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TIME Photo Department

Yolanda Cuomo is the curatorial voice behind some of the 20th century’s greatest photographic books. This year, alongside Melissa Harris, Cuomo is co-curating the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Va., June 13 – 15, 2013.

One word comes up again and again, like a shared mantra, when talking with Yolanda Cuomo, or when discussing Cuomo with people who know her: collaboration. Hardly surprising, perhaps, in light of the talent that, at one time or another, the 55-year-old art director and designer has worked with — including creative icons from Avedon and Sylvia Plachy to Twyla Tharp and Laurie Anderson. But one quickly gets the sense that, in Cuomo’s world, collaboration is not simply one way to approach a project; it’s the only way to approach a project.

As her longtime friend (“creative soulmate” might be a more apt description), Aperture Foundation editor-in-chief Melissa Harris, puts it: “Yolanda is simply one of the greatest people I know. She is so full of ideas, and our collaborations [on books, magazines, exhibitions] have been so fantastic because we always approach each project from an utterly fresh perspective. And we laugh,” she adds, making it clear that humor is an integral element of their long-time, enormously fruitful partnership. “We laugh a lot.”

The driving force behind the celebrated Yolanda Cuomo Studio, Yo (as all her friends and colleagues call her) has helped envision and produce some of the most striking and influential art and photography books of the past two decades, including Diane Arbus’ Revelations, Gilles Peress’ Farewell to Bosnia, Pre-Pop Warhol and scores of other titles.
(Incredibly, it was only within the last year, with New York at Night, that Cuomo got what she calls her “first spine.” She’d done 85 books through the years, she told LightBox, “but Norma Stevens and I published New York at Night in 2012 and, holy shit, there was my name on the spine!”).

A graduate of Cooper Union, Cuomo got her start in the publishing world as a junior designer at Condé Nast in the early 1980s. Under the mentorship of the legendary art director Marvin Israel, she not only was introduced to many of the people who would become part of her vast and cherished professional extended family — Plachy, Avedon, Peress, Nan Goldin and others — but also got her very first lessons, from a master, in the power of collaboration.

Yolanda Cuomo at her desk in her Chelsea studio, New York NY, February 4, 2012.

Pete Pin

Yolanda Cuomo at her desk in her new Chelsea studio in February.

“Marvin was so brilliant,” Cuomo says, “and one of the key things I learned from him — by his example, not by his making a big deal out of it — was that bringing other peoples’ voices and sensibilities to a project can make it so much stronger and more wonderful than if only one person holds sway over everything.”

The reason Cuomo got the job at Condé Nast in the first place, meanwhile, is emblematic of another type of creativity altogether.

“I lied,” she says, her mischievous laugh all these years later suggesting that she still can’t believe it herself. “When I was interviewed [for the Condé job] I told them that of course I knew how to do mechanicals. Then I went right out and immediately called a friend and was like, ‘What’s a mechanical?’”

Regardless of how she got her foot in the door, Cuomo learned the ins and outs of the art and publishing worlds from the very best. A quick study, she was eventually asked to oversee a new project by the Village Voice, and in 1985 Yolanda Cuomo was named art director of the Voice’s short-lived, tremendously creative fashion magazine, Vue. There, she and her small staff were afforded the sort of creative freedom that, for anyone working in magazines today, must seem something from another, near-mythical age.

Courtesy of the Village Voice/Yolanda Cuomo Design

Courtesy of the Village Voice/Yolanda Cuomo Design

Cover and spreads from the September 1986 issue of Vue. Photographs by Amy Arbus.

“It was total carte blanche,” Cuomo recalls. “We had to fill 32 pages that came out once a month. We sat in a room and just said to each other, ‘Okay, let’s call up people we love.’”

