Boston-based photographer Agaton Strom joined Wonderful Machine in October of last year. Concerned that his site lacked cohesiveness and consistency, he looked to us for help with a new web edit that would better define his interests and skills and target the right audience.
Agaton specializes in photojournalism – especially breaking news and political coverage, with some short-form stories as well as portraiture. His website showed a substantial volume of projects, but it felt like we were seeing bits and pieces rather than stories. That’s was my starting point .
The first step for me was to identify who he’s worked for in the past, who he wants to work for in the future, and what kind of work he wants to create. Then, the the next step was to organize and piece his past work together in away that would meet the needs of what prospective clients are looking for. In Agaton’s case, we were taking his work for previous clients, such as Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Politico and editing it to target The Atlantic and Wired, while also shifting his focus to more editorial portraiture instead of daily news projects.
The first thing I noticed about Agaton’s previous website was that it was simple and easy to navigate, but I didn’t feel it represented the depth and breadth of Agaton’s work. For a specialist like Agaton who’s been working for multiple notable clients for years, it’s important to showcase a select variety of stories using project galleries. On the other hand, it’s also important to show recent and unique stories, so that the work always feels fresh and stands out from other photographers of the same specialty.
After much deliberation, we planned on creating three types of galleries for his web edit: Stories, Portraiture, and Corporate, with both his political and personal projects within a Stories drop-down menu. After a more in-depth look, we discarded the Corporate gallery and separated Stories into Politics and Hidden Stories of NYC. I also wanted to pay close attention to how we titled these galleries. By using short but pointed and descriptive text, clients could immediately identify his short and long-form social documentary work from the political coverage. The easier it is for clients to navigate his work, the easier it will be for his work to speak to them.
Since majority of Agaton’s work consisted of political coverage, we decided to make that the first item in his navigation bar and expand it with individual stories. This included coverage of the 2019 Democratic campaigns of Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders; Trump’s presidential campaign, and Black Lives Matters protests.
Agaton had a wealth of images to choose from, so it was more important than ever to be selective. Rather than just taking the most stirring or excitable images, I edited a gallery with the mindset as though I were recounting these series of events, in the least biased way possible, to someone who isn’t knowledgeable about them, but I am only using imagery. By approaching these stories with this type of mindset, I noticed that Agaton wasn’t only telling a story about the events but the people in them. He was observing them, their reactions to and interactions with each other.
This helped me cull down the images more selectively while also being mindful of the edit’s visual diversity. By doing so, I felt I was able to could accomplish three things: 1) build visually dynamic stories that would attract viewers; 2) tell a broad but comprehensive story that viewers can understand, even without knowing the full context; and 3) tell the story as true to Agaton’s intentions as I could.
Next, in Hidden Stories of NYC, we chose to showcase Painters in the Sky (formerly called Muralists), Sundrop the Rat Hunter (currently not shown), and “Solider of Surviveal.” These galleries were a nice change of pace from the political coverage, giving Agaton the platform to showcase work he’s excited about and is relevant to clients. As I was going through these stories, I noticed that he was photographing New Yorkers who are often overlooked or unseen. I loved that Agaton saw them and photographed them, hence the name Hidden Stories of NYC.
(Can we agree that Sundrop is the cutest name for a dog that hunts rats?)
Last, but not least, I created another gallery for Portraiture.
This gallery was a bit tough. Unlike the previous galleries, it was easier for me to identify Agaton’s voice. Here, it was a bit harder because we had a wider variety of images shot in different styles. If I culled down the gallery too much, it felt too bare which, again, wouldn’t have represented the depth of Agaton’s work. With more images than needed though, it wouldn’t be as strong. In the end, we balanced it out with both environmental and studio portraiture. His moodier portraits definitely seemed to be the strongest of the batch (and probably my favorite), but I wanted to diversity the gallery–but not too much–with some brighter images.
QUICK TIP: If you’re ever stuck with an edit, where you’re not sure of which images to select or what you should do next, take a step away from the work and revisit it after a few days. When you’re ready to get back into it, keep in mind what types of images you want to create and which images would resonate with your target audience. Then, remove any images that don’t align with those goals. You want to lay the foundation for your future! If you feel that you don’t have enough images, it might be time to start some self-assigned projects.
After our first round, Agaton replied:
We are off to a wonderful start! Thank you very much for this thoughtful edit and thoughts on my work. I know that I threw a whole lot of random stuff at you but you managed to sift through and make sense of it.
I know that the photos are all over the place and there is no cohesion or vision behind most of it but I do feel that your edit is the beginning of a journey to resolve that.
I appreciate that you paid attention to the “Hidden Stories of NYC” (love the title!”)…
In the earlier stages of the edit, when I had discarded the Corporate gallery, I replaced it with a Moments gallery, so that we could present some of his other work that didn’t fit in with the other galleries, including these awesome galleries of an exhibit at The Met. These photos just felt beautifully ethereal but also hauntingly ominous – I even made a diptych of two of my favorites images.
But after discussing it with Agaton, we decided to ditching the idea altogether as it didn’t meaningfully contribute to the edit as much as we wanted it to. Instead, it would be better suited for Agaton’s Instagram as stand-alone images, where he can show even more work, even if those images doesn’t make it to his site.
Throughout the web edit process, Agaton and I worked together to detangle the threads that made his original web edit feel disconnect and a little knotted. This included hopping on calls to go through it all piece by piece. I like to think of this process as a way to help us see the photographer’s vision more clearly. With every round and every phone call, we pieced a little more of the big picture together.
After just two rounds, Agaton was satisfied with the web edit, which he then integrated into his site. Upon my recommendation, he also changed his template and fonts to elevate the design of his website a bit further.