Why Editorial Works: Ackerman + Gruber for The Wall Street Journal

By Conor Risch

© ackerman + gruber
Roman Tritz, photographed by Tim Gruber and Jenn Ackerman for The Wall Street Journal, heads toward the King Street Kitchen, which he’s visited everyday for more than 30 years

It's no secret that budgets for editorial photography are often slim, deadlines are frequently tight and subjects can be less than accommodating. Yet the creative freedom, challenges, experiences and opportunities to make great pictures offer photographers something they can't get from any other type of work. In this series of articles about editorial photography, which originally appeared in the June Photo Annual issue of PDN, photographers talk about what made their favorite editorial jobs great, and about what editorial work means to them. Use the below links to read other articles in this series:
Why Editorial Works: Jamie Chung for Document Journal
Why Editorial Works: Kareem Black for VIBE
Why Editorial Works: Brian Finke for National Geographic
Why Editorial Works: Flora Hanitijo for Port

One of the most exciting things was just this idea of the unknown,” says Tim Gruber of a recent assignment for The Wall Street Journal. He and his wife and partner, Jenn Ackerman, were commissioned to capture photographs and video of Roman Tritz, a 90-year-old World War II veteran who is one of 2,000 soldiers given lobotomies by the U.S. government in an attempt to cure their post-war mental illnesses.

Tritz lives alone in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and doesn’t have a telephone, so Ackerman, Gruber and writer Michael M. Phillips went to his house without knowing how he’d react to them being there. (Phillips had sent him an overnight letter in advance, but otherwise there was no communication, Gruber recalls.) “One of the more exciting things about editorial work is it allows you to be curious,” Gruber says. “There are all these possibilities before the shoot and you’re not quite sure what you’re walking into.”

The photographs, which were featured in the print edition of The Wall Street Journal and in a multimedia digital presentation, depict Tritz in quiet moments at home; eating alone at a restaurant he’s gone to everyday for more than 30 years; and visiting a VA hospital. The video footage of Tritz became part of a short documentary film for the story’s digital package, in which he talks about his lobotomy and experiences since.

Their editor for the assignment, Matthew Craig, told them he wanted photos and video that were “full of emotion and mood” that conveyed some sense of the life Tritz lives, alone and still very paranoid. Otherwise he gave them free rein.

With “commercial or ad work it comes with a higher price tag, but most likely you’re giving up a great deal of creative freedom,” Gruber says. “We love editorial work because we get all of this creative freedom to go out and almost treat every assignment as if it was a shoot just for us.” Often editorial work will end up in their quarterly promo newsletters, or they will print a postcard about the assignment and send it out, Gruber says.

He also notes that there is “a lot less hassle in editorial work,” including back and forth with clients. “We love just being out and creating. We spend too much time behind our computers as it is.”

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PDN July 2014



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