Clare Vander Meersch is arguably one of the most influential and important photo editors of this generation, and a shaper of the future of Canadian photography. With extensive experience in the photo industry, having practised photography early in her career and as a founding member of the Magenta Foundation for the arts, Vander Meersch has already had an undeniably significant impact on Canadian photography.

She is currently the Director of Photography for the Globe and Mail’s Business Magazine, where she uses her talents to document the face of Canadian corporate culture and business. In her time with the Globe and Mail, Vander Meersch has made other contributions as well. She was part of the redesign team for the style section of the newspaper, and she notably launched its quarterly style magazine, Style Advisor. More recently she has joined the Globe’s presentation team, which she explains as “being part of a larger photo editing crew on the paper.”
Having begun her career as a fine art photographer interested in street documentary–style photography, Vander Meersch says she found the industry oversaturated. Still interested in the photo industry, though, she decided to explore what it would be like to try her hand as support to photographers. In Toronto, she scouted out the magazine Shift—a Canadian-based print magazine dedicated to technology and culture—to become an intern photo editor. The unpaid internship lasted three months, during which she learned the process and workflow of her job and became a valued member of her team. The magazine hired her on to a paying job in 1999. She spent the next two years at Shift learning the tricks of the trade and gaining the access she needed to move up to the Globe and Mail.

Her Role at the Globe and Mail:
During a talk in February with Ryerson’s fourth-year Image Arts photography class, Vander Meersch told students about the journey that led her to her present position and explained how to stand out in the industry. “I’m a bit of a content machine right now,” Vander Meersch said. In her new role on the Globe and Mail’s presentation team she is always looking for story ideas to pitch. “I’m taking a lot of the work I am seeing street-level, and pitching it to the editors to see what kind of traction it gains,” she explained as she presented an image taken by a young photographer she met at OCAD’s portfolio reviews a couple of years earlier. “I’m really diverse—I mean, I have my contributing photographers that I often revisit because they do such an amazing job, but I’m always looking to build up my roster.” Vander Meersch admitted that editorial work is well suited to emerging photographers, as “people start their working careers in editorial and then move on to commercial work and other pursuits … and [later in their careers] they’re maybe not available or not willing to work with my tiny budget.”

Advice to Emerging Photographers:
Understanding that being an emerging photographer has its challenges, Vander Meersch discusses some of the most important dexterities that a young photographer needs to have:
1. The ability to handle high-pressure situations.
2. Possessing good communication skills.
3. Being prepared for anything and everything.
“You must have a really good concept of what you’re doing and a good map of how you’re going to achieve that.… You need to be strong and sure of yourself and your work, and a certain amount of maturity is required for that.”
So, what does Clare Vander Meersch look for in an emerging photographer’s portfolio?
She needs to see a signature style; she’s looking for photographers who are specific in what they do and who are personally invested in what they do. A signature style shows that the photographer has “reached a level of development in their own career path, and they’re pretty clear what it is they’re contributing to the conversation that makes them different from the person sitting next to [them].”
Vander Meersch also looks for photographers who develop their personal work in conjunction with their commissioned work. “I’m always curious as to what [photographers] are doing in their own time, and where they are putting their resources. That’s often the most compelling work, because that’s what they are personally invested in.” The wide range of talent in both personal and commissioned work that Vander Meersch witnesses as photo editor allows her to be constantly active and engaged in her work. As she tells it, she has “an amazing opportunity … at the photo editing desk.”

Q&A

Q. After many years in the industry, how do you continue to make genuine content that is important and current?

A. Being in a newspaper environment gives me constant access to a never-ending supply of stories. Simple put, by being where I am at the Globe, I get front row access to understand what the issues are that matter to us as a nation. Generally, it’s the bigger picture issues that I grasp onto, to visualise for readers. How to tackle the big issues of our times topics. Topics like gender equality (Us Too), human rights issue in the mining sector (Mining), religious freedom (Alia Youssef), or the legalization of marijuana.

Q. Please provide an example (or two) of the ways that you are pushing the boundaries creatively; specifically in the way that you are working with photographers at the Report on Business.

A. When appropriate, I look to experiment with different tools. Pushing out different images for the same story on a multi-platform approach. The Diebert story ran a more conventional portrait for print, we also experimented with 3-D printing as a secondary image, and then used the output to create a whole new more dynamic visualisation for online and social.