Architect Zaha Hadid has her undergraduate degree in Mathematics.

Interview with a Picture Editor

Mike Davis "Cyclocross Nationals, Bend, OR" 2010

NAME:  Mike Davis

JOB TITLE/OCCUPATION:  Independent Picture Editor


EDUCATION & CREDENTIALS:  Masters degree in Journalism, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO (1987); Bachelors degrees in Journalism & Spanish, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE (1981); Twice named Newspaper Picture Editor of the Year by Pictures of the Year International and the National Press Photographers Association; Awarded NPPA Sprague Award; Awarded scores of POYi, Society of News Design and other awards for my work and the work of my staffs; Air Force Commendation Medal



Undergrad came after four years in the Air Force, where I worked as a writer for base newspapers and took photos to go with my stories. That path continued through undergrad and my first job at a small daily newspaper. Grad school changed my gears, first to photography exclusively and then to becoming a picture editor. Picture editing offered challenges that were more interesting to me – helping photographers grow, making publishing environments work for photographs, changing word editors perceptions, crafting bodies of work large and small, etc.


Grad school changed my life. Bill Kuykendall came to run the program at Missouri my second year there and he created a visual management sequence. Because I had worked in the business for 10 years by then, he asked me to be part of the sequence. I was like a fish discovering water. I’ve learned more from each successive job or experience – from a small daily that did nationally recognized work, to National Geographic, small weeklies that won scores of awards, working as lead picture editor for the White House Photo Office and now as an independent picture editor working directly with photographers the world over. Oh, and now I’m teaching a bit at Syracuse University, which offers more opportunity for growth.


Core aspects of the business are the same but virtually everything else has changed. Going from film to digital, from print dominance to web dominance, to more people making a living outside of traditional editorial work.

So for me, I’ve had to apply core principles that worked in the print world to new environments where photographs can exist more dynamically. And I’ve had to learn a lot.

I’ve gone from producing picture stories for the printed page to thinking more in terms of producing bodies of work that can live in a variety of settings.

I tell photographers that they must be story tellers and that they have to approach their subjects in a way that will work for many uses of that work.


Anyone starting out in the story telling realm now has to learn how to handle audio and most likely video. They have to be able to produce bodies of work, not just single images and craft them for varied uses.

I doubt that 10 years from now there will be people who have business cards that say Picture Editor. Replacing that title will be variations such as Motion Producer, Digital Image Sequencer, Web Visual Director, Electronic Media Assimilator, and so on. Already the title picture editor more often refers to people who tone images for a living.

It’s likely that positions will diverge between those who produce the content and those who technically produce the product, the outcome.

So regardless of which side of the divide you’re on, picture editing skills have to include understanding audio, video and still photos and how to craft bodies of work that use some or all of those media in a way that it can exist in whatever publishing environment is deemed necessary.


Creating images that last beyond the day has been Mike’s mission in settings as diverse as National Geographic Magazine and The Albuquerque Tribune, The White House and

His work and the work of those he has edited has received the highest of accolades again and again, beginning at The Albuquerque Tribune more than 20 years ago.

Mike was twice named Newspaper Picture Editor of the Year. He has been a picture editor for 11 books and co-director of photography for The Blue Planet Run book. The National Press Photographers Association honored Mike with The Sprague Award, its highest honor, in 2001. He was most recently a picture editor at The Oregonian and Director of Photography for MIX magazine.

Mike was the picture editor for 15 stories while at National Geographic Magazine.

He has edited the work of Magazine Photographers of the Year twice, Newspaper Photographers of the Year three times; all three times he edited the work of both the first and second place winners. His staffs have won Picture Editor of the Year and Regional Photographer of the Year multiple times.

Mike has judged POYi three different years for a total of five weeks. He has judged many other international, national and regional photographic competitions and juried grants including the W. Eugene Smith Grant, The RFK Memorial Fellowship, the Walkley Awards in Australia and The NPPA/Nikon Sabbatical. He has taught at several workshops in the U.S., New Zealand and Latin America and lectured at a wide range of universities and photographic conferences.

Mike earned a masters degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism with a thesis that created a viable magazine, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with double majors in journalism and Spanish.

He has the good fortune of being married to Deborah Pang Davis, a talented web (and invitation) designer whose work you can see at or

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