Amy Feitelberg, Outside Magazine

Wednesday, March 17 by Juliette Wolf-Robin, ADBASE

Posted in: Buyer Interviews

Juliette Wolf-Robin speaks with Amy Feitelberg, Photo Editor of Outside Magazine based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The magazine's mission is to inspire participation in the world outside. It is known for award-winning coverage of sports, people, places, adventures, environmental issues, health and fitness, gear and apparel, and trends and events that define the active lifestyle.

  • Video, the iPad and the future of magazines
  • Outside's October 2009 "Living Cover"
  • How Outside sources new photographers

Interview Transcript

This is an edited transcript of Juliette Wolf-Robin's interview with Amy Feitelberg, Photo Editor of Outside Magazine, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Juliette Wolf-Robin:

So, let's start with the history of Outside Magazine... Because when I was looking it up it looks like, in 1977, Jann Wenner [who also founded Rolling Stone], started the magazine and he's based in New York. So, how did it end up in Santa Fe?

Amy Feitelberg:

Well, it didn't start off in Santa Fe. What happened... well, yes, Jann Wenner started it and then Larry Burke - who owns it now, bought it from him in '77... and that was in Chicago. The magazine was based in Chicago and then they moved here to Santa Fe... 15 years ago. Something like that.

Larry had started a magazine called Mariah... they were sort of on the same theme. Then he bought [Outside] magazine from Jann, and it became a success, I think. The legend is that it became such a success that Jann Wenner got mad and started Men's Journal. I don't know if that's true or not.

Juliette:

Oh, interesting. [Outside] magazine has won awards for the quality of the art and design. And within that, do you feel there are any specific mandates that are given to who you're going to choose to work [with] on the magazine based on trying to keep a certain level?

Amy:

You mean, who we would hire?

Juliette:

Yes.

Amy:

Oh, yeah... we don't set up things going out to win awards but I think we have a really high bar for the kind of work that we want to run in the magazine. And we want to work with top photographers who are working today, and we're always looking for new photographers.

Juliette:

How often are you hiring sports and action photographers versus portrait or other types of photographers?

Amy:

Well, that's sort of a misconception about Outside... actually, for assignment work, we tend to hire portrait, lifestyle, you know, reportage photographers. And much more than we ever hire sport shooters... not that we don't run those images, but those always tend to be stock images.

Juliette:

What do you look for in their body of work that's of particular importance to you in choosing a photographer?

Amy:

For an assignment? Energy. That's a big word we use around here a lot. And that doesn't mean necessarily that people are flying through the air but that, you know, there's a lot of photography out there. Portrait photography, even lifestyle where you know there's a person just sort of standing in space, and standing and looking right at the camera and just very still.

And that's sort of the anti-look of what we're going for, really. Even if it's just their hair blowing in the breeze or their shirt is wrinkled or whatever, it's something that gives a certain quality to the image; that makes it feel like there's movement and life and energy.

Juliette:

And how would you describe the style of Outside Magazine?

Amy:

The style... well, the focus of the magazine, I mean, it's an outdoor, adventure, lifestyle men's magazine.

Juliette:

Okay. Do you look for photographers who have worked for other publications or does that hurt their chances of working here?

Amy:

No, it doesn't hurt their chances but it also doesn't stop their chances if they haven't worked for other magazines. But they're going to be less likely to get something big if they haven't worked for other places. I mean, I always think "other places that people work for" - it's one of those Catch-22s. You can't get work if you haven't shown that you can do it and you can't show that you can do it until you can get some work.

Juliette:

But you don't feel competitive? That this photographer is known for [working for] another magazine... so therefore you don't want to use them?

Amy:

No. Certainly, Men's Journal and we use a lot of the same photographers.

Juliette:

Does it matter to you where the artist lives?

Amy:

A lot of times, yeah. I mean, more and more these days because budgets are smaller and to fly people where we need to get them is harder so...

Juliette:

So, you would more often have a location where you need a shoot to take place and then find a photographer in that area?

Amy:

Depending on what it is. If it's a cover, probably not. We're probably going to fly somebody in. If it's something that we can maybe take a chance on, we can use somebody local. Especially if it's somebody we've used before [who is] local. And then sometimes, if you're in Texas, you've got a million great shooters to choose from. It's not just LA and New York.

Juliette:

Where do most of your shoots actually take place?

Amy:

LA, most of them.

Juliette:

Okay.

