Daylight Dialogues X Lucy Pike

WeTransfer is a file sharing platform that started in 2009. The company donates 30% of its advertising space to showing creative work. WePresent is an editorial arm of the company that showcases longer form projects and partners with artists and organizations to commission original work. 

Lucy Pike is the Picture Editor at WeTransfer and helped to build out its award-winning WePresent platform which reaches three million readers every month. She also works as a brand consultant to help companies shape content strategy and find their voice at Justified Studio

 

The work on WePresent is so diverse and broad. Is there an overarching creative direction when it comes to the type of work that you seek to highlight?

 

I always ask myself how a project fits to our tagline, “unexpected stories about creativity.” This really helps me to challenge myself to see how, photographically, we can bring something to the audience that feels new. What’s great about this line is that it molds itself into two ways. The first is finding a story that feels new and fresh that we’d like to tell, for example we’ve recently featured Olgaç Bozalp. We talked to him about a personal project where he photographs his dad when they travel together, and we discussed the relationship between them. The second is focusing on the photographer as a creative doing unexpected things. For example, with Renell Medrano, we felt that she is a really exciting photographer and wanted to be able to work with her and support her on a totally new project.

 

We’ve worked with artists from 85 countries around the world, and we want to show the varied interpretations of what creativity means irrespective of where you live. I always keep in mind that we have to show lots of different styles of photography to appeal to lots of different people. That’s a great challenge to have as a visual curator because you have to push the boundaries of your own personal preference or taste to something that fits for a large audience. We want to help find something that’s unexpected that they wouldn’t usually see in their day-to-day lives.

How many people make up the team there? 

 

We have a team of seven full-time staff that work on WePresent. On photography is me, and I work predominantly with our commissioning editor Suzanne [Tromp] who oversees the visual side of WePresent and also looks after all of our illustrations. I’m very lucky that all the team have an interest in photography which is great when it comes to brainstorms or curation meetings. We encourage each other to bring any projects we’ve liked, so it means I can find new work and photographers through them too.

Where else do you discover new photographers?

 

A mix of Instagram, photography publications like Splash and Grab, or PH Museum, and I look at what is being featured at photography festivals and platforms like Women Photograph and Thursday's Child to name a few!

Can anyone pitch a project? Does it function much like a magazine in that you take pitches to the editors or does the photo team have some autonomy in pushing projects through? 

 

The content strategy we created has three streams of work:

1. We feature work that is already out there and interview the artists on WePresent. In return for them letting us feature them we show their work on the WeTransfer backgrounds and drive traffic to their site. For this we have a monthly meeting where we all bring projects that we’ve found. We also set ourselves challenges like finding a project in a country we’ve never featured or work that uses different, non-traditional materials. We select around 7 artists a month and choose these as a team.

 

2. We operate more like a traditional magazine. We come together as a team and discuss projects that have come in from a writer or photographer as well as pitching our own ideas. Generally then Holly [Fraser, Editor-in-chief] and Liv [TK, Story Editor], with the team, will select the projects we are excited about. On average, we have about 5 of these a month. Some stories that have come out of this are the plastic food story with ​Marco Arguello​ and ​Flo Ngala's​ about photographing Cardi B.

3. Each year we select around 4 photographers to work with on a personal project they’ve wanted to do, for example with Renell [Medrano] we did an exhibition in London in February showing her work. For this, I work with Holly and Suzanne and usually present photographers that I’m excited about to then see how we can work together. Some other work that’s come from this has been Catherine Hyland, Clémentine Schneidermann, and Tyler Mitchell.

 

In terms of photography and the team in general, we trust what everyone’s speciality is. If I’m really passionate about a project, I think the team would recognize that. I definitely have a lot of freedom to bring new ideas to commissions which I’m very fortunate to have. Similar to this, you have to trust the photographers you work with, and that freedom can give you the best work. Whether it’s a commission or personal project, I will always try and make the best page and story on WePresent, but I believe it’s not about having strict briefs that can take away from their creativity, I believe that you have to trust in the photographers style and their passion for the story which will make them much more excited about the project.

Something I saw after joining WeTransfer and creating the photography strategy was that, in the photography industry, it was really hard for photographers to make time and find financial support to create personal projects. I think it’s important for creatives to work on these stories to continue to develop their style and to learn about themselves. We’ve seen that working with artists in this way has been a unique way of working for everyone involved. Not just us at WePresent, but also the photographers, musicians, and artists. ​FKA Twigs​ and ​Edel Rodriguez are two great examples of these types of projects​.

