Quick Questions With Smart People – Jennifer Link: Photographer Turned Independent Magazine Publisher

Jennifer Link is a photographer turned independent publisher and magazine editor. She runs a alternative style, art, and music magazine out of her hometown of Buffalo New York. Auxiliary Magazine has gained a following all over North America, and to a lesser degree, globally in the magazine’s specific demographic.

How was the transition moving from photographer to publisher? Was there a whole new set of business and professional skills you had to learn?
It wasn’t easy, but it wan’t really hard, and I’d say I’m still transitioning, I’m still learning.  I don’t think there is an exact set of skills you need for either photography or publishing since both industries have been changing so much.  I think it’s easier now and more common for creatives to have multiple skill sets and work in many different fields.  As I started to develop my photography and realize what I wanted to do, I discovered I really wanted to do professional and editorial fashion photography for alternative fashion.  Then I realized there wasn’t much of a system for that and there weren’t many great outlets for it.  So I started learning how to act as producer and fashion stylist for my shoots in order to get the results I was looking for.  I was also working at photo agency in NYC and learning how the photo and fashion industry worked there.  So when I decided to start Auxiliary I pulled off all of that.

For photographers who want to move to a magazine style promotional piece, what advice can you offer them in conceptualizing what they want their publication to be?
Do you mean photographers creating a mini magazine to use to promote themselves? I don’t really understand that.  Putting together a professional looking magazine is really hard work and takes tons and tons of time.  So I would advise it’s probably better to look for magazines doing what you’d want to do and try to work with them than starting your own.  And I know I just said lots of creatives are now playing multiple roles but at same time I’d say, if you really want to be a photographer focus on being a photographer.  I realized I wanted to do more than just photography, I wanted a larger project, and now my photography is kinda on the back burner.  I’m not actively seeking clients or developing my portfolio, I’m focusing on making the magazine successful.  It does seem fun to try different kinds of ways of promoting your photography and making different styles of promo materials.  But as someone who now is on the other side and selecting photographers for the magazine, I would be more impressed and interested in a photographer who has shot for magazines and has tearsheets in their portfolio than a photographer who has a flashy mini magazine promo piece.  You have to think too, since tons of creatives play multiple roles in their careers, there is a good chance the editor or art director looking at the promo piece will see through it.  I’m always more drawn to clean simple websites and portfolio presentation and letting work speak for itself.  And I would rather see actual tears and ads in a portfolio, because they are real practical uses of photo work, rather than mock ups.

But back to conceptualizing a publication.  Pick a topic you love because I think it will show through and it’s easy to see when a magazine is fluff.  For example I’ve been really into Bust lately because it’s clearly a magazine run by passionate people.  You can tell the editors are trying to make a magazine they want to read.  American Vogue has been boring me lately.  And I think it’s cause they are slowly sinking, because print magazines can’t be supported the way they used to, there is a change going on in media, and they are trying to stay alive.  So they are widening their horizons and trying to bring in a wider audience of readers and it’s alienating people who are looking for a fashion magazine.  I don’t want to read about celebrities in Vogue, and I don’t want to see car ads or Covergirl ads!  Mass market magazines have that problem, you can tell it’s a product to be consumed.  So pick a topic you love and make a magazine you’d love.  At the same time remember you’ll have to cover things you don’t love because there is only one you and you need more readers than one.  In those cases try to make the feature something you’d read anyways, because it’s still interesting and in tune with you, and you’ll give it a shot cause maybe it will expand what you like

You managed to start your publication with a DIY ethic and without accruing major debt, and yet your magazine experiences steady growth issue to issue. What sort of methods have you employed to promote your product?
I mixed in some non-traditional aspects.  Starting a magazine by hiring a full staff and doing a huge print run seemed crazy to me.  That formula doesn’t work so well anymore and could only work if you had backing from a huge media giant.  So we picked the combo of free issues online and print-on-demand print issues.  Both require little money.  I figured free online would spread the word fast because people are used to free with blogs and will go check out a website without much thought but it would take more to get them to buy a print copy.  Now that we’ve spread the word and have a large reader base, we are going after advertisers to be our main source of income.  I’d like to keep the magazine free online and bring in income in other ways.

Also, I decided I had to work with other people who would love the magazine and working on it.  Other people who were willing to work with super low budgets and do it because it was their passion.  And people who would realize the magazine could be a jumping off point to get paid work and that they could use their work with it to get clients.  Really magazines are not going to pay you much as a photographer, at least in the fashion industry, you go after the magazines to get editorial work so you can show that to potential advertising clients, and then those clients pay you.

What sort of lessons have you learned from running a magazine that you feel you could take back to your photography career?
It’s hard to tell where I learned what and what I can take back to which, haha.  When I decide to push my photography career again, I think I will have a much clearer idea of how to brand and market myself and I think I will know how to get published in other magazines.  Though I think running the magazine will make me less able to compromise in my photography.  I realized I didn’t want photography to be my business because I didn’t have interest in shooting what I didn’t want to in order to make money, and I would have to in order to be successful, at least a little bit.  And maybe more so, I just didn’t want to try to sell myself as a photographer anymore.  Photography is more my art, and the magazine is now my business.  I can compromise more with the magazine because it’s removed from me a bit, it’s more about the reader and making something for someone else where as photography for me has been more about making something for me.  I don’t know if that makes sense.  So I guess in the end the magazine will have taught or allowed me to be okay with sticking hard to my aesthetic and style and just working with the clients and doing the projects I want.

Has working with and editing photographers all over the world given you any insights that photographers need to be expanding the scope of their marketing?
I would say yes and no and I don’t know if it’s a new thing.  I think a photographer needs to have a distinct style but needs to be able to adapt that style to different projects.  You don’t want to see a photographer take the same photo over and over.  A photographer needs to be able to adapt to different projects and make their style work in different contexts.  But when I see a good photographer, I think what I’m really seeing that I like is a distinct eye or distinct style that is their own.  For example, in my mind a good photographer has a way of seeing that is their signature, and this is a mixture of their way of shooting and their way of lighting but also their view of the world and their interests coming out in their photography, but then they can take that and bend it to the project laid before them or that they take on. A good photographer needs to have a distinct eye and stay true to it, you can’t learn that, I think it’s a talent, some minds just work that way.  Then they need to develop that eye through learning skills and learning a creative process.  Then they need to keep it fresh with different approaches, subject matter, and projects.  So back to my answer, I guess yes.  I look for photographers that have a good scope, a good range of work but that I can see their hand or eye in everything they shoot.

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