By Kendra Hovey
Anna Dickson was a photography student at CCAD when Google first introduced its image search in 2001. She graduated in 2004—the same year Flickr was born. She was at Rolling Stone, both photo assisting and photo editing, when Apple opened its app store in 2008, and by the time the first iPad sold in 2010, she had moved up to photo editor at Clear Channel. Then, in March of 2012, almost eight years out of CCAD, she joined the Huffington Post as photo editor of their weekly iPad magazine, Huffington. That same month, app downloads hit the 25-billion mark.
And why this bit of Internet history? To show that as Anna Dickson climbed the career ladder, her industry was forming beneath her feet.
For the now 31-year-old Dickson, on-the-job training was at times more like on-the-job creating. Hunting for images of, say, an obscure bass player for magazines like Rolling Stone or Guitar One, she developed her own Flickr-based system. “I’d post callouts,” she explains, “and people would send me their photos.”
Tracking down just the right images or the photographers who took them, a process she calls “the hunt,” was a particularly fun part of the job. “The photo is what pulls you into the article,” she says. “It can be heart wrenching, uplifting, joyful, or painful to look at. We support a story visually and can change people’s perceptions, all through a photo.”
As her career and the industry grew, she decided it was time to hone her copyright skills, and in 2010 she took a class on copyright law at New York University. She continues to keep close tabs on congressional talk related to copyright, intellectual property law, and the Internet in general.
Her expertise in rights and licensing, combined with her interest in technology, was key to her recent transition from photo editor to photo director at Huffington Post mere months after being hired. Her work is still found throughout the pages of the digital magazine—chances are she’s had a hand in the cover shoot, as well as the features and Q&A sections—but as director, her responsibilities now extend to the website, where she works with designers and the tech team to keep things running smoothly.
Catch Dickson at work and she can be doing anything from setting up shoots, choosing photographers, and scouting locations to finalizing captions, handling copyright, or doing “selects” from a recent shoot. “No day is the same,” she says. A perfect day, though, would be a day on set. In fact, whether it’s finding the perfect photographer, bouncing around ideas, or directing, she loves the entire shoot process.
She’s proud of the stories, too. “Many of the shoots we’re doing are not celebrities, not politicians, not business people, but regular, everyday people who are giving something back to society,” she says, mentioning in particular a Tampa police officer dedicated to helping the homeless, and a veteran — “a wife, mother, student, volunteer…and inspiration”—who has post-traumatic stress disorder, yet helps other returning vets get their bearings and move past their struggles.
So, with all the changes in her industry, does Dickson still rely on her CCAD education? “Absolutely,” she says. Her expertise with lighting started with Duncan Snyder’s class, and she credits him and Helen Hoffelt with deepening her engagement with imagery.
A seminal moment—which actually spanned an entire semester—was taking a fashion photography class with Scott Cunningham at the same time as a class with Elizabeth Fergus Jean on self. “On one hand I was finding that I had a passion for editorial photography and photographing people, and on the other I was pushed very hard to find my voice,” she says. “Those two classes together put me into a new mindset.”
When asked for advice about her still-evolving industry, Dickson has plenty of wisdom to share. Keep up with the legal landscape, she says, “especially in an environment that changes so frequently.” Research skills are also key: “There are several ways to go about digging for images. You have to be resourceful and think outside the box to get the job done.”
Network, she says, especially with other photo editors, and know who photographers are, where they are shooting, and how their work is progressing. But, most important, stay positive and be friendly: “It’s a tough industry and a small circle, so you don’t want to burn bridges.”
She urges current students to do internships. “You learn what you like and what you don’t and can learn a lot from a professional,” she says. They are harder to come by when you are out of school, so “do it now,” she says. “And if a paper or magazine doesn’t have an intern or a photo department, offer to be that for them.”
Lastly, keep an open mind. Along with persistence and hard work, Dickson says, open-mindedness is a quality the successful seem to share. There is never just one way. She says, “I’ve watched several friends take various paths to get where they are. Some have assisted and moved into solo careers; some have gone the path of commercial photographers and found that their fine art work had much more strength and voice. Some never thought they’d find exactly what they wanted, but persisted until they did. Some moved to big cities expecting their careers to blossom and found that a smaller town really gave them a place to bloom. Some are still working hard to accomplish their goals and growing closer to it every day.”
Many of these friends are ones she made back in school. She says she still has great relationships with people she met at CCAD. She often misses the energy and like-minded dedication and how late nights in the studio or the darkroom never felt like a chore. “We all miss that,” she says, “I think it’s a big reason I keep up with so many people from CCAD.”
To check out the online print version of IMAGE, click here.
Published in print twice a year, CCAD’s IMAGE magazine shares stories about our creative community, whether here in Columbus or around the world—what we’re doing, thinking, and planning next. The IMAGE blog brings those stories online for transmission at the click of a mouse.