The names of those people they loved comprise something of a Who’s Who of talent of the era — each one of whom brought a unique sensibility to the pages of Vue. For one shoot, Sylvia Plachy photographed models posing in the trees of a New York cemetery. For another, Nan Goldin commissioned a pregnant bodybuilder friend to model lingerie in the East Village’s Russian baths. Phrases like “creative foment” seem to have been coined to describe exactly the sort of atmosphere that existed when Yolanda Cuomo was learning her chops.

The Voice shut down Vue after just a half-dozen issues, but its young staff, thrilled by what they’d accomplished together, was not ready to quit working as a team. With her assistant and two others, Cuomo found a small office space in Manhattan, and her design studio was born.

The studio’s first photo book was Unguided Tour, a collection of work by Sylvia Plachy.

“When we work together,” Plachy says of her collaborations with Cuomo, “we both have an intuitive sense about editing and designing. Yo is open to new things; she responds to things in the moment. She doesn’t force her point of view. Instead, it’s a free-flowing enjoyment of the evolution of the ideas, and moving toward something new and exciting.”

For Cuomo, inspiration can come from anywhere, from any time and from anyone. An old French book about the Eiffel Tower, for instance, discovered in a bookstore in Paris decades earlier, might influence the design of a photography book today. Closer to home, while making Paolo Pellegrin’s 2012 artist book — designed in a single, breakneck week — Cuomo found a visual muse in her assistant designer’s workspace.

“Bonnie [Briant] had a little color copy of a dog photo that she loved taped to her notebook on her desk, and I saw it and thought, ‘That is so beautiful.’”

A scan of the notebook — Scotch tape and scratches included — became the cover of the Pellegrin book. “That’s the way I like to work,” Cuomo says. “Spontaneously inventing.”

The fact that Cuomo has a full life outside of her work — a life that helps inform everything she does — speaks volumes about her ability to find balance in both the spontaneous and the thoroughly predictable. Living in Weehawken, New Jersey, Cuomo rides her bike every day from her home to the ferry, which she takes across the Hudson River to the West Side of Manhattan and her studio. At day’s end, she heads back across the river, to her “big old Victorian house,” her garden, her family — in other words, to a world that adds meaning and color to her vocation as an art director, designer and teacher.

In the end, that might be the greatest collaboration of them all: the way Yolanda Cuomo weaves family and work, leisure and labor, vision and vocation into a fully realized world of her own making.

Alissa Ambrose & Ben Cosgrove

See more of Cuomo’s work at Yolanda Cuomo Design.

Alissa Ambrose is a freelance writer and photo editor based in New York. Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com.

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Lowering the Bar has a copy of Herman Meville's publishing contract for Moby-Dick, made 161 years ago between Harper and Brothers of the city of New York, Publishers and Melville. Melville got 50% of the profits (which seems fishy to me, given that the publisher has near-total leeway in accounting for its expenses-before-profit on the book), which apparently amounted to $556.37 (~$16K in inflation adjusted 2012 dollars).

HarperCollins posted this on October 18, which was the 161st anniversary of that certain work entitled "The Whale" but commonly known as "Moby Dick." The contract provided that the said Herman Melville would get half the net profits from the sale of said book in the United States for the next seven years, although once the publisher had recovered the cost of the plates used to print it, Melville could have the terms changed so he would get a "sum certain" for each copy sold.

There She Blows! 'Tis the Contract for Moby Dick!

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The stupidest thing to appear on the internet yesterday—excluding whatever weird racist and vampire-centric debates occurred between teens trolling each other on Yahoo Answers—was The Conservative Teen, an (apparently real) magazine written by a roster of hard-c conservatives, including a number of folks employed by the Heritage Foundation, the think tank that brought you a bunch of the Republican party’s policies. **You can read the whole first issue online.** It’s basically a print version of the Mr. Show ”No Adults Allowed”sketch, where out-of-it adults transparently pretend to be hip teens. Here are the ages of the three syndicated columnists the brains behind Conservative Teen thought would be especially appealing to right-wingers-in-training:

