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11 June 2020

Ana Maia on Helping Photographers Solve the Editorial “Puzzle”

11 June 2020 - Written by Simon Hall

The Portuguese photo editor and our guest education expert of the month speaks to us about her work at Público, how she hopes the photography industry will emerge from the coronavirus crisis, and her approach to collaboration.

© Ana Maia, from the series Crow's Nest

Ana Maia is the Photo Editor for P3, a section of the Portuguese national newspaper Público. She has a degree in Audiovisual Communication Technologies and has worked as a freelance photographer and videographer since 2006. As a mentor, Ana often concentrates on how photographers can build a bridge between their work and a general audience and how they can better select and sequence their images. You can work with her by booking a 30-minute or 60-minute portfolio review session at phmuseum.com/education.

To get to know her better we went to talk with her about her wide-ranging photography experiences and her views on the current state of affairs in the industry.

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Hi Ana! To start, I’d like to ask about your professional background. You’ve worked as an assistant producer at Encontros da Imagem, as a freelance photographer and videographer, and now you’re the photo editor of P3 at Público. How did your creative journey begin?

My creative journey began a long time ago, in 2011, when I decided to become a documentary photographer and videographer. The turning point came when I made a decision to move to Greece, for nine months, in 2013. In Portugal, we were going through a very deep financial and social crisis, but Portugal has always been too well-behaved for my taste – there were no expressive movements against the establishment and what was happening in Greece was far more interesting. There was a serious clash between different layers of society: anarchists and antifa were very active, the extreme-right parties were big and threatening, there was a migration “problem”, and, especially, the middle class was more intensely involved in protesting and trying to find political solutions to the crisis. So I decided to move and I went to Thessaloniki and, later, to Athens, where I developed documentary work. I decided to focus on the lives of migrants in Athens and the threat that the extreme-right party Golden Dawn posed to their lives.

When I returned, my work got published in several publications. Two months after, I was participating in the ISSP – International Summer School of Photography – in Latvia, where I expanded my connections with the photography community. Later that year, I was doing an internship at P3, a section of the Portuguese national newspaper Público. Initially, I was “hired” as a photographer, but soon, because I knew so many good photographers with such great work, I started publishing their projects and writing about them. The internship at Público ended and I found work as a producer for Encontros da Imagem. After nine months I received an invitation to return to P3 and continue my work as a photo editor. Since then, I have been trying to make my own photography and video work on the side, as well. I went to Kosovo in 2016 and produced a mini-documentary about migration and poverty. Later, in 2017, while still working remotely as a photo editor, I moved to Chile for three months, where I intended to make documentary work. The time was too short to do what I intended and the work never got out. But I try to keep myself busy as a photographer/videographer as well in order to not lose touch with the reality of being in the field. I sometimes photograph and make videos for P3 and Público as well.

© Ana Maia, from the series Crow's Nest

You’ve been at Público for over seven years now, having started there in 2013. Can you talk to us a little bit about how your role has evolved over that time and some of the daily challenges you face as a photo editor?

P3 is a very special section of the newspaper Público – and it has been like that, by definition, since its birth in 2011. Because it was created to give a voice to people (mostly young people) who are usually excluded from the mainstream media, it’s a very democratic and open section. And it is, by definition, for that reason, a crowdsourcing platform. P3 has different sections; it doesn’t work exclusively with photography. Artists, architects, designers, illustrators, and also NGO’s dealing with minority rights started finding in P3 a new home for their content. And P3 grew, against all odds, as a vehicle for the minorities and the unheard.

When I started as a photo editor, during my internship in 2013, there was a lot of documentary photography work being done and very few places where some photographers, especially beginners, could publish. If we think about it, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, for instance, and many other media outlets, had a very tight definition of what would interest them. Publishing works from photographers who were already established was preferred. And because P3 was freer, editorially, it became a stage for new talent; for people who hadn’t been published anywhere before being published at P3. Unsurprisingly, sometimes you’d see the same photographers, months after, published in more mainstream and reputed channels and newspapers. So, new talent has always been important for P3 and for me as well.

With time, this section became more visible to the photography community. And soon, more photographers started to send proposals. Curatorship has always been important, and with more proposals coming in, it became even more so. I have also started inviting photographers to publish on the website and, luckily, many accepted. I have had, for that reason, a chance to interview many photographers who are also well established, like Bruce Gilden, Matt Black, and Roger Ballen, amongst many others – while always never overlooking what comes to our hands from photographers who are building their careers from scratch. It is a very plural channel, and we never want to lose sight of that.

I think that photographers are observers and thinkers. And sometimes they pursue interesting subjects but make the wrong decisions about which pictures to choose to show. In that case, editing makes a huge difference. It happened many times, during my work, that I would receive a proposal with 12 pictures about a very interesting subject. I would then ask for a broader selection and make a new edit – one that would make their point more visible and that would make the project visually more appealing. And then, suddenly, because of the selection, their message became more clear to the viewer. Photographing and editing are two different skills and great photographers are not necessarily good at choosing how to show their work in order to communicate with a broader audience.

