is having the ability to make something happen. Ideas are easy, making it happen is a whole new skill set, that and the follow through are huge indicators to me that someone has a vision and is commited.

How do you like to find new photographers? (promos? e-promos? recommendations by colleagues? contests? websites?)
All of the above are great resources. My favorite is when a photographer or a fellow art director or photo editor recommends an assistant as an emerging image maker...........

Any preferences or pet peeves when it comes to websites?

I hate fishing around how to navigate the site. Make it easy and clear. Sometimes I think sites can be over designed, take to long to load. There is nothing worse than the dead space between the site loading and your editor standing there after you had to this great build up and sales pitch to why this photographer is perfect for the job. I never try to talk after the close so that dead space seems endless.

With the emerging photographers group, do you prefer to meet with them before you would give them an assignment, or is that not really necessary?

Meeting them is good. Esp if it’s a portrait I like to see their social skills.

One of the things that is exciting for us here in Los Angeles is that, for the most part, you have drawn on a talent pool of LA / Socal based shooters. Is this done with deliberation or is it also based on budget constraints?

Deliberation. I want to support the community out here and debunk the gripe about all the good photographers being in NYC.

Speaking of budgets, originally the magazine was a weekly and then it switched to a monthly. Has that affected the choices you make when hiring photographers?

Yes, I have a little more time to think through assignments. Weeklies are high speed, always on to the next one. It was a love hate, b/c you had to be decisive, monthlies you can second guess yourself for while which can be slightly maddening as well.

Are you less likely to take a chance on a newer shooter simply because there are 1/4 of the amount opportunities that there were when you originally came to magazine?

Shooter. I hate that word, it’s sounds like you are gamesmen. You should say photographer. I still would take chances maybe not on bigger projects thou. I would start off with FOB then move them to features.

Are there major differences with what photographers can do in the post production arena when they are working for The Los Angeles Times Magazine (part of the Los Angeles Times Newspaper) as opposed to a magazine like Outside? Have you had any issues (problems) with photographers who might want to push those boundaries?

Yes. The line is very bright here. NO POST PRODUCTION. Period. End of story but since it’s the end of the magazine, and it’s going to the business side, I would think they would allow it because we don’t share the same ethics or integrity.

Your former colleague at Outside, Rob Haggart (, writes a lot on his blog about where he thinks the magazine and photo industry might be heading. Any thoughts on the future of the biz?

Do you have all afternoon? That’s a huge question to answer... Well I think what has happened here at the Times is a sign of the future. Profit is paramount and journalistic integrity is being shoved aside. Another surprise has been fuel costs. They are driving paper costs through the roof. It’s not only the distribution, it’s the fuel costs to run the manufacturing equipment. That cost is not being passed along to consumer, it’s absorbed by the company. Cuts ensue, unrealistic demands are made, it’s a vicious cycle.

Any books, movies, music, blogs, websites, environmental suggestions, or anything else you want to recommend to the readers?

When you are on a shoot, mark your water bottle, we are choking on plastic bottles. Use ftps, Usendit instead of messengers + fed ex if you can. Ride your bike more, drive less.



My incredibly talented riding partner

Scott Tedro the force behind Team Sho-Air



Ride safely!

1 comment: said...

Hi Aaron
thanks for the great interview.
I am amazed at the higher ups from the times. the magazine seemed like it finally was something to be proud of. something that we could stand behind, and in turn, would represent LA, (meaning us), with vision and finesse.
with such a thriving art scene developing, and so much activity with arts and leisure, I would have thought to take it deeper, get more connected to the LA pulse.
in these trying times, people need to see the good things going on, were people are being creative and positve, and drawing from the energy of Los Angeles, and making it a really wonderfull place to be. I just can't see how the higher ups think going all business on the magazine is going to be a benefit to the existing and new reader.
seems a little out of touch.
anyway, great that Heidi is cycling. thats an awesome release.