The Role of a Photography Editor


GUP Magazine issue #54 – PLAYFUL

Katherine Oktober Matthews, Chief Editor at GUP Magazine, on the role of a photography editor

Katherine Oktober Matthews is a photography writer, editor and mentor. She works independently and as Chief Editor for GUP Magazine – an international print publication and web resource on photography, connecting its communities with the sharpest conceptual photography, the latest photo books, and compelling writings about the contemporary world of art.

A good editor is someone who almost disappears. When I’ve done my work well, whether I’m editing text or photo series, the result looks effortless and invisible. A well-edited work, much like a well-designed product, doesn’t just look natural – it feels inevitable.

Because of this, it can be hard to perceive from a completed publication what an editor has done. The sign of an editor’s hand is often found in all the problems that aren’t there.

I work as GUP Magazine’s Chief Editor, and also edit independently. Each publication, and each editor, works a little differently, so there’s not necessarily a specific role implied by the name. For some publications, an editor is someone who commissions work, or helps create and develop the story. At GUP, our role is a bit different because we don’t collaborate with artists on creating projects, we select and publish art photography series that are already complete. As an independent editor, I work directly with artists who are in the process of making a body of work, and collaborate with them to sharpen the meaning of their work and materialize this in the selection or series of images. The bottom-line of an editor’s job though is to help draw out the strengths in any given body of work.

When selecting works for GUP – whether that’s print or online – I’m editing in multiple layers. It’s my goal to bring out the best of each series, but also, I’m looking to create a publication in which multiple series talk to and build upon each other. So, I’m editing series and editing a publication. I’m also editing text, but let’s leave that for another conversation and focus here on what’s happening with the images.

Let’s start with the print publication, because that’s a little more concrete: it has a finite number of pages, so as an editor I’m working with hard limits. There are some flexibilities in terms of how that space is used – on articles, portfolios, or books, for example – but all the puzzle pieces ultimately have to fit together within the limitations of the printed magazine. Overall, it needs to have a good flow, and feel like the right mixture of text, space and images. Each issue starts with a theme, and I begin the search for a couple of anchor projects that I know I want to include; from there, I can find complementary work. There has to be a good mixture in the magazine of different types of projects, in terms of concept and genre and aesthetic style. We couldn’t have a magazine full of high contrast black and white, for example, or portraits, unless that’s exactly the thing we wanted to draw people’s attention to.