Aline Manoukian, 2011 © Yan Morvan
Aline Manoukian is a passionaria. Seductive, voluptuous, she has been basking in the world of photography since her teenage years and defends the profession ardently. Aline Manoukian is a photo editor. Since 2010 she is the chairwoman of ANI, (Association National des Iconographe) the French photo-editors’ association, an organisation that she defends with the all her might.
After studying the history of photography is California in the early 80s, she decides to move back to Lebanon, her native country. She works as a photographer for The Daily Star before joining Reuters Pictures in Beirut where she later becomes bureau chief. During that period, (1984 to 1989) she continues to photograph the Lebanese civil war.
At the end of the war, she settles in Paris and becomes a member of the Rapho agency before deciding to devote her time to raise her child. Upon her comeback a few years later, things have changed. Aline doesn’t have the means to acquire digital equipment, she become a photo-editor.
Tell us about the profession of a photo-editor.
Aline Manoukian: Behind a photo editor, there is a vast general knowledge and genuine photographic culture. In French we use the word “iconographe” which means “writing with images”, we tell the story with images. Today not only our profession is in danger but also that of directors of photo departments in magazines who are replaced by Art Directors or even layout artists. Apart from a few major magazines and newspapers, the lack of a director of the photo department is one of the reasons for the deterioration in quality. Titles are important in terms of respect and credibility. Who is going to defend a photo essay, an image or a photographer’s work during editorial meetings ? An art director judges the image by its graphic quality not by its editorial value. We, picture editors are often called to participate in editorial meetings, but only to take notes of a pre-determined content and are asked to search for images according to their needs. We are rarely asked to express our opinion.
Magazines complain of a reduced budget. They hardly ever give assignments to photographers anymore. Quality and exclusivity are no longer a criteria. We are heading rapidly toward a preference for low-cost image agencies.
I work as a freelancer for several magazines. I was once asked to prepare 3 envelopes of photographs of a well-known personality. The first with free images, the second with “low-cost” images and the 3rd one with “expensive” meaning the normal price. This is outrageous. They asked me to make packages for them to chose from, not a research.
How do you describe the situation of young photographers today ?
Aline Manoukian: Obviously difficult to say the very least. Not only their photo essays are rarely published, but even their parallel commercial work is compromised. To give you an example, when a young photographer travelled to a given country, he/she also shot “stock” images. Those would sell for a long time and of course paid according to the size of publication and the number of issues of a magazine. Which meant that images that could be considered banal, could nonetheless provide a non-negligible income which not only allowed them to survive but also to continue to produce photo-essays. Today this system is over and done with. Clients use low-cost found in factory agencies such as Fotolia.
In this evolution, can you see any positive aspects ?
Aline Manoukian: For the sake of optimism in the midst of this turmoil I would like to believe that only the most passionate and determined professionals will carry on. I have also noticed that the relations between the protagonists have become more cordial and friendly. Since we are all in the same boat or ejectable seats, the big heads have practically disappeared. A transition period is always dangerously exciting. I hope that together we will be able to guide the profession in the good direction.
Which image will you chose in order to illustrate this interview ?
Aline Manoukian: A photograph that moves me deeply… The one by Tom Stoddart of a woman amputated of both legs, sitting on a low bench with her arms wide open to a child running toward her. It is one of the most powerful images that I have seen in the past few decades. When we are unable to think of bringing out this picture when the occasion of a publication is presented, well, that is truly a pity. We cannot find this photo by typing key words, it will not appear by chance, one must know it.