The Magic Frame: Photographers & Editors


W. Eugene Smith was a great photographer. I doubt that there will be many people who will disagree with this statement.

It seems, however, that he was a lousy editor of his own photographs in the sense that, he often chose the worst pictures to include in a photo essay. This, at least, is what I have got from the book ‘On being a photographer’.

Why is that? Well, I am not going to quote, or misquote, David Turn and Bill Jay so, let me write a little bit about how I see this.

For one, the photographer often is very close to his/her own work. The short emotional distance can make it difficult to choose the best work, as opposed to what he is emotionally attracted to. The emotional attachment with your ‘favoured’ photographs can indeed cloud your judgement. I often put my photos away for a week before I edit them. After some more time, I sometimes do tell myself that my choice was not so good after all.

An editor does not have this issue.

When it comes to things like choosing the photographs for a magazine / book  and, even an exhibition, a good editor will also have a very good idea of ‘what will sell’. 

Or, what will appeal to the taste of the public. I sometimes do believe that there are times when an editor will choose marketability over technical perfection, but then no one is perfect.

The fact is, that an editor’s job is to edit.

If a photographer has to be a good editor then, he or she will need to develop the ability to take a step back and look at the photographs dispassionately. To some extent, this is what life is about as well.

We often are not as good at pointing out, or accepting our own errors, as we are in pointing out the errors of others. This is life!

I am off for a week. Hopefully, I shall be able to post and read more regularly after that.


  1. Very true, only the person who takes a picture or paints a picture, has the true passion for its birth, a person looking from the outside doesn’t always share the same profound passion.

      1. The person with the passion!! I can’t choose between a painter or photographer……. I can’t paint but I am a photographer 🙂

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