Editorial Photography

Who I’ve Hired: Amber Venerable, Condé Nast Visuals Director

December 20, 2019

By Interview David Walker

Amber Venerable, Condé Nast Visuals Director ©Heather Hazzan

Condé Nast Visuals Director Amber Venerable commissions fashion, beauty, fitness and celebrity shoots for SELF magazine. She began her career in 2006 as a freelance photo editor, and has since held photo editing positions at Hearst, Parenting magazine and other publications. We recently talked to Venerable about how she finds the photographers she hires, and who she has hired recently.

PDN: Who have you hired lately?
Amber Venerable:
Felicity Ingram is a photographer I worked with recently for the first time. I had her shoot our SELF Healthy Beauty Awards. I’d been following her for a while. She’s an amazing beauty photograph, based in London. https://www.self.com/package/healthy-beauty-awards

PDN: How did you find Felicity?
I find a lot of new talent on Instagram. London is a huge market of talent. I reach out to them and say: If you’re ever in NY I would love to work with you. That’s how it happened with felicity.

PDN: What was it about her work that you really liked?
She does hand-made prints. A lot of people are shooting film. But a lot of people don’t shoot film for beauty and definitely don’t do hand-made prints, probably because it’s time-consuming, and everybody needs everything right now.

Felicity does really cool versions of beauty—not your typical eye shadow, or mascara, not mainstream beauty—she hires makeup artists that do the most immaculate, detailed drawings on the person’s face in various patterns. What drew me to her work [was] the saturation of the colors, the strength of the images and the models, coupled with choosing specific makeup artists who do different things.

A photo by Felicity Ingram
© Felicity Ingram

PDN: Tell me more about the SELF Beauty Awards assignment.
This year, it was more skin-related. It wasn’t makeup, it was skin, and creams and serums. I focused a lot on casting different skin types: alopecia, albanism, freckles. I think Felicity did an amazing job.

PDN: What impressed you about what she did?
I really loved that she was really tight on a lot of the shots. You see the textures of the skin. You could definitely see [blemishes]. The detail and tightness of her images really helped drive that point home.

PDN: It sounds like Instagram is the primary way you develop relationships with photographers.
Absolutely. Every now and again agents reach out. Every so often someone’s book captures my eye. But [Instagram is] 70 percent of how I am keeping abreast of what’s going on, where I think, this would be amazing if [something for this person] ever comes up.

PDN: How does someone come to your attention in the first place on Instagram?
I follow so many agencies, stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists, other editors, other people in the industry, publications, brands I feel do things well. I see an image I love and I save it, and sometimes when I’m in the middle of shoot production, I’ll go to my saved images and scroll through: who did this, who shot this, who did makeup for this? There are lots of people whose work is amazing and I love, but it might not fit with my brand. So it’s like: I think this person could nail this thing, and when that thing comes up, I have them in my back pocket.

PDN: Who else have you hired recently for the first time like that?
I had been following Steph Wilson. I loved her work, but she has a very specific look and a lot of stuff I was doing was just never going to be a fit for her. The brand I work on is bright and poppy, and a generally an upbeat brand. But then I had a cover [shoot] of Alanis Morissette and I was like: Steph would be perfect for this.

PDN: Why did she jump to mind for the Alanis Morissette assignment?
Her work is artful, abstract fashion. The reason she came to mind for Alanis is because I had seen her do so many beautiful shots of pregnant women in a beautiful way. Alanis was pregnant, and I thought: who can do this, and not do cheesy pregnancy shots? I wanted artful thinking and I thought [Wilson’s style] would mesh well. She did a great job. She knows how to shoot pregnant women in an interesting way, not just, you know, holding your belly.

A photo by Steph Wilson.
© Steph Wilson

PDN: Do you need to meet photographers before you hire them?
I ideally do. Another example: they have so much good talent in London. I was shooting Allyson Felix for another cover about black maternal mortality. She was focusing what was happening to black women during pregnancy. A lot of black women are dying during childbirth. So we were doing a whole package on the topic. And because it was specifically about black women, I wanted it to be a black woman photographer. I had been following Ekua King. I originally might have seen her tagged in a picture for i-D. I was following them because they get the best talent. I had never met Ekua, but she happened to be in New York the week I was looking for a photographer. A friend told me: she’s actually here, I’m meeting her, so I reached out to her. She came in, and we hit it off immediately, and I was like, “You’re hired.” She did an amazing job.

PDN: What dissuades you from hiring photographers you meet?
Talent is what draws me into you, but it really is the chemistry that makes me want to work with you…I’m not saying I have to have a personal relationship with the photographers I hire, because I don’t. But what I will say about everyone I work with: they are excited about what we’re doing, they come with ideas, they collaborate with me, and they’re open minded. And they have great attitude. That’s a huge part of it. On set, it should not be anything but energy, laughing, excitement about what we’re doing. Everyone is not like that, but that’s the way I’ve been able to create the most amazing images that I’ve been doing recently.

PDN: Do you like photographers to reach out to you, and if so, how often?
I feel that if [clients] are interested they will find you and they will reach out to you. I don’t mind having photographers I’ve expressed clear interest in telling me: Oh, I’m in NY these three weeks or this month, if you have anything. But if you have emailed me 10 times and I’m not reaching out and checking on you, I just think you should not email me again. Either your work is not a fit for my brand, or I am trying to elevate the brand, and your work is not there yet.

PDN: Anything you wish photographers understood better about your job or your expectations as a client?
Sometimes people reach out, and [their work] looks nothing like the [SELF] brand. It always confuses me. Be realistic. Go for things that align with you, don’t just send cold emails to 50,000 people. Be very specific, be very intentional, in what you want to do, where you want to go, and who that’s with. I’m very big on [hiring] people for what they’re good at, and what their point of view is.

Related articles:

Who I’ve Hired: Tracey Woods, Photo Editor at Essence Magazine
Who I’ve Hired: Jolie Ruben, Culture Desk Photo Editor at The New York Times
What Photo Editors Want from Photographers Now

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