From Photoshelter blog, a Shoot! Interview: Stella Kramer piece dated July 29, 2008, and an incredibly stupid move on her part.
Stella Kramer is a Pulitzer Prize winning photo editor who has worked for many top industry publications, and one of a few who has gone on to consult and lecture as well. She began her career at Vanity Fair, was a photo editor at Newsweek, and served as Director of Photography at Brill's Content. She has also worked as a freelance photo editor for major publications including The New York Times, People, Entertainment Weekly, Sports Illustrated, and Money. She clearly knows the industry inside and out, and allowed me to ask her a few questions about her experiences.
How did you get started as a photo editor? Was there a particular niche that was most interesting to you, or did you fall into it?
I got started as a photo editor in a sort of roundabout way. I was asked by the temp agency I went to work for whether I wanted to work for companies on Wall St. or for midtown magazines. I chose the latter, having majored in journalism/political science in college. My first gig was in the photo department of Vanity Fair, where I simply kept track of film that came in and sent it back.
From there I went to a promotional department at Time Inc., gathering images for use in TV commercials. After I cut a direct deal with them to get out from under the temp agency, I worked there for about a year. My next gig was PEOPLE magazine, then Sports Illustrated. That's how I started. I really hadn't known that there was such a thing as a photo department, since I didn't come to it from school or from a photo agency. I was lucky, and it proved to be a great fit for me.
I was always most interested in photojournalism, but each job I've had (entertainment, sports, business, etc.) has had its moments. I went wherever I found work. It wasn't until I got to Newsweek that I got a real chance to work with news. We did an incredible cover story called "Murder: A Week In the Death of America" that won several awards.
What's the most rewarding project you've worked on?
Without a doubt, the most rewarding thing I've ever done was the work I did at The New York Times related to 9/11, both the "Portraits of Grief" project I worked on for several months, and the initial editing work I did on the day of the attacks.
photo by Ruth Fremson/ The New York Times
It was the first time I felt like a real journalist, and working for such an important and professional publication like The Times was extraordinary. There was so much film that came into the newspaper that day (after all, the attacks were the most photographed event in history) from staff, freelancers, and just people off the street; I cannot remember how much I saw. I can't even really separate events of the first week-- all I remember was long hours, not leaving the building, looking at film, and stumbling home to cry and watch cable news late into the night.
When I was asked to work on getting the photos for the "Portraits of Grief", I didn't realize I was going to be part of something that would become almost a sacred rite for some people. It was so difficult getting the photographs from family and friends that were of happy times (weddings, births, graduations, etc.), and cropping them down to obituary photos.
from "Portraits of Grief"
It became vital to me that I had a photograph to go with every bio, as I wanted people to look into the eyes of those killed, so that the event wouldn't become an incomprehensible statistic. How could you not feel the impact of the event when you saw people who might even have been your own family? The work took its toll on me emotionally, and I will never forget it.
I also discovered an amazing photographer, Michael Lisnet, who had been shooting the scene at Ground Zero for days and I was able to get The New York Times Week In Review to publish an essay of his work. I am very proud of that.
photos by Michael Lisnet