Creative Brief: Emily Keegin, The Fader

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Asked to describe the style of photography featured in The Fader, the celebrated music journal launched in New York in 1999 championing contemporary style and emerging artists, Keegin shoots back with, “All-you can-eat buffet”. The magazine’s photo director since 2015, having previously worked for Time and Bloomberg Businessweek, she describes her preferred aesthetic as “manic”, explaining, “I like all kinds of photography and am happiest when genre, style and hue smash into each other on the same page”.

While her predecessors championed intimacy and authenticity, gaining unusual access to musicians and shooting them in relaxed pose in natural light, Keegin’s approach injects flash, colour and surrealism. “To me, great photography is the result of an emotional connection between a photographer and her subject,” she says. “This form of interpersonal magic is not genre specific or the result of a certain set of aesthetic constraints.”

Butt (What a Butt Wants fashion feature) © Caroline Tompkins

Is access still the watchword?
The music industry has changed since we began. Today, getting a musician to commit to unlimited multi-day access, with no hair and makeup, is unusual. Cover shoots tend to be two days long: one where we focus on portraits and cover concepts, followed by a day – or two – spent with the artist documenting their life.

Are you conscious of music clichés?
We used to avoid them by photographing all musicians at home, away from the studio and the trappings of cheesy guitar shots. This resulted in a lot of them being photographed in bed – which became its own Fader cliché. I’m less strict than my predecessors. I actually like seeing artists working in their studio, and it can bring an extra dimension to a story. The biggest portrait cliché I want to crush is the pouty/sad/mouth open/no expression/looking- off-into-the-distance face. I hate this. Humans have emotions, damn it! Faces are only interesting if they are expressive.

My creative direction often asks the photographer to push for a range of expressions and gestures, and to “embrace art, light, creativity and life”. Eye contact is great. I also have a set of no’s. No chain-link fences. No prayer hands. No posing with an instrument. No singing into a mic with eyes closed.

Your thoughts on established photographers versus young talent?
I’ve had shoots with established photographers where the subject has walked off the set. And I’ve had shoots with emerging photographers where the subject vibed and granted them unprecedented access. From what I can tell, the only real difference between new and established photographers is how easily they are able to manage production and workflow.

The biggest issue I’ve found with young photographers is shoddy post-production and an inability to correctly process files on deadline. While tremendously unsexy, being able to deliver on time is a critical part of the job. Often I will assign young photographers a number of smaller shoots to help teach them the ropes.

Name a project that you particularly enjoyed working on.
Jason Nocito on the Ariana Grande cover story. Jason takes creative direction and spins it into something highly personal, artful and subtly surreal. For this cover, I was very keen on an ‘American Kodak’ feel. I sent Jason many Christopher Williams and Roe Ethridge reference images, swatches of gingham fabric, and I droned on about the lemon tree outside my office window. He held onto this direction and gave it a pulse.

For big pop-star shoots, I like working with photographers I can trust to shoulder production, direct crowds and work quickly. Jason has the ability to do all the technical stuff without losing his desire for weird. He is an even-keeled maniac genius. His photographs show this.

Drake, for the 100th issue of Fader, September 2015 © Mark Peckmezian

Rihanna, for the 100th issue of Fader, September 2015 © Rihanna, facilitated by Renata Raksha

Sampha, for the Summer Music Issue, June/July 2016 © Francesco Nazardo

Lil Uzi Vert, for The Sex Issue, March/April 2017 © Tyler Mitchell

Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy