"The time for young photographers to be more political, more environmental and more project driven is now. It’s a chance to help reshape the world"
Mike Trow is the Chair of the Jury for the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards, Professional competition. He is Picture Editor at British Vogue.
Anyone can enter their best series of work into the Professional competition free of charge.
Hi Mike. Tell us about your journey to becoming Picture Editor at Vogue. What have been some of the highs and lows, and what changes have you seen in the industry along the way?
I started around 24 years ago at Colorific, a London photo agency as head of reportage. As a disastrous salesman, it seemed sensible to move into magazines which I did after a couple of years. Bizarre magazine, a counterculture title was a terrific learning curve – research, commissioning, production, writing. I got to do it all and I had a massive amount of fun at the same time. I then worked at Jack magazine under James Brown before ending up at Vogue on a 2-month freelance contract. 12 years later I’m still struggling to understand it all. Highs are numerous: hilarious cover shoots for Bizarre, laughing all day with Emily Blunt, drinking with Michael Fassbender, too many things to mention.
The industry is ever more relentless, less fun and more pressured and harder to make a living in. The multiplicity of platforms and formats makes it more important to have technical skills across stills and moving imagery etc. Photography has really become appreciated for the world it shows and the number of exhibitions and competitions are a testament to its power, but maybe also a symptom of our narcissism and self-obsession in certain areas.
What is your day-to-day like? Describe a typical day at Vogue...
I get in at 9.45am, delete a hundred emails, drink some green tea and then see which commission is most urgent, which budget is most difficult and which locations are best for our needs. My fantastic deputies fill me in on what they are doing, production is the key to all shoots so call sheets and transport and catering are the mundane but necessary side of running the desk. Editing shoots and presenting to the editor is key, as is making sure final images are in on time and to the quality we need. Every day is different whilst often always the same.
If you could give one piece of advice to those entering the Professional competition of the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards, what would it be and why?
Pick your stories carefully, see how they fit with your belief structures, research the story and also other people's work in the area and then shoot it. Be ruthless in your editing and quality control, and be consistent in the presentation of images. And always get the opinion of others – how they see things is not necessarily how you see it and will help give objectivity to the sense of whether your pictures work or don’t.
How can photographers maximize their chances of getting work in front of editors such as yourself? What are the best practices for approaching publications and pitching stories?
Consistency, content, presentation, good manners, persistence and relevance of the work to the potential client. Sending me a book of men's fashion and saying you would like to do women is not going to get you the job.
What excites you most about the photography world going into 2018, and what do you think are the biggest challenges we face as an industry?
I think making a living whilst doing the work you love is getting harder but I feel more and more that photography has a key role in helping people understand what is happening in the world. Yes, doing fashion and commercial work is important and often beautiful, but I also think the time for young photographers to be more political, more environmental and more project driven is now. It’s a chance to help reshape the world – images are prevalent and the power over people's way of thinking is greater than ever. Photography can help change and reflect every aspect of our world. So embrace it and find any way you can to be published…