An appreciation: Mark Edelson, legendary Palm Beach Post photo editor

Mark Edelson, picture editor of the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, examines negatives shot by Syracuse University photojournalism students during a weekend photo workshop in Baldwinsville, N.Y. in October 2000. (photo by Christian Fuchs)

Mark Edelson, picture editor of the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, examines negatives shot by Syracuse University photojournalism students during a weekend photo workshop in Baldwinsville, N.Y. in October 2000. (photo by Christian Fuchs)

It’s amazing what slips from memory over time.

This touching obituary of legendary Palm Beach Post photo editor Mark Edelson, who died last week at age 64 after battling lymphoma for two years, brought back a torrent of memories. Especially these two paragraphs:

Walk into his office in the evening and you’d find him in his usual flannel shirt, toothpick glued to the corner of his mouth, hoisting a disgustingly crusty coffee cup or eating fast food mustard straight from the pack, muttering to the images he was moving among four computer screens as he shaped them into stories for Post readers.

Presiding over it all from a pedestal was Edelson’s spirit animal, a stuffed, menacing-looking squirrel named Sparky.

I chuckled to myself. How could I have forgotten about the toothpick? That squirrel? Those mustard packs? (Gross!)

What I learned from Edelson, though, has stayed with me in the nearly nine years since I left the Palm Beach Post and will stay with me as long as I’m working with pictures and words. It’s no overstatement to say that I think of him every time I work with photos, even though I only worked with him for 2½ years.

Among the lessons:

  • Don’t call photos ‘art.’ They are information, and should be treated that way. Photos should be packaged in a way that helps tell the story, not just in a way that looks pretty or is convenient for the layout.
  • Be aware of scale when placing photos next to each other. Alternating between tight and loose crops can help create rhythm on the page. He would show off his family photo albums, where all the pictures were the same size and arranged in 2×2 grids. Because he paid attention to contrast in scale on the crops, it never felt staid. (Of course, it also helped that his pictures were much better than the average family photos.)
  • Play. Get something safe down just in case, but then go nuts to create something unique.

And he critiqued work in the best way possible. Most times he could see what was working in the package, adjust one small bit and make it all exponentially better.

I remember Mark giddily calling me into his office in July 2005. Lance Armstrong was on the verge of his seventh Tour de France victory and Mark had been playing around with something. I got to his desk and he showed me this, pretty much fully formed. To me, it’s a quintessential Mark package. The photos are great on their own, but much stronger the way he played them off each other here. The strong horizontal crops are striking but not forced. And everything works together to tell the story.

In lieu of flowers, Mark’s family has asked donations be made to the newly established Mark J. Edelson Picture Editing Scholarship.

Recipients of the scholarship/fund receive $750 aid in attending The Kalish, a visual editing workshop in which Mark was a cornerstone faculty member for 20 years.

It’s no overstatement to say that I think of him every time I work with photos, even though I only worked with him for 2½ years.

— Chris Rukan