Image-Driven: Q&A with Jacqueline Bates from The California Sunday Magazine
Since its launch, The California Sunday Magazine has had a focus on beautiful photography—and lots of it. The magazine was just awarded the National Magazine Award for Photography for the second year, and it was also a finalist for Magazine of the Year for 2017. At the helm of its small photo department is Jacqueline Bates, and we asked her a few questions about how she finds new photographers to work with, the type of photography they look to publish, and how to get your own work in its pages.
We’re also lucky to have Bates on the jury for the PDN Photo Annual this year, which has a Student category and closes for submissions on February 24.
PDNedu: When did The California Sunday Magazine launch and what was its founding mission? How is it distributed?
Jacqueline Bates: We produce ambitious, non-fiction features and cinematic photography from across California, the West, Asia and Latin America, for a national audience. We launched the magazine in October 2014 and are distributed in select Sunday copies of the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle. You can also subscribe by visiting our website.
PDNedu: How large is the photo team?
JB: For our first 20 issues I commissioned every story. Four months ago I hired Paloma Shutes, a fantastic photo editor. With her on board, we became a department of two!
PDNedu: What are some of your favorite stories you’ve worked on?
JB: Our features are so image-driven—I feel lucky that I work with creative director Leo Jung, who puts photography at the fore in his design of the magazine. Last April, we sent Mark Mahaney to photograph chef René Redzepi in Australia, during the incredibly hectic time leading up to his new restaurant opening. When Mark sent me the edit, I think I jumped up from my seat—I had never seen such beautiful photos taken in a bare kitchen before. Mark didn’t have much time—Redzepi was so busy—but his photographs don’t feel rushed at all; they feel like paintings. They are incredibly vivid and cinematic, as if it they were taken on a film set.
I love hiring photographers who haven’t shot editorially before. I was impressed by some photos I found online by a young Colombian photographer named Mateo Gómez García. I assigned him a cover story on two men who found God and set out to convert their Pentecostal church to Orthodox Judaism.
Working with young photographers and helping them think through narratives is very meaningful to me. We paired his images with work by Michal Chelbin—which I loved—someone who’s just starting out mixed with a monograph veteran.
For our first-ever single topic issue, which was about the sounds of the West, we published a photo essay on Saturday night music scenes across California. Michael Schmelling shot the urban music scenes in color, while Elle Perez shot the black-and-white rural scenes. They committed four or five Saturday nights to the project—and would have shot longer, but we had to ship the issue.
PDNedu: In general, how would you describe the visual style of the photography the magazine publishes?
JB: Since we’re a general-interest magazine, each story has a different tone and mood, and I try to reflect that in our photography. Leo and I always want to surprise the reader. We look at the issue as a whole, and make sure to create a diverse mix of looks and photographers. We don’t overly art direct anyone—we hire artists for who they are and for their unique take on the world. We don’t shoot anything in studio, because our stories all have such a strong sense of place. Seeing them in their natural environments is essential.
PDNedu: How do you find new photographers to work with? What’s the best way to pitch long-form stories or shorts?
JB: I always open an email from someone who was recommended by a photographer I’ve hired. Also if an agent I trust tells me to look at something,I do it right away.
I attend a lot of the photo reviews. I judge contests. I go to book fairs to see what the smaller book publishers are doing, and I’m on Instagram everyday—probably way too much. I’ve heard from people that they always discover new photographers in the magazine, which is the most gratifying thing for me, because I love looking through magazines for that reason, too. In every issue, I commission photographers who are just starting out, and more established people. I don’t enjoy flipping through magazines that share all the same photographers, so I always do a ton of research to foster new talent.
Photographers are welcome to pitch us ideas or finished unpublished projects by sending an email to email@example.com
PDNedu: If you’re working with a photographer who is just starting out, what are some things you tell him or her?
JB: Slow down. Take time with your projects. You can’t make a long-term body of work in one day. If you admire a photographer, reach out to them. Don’t work in a bubble. Study every photographer who has come before you who is intrigued by the same subject matter. If we meet, don’t wait for me to give you a story idea—I want to hear about everything you’re curious about and all of your interests.
See spreads from the magazine below. All layouts © The California Sunday Magazine
“The Noma Way” Photos by Mark Mahaney
“The Faithful” Photos by Mateo Gómez García and Michal Chelbin
“Saturday Night Out” Photos by Michael Schmelling and Elle Perez