Exclusive: Behind the Scenes of Vice Magazine’s Photo Issue


Jesse Pearson is the editor of Vice Magazine. He’s also incredibly nice for hopping on the phone with us just two hours before Vice has a show opening at New York’s Spencer Brownstone Gallery. The 2009 Vice Magazine Photography Exhibition features work from Terry Richardson, Ryan McGinley, Tim Barber, and a host of other art world stars, all pulled from their annual Photo Issue, which is on stands now.

Flavorpill: How do you guys go about selecting who is going to be involved with the Photo Issue each year?

Jesse Pearson: The photo department right now is basically just me. A couple of other people give input, but we don’t have a photo editor per se — I kind of handle both. In terms of what goes in, there are always the people who we work with a lot who I go to and say, “OK, what do you have that’s new?” They’ll show me some projects and tell me some ideas they’ve been thinking about doing. Sometimes the shape of the issue will come out of what some of my favorite contributors tell me or show me. Throughout the year I’m also keeping my eye out for new photographers, younger kids and stuff like that.

But then there’s always a larger agenda with the Photo Issue. This year the goal was to do nothing but portraits. Every photo has a person in it and is a portrait in some way or another. In past years we’ve had more heavy news stories split down the middle with beauty, fashion, portraits, and art.

FP: What was the thought process behind that?

JP: It was kind of about doing the opposite of what people expected us to do this year. For the last couple of issues, it was a 50/50 split between newsy photo journalism and art or fashiony kind of stuff. I figured people would be expecting the photojournalism again, and I for one was tired of that while I was putting this together. I just wanted something that was kind of beautiful to look at. There’s a lot of nudity in the issue, which is always something we tend to default to as well.

FP: Does every image from the issue make it into the gallery show?

JP: No, the gallery is a selection. For most of the artists, there is only one piece. Terry Richardson has the entire back room with a special project. It’s most of his photos from the issue, and then a couple of life-size cutouts of him and the guy he posed with — G. Bone. People can pose with the cutouts and have their portrait taken with them. It’s really funny.

FP: Is there anyone up and coming in the issue that we should all know about?

JP: There’s this British kid, Jamie Taete. Actually, he changed his name to Jamie Lee Curtis Taete. That’s his legal name now. He’s awesome. He takes a lot of photos of his boyfriend, who is a plus-sized guy. His story in the issue is all these cute plus-sized boys in the nude. Jamie does a lot of funny things. He did this series in the magazine a few months ago where he went to Hollywood Boulevard and he threw up on a bunch of stars and photographed that. He’s just this really great British kid with an amazing sense of humor. He’s one of my favorites in terms of young kids right now.

FP: Last question. How did you decide on the two cover images?

JP: Terry and Ryan are the biggest photographers in terms of the history of Vice over the last ten years. They’ve just been so important to us. I knew that I wanted to split the cover between the two of them. It was really kind of simple. With Ryan, that image definitely jumped out from the stuff he gave us as a nice cover. And with Terry, we went over to his studio. I went over there to just see what we could do for the issue and he realized that he already had this series that he had shot for himself for fun. It was just perfect. The idea is that one is really beautiful and one is more fun and hilarious.

There’s an opening reception tonight at 6 p.m. at Spencer Brownstone Gallery that is open to the public. The show runs through August 17.