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Documentary Photography Review | 31st May 2017

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Visual Storytelling and Effective Editing – An interview with Raffaela Lepanto

raffaela lepanto - photo editing
Chris King

In this interview, Editorial Picture Editor, Raffaela Lepanto responds to questions from Chris at Documentary Photography Review on how photographers can improve the visual storytelling through more effective editing of their body of work.

Can you share a bit about yourself and your background?

I am an Editorial Picture Editor; my experience is in the world of Photo Agencies, where I have been working for about 14 years – first as a Picture Editor and Researcher in the Sales Department of Grazia Neri PhotoAgency (Milan, Italy), and more recently as a Picture Editor and Production Manager for Emblema PhotoAgency (Milan, Italy) – an independent agency specialising in Photojournalism. Dealing both with photographers and editorial clients has been a great way to experience both sides of the business – I think it has mostly taught me how to “keep it real”.

Currently I’m working as a Photography Consultant both in Italy (Milan), and in the UK (London), where I collaborate with PhotoFusion Photography Centre and Four Corners Film & Photography; working with different types of photographers on the widest possible range of topics – from production, to editing, to marketing – is fantastic, something that feels new and exciting every time.

It’s very creative work, which gives me the chance to meet extraordinarily talented people – something for which I feel extremely lucky.

In your role as a picture editor you’ll have been exposed to a huge amount of imagery over the years – what are the key areas photographers generally struggle with in their visual storytelling?

I honestly think that it’s perhaps more the editorial market struggling to keep up with photographers, today, than the other way round. The level of production in photography is unprecedented – both for quantity and quality. The gap between big names and emerging talents used to be much, much wider. Almost everyday I see projects from very young photographers that just blow me away. Most of them are still unknown to the general public.

At the same time, there’s always space for improvement, yes; one thing that I often discuss with photographers is the importance of finding a “deeply personal vision”.

The amount of visual content we are all exposed to everyday has increased enormously during these last 10 years, and the only chance for a photographer to be “really” seen is to cut through the noise and offer something truly unique; in one word, daring more. With ideas, style and post-production – not being afraid of breaking the rules and being maybe a little bit less influenced by dominant trends.

This is a big leap of faith for a photographer, something I know many still struggle with. Finding “their” reason, beyond anything else.

What advice would you give to address these struggles?

I think that learning how to cut out the noise ourselves is a necessary first step. The loudest noise comes from the fear that we “won’t make it”; it’s actually very difficult to shut that voice up, sometimes – but we should try.

Also, seeking authenticity requires you to stop seeking approval and therefore becoming vulnerable. It takes guts.

With regards to the noise coming from overexposure to other people’s work – we have amazing tools today, but perhaps also too many comparisons to make for our own good. Studying and researching other photographers’ work and being up-to-date on what magazines publish is fundamental of course – as is participating and sharing – it’s something we can’t do without anymore, and its great to be living in a world where all this is possible across multiple channels and media at once. But maybe we should learn how to give ourselves the time and the space to stop and reflect on what really captures our attention and truly is “necessary” to us – what makes our heart beat faster, or suddenly much slower, at its own rhythm, without any other thoughts interfering. That is the moment, normally, when the “new” has a chance to emerge.

 What would you say are all the key ingredients for creating an effective documentary photo essay – before, during and after you explore a story?

Before: imagine your story in details/have a strong visual preparation.

During: build real relationships with your subjects – sometimes it takes a long time, but that’s ok!

After: borrow a second set of eyes for your editing – it doesn’t have to be a professional, another photographer will do just fine.

What do you think the future holds for visual storytelling using stills photography?

I’m a huge fan of multimedia. Not the interactive ones – just simple, linear multimedia with photography, video, some small pieces of text, music and interviews. For me, they are the closest tool we have for real storytelling, as they give our subjects, literally, a voice; for photojournalism, this is the most objective and most precious gift we can give to our story.

I have recently watched the latest Mediastorm production, the trilogy “Japan’s Disposable Workers” by photographer Shiho Fukada, and I found myself completely absorbed in the stories and in the images – to the point of watching all 3 videos one after the other… Absolutely compelling, perfectly crafted – from the editing to the graphics, to the music.

How many pictures would we be able to watch in the same way? Multimedia can be extremely effective for contemporary photography as well – fine art and even landscape photography; I was recently re-watching “SnowBound”, a long term project by photographer Lisa M. Robinson, produced again by MediaStorm (which is in my opinion still unbeaten in this field); it is so perfect that it really becomes, as the caption says, a meditation. It’s not just about dynamic content.

It’s another, newer form of art. It is already the future.

Where can people find you and connect with you on the web?

I’m on Linkedin, Lightstalkers and Behance.

My website is – www.raffaelalepanto.com

And can be reached at: me@raffaelalepanto.com

Featured Image: Untitled © Paolo Poce