A little more than a year ago I did an internship in Elle Magazine Poland – the most popular fashion magazine in Poland (it was before Vogue PL appeared). You can imagine how excited I was! I had the images from ‘The Devil wears Prada’ all around my head: working in a fashion magazine, creativity flowing, girls in high heels and, of course, the amazing wardrobe with fantastic clothes! Full of expectations I started my first day and… the reality turned out to be quite different from what I imagined.
Working in a fashion magazine?
First of all, the office was not as I expected: it was small, crowded, everybody was sitting in the same room, desks were put in lines, so that you had absolutely no space to move, especially if clothes for the shoots arrived and boxed were blocking all the narrow hallway and the stylists were shouting every time you wanted to pass. Goodbye lunch and bathroom! See you tomorrow!
Additionally, sitting nearly arm to arm, it’s quite difficult to focus. The graphic designers were often working with their headphones on and I could understand them, but I couldn’t miss calls or what the editor was saying to me. It was nice to sometimes joke together or eat the cupcakes that the head editor received as gift and rejected. But mostly, it was quite heavy.
What I thought I’d be doing all day?
As an assistant of the photo editor, I was expecting to spend all of my days organizing glamorous photoshoots and later choosing the shots that would finally appear on the colorful and shiny pages of the magazine (come on, I’m a fashion photographer, seeing my pictures on a page of such a magazine is seriously one of my biggest dreams). Again, the reality? Yes, there was a fancy shoot on Tenerife, but… 1. It has been organized before I arrived to the office 2. It was going on when I was in the office, but I only saw a few results and that’s all. (The results I didn’t like, by the way, but I’m a horrible critic). The photo editor did the selection and sent the pictures to the retoucher. However, even for her it was just a very small part of the work.
What was I doing all day?
In almost every fashion magazine, mostly at the end, there are those articles like lifestyle, health, psychology, cultural events, travel, Christmas, etc. I usually pass over these pages, searching for editorials. Well, this time I knew the anatomy of each of those pages well to well. Why? Because I had to search images to illustrate them. As easy as it seems it’s absolutely not. All the stock pages, like Shutterstock, Fotolia, GettyImages, etc? They were my best friends those days. I came to a point when I was starting to know some of the sections of pictures by heart and that was pretty scary.
You don’t believe me?
Good luck with finding a background image to the following article: ‘Failure is a new chance’. Ok, sounds cool. So, considering the target group of the magazine’s readers, I should find an image of a woman in her thirties, smiling (but not fake, TV-like smile!, a natural one, but not too strong), showing some kind of empowerment, strength etc. Ok, I had this perfect image in my had. A fashionable lady, walking like ‘The Legally Blonde’ down the street of a modern town. Bum, I’m the boss. Now I only have to find such an image. I start searching and… 3 days later I still didn’t have the proper image. And even when I thought: ‘Ok, I found a few nice ones, she (the editor) must like at least ONE of them!’, my editor was making a weird face saying: ‘This is a fashion magazine. The girl has to be dressed better’ or ‘This one is too sweet and fake. The picture has to look natural’ or ‘She’s ugly’ or simply ‘She looks like a bitch’. Thank you for your feedback. If she had a good day, she was sometimes saying: ‘Hmmmm…. Not bad, but keep searching’.
Can I start screaming?
Another mission impossible. Depression. Ooookkkkkk… And my editor’s quote: ‘But remember, even if it’s a sad subject, our magazine is colorful and optimistic, so find an image to fit with that. For example a person who won with depression, or something like that. But she can’t be too happy, you understand, right?’. Riiiiiiight… Bum. I hit the desk with my forehead.
Later: visit by the sexologist. Good luck with searching that on Shutterstock. I tried everything. ‘Sexologist’ didn’t work? Let’s check ‘Psychologist’! ‘Visiting doctor’! Still, nothing. It was for Elle Man, so the target group was different. Ok, let’s try ‘business meeting’? Dressing too formal. So maybe just ‘meeting’? Too informal. ‘Father son conversation’? Wrong ages. ‘Men conversation’…? Now you know what I mean.
What about ‘Travels’ section?