John Stossel - 62

Walter E. Williams - 78

Michael Reagan (the adopted son of Ronald Reagan, who wrote a column called “Ronald Reagan: Our First Black President”) - 67

Continue: The Conservative Teen Is the Worst Magazine Ever

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©Delaney Allen

I browse numerous photography blogs and magazines, probably not as many as some people, but I’m guessing more than the median photography enthusiast. There are plenty of destinations to find quality work these days but I find there are very few that have a distinct point of view, and finding quality writing about photography is still a challenge. Far too many new blogs and magazines simply want to replicate what’s been done already (me too!) or have misguided editorial missions (“we want to expose photography/photographers we love/think is great/deserves more attention/ to a wider audience!”).

These days I can get a bit cranky about internet publishing, part of which comes from my own frustrations with trying to carve out a distinct perspective for LPV, but also I think there’s a shortage of critical discussions about what we’re dong online. Nobody in general is to blame for that, after all, who really wants to talk about social media and publishing? “Is blogging dead?” “How is social media impacting photography?” discussions tend to be short of new observations and generally resort to platitudes and hype, both of which we need far less of online. The critical, combative, engaged discussions generally aren’t very well received online, and in fact the web might not even be the best venue for those type of discussions. Anyway, I digress.

With this list I want to briefly comment on a group of blogs, magazines, destinations, websites, that I have a tremendous amount of respect for at the moment. There are many others that are very good, but these have triggered something in my mind that I think is worth noting. Please feel free to disagree and create your own list! After all, it is that time of the year!

 

About: A website dedicated to contemporary fine-art photography, founded and edited by Jörg M. Colberg

Comment: Next year will be the ten  year anniversary. If there’s one blog that’s on the must read list for fine art photography, it’s Conscientious. I’ve not always agreed with Jorg but I’ve never stopped reading his articles or viewing the work he publishes. He’s simply very good at what he does and doesn’t mince words. He writes about ideas and is a curious curator. You can try to pigeon hole him, but it won’t work. This year, what I’ve respected most are his new initiatives. He jumped back on Twitter and quickly became a must follow. He published a book, “Conversations With Photographers.” He continued his publishing initiative with Meir and Mueller. He experimented with Google+ and sharing photography books on Youtube. He showed his comedic chops in a couple of very funny videos. He does what every good blogger and publisher should do: he evolves and continues the curious pursuit of his passions.

Recommended: Photography is Over

 

About: “…a unique site combining social giving and photography. Its mission is to raise funds to purchase equipment for young, emerging photographers from economically disadvantaged backgrounds from Colombia, and eventually from around the world…”

Comment: The mission statement very clearly announces what you’re to expect and it’s very admirable. Tom Griggs is a savvy publisher, creating features that tap into the active online community with a keen editorial eye. I’ve always thought that the internet was a good place to learn if you can make your way through the noise. Griggs is certainly someone who believes this and isn’t hesitant to put in the necessary work to achieve his mission. I’m very excited to see where he takes things in the next year and can’t wait to view the work from the students he’s collaborating with. This is an incredibly exciting new site and one that I hope others with aspirations for creating photography platforms will learn from in the future.

Recommended: Current Microgrant

 

About: The blog of photographer Blake Andrews.

Comment: Not much to add from what I wrote last year. Every post is still a surprise.

From 2010: You never really know what to expect from Blake.  He operates in a mental space that very few bloggers can access on a regular basis. He taps into the photography web zeitgeist in a way that adds depth to his irreverent posts.  Beyond the hijinks and humor, he’s also a fantastic and insightful writer.  When he decides to challenge an idea, he makes sure he’s thought about the argument, and offers counter points worth thinking about.

Recommended: The Sprig and Optimal Lag

 

About: To joust in the melee of contested meanings in surveillance, fine-art, documentary, amateur, institution, and virtual photographies of prisons and other sites of incarceration.

