Thea Traff

Exposure: Thea Traff

Formerly a picture editor for the likes of the New Yorker and Time, Thea Traff now channels her knowledge into making her own distinctive images

Thea Traff never set out to become a photographer. After studying philosophy and studio art, she surreptitiously fell into photo editing through a mentorship programme at Getty Reportage. What followed was a series of high-profile photo editing positions at the New Yorker and Time Magazine that honed her craft as a visual storyteller and incidentally laid the foundations for a successful start as an imagemaker.

Like many photo editors, Traff spent years shaping our visual culture behind the scenes. While you may not be familiar with her name, you’ve certainly seen the images she produced. From viral stories on contemporary life and culture (including the iconic Cat Person by Elinor Carucci and dynamic images of Lizzo by Paola Kudacki) to critically acclaimed political reporting (the opioid crisis by Philip Montgomery and Davide Monteleone’s special report on Mexcian Migrants), Traff’s work as an editor is diverse and incisive. For years, she pushed the boundaries of editorial photography, creating engaging stories with mass appeal.

Despite her success, she boldly pivoted from commissioner to artist in 2019. “I had this strong urge to stop producing work from behind a desk and, instead, be the one making it out in the world,” Traff tells me from her home studio in New York. “I would get shoots back and started to feel that I would have approached it differently, or there was a missed opportunity in a particular story. That growing frustration just eventually bubbled over. It’s been three years, and while I occasionally take on photo editing jobs, this transition has been incredibly liberating. Developing my portfolio as a photographer is a lifelong endeavour. There are so many directions I want to explore, and this whole transition still feels very new.”

Top: Wynonna Judd for the New York Times; Above: Personal work