Documentary work, in that sense, is different from other kinds of photography: because communicating an idea is important. When it comes to communication with a large audience, it becomes essential, I would say. Because people don’t like to receive a message and not understand it. It becomes useful and valuable when it’s understood. And at P3, we make sure people understand what a photographer wants to say or, at least, the gist of what motivated him/her to speak about a certain topic or if there is a thesis. Our main purpose is communicating ideas, not only to show art.

© Ana Maia, from the series Crow's Nest

The coronavirus pandemic has obviously wrought havoc on the photography industry with the cancellation of festivals, workshops, and assignments worldwide. How do you think the photography industry will change, if at all, as we emerge from this crisis? What advice would you offer photographers and other freelance creatives during these unprecedented times?

I think that many photographers have felt this, in a different and more gradual way, during the crisis of 2008 and the subsequent years. The industry was impoverished but, during those times, I saw a lot of creativity/questioning emerging as well.

Nowadays, we have a tool that will be an ally during these times: the internet. Nothing will stop us from seeing new work being done (except less new work will be done), nothing will stop us from continuing to show new work (if we have time and money to do it), and nothing will stop us from learning from online workshops (if we can afford them). I mean, the industry will pose huge financial challenges to the creators of art, in general, but we will still be free to communicate and think together and learn and react.

Many photographers will lose their income. Many photographic events are subsidized and maybe those funds will disappear. In the media, fewer photographers will have fewer opportunities to show their works and gain visibility.

Crisis is never an opportunity, in my opinion. I don’t like the idea of telling people about ways to keep their heads above water when the problem is that the water is too high, rather than them not being tall enough. So maybe it’s time for us to start building collectives of photographers and bigger projects that put in perspective the whole foundation of our social, political, and financial structure.

Photographers, like everybody else in the arts sector, continue to be slaves of the idea of profit, struggling to survive in a capitalistic environment. Maybe we should start giving voice to those who disagree, who think differently; those who have had enough. Maybe we are those people and maybe we can come together instead of struggling to survive alone. Maybe we should start digging into the lives of those benefiting from this state of affairs, from this pyramid. Let’s dig into the financial world and into the world of the rich and powerful. This is what I’d like to see more and more of at P3. I will definitely channel those messages if they come to me.

© Ana Maia, from the series Crow's Nest

You’re joining our Education Program as the Guest Professor for June! How will you provide value to the photographers that work with you and why should they connect with you?

As I mentioned before, good photographers are not always good editors of their own work. Many times, having someone experienced looking at your work from the outside can be a great help. I know that the same body of work can communicate different ideas in different photographic languages, depending on the selection and sequencing of pictures. I am experienced in handling this “puzzle” because I see and analyse photography every day. I am also very aware of how to communicate with a larger audience. I can help to make a bridge between your work and a general audience – or even another photo editor in a mainstream media outlet. I can also help you with an ongoing project. Because I have been a photographer I know the challenges of being in the field trying to do what sometimes seems unreachable. I can provide advice and guidance.

When you collaborate with photographers – whether that is through a 30-minute portfolio review or an extended assignment over many months – what expectations do you place on them and how do you set up the way you collaborate?

I expect the photographers who talk to me to show me a body of work, to tell me about themselves and what they want to communicate with the project, and why they decided to make it. On the practical side, I can help you with selecting and sequencing images and explain why I would make those decisions. There are a lot of factors that can influence those choices. I will give you the tools to make better choices in the future.

© Ana Maia, from the series Crow's Nest

What are the most relevant learning environments for photographers and how would you recommend they develop their education and practice, taking into consideration the many changes our industry undergoes over time?

I think there are many options online to help us develop our skills nowadays. Information is available very easily. I think that photographers – as other artists – are thinkers. (They should be, at least.) More than searching for technical formation, you should research topics that interest you, then think about what you want to say and research the best way to say it.

Listen to people who are more experienced in the line of work you’d like to develop. There are so many interviews online with so many great photographers and there are so many publications about certain works, how they got done… it’s never-ending. The more we see, the more we know, the freer we feel to make our choices in a deliberate way.

There will be many emerging photographers reading this. Can you share a couple of things to do and a couple of things not to do when pitching a story to a photo editor at a national newspaper, or any reputable publication?

You should have in consideration that you want to communicate a message. You should be brief, direct. I will not open the book on this one, I can explain if you book a review! :)

© Ana Maia, from the series Crow's Nest

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To book a portfolio review with Ana Maia, visit our Online Education Program. She is available for month only from 1 through 30 June.

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Talking About Education is a monthly feature where we reflect on current opportunities and practices to form and develop yourself as a photographer. To learn more about our live one-to-one educational program, please visit phmuseum.com/education.

Written by

Simon Hall

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