As a year of worldwide restrictions on international travel resulting from the Covid-19 outbreak has profoundly impacted the editorial world, freelancers, journalists and photographers alike have had to reinvent and rethink their career paths and choices. Albeit challenging – it’s a necessary task to re-evaluate our former fast-paced and cosmopolitan lifestyles.
For Pauline Magnenat, the launch of Rocket Science – an editorial magazine grown into a photography agency – marks an exciting step for the 32-year-old creative photography consultant towards new possibilities within the editorial industry. Rocket Science represents a repertoire of diverse photographers, who work locally in all corners of the world, and shares a platform with Rocket Science Magazine.
Since its founding in 2016, Rocket Science Magazine has published nine issues featuring editorials and interviews with contemporary photographers such as Alec Soth and Caroline Tompkins. The Geneva-born founder started out as a BA Photography student at London’s Camberwell College of Arts and dabbled around interviewing photographers for her then-Tumblr blog before diving into freelance journalism full-time. Her dedication to Rocket Science and positive change results from a decade-long involvement in the photography and publishing industry which exhibited many frustrations about low-paid commissions and lack of diversity and equality.
Wanting to find a balance between keeping the established content from years of editorial work and introducing the new agency, Magnenat launched a combined format that celebrates photographers’ professional and personal work. From captivating and authentic editorials by photographers such as Bettina Pittaluga and Juan Brenner to insightful and entertaining interviews with photography directors such as Emma Bowkett and Jaqueline Bates.
We chatted to Pauline Magnenat about the launch of the new multifaceted website, her core values and what she hopes for Rocket Science to achieve in the future.
What are your core values at Rocket Science?
Something that is really important for me and Rocket Science is that people need to be close to the storytelling and people need to commission people who are the right person for the story and I think Covid put a sort of wrapping paper around everything because you can’t fly out people as easily. What bugged me when I was looking at photo agencies’ websites is that people are in three of four different cities max. you have someone in London, you have someone in Paris, you have someone in New York, if you’re lucky you have somebody in LA but it’s not very creative.
The core values at Rocket Science are that you can actually commission someone in Brazil – photographers are there, the talent is there. You don’t need to fly someone from New York or from Los Angeles to go shoot in those communities and those streets and I think there’s a fear in a lot of art directors that the talent might not be there or that it’s safer to play the traditional card but it’s not right. For me what’s important is that people tell the stories that they feel attached to and that they are allowed to tell and it doesn’t matter where you are or who you are.
For me what’s important is that people tell the stories that they feel attached to and that they are allowed to tell and it doesn’t matter where you are or who you are.
What do you look for when commissioning new photographers?
The initial roster that we are starting the agency with is really my dream roster. For me what’s important is I want nice people, I want people who have nice values who are just nice to work with, who have good intentions, who are happy to be helping each other out when needed, who are happy to share knowledge. I have people in Los Angeles – they don’t expect me to fly them to Mexico if someone’s in Mexico, it’s really people who understand the values, who share the values. In terms of the kind of work, it’s people who develop personal work, who put their hearts out to make beautiful personal series. I think what people are really interested in both ends of the hiring process is personal work.
What are some obstacles you have encountered working in photography in the past?
For me, the obstacle is always to be able to negotiate and to be able to not settle and I think my fatigue with the photo industry and especially the publishing industry and the editorial photography world is that the budgets are so low. I think that if I didn’t have that goal of rethinking and reinventing Rocket Science I don’t know if I would have continued working in the photo editorial world but I was privileged enough to be able to study, to have a network and make contacts and that’s something I’m very aware of.
Something that I’ve noticed when I’m doing consulting work or when I’m talking with photographers is that 99% of the time when women photographers are offered a budget or are asked to work for free, they will always consider it however small the budget is. They will always think that they should do that thing one time for free because otherwise, people would think that I’m difficult, and I think for male photographers it doesn’t cross their minds. That is something I completely did myself – especially when you’re starting out and you’re young and you don’t want to miss out on the opportunities. I can assure you no male photographers have ever encountered worries about being considered difficult and I think that’s probably one of the main obstacles that I’ve had to face.
Women will always think that they should do that thing one time for free because otherwise, people would think that they’re difficult, and I think for male photographers it doesn’t cross their minds.
What do you hope for Rocket Science to achieve in the future?
The photo agency is one thing and the magazine is one thing but together they share the same values and I’m hoping it can be a place where people can honestly share their experience, their thoughts, their doubts, their advice and it’s not a matter of how old you are or how experienced you are. One of the features in the magazine that people relate to the most is called Money Talks in which two people discuss their careers and I always insist on having people who are friends because it’s the only way to have an honest conversation. It’s a safe place for people to share their experience and thoughts and there’s no judgement at all.
I think when people read that someone they consider a ‘dream’ photographer is actually doing shit for money but they don’t show it around it actually takes so much weight off a 21 or 22 year old who feels that they [have to have] the perfect portfolio with only cool brands, cool people, cool commissions. No one is producing exclusively ‘cool’ work, you know, everyone’s doing some shit for money. It’s 2021, the budgets are so low in like 90% of the commissions that you get, there’s no shame in working. It’s important to read that there’s more to it than that and what you see is not necessarily what people are doing all the time.
No one is producing exclusively ‘cool’ work, you know, everyone’s doing some shit for money. It’s 2021, the budgets are so low in like 90% of the commissions that you get, there’s no shame in working.
What advice would you give to young prospective photographers or anyone starting in this industry?
I would say know your own worth and don’t doubt it. Don’t hesitate to say no. Reach out to people that you admire and that you look up to. I think there’s a barrier that is natural to have when you are young and starting out but it’s quite a nice and inclusive community and it can always do better and be more inclusive, more helpful but I think you’d be surprised how many people are willing to respond and take some time off and help and it’s something that I wish I had known way earlier. Don’t think that the doors will be closed forever.
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