Editing with Ashley Kauschinger

Flesh and Memory from the series "Questions of Origin" 2013-2014 © Ashley Kauschinger

fototazo has begun a new series in which we will be talking to a range of photographers, photo editors, professors of photography, book designers and others about the physical process of editing images.

Selecting, sequencing and laying out photographs - be it for a magazine, book, online site or gallery presentation - seems something of a mysterious process for many photographers and a process that seems perhaps hard to give words to. I haven't found much written about the process and that's exactly why I'm excited to see what comes up in this series.

We started the conversation last week with Rob Haggart. Today we continue with Ashley Kauschinger.

The Wellspring from the series "Questions of Origin" 2013-2014 © Ashley Kauschinger

fototazo: Tell us a little about yourself and what area of photography you work in.

Ashley Kauschinger: I would describe myself as a narrative fine art photographer and book artist. I have an MFA in Photography with a minor in Intermedia from Texas Woman's University, and will be an adjunct at the University of South Carolina this fall. I am also the Founding Editor of the online photography magazine, Light Leaked, which I have been running for two years now.

f: How do you select images to work with from a larger group? What criteria do you use?

AK: First, I have to think deeply about the context that the images are going to be viewed in. Is this set of images going to be on an exhibition wall, a book, a website, a blog post? Then, I create that environment for myself to view the work. For example, if I am selecting images for an exhibition, I create 5"x6" prints of all the images up for consideration, draw out the space of the show on a table, start moving the prints around imagining they are on the wall and then begin to weed out images. If I am creating a blog post I will preview the images vertically. If I am creating a book layout, I will print moveable spreads for a book dummy.

f: How do you consider the balancing of formal qualities in the photographs with the content/narrative of the series as a whole as you select and sequence a series?

AK: This can be a tough one for me since my work is so rooted in narrative, I always want to edit based just on the concept of the images. But then I have to step back and see that formally some images transition the way I want. To resolve this, I put images into formal groupings: color, time of day, line, landscape, indoor, etc. Then I work on the sequencing within the smaller formal groups, and move back out to look at the series as a whole. I will go back and forth between the smaller groups and the overall work until I feel that the transitions are smooth and the overall narrative is being communicated.

f: What are common issues, problems and questions that unfold for you during the process of laying things out?

AK: Some questions I ask myself while I am editing:

What images are essential to this work?
If I squint, what images stick out—Do I need those?
Can I arrange these images differently to keep ones that appear not to fit?
How is each image communicating with those around it?
Does this image further my narrative?
What is it adding? Is it subtracting anything?

Common issues and problems that occur when I am editing include letting go of images that I don't need to further the series that I am too personally attached to (or accepting that an image needs to be reshot before it can remain). I also can have a hard time asking other people's opinions, and listening to their suggestions on photographs that are not needed. Being so close to the work, it can be hard to make those tough choices, and listening and respecting what other artists' you trust think is an important step in the process.

f: How do you know when a layout is done?

AK: I think I know when a layout is done when I have an "a-ha" moment. The images will slide into a sequence and it will feel like finishing a puzzle. I will get an instinctive feeling that I just solved it. Sometimes I will ignore when I get this feeling, keep working, and mess it all up. That is why I usually take a photograph with my iPhone (or a screenshot if I'm working in Bridge) of the layouts I am moving around so I can go back. I believe intuition does have a lot to do with it. The funny thing about intuition is that it originates in part of the brain that doesn't have a capacity for language, and so everything we are discussing here is really just a way of saying, "I am assigning language to my intuition."

Morning Ritual from the series "Questions of Origin" 2013-2014 © Ashley Kauschinger

f: What are common mistakes you see in editing?

AK: For my online magazine, Light Leaked, I look through a lot of work, usually on artists' websites. One of the most common mistakes I see is having way too much work in an underdeveloped series. This is usually because of similar images the artist couldn’t choose between so they kept all of them. I obviously understand this mentality. It's easy to get attached to images from a day of shooting that went really well. But if there are five portraits of the same person in a series and there is only one of everyone else—it just doesn't make sense. Tough choices need to be made during editing. There are of course reasons why an artist would have a lot of images in a series. For example, if they have been creating that work for five years. If you've been working on a series for a year or so, it shouldn't have 45 images in it. Either way, if you do have a series with a lot of images, I would suggest having a thumbnails option on your website or divide the series into years/chapters.

f: Finally, what is the best advice you've ever gotten about editing?

AK: The best advice I have gotten about editing is to give myself time, and to take small prints of my photographs with me wherever I go when I am in the editing process. Editing should not be a snap decision done when you get to the gallery or the second before you press "Publish" on a website or blog. Finding the strongest set of images that communicate with one another, make each other better, and create a strong narrative takes time—don't rush it. Then trust yourself and your choices.