“Because I have basically grown up at WIRED, I have seen all different kinds of funky art happen,” Anna Goldwater Alexander, the magazine’s Director of Photography, tells me. “WIRED doesn’t have a specific photographic look. We aren’t strictly gooey lifestyle, sparkly product, distorted architecture or even X-Ray. We’re all of it. We visually tell our stories using every single photographic or textural art technique, even crochet. I love the never-ending possibilities of the weird and the freaky.”
Alexander is one of the judges for the 7th Annual Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards. With entries closing on September 3rd, we had a chance to chat with her via email about her work, her hopes for the future, and what she’s looking for in this year’s submissions. To learn about the awards, visit our website.
How did you first land at WIRED, and do you love most about serving as the magazine’s Director of Photography?
“I knew WIRED‘s HQ was in SF, so I wrote an actual letter to the photo dept and inquired about an internship in the photo department. Jenny Butler, my mentor for life, immediately called me after she received the letter and asked me to come in to meet everyone. There was no internship, but they created one just for me.
“I’ve been the DOP at WIRED for almost six years. It’s hard to say what I love most, because every second is filled with everything I love about this position. I feel really lucky to do exactly what I have always wanted to do. I’ve also been producing and directing photoshoots for so freaking long that much of my time is spent mentoring others with what I have learned. I love meeting with photographers and other junior photo editors and guiding them to where they want to be.”
What has been your proudest project or story for WIRED, and what made it unforgettable?
“One?! I don’t have one. I have around 25, but I can narrow it down to two, if you’re forcing me to. The first was in 2009, JJ Abrams guest-edited an issue and it was to be filled with mystery, coding, the unknown, magical things, etc. I pitched a photo essay called Mystery Spots. I wrote it, produced it, and found the most perfect mystical human to photograph it.
“I was thumbing through actual print magazines in a magazine store in downtown San Francisco with the hopes of finding a landscape photographer creepy enough to understand these mystery spots, someone with an ominous vibe. I knew I didn’t want just ‘postcard landscapes.’ This had to show the macabre meaning of why WIRED chose it for this JJ Abrams issue.
“I came across a photo series in a publication called Wound. I kid you not. The series was called Smuggler’s Notch, and the photographer’s name was Uta Kogelsberger. I did not know Uta. She could be an eight-year-old child; she could be deceased, or worse–she could be this magical fine artist who spat on editorial work. I tracked her down and told her that I wanted to send her around the world to shoot creepy shit and ‘would that be ok?’
“Uta was a fine artist who had never done editorial work and honestly never thought about it. She was also a professor at Newcastle University in London. I came up with around 30 locations in the world and the WIRED editors and the money people whittled it down to six. I think I may have hooked Uta into saying yes when the Easter Islands were on the list, but alas, apparently it’s super pricey to get there. A photo editor can dream.
“She lived in London at the time, but was traveling through the US during the university’s winter break, and would you believe she was going to be in Phoenix, Arizona, around Thanksgiving, which is where I was going? We met at the most cowboy bar I knew of and we planned this entire photo essay out, in real life, one-on-one. She was all in. Needless to say, she traveled immediately around the world and shot 4×5 chrome film. I built such a great relationship with Uta.
“I sent her on another around the world trip in 2014 for an issue guest-edited by Christopher Nolan. As is the case for all publications, we’re not really sending artists around the world anymore, but it was an exciting project for both of us. We were a great match of weirdness; she was the mystical soul that I was looking for.
“Okay, you get one unforgettable project story. My other one involved weeping endlessly into an emotional maternal puddle with Elinor Carucci over the results of one of her shoots. But, I can save that for another time…”
After a challenging year, what gives you hope for the future of the photo industry?
“I have seen things this last year that I never would have believed would be an option for commissions. Honestly, nothing can really stop creativity. There is always something. There’s always an answer and an alternative for anything that can deter from the original plan. Or a plan that is so routine. From ten-hour road trips to guiding subjects on lighting and angles via virtual video conferencing to using projectors with pre-existing imagery.
“For WIRED‘s Gadget Lab, we shoot many products a month, commissioning still life photographers to collaborate with set and prop designers to build themed scenes out of various funky material. Well, not only were we not using our studio in 2020, but the brands were not shipping us the products to shoot for fear of contamination (totally understandable!).
“I came up with the idea to wrangle all the existing photography from the various companies that they use for their media kits. We then sent those media files to photographer Amanda Ringstad who luckily had her own studio space, since public studios were temporarily closed. She projected the images onto beautiful graphic textures, and it came out so incredible. There’s always a way!”
Thank you for judging the Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards. What kinds of projects do you hope to see this year?
“I’m excited to see what everyone has been doing and where their pandemic minds have taken them. What has gotten them through this time, what has made them a better photographer and more happy with themselves. You can always tell when looking at art how the artist was feeling when they created it.”
The deadline for entries for the Emerging Photography Awards is 11:59 PM EST on September 3rd, 2021. Submit your single images here, or enter your series here to be considered by this year’s jury. Anna Goldwater Alexander will be one of our series judges.