Shortlist Emerges in ‘NY Times’ Photo Director Search

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By: Jay DeFoore

(Photo District News) David Hume Kennerly, Sally Stapleton, Michel duCille and Kenny Irby have been tipped as potential candidates to take over the director of photography position at The New York Times. David Frank, the acting DOP, is also being considered.

The position, widely considered one of the most demanding jobs in the industry, was vacated in October when Jim Wilson took a leave of absence and then formally resigned the position in January to return to photography. Since then, Frank, deputy director of photography, has taken over Wilson’s duties.

Filling the position is not a top priority, Times insiders say, because Executive Editor Bill Keller is said to be focused primarily on filling other editorial positions at the paper. Conversations have begun, however, and despite the newspaper’s attempts to keep the procedure quiet, word is starting to leak out.

When asked to comment, Keller sent the following statement via e-mail: “We’ve been moving purposefully in the search for a new Director of Photography, because we see this as an important opportunity to assure that photojournalism secures its rightful stature at The Times. [Managing editors] Jill Abramson, John Geddes and I have all been involved, interviewing extensively within the department to educate ourselves about its needs, and looking at possible candidates inside and outside the paper. We are looking for someone with superb management skills, strong creative leadership, and a kind of missionary zeal for original, arresting news and feature photography. We’ve made considerable headway, but we — on the advice of people in the department — are taking enough time to make sure we get it right.”

That said, many in the industry believe the current leadership at the Times has not yet articulated a clear role for photography at the paper. Keller is seen as a brilliant executive, but neither he nor his deputy managing editors, Abramson and Geddes, have much of a background in visual journalism. Abramson and Geddes both come from The Wall Street Journal, a paper that up until two years ago didn’t even have a photo editor.

Compare that with the legacy of former executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd, who lead the paper to win two Pulitzers for photography in 2002, and one can understand the prevailing skepticism both inside and outside the paper. Under Raines, photos ran bigger and the photo department began to take a more active role in the paper’s planning and decision-making.

That reportedly didn’t sit well with some writers at the paper, and insiders now believe certain factions may be lobbying for a return to when word editors had ultimate control over the choice and display of photos.

Here’s a look at the initial list of candidates:

Acting director of photography David Frank is well-liked among the paper’s staff photographers and is considered a formidable candidate for the job. An appointment of Frank wouldn’t upset the rank and file and would provide the smoothest transition. Frank declined to comment, but sources say he is interested in the job. In his nearly two-decade career at the paper, Frank has held a variety of positions, including weekend picture editor, assignment editor and director of picture desk technology.

Photographer David Hume Kennerly won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for his coverage of Vietnam. He is currently a contributing editor at Newsweek, and recently covered the New Hampshire primaries and California’s recall election. Kennerly admits he’s had “high level discussions” with Times editors after being approached about the job, but he says no offer has been made.

“I think The New York Times is certainly one of the premiere picture publications in the world and they have an incredibly talented staff,” Kennerly says. “If one thing led to another, I could see myself [taking the job].”

After 40 years of being a photographer, Kennerly says the drive to shoot pictures on a daily basis has subsided somewhat, and the timing is right for him to take on such a job. That said, the appointment, were it offered, would require Kennerly to uproot his family and leave behind the comforts of the West Coast.

“I live in California and right now I’m looking out my window at the Pacific Ocean,” Kennerly says. “You don’t get that kind of view on 43rd Street.”

Sally Stapleton, who spent more than a decade at the Associated Press, resigned from her position as executive photo editor in December when she was passed over for promotion. As manager of AP’s international photo coverage, Stapleton recruited some of AP’s top photographers from Latin America and Africa. Her efforts also contributed to AP’s many Pulitzer Prizes for photography in recent years. But Stapleton’s aggressive management style earned her few allies among AP’s staffers. Stapleton could not be reached for comment.

Although he was spotted visiting the Times building in the last couple of weeks, Washington Post Photo Editor Michel duCille is an unlikely candidate. The two-time Pulitzer winner and current Pulitzer judge did not return calls requesting comment, but duCille’s boss, Joe Elbert, dismissed the rumors outright.

Kenny Irby is the visual journalism group leader at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. Irby is a writer, teacher and consultant whose areas of expertise include photojournalism, leadership, ethics and newsroom diversity. Before joining Poynter, Irby worked as a photographer and deputy director of photography at Newsday of Melville, N.Y., and as a photographer and assistant photo editor at The Oakland (Calif.) Press.

Irby says he’s had “conversations” with top editors about the job, which he characterized more as a consultation than an interview. “It never hurts to talk,” he says.

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