In collaboration with Cultural Anthropology and the Society for Cultural Anthropology, VAR and the SVA also support a new initiative in online photo essay publication: Writing with Light. To view published projects and submission guidelines, click here.
Commentary on submitting photo essays to VAR
(See Sutherland’s extended essay on documentary photography and constructing a photo essay in VAR Supplements here)
A photo essay is normally a photographic exploration, investigation and description of a particular and clearly defined subject. Such essays consist of a number of interrelated images, articulating a visual narrative, and are usually accompanied by text and captions. The photo essays in VAR will usually be printed over four to eight pages, as two to four double page spreads (see the November 2016 issue of VAR (32:2) for the example of Roger Hutchings’ photo essay Ataturk’s Children, and my introductory essay.)
Submissions should present a clear idea of how the photographs might be arranged on the pages. You are not expected to design the final layout as that process will be done in conjunction with the journal’s designer, but a rough layout will offer the editors and reviewers a clear sense of the narrative form and sequence of the suggested essay.
There are no rules about how text should be used with the photographs or how much text is necessary, though the photo essay is primarily a visual narrative. Captions can run amongst the photographs or alternatively at the end of the photo essay, alongside thumbnails of the images. Captions could be descriptive statements written by the photographer or quotations, for example.
It is very hard to design a really good traditional magazine layout, filling the whole page with text and images so it may be best to create a simpler presentation closer to those found in many documentary photography books. A variation on Roger Hutchings photo essay Ataturk’s Children which uses two small horizontal image on the vertical page, large verticals and a double page spread offers a starting point. Double page spreads work really well in a photo essay as they offer a variation of scale and consequently add impact and pace to the essay when presented amongst other designs of page layout. But of course they also reduce the total number of images you can use when your pages are limited in number.
However a double page spread can ruin the impact of an image when its main subject is in the centre and consequently gets lost in the gutter, the fold between pages. A solution is to use large horizontal images that go over the gutter, but are not bled to the edge and can therefore be placed offcenter, positioned either to the left or right. (See Dario Mitidieri’s book Children of Bombay (1994) or Sebastião Salgado’s Other Americas (1986) for examples of this design.)