I wish we had more [photo]
assignments because there are
so many great photographers.
PDN: How do the website and
Instagram takeovers fit into
what you do?
Q.N.: We have a separate web
team. We work with them, and
they pick up our content and do
their thing with it. The way I’ve
intersected with the web and
Instagram is that I get pitches
that I can’t get in the magazine,
but if I think [they] will be a good
fit for online, I’ll go to bat for the
work with the online editor. I have
a good track record for that so far.
And we pay for web stories.
Donny Bajohr runs the
Instagram feed. We’ll let a
photographer do a takeover for
a week at a time. If we like their
work but it’s not right for the
magazine, we’ll let them do a
takeover. That raises their profile.
I’m always looking for ways to
work with photographers and
establish relationships with
them, and these are ways to do it.
PDN: What makes a good pitch?
Q.N.: What I want to say first
is: Know who you are pitching.
I get so many pitches on
and social justice issues, and as
amazing and important as those
stories are, it’s not what we do
here. In a sense I think these
pitches hurt the photographer
more than they help. I have a
lot of choices in assigning, and I
want you to know the magazine.
If you’re pitching a story that’s
way off the rails, it can affect
whether or not I assign you.
Because I’m new, I want to
cultivate relationships with
and I want them to think of us
when they send out pitches
for unpublished work. If
there’s a historical, scientific,
technological or art and culture
bent to the work, it could be a
successful pitch. But the pitch
has to be relevant to us to work.
PDN: What genres of photography
are you looking for?
Q.N.: A lot of the stories we
assign require a reportage
approach. But we’ll do portraits
of scientists, doctors and others
in the field, so I’m looking for
portraiture. Also, I’m looking for
conceptual photography to use
as openers, as well as still lifes.
PDN: Are there skills—besides
great image-making—you are
looking for from photographers?
Q.N.: When I first started here,
we had to send a photographer
to Mosul to follow the story of
a woman archaeologist. As ISIS
was being driven out, she went
back in to look at the state the
artifacts were in.
I hired Alice Martins. Looking
at her website, I could see she’s
[been] in a war zone but there’s
something still and thoughtful
about her images. When I was
thinking about the story, I thought:
Here’s a person [the archaeologist]
saving what she loves. I wanted
the photographer’s style to
mirror that thoughtfulness.
[Martins] did an amazing job.
PDN: Where do you look
Q.N.: Instagram is useful
not necessarily for finding
photographers but for seeing
photographers’ most recent,
up-to-date work. When I go to
a photographer’s website, their
Instagram feed is often better and
more current. I use Instagram
to double-check the talent I’m
And I go to the usual
places: PDN, Diversify, Women
Photograph, Washington Post’s
Insight blog and The New York
Times Lens Blog. I haven’t used
it recently but I love looking at
Blink. It has a nice interface.
It makes finding a quality
photographer anywhere in the
world easy, not daunting.
PDN: Is a photographer’s
Q.N.: Roughly 50 percent of our
stories are international.
I need to find a photographer
in northwest China to do a story
about dinosaur fossils, I need a
photographer in the UK to do a
story on the Lake District.
Recently I needed portraits
of three scientists in three
different cities in the U.S.
for a story on the search
for a universal flu vaccine.
What I said to each of the
photographers separately was:
Do your thing, I’m not going to
tell you how to take your photo.
But what I want out of the photo
is some dramatic effect created
by using light or shadow. We
printed three portraits by Bryan
Derballa in New York, Eli Meir
Kaplan in DC, and Nate Ryan in
Minneapolis. It felt coherent.
When the idea of
photographing relics from St.
Anthony’s Church in Pittsburgh
came to us (which was included
in a three-part photo essay on
Faith) immediately it seemed
to me that an interesting and
respectful approach to the
subject matter would be to use
a larger format. I have always
been intrigued by the work of
Joni Sternbach. Even though
the subject matter was not
necessarily her usual [fare], I like
to pull artists out of their comfort
zone. And I think the effort
resulted in a beautiful portfolio.
PDN: History is one of the
magazine’s subjects, but how do
photographers shoot that?
Q.N.: I don’t want to show
history by showing gravestones.
It’s about showing the present
day, but keeping the past in
mind. We recently published a
story on the 100th anniversary
of the Russian Revolution.
Donny Bajohr worked with Olga
Ingurazova, who was tasked
with showing the effects of
Lenin on 2017. She basically
had 28 pages.
These stories are thoughtful
and layered. There’s more here
for the photographer who likes to
take a more cerebral, not literal
approach to photography. Those
are the photographers I want to
form relationships with.
ABOVE: Joni Sternbach’s large-format images of relics in a Pittsburgh church
were included in a three-part photo essay on faith.
Chief Photo Editor