Each year as part of Graduate Photography Online we ask a number of professionals from the world of photography to review all the work submitted and choose their favourites. We chat to Karin Andreasson, Picture Editor at The Guardian and Selector for the BA phase of Graduate Photography Online 2021.
Tell us about your job? What does your core role at The Guardian involve?
I am part of a small team of picture editors who work on The Guardian's daily print edition. The role is a combination of sourcing images for specific stories, commissioning for a fast news schedule and presenting photography that surprises and captures readers’ imagination. I scour tens of thousands of images daily that are filed from agencies and freelance photographers. This relentless search reveals images that fill standalone spaces, including our Eyewitness centre spread, and can inspire a written news piece. Finding the front page image is an important part of the day and varies from finding the perfect expression on a politician’s face that speaks to the headline, to being asked to come up with a striking image of the day that doesn’t relate to any story. I and my colleagues are frequently contacted by photographers with projects that they would like to see published in The Guardian, on those occasions when a really exciting piece of work is presented to me, I will stand up for it and argue its case as the double page feature in the centre spread and have it published online as a photo essay, and that is a real high point.
How did you make your way into the career you are now in? Did you always want to work in the field of photography?
I was obsessed with photography when I was growing up and spent hours in ad hoc dark rooms. I studied fine art at college where I mainly made photo based work. Once I was out on my own an old Fleet Street journalist lent me a copy of Pictures on a Page by Harold Evans and that is how I discovered the craft of picture editing and the importance of photography in news. I started out by getting work experience at places like The Mirror and then picture research jobs at The Evening Standard, NME and finally The Guardian. I’ve really learnt my trade at The Guardian, working through all the departments except for sport. I also studied part time for an MA in the History of Photography, which led me to writing more about photography.
How do you decide on what makes an interesting photograph or photographic project?
For me the perfect photographic project (and single image) has an element of surprise, is sophisticated in its conception and is perfectly executed. For a project then to be published in a national newspaper, the subject matter needs to be accessible and of interest to a large number of readers. The perfect project isn’t always suitable for a broad publication like The Guardian, so understanding your readership is key. We are always looking for new interpretations of familiar subjects. Around the world right now we have one unavoidable and overwhelming story that countless photographers are working on and looking for new ways to tell. The challenge for photographers is to shed new light on the great concerns of our time; the climate crisis, inequality, migration, so that people stay interested. Successful projects often share a human experience, they bring the reader in and make them feel something different.
As regards the photographer's statement, what are the most important things for you to know about the work? When it comes to showing their work outside of University, have you any tips on how graduates should prepare their work and the supporting material that accompanies it?
Statements should be clear and concise. It should take no more than a few minutes to read through them and quickly see how the images relate to the text. A great statement might just be a few sentences long. In practical terms: a short title, a paragraph of introduction and a pdf of images and text. Depending on the work the pdf might just be images and extended captions, or it might be a piece of writing and images with hardly any captions. This initial pdf is a taster of what is to come. Ten to fifteen images would be plenty and there needs to be a sense of how big the final piece is.
In your view, aside from specifically technical skills, what are the kind of qualities that completing a degree course in photography should endow an individual with?
So much of photography is actually about talking to people. Communication is key to everything from gaining the trust of someone whose story you want to tell or getting access to a particular location. Often setting up a project or a shoot can take endless phone calls and negotiations. So learning how to present yourself as someone who is genuine, confident in what they are doing and is easy to get along with is really important. The college environment is an incredible petri dish for ideas and trying out different ways of working. Really embracing that will give any graduate a wealth of experience. It is also a space for creating a support network that will help you to move on into professional work.
What are the particular challenges you see facing graduates from photography degree courses as they make their way into the world at this particular point in time?
In the past there was a vast gap between the number of people taking photographs and the number of images published. That is no longer the case as are so many ways to self-publish, be that online or in print. So, getting your work seen is not really an issue, but making a living out of it is just as hard now as it has ever been. There are very few newspaper jobs, but in certain areas there are more opportunities to have your work published as a freelancer. A lot of photography students want to work on long projects, but they need to understand that in most cases this will be a labour of love and they will need to find other ways of financing it.
What advice would you have for someone interested in working in your area of photography?
Don’t be precious with your work and keep busy. Put your time and effort into subjects that you yourself are interested in, because if you don’t care deeply then the work is lost. Find your area of interest and become an expert in it. Get to know people and maintain contacts. Divide your time between long and short projects. Don’t be afraid of dropping something and don’t hold off for your favourite publication, if you get an offer then take it and move on. Show your work to as many professionals as you can. If it is possible to meet in person then do so, but always show a completed project and have evidence of something you’re working on. Don’t waste your money on an expensive portfolio if you are a photo journalist.