CT: I really miss working on a team too. There's something really beautiful and nice about photo editing in that it’s not so individual and solo. Not just the relationship between you and the photographer, but the relationship between you and writers, editors, illustrators, and designers. That was what was most special to me at Businessweek- that team mentality. This isn't Caroline Tompkins photography business. This is a whole other entity that I'm a cog in in a way that I really love. I love that collaboration. It feels distanced in a way that my whole self-esteem doesn't go down if an issue or shoot didn't come out the way intended.
ER: It's nice to be creative within a network of people where you're working towards something. And it's such a different feeling than, as you said, putting out a book of your own photos or sharing something that you've worked on for a long time, that you're the face of.
CT: Vice verses The New Yorker, what parts of you are touched on through these two different publications?
ER: At Vice, because I was the only photo editor, I felt like I was the representative of photography for that publication, and it was super exciting. But also, at times, I felt really overwhelmed and under-qualified, and scared. I often have feelings of imposter syndrome in my work as an editor and a photographer, but I learned so much through that job, and I got to meet and work with so many amazing people. At The New Yorker, I'm working within a whole team of amazing people, and I feel like I have so much support. At The New Yorker, because it's such a literary magazine, I get to work in the same way with more fine art focused photographers and people at different ends of their practice. So my commissioning style hasn’t changed that much. It feels just as experimental and fun.
CT: Can the New Yorker take the same risks that you took at Vice?
ER: Yeah, I think it can. I think a big difference is obviously that The New Yorker will always have illustrated covers, and, at Vice, what people saw was the cover of Vice, who made the cover of Vice, who got their photo on the cover. That was always such an important decision for me, and, in many ways, I can take more risks because there's not that same sort of pressure that comes from a cover.
CT: Just the commission's I've seen that you've posted, especially the fiction stuff, it does seem like it really reflects you having actual time to work on something. Whereas at Vice, I thought, I have no idea how you would have that job— it just seems so crazy, like so much to do.
ER: Yeah, haha. At Vice, because of the singular photo role, I was pulled in a lot of different directions. Whereas at The New Yorker, my role as Senior Photo Editor is on the print side with contributions to Photobooth. Currently, I work a lot on the fiction section, which lends itself to so much experimentation in terms of the photographers. It allows photographers to really work within their own style because that's how I make my commission choices for the stories. I'll read a story, and the story will guide me on what kind of work I feel aligns with it and what photographers I think will really bring something aligned with the tone of the story. I think fiction is such a great space for photography. It’s really endless inspiration for me, and I think photographers getting to think outside of how they tell their stories and to interpret somebody else's is always really fun.
But I want to know, and I can answer this too, but what are your current personal projects? I've just been seeing your amazing commissions and I'm a superfan. I just think you're so versatile. Obviously, I know what a Caroline Tompkins photo looks like but I feel like I could throw you into any situation and I know you'd come out with a really unique perspective. I feel like a lot of your art is in commissions right now, so I'm curious what personal projects are inspiring you in that space?