ï»¿Some of the inner workings of The New Yorker's Fiction department were revealed at a panel discussion held last week at Steven Kesher Gallery with four of the company's veterans. The panel, made up of Editor Deborah Treisman, Visuals Editor Elisabeth Biondi, A.M. Homes, and photographer Malerie Marder, spoke largely about the relationship between images and content.
From Editor Deborah Treisman, we learned that unlike the art work in the Readings section of Harper's (or the poetry and cartoons in TNY's own pages), art work in her department is chosen specifically to complement the mood or setting of a short story. Editors are nevertheless careful not to describe the photographs as illustrations; if figures in a photograph might be taken for characters in the story they're accompanying, they choose a different picture.
The connection between a story and an image is meant to be loose—but not too loose. Interestingly enough, The New Yorker's fact-checker responsibilities extend even to the art work that accompanies their short stories. A story set in Switzerland or Bolivia can't accompany pictures from the seaside, and characters who all live in India shouldn't be situated beside street signs in Malay.
As for how the relationships between narratives and pictures evolve, while art work is generally chosen to accompany a story, the process sometimes occurs in reverse. For example, art critic and fiction writer A.M. Homes based her story “Raft in Water, Floating” on Malerie Marder's photograph “Untitled” (1998).
When the two appeared side by side in the June 21, 1999 issue, I recall liking the picture so much that I thought of mounting it on the wall. I'm not sure how common this impulse is, but the fact that a show based on this very idea exists suggests I might not have been alone. Though disappointingly short (just under an hour) the panel gave me a little more insight on an editorial process that so frequently evokes such reactions.
New Yorker Fiction / Real Photography will be on display at Steven Kasher Gallery through July 9th.