When you are first starting out working in photography it can seem a daunting and sometimes unachieveable task to get to where you want to be. But it is possible. To offer some advice and inspiration we have spoken to experienced and established photography professionals, to find out how they managed to navigate the industry and hear their words of wisdom from lessons they have learnt along the way.
This week we hear from Izabela Radwanska Zhang, Editorial Director of 1854 Media and Editor of British Journal of Photography.
Here Izabela speaks more about her career journey and offers her advice.
What led to you working at BJP?
My journey to this point has been rather jumbled. I studied Spanish and Italian with European Studies for my undergraduate degree because I liked the idea of having a third year abroad and, to be quite honest, I wasn’t quite sure what career I wanted to pursue at that point. When I left university, I wasn’t much closer to figuring that out either. But after a year of bouncing between unpaid writing 'internships' in London, I decided to do an MA in Journalism. My existing love for magazines, specifically arts magazines, really came into its own that year. I learned how to be a journalist the hard way – I’m certain I was close to the bottom of my class at points! But I was also lucky enough to secure an internship at BJP. After I graduated, I came back to the journal as a position for Editorial Assistant opened up, and I worked my way up from there. Under the guidance of the former editor, Simon Bainbridge, and creative director, Mick Moore, I learned about photography, the industry and the magazine. When Simon left BJP in 2020, I took over as Editorial Director of 1854 Media and became BJP's first female editor, in its 167-year history.
In 2019 I did a part-time postgraduate degree in graphic design, while still working on the magazine. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the foundations of design – lessons that I reference daily when I am thinking about pulling the magazine together. I also learned about printing, paper and book-binding – skilled techniques that I hope to incorporate in a project one day. As an editor, you not only select and coordinate the photography projects and journalists for your features, but it is important to curate the narrative from project to project and page to page. You are creating a physical object that will be experienced over time, so elements like pace, rhythm, colour, typography and 'punctuation' if you will, are important. It is a wonderful feeling when you begin to see things coming together - both visually and narratively.
Since I became the Editorial Director, the job doesn’t allow much spare time for freelance work or personal projects. The work I do outside of the office normally takes the form of lecturing, reviewing or teaching – which I also enjoy. If I do have time, I try to keep up with learning about graphic design, brushing up on my Adobe suite skills and other more hands-on creativity – though at this stage it has become more of a hobby than a practice. Managing my time between life, work and personal projects is a challenge – I think it will always be.
How to learn more about editorial work?
For those hoping to work as an editor or be part of a magazine editorial team in some way, my advice would be to not specialise too soon. That is to say, be open to reading about everything, go to see all sorts of exhibitions, take an interest in all sorts of arts. Though we are a photography magazine, I draw inspiration from many different places: books about food, newspapers, architecture magazines, exhibition catalogues. If you are looking for work experience, try the smaller publications. Often they will have smaller teams that will give you more responsibility and attention over the course of a couple of weeks, compared with a larger title. I interned at one of the most established magazine publishers for a month and produced little more than one Powerpoint presentation.
I am so thrilled that galleries, festivals and face-to-face events are back open. In my opinion this is the best way to meet new people and build connections within your industry and beyond. When I was starting out as an Editorial Assistant, I didn’t know a single person. But by showing up, you never know who you’ll end up sitting next to, or queueing next to. When you start going to more and more of these events, you will likely start to recognise familiar faces too. Say 'yes' to every invitation!
Keep up to date with Izabela's work: