Editing with Jeff Rich

© Jeff Rich, from the series "The Watershed Project - The French Broad River"

We are 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 with Rob Haggart and Ashley Kauschinger. Today we continue with responses from Jeff Rich.

Jeff Rich's work focuses on water issues ranging from recreation and sustainability to exploitation and abuse. Jeff explores these subjects by using long-term photographic documentations of very specific regions of the United States. He received his MFA in photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. His project "Watershed: A Survey of The French Broad River Basin" was awarded the 2010 Critical Mass Book Award, and was published as a monograph in 2012. His work has been featured on Flak Photo, Prism Photography Magazine, Daylight Magazine and has been exhibited internationally. In 2011 Jeff was named one of the winners of the Magenta Flash Forward Emerging Photographers Competition. He is an Assistant Professor at the University of Iowa, in the Art and Art History Department. He also curates the weekly series Eyes on the South for Oxford American Magazine.

© Jeff Rich, from the series "The Watershed Project - The Mississippi"

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

Jeff Rich: I currently live in Iowa City and work in the Art and Art History Department at the University of Iowa. I've worked with photography since 1997. I am currently working on a long-term series called "The Watershed Project" which documents three watersheds in the Southeast United States.

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

JR: Since I shoot all of my work on large format cameras, primarily 8x10 and some 4x5, a lot of my editing takes place before I take the shot. I work with a digital camera to sketch out different possible shots when I first arrive at a location. The initial criteria I use are composition, lighting and how well the subject is described. In my current project I usually like to balance out these three things. For instance I don't want to make a formal photograph that just focuses on the way light falls across a scene, this would't do justice to my subject. I need all of these aspects to play a part in a successful photograph.

Once I have scanned everything in, I start with my subject matter, and make sure I covered that sufficiently enough to convey all the aspects of the project. Since many trips involve coming back with only 10-15 usable final shots, I often return to the same locations to reshoot or reframe my subject matter.

© Jeff Rich, from the series "The Watershed Project - The Tennessee"

f: Talk with us about how you begin to organize and sequence the images that you have selected in relationship to each other - as well as to text if there's text.

JR: In my work I usually start by sequencing geographically, since my work is documentary and typically follows a set path, this makes the most sense as way to begin to organize the work. However this sequencing rarely works for a body of work, because it inevitably brings up missing aspects of the story I want to tell. Or this way of sequencing can lead to several shots of the same location right next to each other. So I start to sequence by similarity in subject matter (dams, power plants, pollution, portraits) and see how this works. Typically I find this becomes too repetitive. So in the end I use a combination of geographic and subject matter similarities to sequence the work. This is always a digital process, unless it is for an exhibition, then it is more about working with the space I have, and making the sequence fit that space. I am also considering tone in an exhibition, if a somber image is right next to a bright energetic image it becomes problematic.

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?

JR: I usually pick an image that is very strong formally and represents the content very well, and use this as my basic formal anchor for the series. Anything that is significantly weaker formally than this anchor doesn't make the cut. If one of these "cut" images is important to the narrative of the story, I reshoot.

© Jeff Rich, from the series "The Watershed Project - The Tennessee"

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

JR: Sequencing can be very difficult. I find it is especially difficult with my own work. I have no problem sequencing other people's work though! The biggest questions I have are about tone and repetition. I need the sequencing to have a consistent tone, sometimes two images that should work next to each other just have a different tone and I have to re-sequence.

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

JR: When I can look at it without questioning it.

f: What are common mistakes you see in editing?

JR: I often see repetition of the same idea in a series that covers a complex and wide-ranging subject, leading to a very superficial study of the subject matter.

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

JR: Go with your gut choices first, then start making sure that they work on a technical level.  If you find a lot of images not working on a technical level you need to reshoot.

© Jeff Rich, from the series "The Watershed Project - The French Broad River"