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Magazine Focuses on Business Side of Life Behind Lens

May 21, 1988|ROBERT LACHMAN | Times Staff Writer

Photo District News, known mostly as a trade magazine, has turned into one of photography's premier publications. When other magazines such as Modern Photography have thinned down, relying mostly on camera reviews and film comparisons, PDN has taken off.

The magazine has concise, well-written articles that are informative and up to date. They are divided into three categories: theme stories, news and features and regular columns.

The magazine is a large-tabloid style (11-by-16 inches) with a slick color cover. However, the inside is strictly black and white. If you are looking for splashy color spreads, this just isn't the place.

The cover has featured such well-known photographers as Sheila Metzner, whose work is featured in Vogue magazine; commercial shooter Stephen Wilkes, whose clients include Nike, Kodak and Coca-Cola; Arthur Meyerson, with his ideas on self-promotion, and Ken Druse, whose specialty is gardening photography. The stories profile the photographers, their works and their philosophies.

On the business side of photography, articles have included: "Tax Law Update," which explores the effects of the new tax laws; "Who Owns Stan Malinowski's Pictures," a conflict over copyright ownership between the photographer and his client; "What's Nikon Up to?" an article about that company's lack of production of professional equipment and corresponding emphasis on the amateur market; "Running a Busy Studio," a feature on studio photographers Bill Stettner and David Langley and their ideas on running a profitable business, and "Sharing the Wealth of On-Line Information Services," a look at using your computer to gain photographic information.

The magazine's regular columns include: "In Print," reviews of new photo books; "Technically Speaking," step-by-step details of particularly difficult or interesting shooting, and "Perspective," a feature in which three to five photographers answer questions.

PDN started on a whim. Carl Pugh, a struggling New York photographer, was planning to place a classified ad, hoping to find work as a photo assistant. He couldn't find a photo publication that would take the ads so he decided to start his own.

He cashed his girlfriend's $800 tax-refund check and started PDN. But first, he spent $3 to buy a book, "How to Start a Small Newspaper," from a local bookstore.

The magazine started as a small newsletter in May, 1980, and was named after the photo district area of Manhattan, where a cluster of photographers and photo stores took up shop. At the time, Pugh didn't know the difference between typesetting and typewriting and began with 16 pages and a circulation of 3,000. Today the magazine averages more than 100 pages with a circulation of 31,000.

When he started, the 33-year-old entrepreneur didn't even have enough money to pay the printer for the first issue. But since then, he has promoted and produced photo shows, Photo in New York and Photo West, in conjunction with the magazine. Five years later he sold the magazine and photo shows to Adweek for $500,000.

According to the publication's editor, Elizabeth Forst, the magazine caters to business-side photography.

"It has always been geared toward professionals dealing with advertising, fashion, stock and editorial photography," Forst said. "It's not a how-to magazine."

For the hobbyist, Photo District News may seem a little too businesslike, but anyone with an interest in photography will find the magazine a valuable resource.

Finding it may be your toughest problem. Currently, a few local camera stores carry the magazine, but a call to their New York office at (800) 323-9335 might be the best bet. The yearly subscription is $25.

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