Readers of The New York Times Magazine may never have seen Kathy Ryan, but they have seen her visual influence in its pages.
As the director of photography, Ms. Ryan is responsible for shaping the magazine’s photographic identity by, among other things, commissioning the photographers whose work appears inside the magazine and on its cover. Quickly.
“It’s a weekly magazine, and the stories just keep coming,” she said in a recent interview. “A lot of our creative problem-solving is at an accelerated pace.”
Keeping up requires much planning. Aside from a daily design-photo meeting, Ms. Ryan and her team join a weekly art-direction meeting with Jake Silverstein, the editor in chief; Gail Bichler, the creative director; Bill Wasik, the editorial director; and designers and story editors. Together, they brainstorm, gathering broad strokes from Mr. Silverstein on what he wants the photographic treatments to accomplish in upcoming stories.
Ms. Ryan and her team then choose the photographers “who will bring the best eye to a project, whose vision, passions and life experience will fit well with a certain subject for us,” she said. The right photographic approach to a story — whether it be conceptual, portraiture or documentary reportage — can vary just as greatly as the different subjects the magazine is known for covering. On any given week, Ms. Ryan says, her team might be photographing actors in a studio while also working with a photographer covering the war in Ukraine.
She says that her job today presents different challenges than it did when she started in 1987. She and her team are competing against the cascade of imagery arriving through the phones in people’s pockets every day.
“I feel like we have a responsibility to do something different,” she said. “Anything we can do to make it interesting, provocative, merit a second look, a third look — that’s what we should be doing. Anything but boring.”
Below, read Ms. Ryan’s personal accounts of her approach to some of last year’s most memorable magazine projects. Her responses have been edited and condensed.
Gaining Behind-the-Scenes Access
We had Philip Montgomery photograph the story that looked inside the Jan. 6 committee. Two writers had deeply reported it, and we were going to be making the pictures after the reporting was finished. How do you take a bunch of committee members in meetings and make that look exciting?
Philip went into it with a plan, as he always does. He has perfected a lighting technique that enhances what’s happening and gives …….