Amy:

Yeah... sometimes in Colorado. I should say, most of our cover shoots take place in Los Angeles. We've done some in Texas. We've done some in San Francisco, and whatever. But they tend to be more in the West. But we've definitely done New York a bunch of times, too.

Juliette:

Do you like to meet the photographers before working with them?

Amy:

Ideally, but, you know, being out here in Santa Fe, that's not always possible.

Juliette:

And do you see it as an asset if they've also worked for commercial clients, or is that not important because it's editorial?

Amy:

Yeah, it's not important. Because sometimes... well, I wouldn't say if they've done commercial work it doesn't affect [whether] we would choose them... as long as their editorial doesn't look commercial.

Juliette:

And do you have a core group of photographers you work with? Or do you like to work with a lot of different photographers?

Amy:

We definitely have a core group that we go back to time and time again. But it is fun when we can get somebody new in, absolutely.

Juliette:

And how do you typically find photographers?

Amy:

Through every single way possible that you can imagine: through websites, through promos, email promos, card promos, agencies. Anywhere I look... other magazines... anywhere I look where I find something interesting - I make a note, I'll look up their work.

Juliette:

Are there certain keywords that you find yourself searching for most often?

Amy:

You mean if I'm [using] Google to find somebody?

Juliette:

Yeah or on the site...

Amy:

No, I don't usually find...

Juliette:

Because that would represent "these are the type of photographers you often need" to find because these are the [search] words that you're using.

Amy:

Right. No. I'm trying to think if I ever do that. I don't think I do.

Juliette:

Okay. And how do you organize the promotions that you receive?

Amy:

Well, I have - it's like organization of bringing to my crazy brain. I mean, I bookmark, for sure. I also email, I keep word search in my email all the time. I guess when you asked me that previous question, I don't feel like I'm always looking for a type of genre as much as I'm looking for a type of place. So, I'm always key-word searching on different places, I feel like more than genres. And then I have a bucket of promos and then a stack of them on my desk and...

Juliette:

Well, that's organized.

Amy:

Yeah.

Juliette:

Okay. And do you ever actually call in portfolios or do you pick from somebody's website?

Amy:

Well, I call-in portfolios less and less only because we're in Santa Fe and it's expensive you know... I mean, I like to see a book, I really do, but I have to say I get really disappointed by two things: If I call-in a book and then it's all the exact same work that's on their website; and also if the book is printed poorly.

A lot of times [the work will] look good on their websites and because people don't want to invest everything that it takes to make a really beautiful book... It's a lot of money... but I think if you're going to do a book you should do it right. And if I get a book and I see all those images and they're crazy or saturated and it's just bad digital printing and all that stuff, then you're almost canceling out your website.

Juliette:

So, maybe that's helpful because then you could find out a lot about the photographer before you hire them.

Amy:

That's true. Yeah, I know that is true. And I have to say if I really like the website... I doubt that it's going to have that dichotomy that's going to come in a bad book. But usually websites are okay for us. But I do love a well-printed book

Juliette:

And do you ever publish a story that's sent in from a photographer unsolicited? You haven't even thought of that, but the photographer sends you this full story and you're like, "Oh, that would be really interesting to follow."

Amy:

Almost never. And not because they don't send stuff that's great. It's funny how it works here. We almost never work from the photo end, up. A lot of times we work from the edit side to photo, which, on the creator's side, is a little frustrating because usually they're more compelled by the story than by the photos.

And a lot of times the photos that are embedded with that situation aren't ones that we would necessarily want to do, but now we're in that position. So, sometimes you have great photos and they're not interested in the stories so it's...

Juliette:

Compromise.

Amy:

Yeah.

Juliette:

And who's involved in choosing the photographer? How many different people here would be involved in that decision?

Amy:

Well, we're a small group and we're smaller than we used to be, so pretty much it's me and the creative director. So, there are two of us.

Juliette:

Do the photographers ever go on a story with the writer?

Amy:

Yeah.

Juliette:

And does the writer ever have a say about the photographer?

Amy:

Not that they necessarily have a say, but we have had, over the years, writer-photographer pairings where they really do love working together. And if it's at all possible, I certainly don't mind sending out a photographer who loves working with a certain writer and vice versa, you know what I mean.

Patrick Symmes is a writer for us and he always works with Seamus Murphy. And this guy James Campbell always works with Philipp Engelhorn ... not always, but I mean they get along.

Juliette:

And what is your background? Were you in publishing before you started doing this...

Amy:

I started off on the editorial side. I was an unpaid intern at New York Magazine and I learned how to fact-check, and that sort of took me into the direction of editorial. And so I worked in editorial for a long time. And I was then getting my master's in photography and shooting and stuff... but I worked at that time, I freelanced.

I went back to New York Magazine, worked there for a long time. Freelanced at Glamour, freelanced at Rolling Stone, Harper's Bazaar, Golf and Travel, House and Garden, Premiere. And then I went to Entertainment Weekly and I was there for five years and then I came here.

Juliette:

Wow. So, within the magazine world, seems like a lot of people kind of move around within that same world, right?

Amy:

Right. Right.

Juliette:

And... so you came out here from doing that in New York and I see that the creative director [for Outside magazine] also came from Esquire to come here. So, the talent pool is great... who they have tapped into to work here in Santa Fe.

Amy:

Yeah.

Juliette:

The magazine is also known for hiring some very well-known photographers. Have you noticed anything in the last year - with the recession - about your ability to bring on that level of talent? Has it affected that in any way?

Amy:

Well, the good thing is that we do have really great relationships with those photographers. I mean with, you know Anton Corbijn and Rob Maxwell. And Dan Winters. And all these wonderful, wonderfully talented photographers. You know, the recession has created a kind of weird dichotomy in that you have less money to spend and fewer shoots. But in a way, you want to use the young, hungry talent who are a little more untried because they're willing to do it for less. But you have no margin for error... it used to be that you could cancel shoots and you could re-shoot and all that. Now you don't. You can't, at all. Yeah, so in the end it sort of becomes, like, we use them almost more than ever because we know they're going to deliver every time.

Juliette:

That's interesting. Okay. So, now, one of the questions that I was really interested in knowing about is the cover shoot that happened a couple of months ago - there was a video online that Alexx Henry shot about living art. And you see, there's a video shoot that then becomes the cover. Is that going to be an important part of the future of the magazine? Do you see that more photographers are going to need to also shoot video?

Amy:

That is like the biggest question going right now and especially [with] the iPad launch... people are saying "Is that going to save publishing?" and all that stuff. You know, we did that for our design technology issue in October and we used the RED camera because the whole thing about the RED is that you're supposed to be able to pull high-res, still images.

So, you get the video but you get high-res stills - it's supposed to be the two-in-one. Now, I kind of feel like it doesn't exactly work out that way. Alexx Henry did a really amazing job for us when he set up this whole, like, mini-movie to do this for us, and I think it could be the future of publishing.

Juliette:

Right. If the cover actually moved.

Amy:

Wait, that's the thing. I mean, we shot this thing and you know we're all very aware that... we're shooting this thing for technology that doesn't exist. You know... to talk about it. Yes, you can look at it online - but our cover is paper. It's not going to move. So, I don't know. If everybody has an iPad will that, then, be the future of it? You know, I saw the demo that Time did of Sports Illustrated with this sort of tabloid idea. It looks amazing and it's a whole mix of video and still.

Right now, the more any photographer shoots video, the better. Because even though we don't have moving pages, we have a website and all our video is hugely popular on the website. I just did a shoot where the photographer just shot video, volunteered to do it and just did it... I mean that's the other thing, too... we want more and more for no extra money, you know. We're not paying for video.

Juliette:

I did notice on your website you do have a lot of video. So, are those being shot by photographers or do you have separate film crews that go out to shoot the videos?

Amy:

It's a total mix. I mean, I only know from the photo shoot end if Hannah, the creative director or I are on a shoot, [the magazine] likes us to shoot video. If we can find an intern or an assistant or someone else who can do it... because if you're on set I guarantee you can't shoot video. It's very difficult because your brain's too split.

We just did a cover shoot where I had an assistant shoot the video. In some cases, the photographer shot the video. Sometimes we've been able to have somebody there and then - though, I don't know how the online editor gets a lot of the video he gets. I'm not sure how he does it.

Juliette:

And do you see that separate content being developed for people reading on an iPad versus how they would read in print? Or do you think that's going to be something you're going to start to look at?

Amy:

Yeah. Well, I know that Outside has an iPhone app right now. I haven't seen it... I don't know even who does that technology to re-adjust things... I guess they outsource it to a company who does that kind of stuff. I'm not very involved in how they do that.

