Editorial Photography

Who I’ve Hired: Paloma Shutes, The California Sunday Magazine

October 18, 2018

By Interview David Walker

Paloma Shutes is Photography Editor of The California Sunday Magazine. Previously, she worked in the photo departments at Wired and GQ, where she commissioned photography recognized by the Society of Publication Designers and American Photography.

PDN: Who are some photographers you’ve hired lately for the first time?
Paloma Shutes: I recently worked with Jessica Chou on an assignment to cover our midterm election package, running in our September/October issue. I’ve worked with Jess a few times before [on portrait assignments], but never on an assignment this involved. I also hired Cinthya Santos Briones for another story [in the same issue] about women seeking shelter from domestic abuse within the migrant working community in the Central Valley.

PDN: What kind of work does Jessica do, and how did she get on your radar?
P.S.: I recently had her show me her personal work. I asked her what she’s been interested in working on lately. Part of what she showed me was a series of photos around the presidential election (see examples: 1, 2, 3, 4) and other political moments across America. I didn’t yet know that we were going to be covering the midterms in the September/October issue, but after the assignment came to my desk, it felt like an amazing and logical assignment to have her cover.

PDN: What caught your eye about Jessica’s personal work covering politics?
P.S.: When work on politics is done well, it can be really fascinating and at times surreal and captivating. If the photographer isn’t engaged with the subject matter, political photos are at risk of being very boring. Jessica’s work was really exciting and thoughtful. She really takes her time and doesn’t rush things. She was capturing details and more pulled-back scenes in a way that [made it] a really cohesive body of work. No matter who she was photographing, or what their political affiliation, she was observing in a way that was sophisticated and not overly theatrical.

PDN: What was the brief you gave her?
P.S.: In Orange County specifically we were covering the Congressional race and we wanted to show what goes into making that campaign, from the candidates themselves to their PR folks to people on the ground making phone calls, at canvassing events and knocking on doors. So our brief to Jessica was to photograph people doing various activities, wherever the campaign took them—and showing them in their element [in both] Republican and Democratic races. And in that brief we [said] we wanted to be sure we opened not with one specific person, not with one specific race or candidate, but we wanted to have some iconography from the election itself that would set the stage for a package about midterms. We had some ideas about what she might find in the [campaign] offices, but we let her discover what she found while she was there.

PDN: How much time did you give her to do this?
P.S.: She shot this over the course of a week.

PDN: Are there particular images that really stand out in your mind?
P.S.: [Jessica shot] a really a great opener: two images side-by-side. They’re still lifes from [Republican and Democrat] campaign offices. They’re subtle, but as a pairing, they really speak volumes about the feeling of energy in the campaign offices. And then on the inside, Jessica captured two images of people on their phones, and she got really close up to them, and there’s a really beautiful parity between the two images. One is from the Republican camp, the other is from the Democratic camp, and you see really subtle details.

PDN: How did you discover Cinthya Santos Briones, and what about her work impressed you?
P.S.: I don’t remember when I exactly found Cinthya’s work, but it stood out for me—specifically there’s an image on her Instagram of a woman holding a cat. The portrait itself is really arresting. The lighting is really interesting, and the woman in the picture looks really strong.

PDN: What was the assignment you gave her?
P.S.: The assignment was to photograph a network of providers in the Central Valley area [for immigrant women seeking shelter from domestic abuse]. This is of course a very sensitive story. In some cases the women are documented, in other cases, they’re not, but any way you cut it, there’s a lot of trust involved in this piece. The brief was to photograph the providers and also to photograph the context for where they’re providing shelter for these women, which is in their homes. So it was portraits and landscapes, and interiors and exteriors.

PDN: What gave you the confidence that Cinthya was the right photographer for the story?
P.S.: I called her and had a conversation about it, to see if it was right before I assigned it to her. I was reassured by her approach: She was asking all the right questions and she also has a lot of experience talking to undocumented people seeking sanctuary in a variety of contexts.