I love the conversations between artists and curators, etc. Who is behind those choices? Are you choosing the folks for that or are those pitches as well?

 

I think we’ve always loved this format! We’ve seen that the connection between two people who have worked together or have admiration for one another creates a special interaction. I have to say my favorite project that we used this idea for was between ​Ryan McGinley and Kathy Ryan [Director of Photography, New York Times Magazine]​, reading through the piece you can understand Kathy’s deep knowledge of Ryan’s work linking it back to his childhood and how religion has a huge effect on his upbringing and therefore work. You can tell Ryan is open and honest with Kathy and I just found it such an inspiring conversation.

In the team we try and always bring this dynamic together or even sometimes ask for suggestions from the artist, as I think they know who understands their work or who has been around for big moments in their career.

Why is showing creative work important to WeTransfer's overall brand identity?

 

It has always been there from the beginning, and it has been fantastic to see how we can build that up. We’ve always given the wallpaper impressions to artists from the start, the idea being that the people who were using WeTransfer were creative and therefore wanted to see creative work. That then was built into a Wordpress blog where we told the stories behind the wallpapers and now is WePresent. I think we have seen that user loyalty and brand affiliation comes from a company doing something that you love or find helpful. Our aim is to always bring inspiration to the people using WeTransfer and reading WePresent, and I think it creates this lovely full circle approach.

 

Do the amount of views and audience engagement influence what projects get made? What is the hope for how viewers engage with the site?

 

I think having the mix of the different projects above is really the key. The content strategy has always had multiple streams because we want to give our audience a taste of different things: artists that they’ve never seen before, stories they’ve never heard about, and new work by artists that they love. In terms of audience engagement, I think for us, we hope, in this digital age, to always make stories that are interesting on screen, that give you a new way of consuming a photo or music story, and that, ultimately, people want to share with their friends.

It's hard for me to imagine an American-based company giving 30% of its advertisting real estate to creative projects like WeTransfer does. Do you think it's a uniquely European phenomenon? 

 

I don't think it's simply a European thing but based on the value system of the company. Look at what someone like Ben & Jerry’s or Patagonia have been doing in terms of championing environmental issues or racial justice. You have to be authentic. You have to believe in what you do, and you have to actively support what you believe in, not just in a single moment, but as part of the core of your business. Staying silent on important issues is no longer an option, and I'm glad that companies are being scrutinized, because it leads to progress and change. WeTransfer has always supported the creative community through our wallpapers and the work that we do. It's a cornerstone of who we are as a company.

Does WeTransfer see these projects as branded content? 

 

I think the difference with branded content as we know it and what WePresent does is that we’re not actively trying to sell our product with our stories. We genuinely believe in being a creative outlet that can inspire and enable, as that is part of the DNA of WeTransfer. And if you look at some of the work we have done, ​Riz Ahmed’s film The Long Goodbye​ for example, it is a powerful piece as a conversation starter and leads to a broader discussion about how we create culture today. We want to be part of those conversations and believe in creating and commissioning work that lives beyond just words on a page. Content isn’t made to promote WeTransfer but we see it as- you’re inspired by something on WePresent, you create something because of that, which ultimately you send via WeTransfer. It’s a creative cycle.

 

In this time of consumers demanding that the companies they patronize have a moral and ethical viewpoint, is this the clearest way to build loyalty?

 

I think people are expecting more now, which is an exciting time for a brand, but, again, only if it’s authentic. You have to look at what your company and consumers stand for and understand your unique position. We have seen brands have marketing activations around, for example, International Women’s Day, but what people are now demanding is real change. If you are supporting a campaign like that but not paying your staff equally or having women in senior positions, it is becoming unacceptable.

 

Have you always pushed to show work by underrepresented artists and has WeTransfer as a company supported this practice?

I’m very proud to say that I’ve been working in a team that has always felt that representation is not only important but necessary to tell new and interesting stories and foster a global perspective. Suzanne leads our diversity. We check in on countries we’ve featured and gender splits as well as representing a range of different voices with LGBTQ, disabled, and BIPOC artists. This is always something you have to prioritize in curation meetings- pushing your team to search for new voices and stories. We have to actively think and look outside of our own echo chambers - the world is bigger than just a few points of view which we’ve seen in culture for far too long.

 

Lead photograph by David Uzochukwu