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 Josh Lustig, Deputy Editor of Photography at FT Weekend Magazine and Selector for the MA/MFA phase of Graduate Photography Online 2022.
Tell us about your job? What does your core role at FT Weekend Magazine involve?
As the Deputy Picture Editor on the FT Weekend Magazine I work alongside the Director of Photography, Emma Bowkett, when it comes to commissioning and researching the images that go into the magazine. We're lucky that the majority of photography in the magazine is commissioned by us, which allows us to work with people that we really want to work with and to direct the shoots as much as possible. We're a Saturday supplement of a major international newspaper, so that dictates somewhat the kind of stories we work on, but within those parameters there is a huge range. If I just think of a couple of recent cover stories I've personally commissioned, it varies from a five-day commission painting a portrait of Miami as the USA's most important city, to two days up on the Yorkshire moors trying to find creative ways to photograph a low humming sound... We also shoot a lot of portraits, some exciting, some boring; as well as a lot of food/still life shoots, where you can often be at your most creative/crazy. There's also a fair bit of image research that goes into certain stories, which can allow you to fall down some pretty fun rabbit holes, but by far the most enjoyable part of the job is finding the right person to shoot that particular story.
How did you make your way into the career you're now in? Did you always want to work in a field that involved photography?
I did an academic degree, but had studied photography at A-level. After university I decided I wanted to try and be a news photographer and started working for local papers in London, where I’m from. This led to working abroad for a couple of years making my own pictures, and then eventually to start working as a commissioning editor after working at a gallery (HOST Gallery), a photo magazine (Foto8) and then an agency (Panos Pictures). I still make my own pictures (definitely not news photography) but I realised I worked better in a team than on my own, and helping photographers more talented and dedicated than myself was something I enjoyed.
How do you decide on what makes an interesting photograph or photographic project?
This is a difficult question. What makes an interesting song? Or an interesting movie? The answer will be different for everyone depending on your tastes. I guess I like to be surprised, and also informed. I want to learn something, but I also want to be made to feel something. Photography occupies (I think) a unique intersection between art and information, and it’s the photographer’s role to bring the two together in a way that is engaging and makes you want to look. And then to look again, and again.
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?
This is another tricky question, which could have a myriad of answers. I want to read something clear, precise and informative. No fluff. No flimflam. No language that makes things vague. I want to know what this project is about, why you made it and why I should be interested in it.
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?
I would hope that photographers emerge from their degree course with realistic expectations about the industry they are about to enter, and a strong sense of the kind of photographer they want to be. This can change. We mustn’t be beholden to old ideas of ourselves, but at the same time, I think this is an industry that requires you to be blinkered, undistracted, and have a laser-focus on where you want to get to and the kind of work you want to make.
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?
Where to begin!? I feel for graduates right now. Not just specifically photography graduates, but all graduates. The UK is in a pretty dire state, but this can lead to an abundance of creativity. No one else is going to help you so you’re going to have to help yourselves. Use the support networks you’ve hopefully been able to build whilst at uni, form collectives, make zines. I think the specific challenges to those graduating in photography have been the same for a while. There are a hell of a lot of talented people out there and it’s hard to get noticed. Making a living once you have been noticed can be even harder. The challenge really is the same as it’s always been for creatives. How do you do what you want to do and still pay rent? The answer will be different for everyone depending on their circumstances, but don’t ever feel shame for doing something just so you can eat. The road is long. If you know where you want to go you can do whatever necessary, while you try and get there.
What advice would you have for someone interested in working in your particular area of photography?
I work in editorial photography. I’m interested in telling stories. Personal, journalistic, artistic, they can all be published in the FT Weekend Magazine. I can’t remember now where I first heard this but I repeat it at every opportunity to anybody that will listen: the world is large, there are millions of stories out there, but not all of them are yours to tell. Writers are always told to write what they know. The same should be said for photography. Shoot what is close to you. Don’t travel half the way around the world and parachute yourself into someone else’s world. Photograph your world, or a world close to you, where your unique perspective and vision forms an integral part of telling that story. STORY. That word is very important to me. There needs to be a story that is worth telling. Something that travels, even if you don’t.