Photo-Friendly Magazine Editor Speaks About Working With Photographers

Photo-Friendly Magazine Editor Speaks About Working With Photographers

Many photographers’ career ambition is to have one of their photos appear on the cover of a magazine. In years past, magazines were frequently seen as the best place to gain publication and see the best of current photography. Often that was a result of having a visually oriented magazine editor at the helm. Among this selective group is Paul Gambino who as Editorial Director of ENoble Publications where he created niche magazines like Urban Ink and Cosplay Culture, and edited magazines Rebel Ink and Skin & Ink making compelling photography a priority. Along the way he organized and wrote two photography-ladened books including Morbid Curiosities: Collections of the Uncommon and the Bizarre.

Paul Gambino wrote and photo-directed the book Morbid Curiosities: Collections of the Uncommon and the Bizarre, featuring photos of creepy and controversial items like skulls and serial-killer memorabilia.

That emphasis on photography made Gambino and his publications fertile ground for established and emerging photographers to create compelling projects and images. “I have always worked on magazines and books that were very visually driven. So, for me, the imagery was just as important as the text,” he says. “To be perfectly honest, I believe the imagery is more important than the text in regard to hooking the consumer to take the time and stop to read the article. In a well balanced article, the imagery should compliment the text and at specific times be the climax to certain points or themes being presented.”

Covers of tattoo magazines Skin&Ink and Urban Ink magazines edited by Paul Gambino. Gambino created Urban Ink in 2006 when he recognized an underserved audience who was interested the urban tattoo culture.

Gambino has worked with a long list of photographers including Joey L., Howard Huang, Lionel Deluy, Estevan Oriol, James Rudland, Pep Williams, Travis Shinn, and Billy Ward. His photographer-friendly reputation made him a popular target for photographers’ self-promotion efforts. With only a finite amount of projects that he could hire photographers for, Gambino developed a focused approach to evaluating photography portfolios. “Two things I specifically look for in a photographer's portfolio and the reason I would reach out to a photographer I have never worked with would be either their ability to execute traditional shooting styles but on a superior level. Or that they bring something to the table (lighting style, interesting treatment of a conventional, intensity in portraiture, etc) that I would never even think of doing. The photographer needs to show me that they are more creative than me when it comes to the actual shooting.”

From 'Godfathers Of Cool' layout for Rebel Ink magazine directed by Paul Gambino featuring Old School Tattoo figures meeting the new school of tattoo artists. photo by Dan Howell

In developing concepts for covers or feature layouts, Gambino works with a photographer’s strengths to bring ideas to print. “A cover concept will be developed for a host of reasons within the publishing company. It could be anything from a themed issue to the need to place a celebrity on the cover. If the decision is solely emanating from within (the magazine), then after the concept is finalized the creative team will reach out to a photographer whose style compliments or more importantly will add something to what has been developed in-house. The second way a cover may come to a specific photographer will be with a photographer pitching a unique subject he or she has access to and the creative team will build the cover around that pitch. Usually the person being pitched would need to be very unique or a celebrity. Both utilize playing into a specific photographer's strength.”

Editorial portrait photographer Andrew Brusso appreciated the receptive environment that Gambino set with his magazines. Brusso worked on assignments and was able to pitch his own ideas. Both resulted in feature layouts in Gambino's magazines. "Paul has been one of the greats to work with," Brusso said. "He’s always open to new ideas and encourages creatives to push their limits and embrace their voice in the process."

Professional Surfer photographed in Hawaii for Rebel Ink by Andrew Brusso.

One of his favorite cover concepts was the homage to the Philippe Halsman portrait of artist Salvador Dali "In Voluptas Mors" with models combining in poses to form the shape of a skull for Rebel Ink magazine. Gambino adapted the image of the skull to feature the famous tattooed model Rick 'Zombie Boy' Genest. The magazine flew Zombie Boy in to New York from his home in Canada. Female models were selected from past magazine shoots to fill out the other parts of the skull. He then enlisted photographer Joey L. for the shoot in a Brooklyn, NY studio. The results were so compelling that Gambino convinced the publishers to print a dual-cover special edition displaying both the skull image and a more conventional cover.

As a regular contributor to three of the magazines that Gambino orchestrated, I was grateful to work with an editor who understood and valued the impact of photography in the editorial process. We developed the concept for the rapper Wale cover for Urban Ink off the fact that the artist has a tattoo depicting a portrait photo of Malcolm X on his arm. We styled Wale to resemble the historic photograph of the activist by finding matching wardrobe and directing the pose. We also collaborated on the cover shoot for Cosplay Culture magazine once again featuring Zombie Boy, this time in the role of Jack Skellington from Nightmare Before Christmas movie. He came up with the idea of using Zombie Boy and cosplayer Riddle in the movie roles for the special Halloween issue.

Cover of Urban Ink magazine featuring rapper Wale (left) and cover of Cosplay Culture magazine featuring Zombie Boy and Riddle directed by Paul Gambino. photos by Dan Howell

Gambino’s predictions for the future of the industry, however, are not rosy. Magazines have been contracting in size and whole titles have been disappearing for the past several years as audiences shift toward electronic media. Once inside the electronic media environment video often becomes a more attractive story telling device. “Everybody has to move over to video, and even that is not that promising. If you want to be a professional in the industry you have to have at least a video component,” he forecasts. 

That decline in the prospects of still photography has been seen across both the editorial and advertising industries, but even adding video to a photographer’s skill set is not likely to offset the income lost to declining print opportunities. “I see young people who are producing excellent results almost straight out of school, all of whom have grown up within the digital spectrum, but are working for pennies. Right now the only reason to get into the industry,” he laments “is for the love of the medium. You are not going to get rich.”

Dan Howell's picture

Dan Howell has been a New York City area photographer specializing and fashion and portraits for catalogs and magazines for the past 20 years. He began photography with photojournalistic aspirations but found a more comfortable fit in the fashion and commercial world.

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This is a great perspective on magazine cover art. I hope you are wrong and that it isn't a dying art. Hopefully there will be a reinvention and a resurgence of photography as an art form... but yes, no more pennies for quality photography or the industry will get more and more diluted. Great read.... and love all of these images. Thank you.

People have been talking about the industry dying for year - there's work out there, but you just have to go find it.

Dan I don't disagree about the statistics - all I'm saying is that if you're making good work, you'll find clients who value that. I'm talking about on an individual basis not, "There's work out there for everyone." There's work out there for folks who hustle, have experience in both marketing and shooting and continually deliver for clients.

Thanks for the clarification! I wasn't aware of that photo by Halsman from 1951 (nor Dali's original gouache), even though I apparently did see it before, albeit somewhat hidden...:

I grew up on LIFE magazine. That was my earliest inspiration. Now 71, so enjoy the ink type rags, etc. They fire my imaginations . Thank you for cutting the edge off us old fogies.

"this time in the role of Jack Skellington from Nightmare on Elmstreet movie"? Nightmare Before Christmas

"Right now the only reason to get into the industry,” he laments “is for the love of the medium. You are not going to get rich.”

It's not impossible. Way to kill dreams lol.