Interview: Geordie Wood

August 03 2014

For those in creative pursuits, it can be either a dream or nightmare to balance personal work with more professional, stable employment. Geordie Wood, Photo Director at The FADER, manages to gracefully hold onto both. For the uninitiated, The FADER is an NYC-based music publication that also focuses on art, culture, and style.

As Photo Director, Wood has had a strong influence on the general style and feel of the photographs that have grace the magazine’s covers and pages for the past several years. It helps to know that he’s also shot quite a few of those covers and stories as well. He manages to balance his work at The FADER with his own personal editorial work, shooting portraits for other ‘zines and lookbooks for brands like the Need Supply-endorsed Études. We spoke with the humble and engaging Wood at length about his professional journey and passion for people.

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While Wood has shot portraits of high-level subjects like A$AP Rocky, King Krule, Lana Del Ray and others, he has had a deserving self-carved path ending with his current level of success in photography. Born and raised in the suburbs outside Boston, Massachusetts, his surroundings were in his words: “pretty white bread and all that jazz.” Like many photographers, his first camera came from his parents. Wood’s father was always tooling around with a Pentax camera and other 35mm, and it eventually wore off on him.

Later, working with a local photographer opened up a lot of doors in Wood’s mind about what his passions would be. After high school, Wood made his way to Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School, where he initially pursued documentary photography and later graduated with a hybrid degree that also focused on fine art photography.

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Wood eventually found himself moving to NYC in 2008. The FADER came into play due to his freelance work: “They actually gave me my first shoot ever. Over the years, I kept shooting for them in varied capacities. I became close with the photo editor before me—he decided to leave and I was one of the few people who was told about it and was asked to send around the job description to some folks.”

“I got the email, sent it around to a bunch of people, and said something like: ‘Hey, it’s been real man, maybe I’ll apply for this job—that would be crazy huh?’ Something along those lines. He wrote me back and said: ‘You should really apply, it could be a good fit.’ I was pretty taken aback. I applied and went through a bunch of interviews. The Editor-in-Chief at the time [Matthew Schnipper] called me and he offered me the job. I said: ‘Hell yeah.’”

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After initially applying for the job, Wood was in the midst of planning a month-long trip to India. Not hearing back from the powers-that-be at the magazine after going through interviews in the weeks running up to the trip, he shot them a courtesy email saying: “I’m going to India tomorrow…just a heads up if you want to reach out to me.”

Shortly after sending the email, Wood got the call from Schnipper offering the job. Elated, Wood then set off across the world the following day. It actually served as a perfect time for reflection: “I went to India, and totally disconnected and had a ton of time to think about everything. I got back a month later, and the following day I started.”

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Not only did Wood have a new job at a magazine that he loved, but he also had a unique arrangement with them. He actually operates on a part-time basis, initially on his suggestion: “When they offered me the job, I said, ‘I’m excited, but I’m a photographer first and foremost. I want to do this but maintain my practice and other clients.’”

Operating out of the office once week for editorial meetings, Wood also heads in more frequently when they’re closing an upcoming issue. “Other than that, I’m pretty much on my own [at home] and working as a professional photographer. I come home at night and spend a shitload of time on my laptop banging out the magazine [laughs].”

“It’s a very interesting balance to do these two things. It is a shock to suddenly be a photo editor and learn what that means—to have that kind of commitment in my life that is different than it was before. It’s the best of both words—macro level magazine work that consists of creative curating, thinking about the design, layout and etc., while still getting to focus on being a photographer and making great pictures.”

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Luckily for Wood, the team he found himself working with was supportive and made sure he felt comfortable. Knowing many of them already from his freelance work certainly helped, but it was also a turning of the table to suddenly be the photo editor. His primary objective was now making sure the photographers he was working with were set up to succeed: “One mystery behind photo editing, and probably any kind of editing and writing, is the production—making sure you’re putting people in positions that really foster creativity.”

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“[For photographers] we mainly use local people—usually folks from around the world. My job could be finding someone in Glasgow, Scotland or the middle of Australia—typically a lot of up-and-coming photographers. The photograph that looks the best on the page is the product of the artist being really excited. I work with a lot of young people who want to push it, go hard, and are eager.”

When we asked him about a particular shoot or single photograph that had the best story behind it, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that it didn’t involve one of the many celebrities he has shot over the years. Instead, it came from a photo he took on a trip across Northern India after an assignment.

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“One of my favorite portraits was made in Bhubaneswar, India. It’s of two boys, presumably partners, laying in the grass together. After finishing a magazine assignment two years ago trekking across Northern India, I stayed with my friend Jake for a few extra days to make pictures on our own. I found these guys laying in a park late one afternoon; the weather was easily over 110 degrees Fahrenheit and they were in the shade.”

“We couldn’t even communicate that much. I guess the image has always stuck with me because it marked the end of this epic journey. But also because it exemplifies the kind of photographs that I love, the ones that are subtle, tender and intimate. It was a special moment and I still love the image today.”

We talked to Wood about what he likes most about knowing that photography is both his personal passion and part of his professional life. Like many others, travel has had a huge influence on him, as well as removing himself from the insular bubble that was his hometown. Getting to meet the people that he shoots—whether they’re old friends, up-and-coming musicians, or strangers on the streets of NYC—is what drives him. Wood was able to put it simply—that it all comes down to the people in the end.

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“Photography is really about people and interactions. That’s why I got into it and that’s why I’m still here. The quality of experiences and people in my life would be so far diminished if I didn’t have the excuse of a camera to walk into the homes and worlds of people and talk [about their lives].”

“I photograph everyone from dudes on the street to high-falutin’ lawyers and politicians [laughs]. It’s an experience with humanity and understanding the world through the people that are out there. I love pictures too, making prints and all that stuff—but it really comes down to people. It sounds super-cheesy, but it really is the truth. I care about people in the world, and maybe photography is just an excuse to do all that stuff.”

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Austin Bryant is a freelance writer based in Boston, MA. Follow him on Instagram.

Lead photo credit: Jake Stangel.