With travels it was only a little bit better. I got a long list of images I should find connected to Kyoto and Japan. Some I found without problems (except hearing continuously ‘This picture looks like a postcard! Find something more natural. No, this is ugly! It has to be a good picture!’). But when it came to some specific dishes or Japanese things with weird names, when I didn’t even know if the picture is showing the right thing, that’s when things were getting difficult. However, travels were still the easy part.
Can it be worse?
Another fantastic part to illustrate are the ‘Culture’ pages. Events, concerts, book promotions, movie and theater premiers. It’s not enough to find an image of the book cover on Google. No, we need the print resolution. So, step nr 1: find out who is the publisher of the book. Step 2: find an email to contact them. Step 3: Write them asking for print resolution file. Step 4: Repeat with each of the 10 books from the list. And later with movies, just finding the distributor is even more difficult.
However, my ‘favorite’ were the museums, galleries and theaters. We want to promote their play in a big, national magazine. We ask for poster picture and a few shots from the rehearsals. Answer: ‘We don’t have the poster yet and we have no pictures from the rehearsals’ (which are taking place behind the wall). Great! How to illustrate that in the magazine? Answer of the photo editor: (sigh) ‘Do a screenshot of the ticket page’. Ok, one point on my list done. Next? Gallery. We need a picture from some performance. Email? No answer for a week. Calling? ‘Let me connect you with another room’, ‘Call later’, ‘The responsible is out of the office’, etc. Eventually, I managed. I got the email and… there was 1(!) picture, from the performance made in Reykjavik, additionally – totally ugly. Another sigh of the editor: ‘Make it small’.
Question: how to make yourself liked in the office…
…if you continuously have to tell to the fashion department that the images they provided are too small and the resolution is not good for print? Once they came to me and said: ‘Look through fashion shows and find images of man wearing black ties’. Huh? ‘Which shows?’. ‘Whichever’. Being more specific definitely would help. Even if it could have bene worse. I could get the task called: ‘Find the images of these models on the show of X’. Ok, on GettyImages there are pictures from the fashion shows. But… there are no names of the models. Ok, Gigi and Bella I recognize, a few others too, but mostly they meant new faces that I didn’t know. That day my editor was out of office, so I had to try to figure it out myself. Thank you, uncle Google. I had to search the name of the model together with the show, check which look she was wearing and come back to GettyImages to find that look and the model. Mostly it worked except… Not all the looks are covered on Getty. Lucky me!
Additionally, one of the first days I made a huge faux-pas. The photoeditor asked me to go to the fashion department – next door – and ask who did the styling for some particular editorial. When I entered and asked, one lady answered: ‘Me’. ‘And your name is?’ Turned out it was the most important stylist in the magazine. Ok, I knew that name, but I didn’t know the face! Come on! She hated me till the rest of my stay at the magazine. Other times I had to go to ask something similar of find someone particular I was asking a young graphic designer next to me, who quite quickly understood my problem and was silently giving me guidelines. Thank you, mate!
What surprised me the most in the office of Elle? The clothes! All the ladies were dressed so… normal and boring! No high heels, no famous designers, only old pullovers and high boots from the last sale. With my elegant, red coat and a hat I heard I look: ‘Weird’. Fashion Gods, have mercy!
So, was it really that bad?
It might seem awful, but it wasn’t really that bad. Even if, I have to be honest, after a week I was already bored. It wasn’t as I expected it to be, but I’m glad I did this internship. I have to admit, I learned a lot. Most of all, I learned which pictures are good and I didn’t even know I would use this knowledge so much! At the moment I’m working on a graphic design project and the client told me lately: ‘You’re very good at choosing good looking people for the images’. That’s what I learned in Elle. I really understood some of the methods of choosing a good image, especially of its mood, light, colors and the look of people so that it looks aesthetically. Turns out it’s more important than I imagined. It’s also something that I use in my work as a photographer.
Another thing I learned was how much a magazine costs. Obviously, I can’t share it with you, as I signed the non-disclosure contract, but it’s a lot. So many people put so much time and effort into making the magazines come to life that I really gained more respect for every publication I see.
In the end, I’m glad I did it!
Summing up, my internship was a surprising time. It was a month of funny quotes, arching my eyebrows and finding out that sometimes the least important parts of the work take the most time. But it was all worth it and I don’t regret any moment of it. However, I still dream working in a fashion magazine which office looks like the one from ‘The Devil wears Prada’. And I hope one day this dream will come true.