PDN: What’s the mission of Refinery29,
and who are its readers?
TK: Our readers are mostly women who are
looking to discover their individuality, sense
of style and purpose. Our editorial focus
is on being a motivation for them to claim
their power by delivering optimistic, diverse,
creative storytelling and points of view.
Photographically, we focus on fashion,
beauty, celebrity, workouts, food, local and
international news. It’s everything under the
sun. I lead a department of 12 photo editors.
In the two years I’ve been with Refinery29,
there aren’t a lot of genres besides
landscapes that we haven’t commissioned.
When I talk to photographers about
what Refinery is, I say it’s the new editorial.
When we do a story, we want to hear what
the photographer has to say, and [we want
them to] bring ideas. That sounds basic, but
at this point that’s not happening much at
magazines. I hear from fellow photo editors
that they’re given sketches to shoot to, and
everything’s micromanaged. Here at Refinery,
we’re able to play and experiment, which has
drawn creatives to want to work here.
There are editorial “tent poles” we
contribute to. This is our third year of “Take
Back the Beach,” which encourages positive
body image and confidence. Those [stories]
require portraiture, documentary, celebrity
and beauty photography, and fashion as well.
We had a story this week on Senator
Kirsten Gillibrand, photographed by Pari
Dukovic. We’re interested in growing our
PDN: How does the creative freedom you
describe influence assignments?
TK: It’s a conversation and a collaboration
from beginning to end. We commissioned a
story from photographer Sam Cannon. I had
an idea to visualize what anxiety feels like.
That’s difficult. Sam had this idea to make
her color palette very red, very blue, very
primary. She helped move the story along in
LEFT: Sam Cannon was commissioned to visualize
anxiety. “That’s difficult,” says photo director Toby
Kaufmann, but Cannon used bright primary colors
“to move the story along in a visual way.” ABOVE: Kate
Owen photographed stylish New York City teenagers
for a recent story.
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FOUNDED IN 2005 AS A NEW YORK-BASED FASHION GUIDE, Refinery29 has
expanded its editorial focus and its readership, now claiming about 27 million unique
visitors per month. PDN talked to photography director Toby Kaufmann to learn how
her department finds and hires photographers, and keeps up with the site’s fast-paced
publication schedule. Before joining Refinery29 two years ago, Kaufmann had worked
as photo director of Maxim, Men’s Fitness and Fitness. She talks about how her current
work differs from working at magazines, and how Refinery29’s editorial mission provides
opportunities for photographers who shoot in a diverse range of styles.