Holly Hay’s induction into publishing came by way of the fashion communication and promotion BA at Central Saint Martins. “That course was like training to work at a magazine,” she explains. “It was photography, journalism and graphic design, all meshed into one.”
While on it she started taking her own photographs and after she left, she had a stint as a photographer. “It was all going quite well until I met more photographers, and realised I liked their work more than my own!” she laughs. “I discovered that I could create the images I wanted through other people, rather than myself.”
Following this revelation, she shifted to a producer role, commissioning photographers, writers and stylists at the newly-conceived Garage magazine, before spending three years as the photographic editor at AnOther, fostering an extensive network of image-makers and collaborators. Now, just over eight months into her tenure as photography director of Wallpaper*, she’s making her presence felt in artist collaborations and visual journalism.
How has the way you commission changed since joining Wallpaper*?
I would describe the way we work at Wallpaper* as visual journalism. Until now, my eye had been trained on the details; I’d focus on an interesting corner, or the texture of the wall. But the reader of Wallpaper* wants to know where the light source is, and what’s the surface on the floor. They want to see the whole interior, which is something I’d never thought about before.
When I was at AnOther, particularly in the things we did for online, our readers loved the incidentals. But at Wallpaper* it’s on the printed page, and it’s expensive to produce that. If an image doesn’t help the story in any way, why would we print it? It was actually really hard for me to get used to that approach, but it’s changed the way I work completely. It’s almost an economic way of thinking about the space. It’s about clarity and the story you’re telling.”
Do you ever wish you had more space to feature the photography? It’s been an amazing challenge for me to try to create a reason for a feature to be longer. Photographers are doing such impressive independent projects now, from self-publishing books or creating exhibitions, that the responsibility of a magazine to get them the most extraordinary access is greater than ever. I want to give a photographer an amazing opportunity, which in turn justifies the extra pages. Otherwise they could be spending that time producing a project for themselves.
What have been your favourite projects so far?
Isabelle [Kountoure, Wallpaper*’s fashion director] is incredible when it comes to collaborating with artists; she knows how to work with someone in a way that will feed directly into their practice, rather than being like, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to work with an artist, and get some clothes in there too?’ Artists can be quite suspicious of your intentions as a magazine – they sell their work for what are often large sums of money, so it’s quite an odd exchange for them; when they work for a magazine they’re often not getting paid, and they’re taking more photos than they ever would usually. So it really has to be a collaboration in its purest form.
As an example of that, we worked with Barbara Probst for our July issue. Isabelle sent her a trend she had been thinking about, and because the clothes were so graphic and bright that they could be seen from very far away, Barbara came up with the idea of working with the theme of surveillance. She photographed the same scene from two perspectives – on the street, as if she was passing them, and then as if they were being watched from above. It’s amazing, and the idea was really sparked by the fashion.
What advice would you give to emerging photographers trying to get their work seen?
Don’t be scared of cold-calling. I can’t be the only person in my position who has a fear of missing someone amazing if I don’t read all my emails. I think it’s also about participating – there are some incredible fairs and competitions for emerging talent that give wonderful exposure and opportunities.
wallpaper.com This article was first published in BJP’s August 2018 issue