PDN: What did she do with the assignment that stood out for you or makes you want to hire her again?
P.S.: She was dedicated to covering us on this assignment in every way possible. There was a question about anonymity for some of the portraits, and Cinthya wanted to make sure that the women she was photographing really felt comfortable in front of the camera. We ended up running a photo that does not show one of the women’s faces (last image in the photo gallery above). Cinthya still went to great lengths to make sure the image was incredibly compelling, even though we weren’t able to have eye contact in that picture.

PDN: How did she make the image compelling without showing the woman’s face?
P.S.: She tried a lot of different approaches. The image we chose [as] our opener [shows] a woman named Valentina, who is in a garden and you can see the back of her figure, and there’s something very quiet and still about the image. It works really nicely with the headline, and really speaks to the sense of shelter and sanctuary that we describe in the piece.

PDN: In general, what are you looking for in photographers you hire?
P.S.: For our assignments, story always comes first. We try to strategize how the photos will fit, and how they will augment the story and the vision. I’m looking for strong bodies of work. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s somebody’s millionth time on an editorial commission, or they never shot an editorial commission before. It could be a fine art photographer, it could be photographers straight out of school, it could be someone who hasn’t trained in photography who just has a really sharp photographic eye. It could be an artist who works in multimedia, a videographer who wants to try stills. We’re really open here to different ways of visual thinking and we’re excited by unique portfolios of all kinds.

PDN: Do you often try people out on smaller assignments first?
P.S.: Sometimes we commission photographers for smaller stories and then commission them for larger ones. Sometimes we hire very seasoned photographers for the one-off, shorter story, just because we need that singular image. It’s really about finding the right photographer and story match-ups. Making sure the photographer is excited about the subject matter, and that it fits with the work that they are already doing, or that they want to be doing, is really important to us.

PDN: You’re looking for quite a variety of approaches and sensibilities, so how and where do you find photographers?
P.S.: We’re constantly looking at galleries, at museums, at promos that come through the mail or email. We’re looking at Instagram, we’re looking at recommendations from other editors, recommendations from other photographers, we’re looking at a variety of story-telling platforms. We’re trying to find image makers wherever we can.

PDN: What’s the best way for photographers to contact you directly in order to get their work in front of you?
P.S.: The best way to reach the photo team is to email [email protected].

PDN: How many pictures do you want to see?
P.S.: It is helpful if we can see 5-10 pictures in a small PDF that’s attached to the email, or a small dropbox link, so it doesn’t require a lot of download time.

PDN: What else do you want the email to contain?
P.S.: I’m interested in any pitch ideas that anybody wants to share, big or small. We are based in the American West, Latin America and Asia. So it needs to be [a pitch about] those geographic areas. We’re interested in seeing portfolios, even if there aren’t any pitch ideas that a photographer has in mind. It’s always a bonus when a photographers takes a look at some of the stories that we’ve done and sees how they could fit into the work that we’re doing. I want to know why they would be excited to work with us.

PDN: Have you published anything that anybody has pitched? Any examples of successful pitches?
P.S.: We worked with Jared Soares on skateboarders of La Paz, which came out of a pitch and a few images he shared with me. It was from a personal project he was already working on. We sent him back to La Paz to do a story for us.

PDN: Is there anything about your job that you want photographers to understand better?
P.S.: I think most photographers know this, but it’s a reminder: Photo editors are here to champion your photography. I love to discover photographers and collaborate, and I love to help photographers make amazing, interesting bodies of work.

PDN: Another photo editor recently told me that, which makes me wonder if photographers seem like they think photo editors aren’t on their side.
P.S.: I wouldn’t put it that way. I think that as with every other creative process, there’s decision making involved. Sometimes there are difficult decisions being made, but it’s my responsibility as a photo editor to make the best visual decisions on behalf of the magazine and on behalf of the photographers.

PDN: Any parting advice you have for photographers who want to do work for The California Sunday magazine?
P.S.: My advice is to send an email to say hello and to show us what you’ve been working on, and why you think your work fits with the magazine and how we might collaborate with you. It’s not always obvious. Sometimes it takes several conversations. We work with a variety of photographers and artists, and there isn’t one format or mold, so I would encourage photographers to speak up, reach out and have a conversation.

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