Comment: Pete Brook gets straight to the point and he’s on a mission. I was fortunate enough to meet with him twice this year and each time I came away believing more and more in his mission. His blog doesn’t ask you to think, it forces you to think. It’s always smart, finely edited and illuminating. The subject matter isn’t for everybody. It’s the type of work and issues that we’d just rather ignore. After all, of all the members of society, prisoners are the mostly likely garner little sympathy from the general public. Pete understands this challenge but confronts it head on. Realistic, honest, funny and passionate. After a few minutes browsing through his blog, you’ll come away thinking and it’ll be a nagging thought you’re not likely to shake.

Recommended: Photographing the Prostitutes of Italy’s Backroads: Google Street View vs. Boots on the Ground

 

About: LightBox, a new blog by TIME’s photo department, will explore how photography, video and the culture of images define today’s world.

Comment: As I’ve heard, LightBox was a clandestine operation by the Time photo editors that didn’t have the sanction of the corporate overlords. Thankfully for us, they’re disobedience went unpunished. It’s really a no brainer, but the cynic in me says, “jeez guys, it took you this long to get started?” Now that they’re here though, we’re exposed to a very tightly edited, engaging dose of photography on a daily basis. They have the resources and access that most independent bloggers and magazines simply never will have, and it shows in the quality and diversity of the work.

Recommended: Merry Christmas from Lee Friedlander

 

About: An independent charitable gallery (Cardiff, Wales) run by photographers Joni Karanka, Maciej Dakowicz, Bartosz Nowicki and a group of committed volunteers.

Comment: I’ve known Joni for a few after meeting him in HCSP. It’s been exciting watching what they’ve done with TFG this year. Actually, it’s pretty fucking remarkable and shows exactly what a group of passionate, intelligent photographers can achieve if they have a vision and dedication to bringing it to fruition. The TFG web presence is pretty straightforward and that’s all it needs to be. They’re able to get the word out to the right people and have been successful in raising the necessary funds to keep them afloat. In their first two years, they’ve exhibited Tomas Van Houtryve, Rob Hornstra, Ben Roberts, David Hurn, Laura Pannack, Chris Steele-Perkins, Peter Dench, and Carolyn Drake. That’s impressive. What more can you say?

Recommended: Support Us

 

About: Wayne Bremser’s Tumblr/Blog.

Comment: My favorite blog on Tumblr. Wayne is smart and the connections he makes between photographs is stimulating (“Bremser Image Telephone.”) He doesn’t write much, but when he does, it’s always very insightful and relevant. The photos run the spectrum from contemporary to historical, and are generally photographs that haven’t been heavily circulated in our visually saturated internet wasteland.

Recommended: How to Photograph the Entire World: The Google Street View Era

 

About: Facebook group of Flake Photo. “My hope is that by hosting online photo conversations in a single place the FPN will make it easier to share ideas and meet photography colleagues using Facebook.”

Comment: Maybe the years I’ve spent in photography forums has made me jaded, and kind of skeptical of these ‘community’ organizing initiatives, but I applaud Andy for his ability to bring together people that might not normally participate in photography forums. There’s plenty of conversation, insights and idea sharing happening on a weekly basis to keep my interest. It can be a great resource and it’s always interesting to read the opinions of people that don’t normally share them publicly.

Recommended: If you can get in…and tolerate the self-promotion.

 

About: The blog of duckrabbit, an award-winning digital production company.  We work with documentary audio, still photography and video to make compelling film and audio narratives for commercial, charity and broadcast clients.

Comment: There are  some blogs you like because of the attitude. duckrabbit is one of them for me. They have their nose to the grind and are tapped into the pulse of what’s happening with documentary photography and photojournalism. They’re opinionated, passionate and won’t back down from a good argument or debate. One to read for sure.

Recommended: Are photography degrees the joker in the pack?

