Editing with Kevin WY Lee

Various IPA editing sessions with Kevin WY Lee in Singapore and Asia.

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 HaggartAshley KauschingerJeff Rich and Miska Draskoczy. Today we continue with Kevin WY Lee.

Various IPA editing sessions with Kevin WY Lee in Singapore and Asia.

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

Kevin WY Lee: I am a photographer and creative director based in Singapore. I founded Invisible Photographer Asia (IPA), a humble but well-regarded platform for Photography and Visual Arts in Asia. As an image-maker, I am primarily interested in public phenomena and identity. Aside from my own practice, I also participate in other people's photography through editing, curation and mentorship.

This year I am the Asia curator for the PhotoQuai Biennale 2015 and a nominator for the Prix Pictet Award. I also produce an independent festival showcasing self-published photobooks in Asia.

You can peruse my personal work here: http://www.kevinwylee.com and IPA here: http://invisiblephotographer.asia.

Various IPA editing sessions with Kevin WY Lee in Singapore and Asia.

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

KL: To be a bit more helpful in the context of your interview, I'll wear an editor's hat and answer your questions broadly in the hope that they can find some relevance to a wide range of photographers.

Okay, so let's backtrack a little. You're ready to edit your work when you've amassed a whole batch of images that you have shot diligently and consistently to a theme or vision. You can be very aware of the theme/vision, or it can be intuitive insight. Sometimes photographers know, but can't immediately articulate. It depends on who you are and how you work.

On editing. There's a few rounds of editing/selections to be done. The first round is a wide 'kind' edit where you respond to the images purely as images, without any bias aside from visual appeal. You can be kind to yourself and select any image you like, and for whatever reason. This will help you make that first cut.

Then you move to the next round, then the next. Each time being less kind to yourself, each time introducing a bit more bias, each time aligning the images closer to your theme and vision. One of the key things to look out for is repetition. If two or more images are saying the same thing even when they look different visually, cull them all till you get to the strongest one. Look out for patterns as well that could give you a visual thread to weave the images more cohesively. As you get tighter and tighter in your selection, the story or vision will clarify.

How many rounds of editing are needed will depend on your experience, literacy and confidence. It will vary for different people. You will also need some breathing space in between rounds to freshen your eyes. You most likely will need another objective set of eyes to help you.

Various IPA editing sessions with Kevin WY Lee in Singapore and Asia.

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.

KL: This is not easy and straightforward to answer. There are many ways to edit and sequence as much as there are different types of editors sympathetic to different types of photography. A big part of the process is informed intuition as well as logic. But ultimately everything should serve the vision of the work and importantly the purpose of the edit – be it for a book, exhibition or slideshow etc.

I guess it is healthy to mention what informs my own intuition.

I have worked in the advertising and creative industry for a long time, working with briefs and clients. Creative problem-solving to specific goals and outcomes helps in editing.

Secondly, I have written scripts and shot and edited films and videos. This helps in understanding linear and non-linear story-telling, storyboarding, continuity and timing concepts.

I make photographs myself. This helps in understanding why and how a photograph was made and helps clarify intentions.

I’ve lived quite varied experiences in life with ups and downs. This informs my choices.

Lastly, I have wide taste and sympathies so this helps in relating and referring to a broad range of photography and expression.

All of the above informs the organizing and sequencing of the images. The process is fluid and intuitive. Then you insert a little distance and logic and ask if the results are saying what they're meant to say. You find flaws, patch them up and be fluid once more.

I recommend editing with physical prints as the process is more tactile and responsive. You can more easily make adjustments and immediately see differences, then shuffle again if required. But I also edit on screen as and when needed.

Ultimately, everything must answer two questions: 1) POINT? – Authorship is very important. What is the work about and what exactly are you saying? Without a point and opinion, you're merely mulling over superficialities. 2) PURPOSE? – What is the edit for? Book, exhibition, slideshow? Who are the audience?

Editing is a numbers game. The more images and range you have, the more options you have to weave a sequence.

I previously published an introductory guide to editing which may be useful for photographers new to editing. It introduces some basic concepts. Available here: http://invisiblephotographer.asia/2013/11/18/editing101-quickguidestickies/

Various IPA editing sessions with Kevin WY Lee in Singapore and Asia.

: 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?

KL: I have no hard and fast rule. Each work and edit is different. Everything must serve the work, its point and purpose. Sometimes an edit might need that one odd image to make a point.

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

KL: There are different issues for different layouts.

If you're laying out for a book, then paper, size and form of the book are issues to be addressed. Which images need to be paired or singled out? When to insert a blank page for breathing space? Should this image be cut across the page gutter? Portrait or landscape book? Matt or coated stock and what weight?

If you're laying out for an exhibition, then how do we predict traffic and how audiences are going to move from wall to wall? What distance are they going to view the images? What's the first image they see and should that be bigger?

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

KL: An edit and layout is never absolutely done or finished. You might return to it later and re-imagine or re-interpret the work. Or you might not.

Various IPA editing sessions with Kevin WY Lee in Singapore and Asia.

f: What are common mistakes you see in editing?

KL: 1) Not knowing what to say. Often, the more novice photographer doesn't know what he wants to say with the work. This needs to be clarified before any meaningful edit can be done.

2) Saying too much. Often we try to say too much with the work, especially very personal ones, and end up saying nothing because the narrative and sequence is too confusing. It is better to be concise, focus on one main point and amplify that.

3) Language, tone and delivery. Sometimes, it works to the work's advantage if the edit and sequence is more subdued and consistent in that tone.

4) Repetition. I repeat. Repetition.

5) Getting too emotionally attached to particular images which don't serve the edit.

6) Not enough images to edit.

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

KL: There are a million ways to edit but only one gut feel.

Various IPA editing sessions with Kevin WY Lee in Singapore and Asia.