“It was moving to London that got me interested in publishing,” says Sarah Barnett, who relocated to the capital from Manchester with a multimedia degree and experience working in an interactive agency. She quickly got a job at Progressive Content marketing agency, and later became the art editor of Economia magazine, working with Rebecca McClelland (formerly photography editor for New Statesman, Port and Wallpaper*) and photographer Catherine Hyland. Together, they had “the challenge of trying to push the creative boundaries of an accountancy magazine,” she recalls. “We worked with some of the best portrait photographers and that definitely influenced me in how I work with photography today.”
In 2016, she became the art director of N by Norwegian, spearheading its recent redesign to allow more room for photography series, demanding a “whole new level of editing”, says Barnett. “We might be an in-flight publication, but we’re more than just travel.”
How far in advance do you commission?
We try and be as timely as possible with our stories so we’re quite close to the wire. It’s important the shoot is taken at the right time of year for the month of the magazine. It’d be crazy to have a summer shoot in a winter edition. We can send a photographer one day and have it printed two weeks later.
Why is it important to commission new photography?
The nature of our magazine means we have to be offering the reader something new and interesting every month, or at the very least a different take on a city, town, village or experience. The world is constantly changing and full of a never-ending stream of stories. We’re always trying to capture those stories through photography. That can be through a photoessay created by an agoraphobic traveller or a still life exploring the future of technology in fabric.
What do you look for in new photographers?
We’re not a glossy magazine, so super-slick, heavily produced imagery isn’t our thing. We’re after photography that’s really considered, but also honest and fresh. Whatever we’re shooting we really want the reader to feel part of it and for it to feel real. We’re not selling a lifestyle, we’re telling a story.
We look for photographers who ideally have a specialism that will bring a particular story to life, be it moody portraiture, ethereal landscapes or elegant still life. Enthusiasm and creativity is a big thing we look for as well as having a real understanding of their environment. It’s not often that we choose an obvious route.
In some cases experience is vital. For example, Dan Mariner knows how to use low light very well as he lives in northern Norway, where the sun never rises in winter. But at other times we need people who are willing to break the rules, or who are passionate about a subject, such as Joseph Horton, who is new on our books and grew up on a sheep farm. He’s documented that life through his photography and it’s beautiful, empathic work. That can often show more to me than a huge portfolio does.
Finally, it’s great to find photographers that have a bit of an obsessive nature. Catherine Hyland once arrived at a shoot at 5am so she could shoot the building we needed in a golden sunrise.
How much freedom do photographers have?
We often send photographers with writers on projects. That means they have to work closely together to get a cohesive result. But because of the variety of subjects and treatments, the amount of freedom varies. Felicity McCabe worked with Catherine Hyland on a still life about Las Vegas. They had total freedom and came back with one of the most visually striking shoots we’ve had.
Tim E White had to follow the Air Guitar Championships in Finland, so he had to be totally focused on getting the right portraits and mood for the shoot, which meant quite a tight brief. But he also had to have the freedom to interpret it how he saw fit. We have to trust our photographers to break the brief or stick to it to make sure they get the best results. We can’t location scout and we have a limited budget, so reshooting isn’t an option. We very rarely get a bad result.