The New York Times Magazine has undergone a dramatic transformation recently under the guidance of design director Gail Bichler and with the recent assistance of master of editorial design Mr Matt Willey. Together they’ve reinvigorated the United States’ best-loved weekend supplement and received huge critical acclaim in the process.
But just what does it take to survive in the fast-paced world of weekly publishing and how did Gail get the gig in the first place? These were questions we needed answers to, so we sought her out for an interview which you can read in the latest issue of Printed Pages. We sent Jeremy Liebman to photograph Gail at work because from experience he always gets the best from his subjects. Below he tells how his day at The New York Times went, and where to get the best ramen nearby.
What was the brief for this piece?
The idea was to shoot Gail in and around the NYT office, keeping the tone informal and candid. The Times is such an established institution that Jamie, Printed Pages’ art director, thought a lighter touch would be a good approach. I shot George Lois for the cover of It’s Nice That #6, and we aimed for a similar feel, even though Gail and George have very different personalities (Gail didn’t demonstrate basketball defence moves on me, for starters).
How do you prepare for a portrait shoot, do you research your subjects a lot in advance?
I try to be as prepared as possible. I usually like to have a conversation with the subject while I’m shooting and that’s a lot easier to do if I know a few things about them. I read up on Gail’s background and some of the great work that she’s done at The Times. I have a few friends who have worked at the magazine before, so we talked about that.
“I try to be as prepared as possible. I usually like to have a conversation with the subject while I’m shooting and that’s a lot easier to do if I know a few things about them.”
When you interview someone a lot of the success depends on being able to get the interviewee to give something of themselves, is the same true when you’re shooting a portrait?
It can go either way. It’s always easier when someone is open, but it can also work when they are a bit more reserved. This wasn’t the case with Gail, but sometimes someone’s reticence is a part of their public persona, and that can still be interesting to look at.
Ever get nervous before you do a shoot?
Sure, it’s always a little nerve-wracking meeting someone for the first time.
What equipment did you use?
Canon 5d mk3.
What are the NYT offices like?
I’ve been in the building a couple times before but it was great to actually get to shoot inside. I’ve been following photo director Kathy Ryan’s Office Romance project on Instagram and now as a book, where she photographs the offices at all times of the day, capturing the interplay of light and shadow that Renzo Piano incorporated into the building.
Was Gail fun to work with?
Yes, she was great. A weekly magazine can be a very high-pressure environment and on top of that I can only imagine how self-conscious you must feel to be photographed in front of the people you work with every day. But Gail was incredibly calm and collected.
Highlight of the day?
I got to shoot a hugely talented creative director in a beautiful space by a legendary architect. Then I had ramen down the street at Ippudo. Doesn’t get better than that!
And worst bit?
No worst bit.
Would you work with us again?
I’d love to.
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