Juliette:

And as far as interactive and Outside Magazine being more involved in that, is it a different department that handles everything that's going to be happening with that and how they respond to the market's need for more interactive experiences?

Amy:

Yeah. I mean, we try to do it on our end where we can. But it really seems that it's more the people who are involved in the online thing - that are in marketing and everything - who are driving all of those interactive... you know, we're a small department. I don't even have time to get stuff done that I need.

Juliette:

They're on their own over there...

Amy:

...The regular old school paper stuff, I don't know how I'm going to get done. So, yeah, they're working on those things.

Juliette:

And do you hire much illustration?

Amy:

We used to. We used to really be known for that, I think. Hannah had won a lot of awards for illustration. But we did a redesign a couple of years ago and they're really wanting to sell almost everything photographically. We do some illustration in every issue but not like we used to.

Juliette:

In the redesign, was there any different style of photography that was being asked for that was different than previously or more often? Was there anything that changed in that design?

Amy:

No, I think that it was still the same high quality, just the best editorial photography that we can do.

Juliette:

And is the work supplied to you digitally now?

Amy:

Mostly yes. And it's funny because I've been here four-and-a-half years, roughly, and I've seen such a change in just that time. We used to have tons of returns and still get film and, you know, contact sheets and all that stuff and that's so rare now. Maybe every six months we'll get something that's almost all digital, which is you know, easier, but I like them.

Juliette:

How do you like to have artists contact you, or reps contact you, if they want to show you their work?

Amy:

Through email, almost exclusively through email, unless I have a real working relationship already with a rep. But even then, it's still better for pitching me someone new to send an email because it's hard to pick up your phone and have to deal with people that you don't know, or you don't have time.

And the other thing is when people email you a promo - I may look at it and I may even like it. Or maybe I haven't even had a chance to see it yet, but then if people call, like, two days later and say, "Did you see it? Did you like it? Do you want it?" Or... a couple of days later and say, "Did you see it? Did you like it?" And maybe I have seen it, maybe I don't like it, maybe I haven't seen it, or maybe I love it... but I have no place or time for it at the moment.

Juliette:

Right. And even if you receive something you really like and you think it might be applicable later, would you call that person right away and tell them that? Or would you just...

Amy:

No. No, I never would.

Juliette:

Okay.

Amy:

Yes. We get submissions all the time for our Exposure section and the Parting Shot section. Sometimes I get the submissions and I like them. But we've already filled the spot for the month I'm working on, and maybe for the next month and I don't need it for a couple of months. So, I'm not going to respond to it because I don't know when we're going to use it or if we're going to use it. But I'll keep it. I'll put it in the mix. You know, we choose from a bunch of things and so that's something that...

Juliette:

Is the exposure section where somebody can send in something and you'll run it if you like it? Is that the idea?

Amy:

Yeah. And sometimes that can be really timely. I mean sometimes... I can get it and be looking for an exposure because it's May - and we're working on May right now - and I don't have anything. And those are big photographic pages in our magazine. And I'm looking everywhere in my tried and true and I'm not finding anything new, and somebody could submit something, and that day I can say "You just got a two-page spread." But sometimes people send me - this happens all the time in spring - they'll send me all the great stuff they shot from ski season. But I'm not going to need them for six more months. And I'll keep them because if I see beautiful, beautiful things, I want to be able to have that in my stockpile.

Juliette:

I also just wanted to ask you about the issue of photographing when you're shooting an athlete who is also sponsored by a corporation, and how the magazine deals with that. Does the magazine get to choose what they wear or do you have to control everything through the sponsor?

Amy:

It depends what it is. We come up against it all the time because almost all athletes are sponsored and it depends what we're photographing them for. We've done style shoots where we've used sponsored athletes - we're working on one of those right now - where the athletes are sponsored. But this is a lifestyle shoot. This is more of a fashion as much as outside does fashion, you know. It's casual wear but it's not technical wear.

Sometimes we really have to sit down and go brand by brand and say, "We will not put on any of these competitive brands." If they're wearing sunglasses, they're wearing fashion sunglasses, not technical wear. And that comes up all the time. It's come up before where we've pulled the shoot because they're so insistent on having that person head-to-toe in whatever their brand is and you know...

Juliette:

...they don't look natural anymore.

Amy:

I mean, at the end of the day, we're not shooting an ad. So, then it becomes a free ad for this company and we are still editorial and we still have to draw the line somewhere... it's something that we come up against quite a bit.

Juliette:

Thank you.

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