Rolling Stone’s Deputy Photo Editor Sacha Lecca’s photography has become a part of the greater music conversation for years now, provoking a DIY ethos and raw energy. We discussed his transition form Newsweek to Rolling Stone and how the landscape of the medium has changed over the past two decades of his work.
Your lateral move from Newsweek to Rolling Stone was a big risk. Did you see yourself transitioning to music photography when you made that decision?
No, I didn’t consider it at all. I worked at a different magazine…but it wasn’t really challenging and it wasnt work that i found to be pleasing so the move to Rolling Stone wasn’t specifically to work on music or celebrity stories. I had more of a history with news photography and so that’s what they were hiring me to specialize in. Rolling Stone does a lot of non-music stories, big features, investigative reporting, national affairs, government…that was going to be my beat. That was a long time ago when six other people worked here in this department and up until recently it has been just me for a while.
The staff at Rolling Stone reduced significantly in 2016. What was that formative process like as an editor?
The staff reduced little by little but not dramatically though because the magazine began to get smaller. It didn’t feel like enormous heavy-lifting except for the fact that eventually I became responsible for a whole lot of celebrity music features and stories. So that was kind of a learning curve for me. It became my responsibility to shoot a couple of things then.
Has the transition from editor to music photographer changed your outlook on photography as a medium?
For the longest time I felt uncomfortable using the word “photographer” just because my parents were both photographers and my sister worked in a visual medium. For me, running out once in a while and shooting some shows or some quick portraits is not necessarily how i make my living so it made me uncomfortable. It’s definitely become more a part of the way people know me and the work that I do here, so i’m fine with that. It gave me a lot of information as to what’s required when I hire someone to go out and do something – whether it’s a portrait or a day in the life. I know the things that I would look for and having done it myself, I know what I’m asking for. So that gave me a lot more insight into that.
Your parents Dan and Corina Lecca are prominent fashion photographers. Did their pit photography work shape your own point of view?
Their own photography- not necessarily, but their work ethic and how they treat clients – I think so. They’re still working today and I mean literally today. I think tomorrow they leave for shanghai to shoot for Converse… but the fashion photography business is suffering as well. That’s something photographers have been dealing with for years. That I can definitely can commiserate with them. That’s the influence they’ve, to just keep going.
Do you feel that the current social media landscape has changed how you find new photographers?
Definitely. I started in this business in the mid-90’s and a lot of it was word-of-mouth and taking meetings – which I still do if I can find the time. You can follow someone career for a long time on social media, and in my role as an editor I can call people in when someone’s really killing it. That being said, just a couple months ago i took a meeting with a photographer that I hadn’t known and wasn’t following on instagram and it was just his printed work that blew me away. So it can happen both ways.
I understand you’ve covered a myriad of political events when you worked as a photo researcher and editor at Newsweek. Has the current political climate had an impact on your work at all?
Lately it’s just been the stories we cover in the magazine that are D.C.-based and the ins and outs of the Trump administration. I haven’t been as active in shooting that kind of thing, except for the protest after the election and things like that. Back in 2011 the Occupy Wallstreet movement was something a lot of photographers got involved with here since it was right in our backyard. That was something that, early on, the magazine didn’t really understand and they had sent me down to take pictures and I kind of just kept going back from time to time. A lot of photographers in New York did that, and for a lot of photographers it was their training for shooting events like that. And some specific photographers that i’m thinking of, towards the end of that protest, they had really gotten a sense of what good protest imagery could be and how to document events like that.
I’d be remiss if i didn’t ask about your editing work for the Boston Bomber cover story. These images were so powerful and elicited a strong reaction. What was is like researching this story?
People felt that we elevated the subject in the wrong way by placing him on the cover and since it was a nice image of the kid. But also the language we used on the cover referred to him as “guilty,” whereas everyone else chose to say the “alleged” attacker. You know the interesting thing about that is that once you read the feature, I think it became clear why we’d run an image like that. It’s because the strong feature writer, named Janet Reitman, really dug into his past and his social life and we actually got a lot of access to his friends from school. Some of them even sent us photos that hadn’t been seen…they described him as a normal teenageer that just got radicalized by his brother. But we got a lot of crap for running that cover…I understand why. The thing is too, the images we had of him were off of social media and most of them were too low-resolution to use in print…but that particular image was an old Twitter photo of his and was actually pretty good in print. So that was one of the reasons as well – it could actually hold up on a printed medium. Right after we closed the magazine a lot of images came out of him that I would much rather have used. But that’s how it goes.
Your photography career began over two decades ago in 1994 at Newsweek. How has your role as a photo editor adapted over time?
I have to say, so far I’ve only had to work on what goes in print but I have a feeling that’s going to change dramatically for me in the next few months. I’ll need to be responsible for more images that run online and actually be the person to put them up. That’s the biggest change that I’m going to see. But also at Newsweek when i started, each section of the magazine had its own photo editor and its own researcher and you really had the chance to really dedicate an enormous amount of time on a few pages each week. And now for most of print it’s just me…There are some moves i need to make really quick and my reaction time has to be much shorter than it was. It’s a little stressful.
Around this time last year you released the collaborative Fat White Family Zine with Alec Castillo and you’ve contributed both photo and written pieces to publications like Huck Magazine. What inspires you to delve into individual creative projects?
Well with Huck, I was a fan of that magazine and the photo editor there included me in an issue with some legendary photographers which was completely insane. I could say the same thing about the split zine with Alec. I‘m a real big fan of his photography but also of the music he makes so it was a no-brainer for me when he approached me about doing this. I’d love to do more small publishing projects like that. I do have a book coming out. It’s a small book through Peanut Press and I’m trying to finalize the edit right now…They’re dedicating a series of these books to about seven photographers or so to be part of a series. I think i’m the only one with a music photography background in there. That should come out early next year.
You mentioned didn’t enter the field as a music photographer and that your role transitioned during your time at Rolling Stone. How has your own music taste influenced your coverage of bands that aren’t necessarily on the Rolling Stone radar?
This is a great question. You know, I try to keep things very separate because I know basically what kind of acts Rolling Stone covers. But there are instances where I might direct people’s attention towards some of the bands that I’ve been enjoying that have music coming out. In some cases it’s really worked out for bands I’ve vouched for. So I’ll be here making the case for various people I believe in.
Find more of Sacha’s work on Instagram