 

About: Bagnews analyzes and reports news and media images. In an ever more visual society, BagNews seeks to better understand the levels of meaning, the underlying story lines and the various agendas reflected in the more prominent news pictures of the day.

Comment: Bag is one of those sites that I’ve said I read but more often than not only skim. Then this year I really started to read it regularly and found it incredibly interesting and insightful. The way photographs are used by media organizations in our hyper saturated, fast paced publishing world is worth taking the time to consider. For that type of analysis, there really is nowhere else to go other than the Bag.

Recommended: Taking it to the Kittens: The Pepper Spray Cop Meme — and What It Means

 

About: A Photo Editor (APE) is edited by Rob Haggart, the former Director of Photography for Men’s Journal and Outside Magazine.

Comment: The online pulse of the editorial and commercial photography world. Great resource for articles that are floating around. Jonathan Blaustein’s gallery and book reviews are long…but well worth the time investment. Recommended reading for anyone remotely curious or interested in the business side of commercial and editorial photography.

Recommended: Why Does Everyone Think They Need A Photo Book?

 

About: I examine how documentary photography and photojournalism work, the opportunities multimedia bring, and the challenges presented by the revolutions in the new media economy.

Comment: David’s thoughtful articles typically get me thinking. His subject matter might not be the most exciting for photographers but if you’re interested in publishing and how the web is evolving, creating new challenges & opportunities, then David’s blog is a must read. Always well researched, timely and engaging.

Recommended: Agencies as publishers: a new approach to photojournalism

 

About: Feature Shoot is run by photographer, photo editor and curator Alison Zavos and showcases work from up-and-coming photographers alongside established photographers who have completed a project or whose work has taken on a new direction.

Comment: Alison’s eyeballs must get really sore because she seems to see just about every photograph that’s published on the web. FS publishes an eclectic mix of work, crossing many genres and styles. What I like most about FS, is that I don’t like everything that’s published, and yet I keep coming back because I know there will be photographs that I haven’t seen before, many of which I’ll likely find interesting. Having chatted with Alison a few times, I have no doubt she’ll introduce new and exciting features in the next year.

Recommended: Parisian twins photographed by Maja Daniels

 

About: Edited by Constantin Nimigean

Comment: From Bucharest comes this serendipitous find. I’m not really sure how it came on my radar but after I subscribed I started to notice that most the photography strongly resonated with me. It was fun to see what was coming next. Sometimes he’d link to work I’d seen on other blogs but more often than not I’d be treated to work that hadn’t crossed my radar. I’m very interested to see how the site evolves in 2012.

Recommended: Valentina Riccardi – NO RENT

 

About: Edited tags from Tumblr.

Comment: It’s brilliant. Tumblr has chosen a group of photography enthusiasts to edit tags and promote work they think deserves more attention. So, what you get from the chaos of Tumblr is some semblance of organization. You can check the ‘portrait’ tag and find what’s ‘popular,’ ‘promoted’ and ‘everything’ else. They’ve made good choices in their editors too.

To show the power of Tumblr, and why I think every photographer should have a presence there, I’ll share an anecdote. I signed up in 2007 and started aggregating work under LPV/Photographs on the Brain. In four years, I gained about 2,000 followers. A few weeks ago I posted this wonderful photograph by Chris Dorley-Brown. In two days, after being ‘promoted’ it accumulated over 10,000 notes and became ‘popular.’ Within five days I’d gained nearly 4,500 followers. If Tumblr can harness this viral power and create a compelling ‘Front Page,’ they could really be onto something very interesting.

Regular reads, recommended: Unless you will, Fraction Magazine, 1000 Words, Eyecurious, Colin Pantall, LENS, New Landscape Photography, The Great Leap Sideways, Two Way Lens, Wayne Ford, dvafoto, Raw File, Shooting Wide Open, lenscratch, DLK Collection, This is the what, Search the Light, Two for the Road,urbanautica, LUCEO, Banana Leaves

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