New Yorker Magazine visual editor Elizabeth Biondi said she decided to wear a red sweater Wednesday because she thought it would lighten the mood of a rainy day.
Biondi discussed her passion for aesthetics before an audience of about 45 students and faculty at an Ezra Stiles College Master’s Tea on Wednesday. Biondi, who has worked with the New Yorker for nine years, said that even though she is not a photographer or illustrator herself, she enjoys her position as visual editor because it gives her the power to organize images in a text-heavy publication. During the tea, Biondi presented a series of slides and discussed the slow introduction of photography to the New Yorker magazine, which once only featured illustration.
The first issue of the New Yorker came out in 1925 and was comprised of only words and illustrations, Biondi said. It was only in 1992, she said, that the magazine published its first non-advertisement photograph, which was taken by renowned photographer Richard Avedon.
“The New Yorker is driven by words,” she said. “It always has been and always will.”
Biondi, who began her career in the visual arts without prior experience or formal education, said Avedon was “a classic photographer with a twist,” whose emotive photographs featured famous actors and dancers in active poses.
“He was an inspiration,” she said. “He set the tone for the publication with his photography.”
Biondi showed the audience a series of pictures taken by Avedon and many of his successors, all of whom showed a similar classical style. The photographs were selected from various issues of the New Yorker over the last decade and included portraits of people, landscape shots and images of historical events taken by photographers including Max Vadukul, Robert Polidori, Gille Peress and Martin Schroeder.
The New Yorker does not publish photos that are digitally enhanced, Biondi said.
“Our photography is based on content,” Biondi said. “We visualize our stories … Pictures are never arbitrary. They are always based on fact.”
Some audience members asked Biondi about how she chooses images to match with essays. Biondi said essays about abstract ideas or concepts are better supplemented with illustrations.
“Not everything lends itself to photography,” she said.
Audience members said they enjoyed Biondi’s presentation, though some said they thought the talk was somewhat unfocused.
Kathleen Koch ’08 said she was surprised to learn that, as a visual editor, Biondi does not take photographs herself. Koch said she was impressed by the thought process involved in choosing what type of image to run with a given story.
“I thought it was interesting to learn what gets a photograph and what gets an illustration,” she said.
Sochie Nnaemeka ’09 said she was moved by Biondi’s presentation, though the editor seemed at times distracted by tangential thoughts.
“What touched me the most was her passion,” Nnaemeka said. “It was amusing to see her go in a daze because that really showed her passion as well. She stressed the importance of experience over education.”
Nnaemeka said she was impressed that Biondi has accomplished so much without a formal education in her field.
“It kind of makes you question, what are we doing here?” Nnaemeka said.
Biondi said that while she has worked at a number of different publications ranging from glamour magazines to other literary magazines, she does not intend to leave the New Yorker.