British Journal of Photography - broader concerns?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by batwister, Aug 4, 2012.

  1. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Mitch Dobrowner was published in a recent issue, but I've always wondered, with the majority of work being journalistic and documentary, is this actually the specific focus of the magazine or simply in keeping with the zeitgeist? I feel like BJoP gives a very one-sided and partisan view of the photography world. Landscape work in particular (and I don't just mean romantic) is a no-go area - with the recent exception of Dobrowner of course. What I find strange - this being a very commercial publication - is that the concerns of the mag seem almost niche. Are that many people interested in documentary photography?

    I'm interested to find out how the BJoP has changed over the years and if anyone has noticed this recent heavy emphasis on photojournalism/documentary. If anyone could give names of fine art photographers that have been published in the past to give some idea. Other than Lenswork, there are very few options for getting my fix - certainly of black and white traditional photography. Yet I can think of many notable contemporary black and white photographers worthy of being published.
     
  2. htimsdj

    htimsdj Advertiser

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    I think photographic interests change all the time. We are in a very "social" time now, and perhaps that has even made its way to those who have more "serious" photographic interests. I enjoy my 4x5, but when I can't get out with it, I always take the small camera. I enjoy expanding my skills and seeing what others are up to. I guess that makes me more interested in journalist/documentary photography now.
     
  3. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    The BJP has changed significantly over the yeras, I've been a reader since the early 1970's with just a short break of less than a year ajust before they changed from weekly to monthly issues.

    While I'm predominantly a landscape photographer I'm not worried about apparent biases as photography has a very broad spectrum. Maybe I take a longer term view of the BJP.

    Ian
     
  4. batwister

    batwister Member

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    I agree that modern culture is socially concerned and perhaps this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I see art and photography as occupying a position of delving beneath these surfaces. Reality TV, social networking and realism dominate pop culture absolutely, but I'm not sure photography has been completely blinkered by this... yet. We're also living in a time when anyone with a phone is a documentary photographer and many say this will inevitably force 'serious' photography to move away from verisimilitude. In that respect, BJP doesn't seem to be on the cutting edge of contemporary work, but following the 'everyone with a camera and friends is a photographer' zeitgeist.

    It's the fact that photography is so varied, now more than ever perhaps, that BJP's narrow focus on 'people photography' (put simply) gives the readership a limited idea of what's going on. I remember picking up my first copy very early on and thinking "is this actually a photography magazine?". At a time when I wanted to see everything photography had to offer, I was very disappointed that the only widely available publication showed such a lack of diversity.
     
  5. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    The BJP seems to have modelled itself on Aperture. If it isn't conceptual, it isn't important, unless of course it is famous historical imagery, as with Aperture.
     
  6. rolleiman

    rolleiman Member

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    I was browsing a copy of the BJP recently, have to say I found much of it a bit "pretentious", to call it "documentary" or "photojournalism", is I think, stretching the boundaries of definition. But then my idea of photojournalism is something along the lines of Cartier-Bresson. Maybe this is outmoded, but then, should photojournalism be subject to "changes of fashion"?.......to me, the very name "photojournalism" should mean straightforward honest observation, without manipulation.
    It's sometimes necessary to reflect that Cartier-Bresson demanded his negatives were printed "straight", without cropping. He did not do his own printing, insisting that it was purely a "mechanical process", that the vision of the photographer was already captured in the negative.

    I seldom read photo mags these days, so many of them have a "Canon v Nikon shootout" approach
    for those intersted in pixels rather than pictures. If there was one mag. dedicated to showing the best in photography, whether it be fine art, photojournalism, landscape...or all of these, I'd probably read it on a regular basis. I've not found one yet.
     
  7. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I was in the photographic section of a book shop today and under various books they had quotes. I noticed this one from Ansel Adams – “A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words.” Perhaps photographic magazines should pay more attention to this philosophy.
     
  8. batwister

    batwister Member

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    I'm reading a great book at the moment called 'Photographs Not Taken'. It's a collection of essays by photographers on missed opportunities and the ethical problems that they face.

    This is part of the introduction by Lyle Rexer:

    ...the anecdotes collected here, personal as they are, reflect an aspect of the growing "crisis" of photography, a crisis that has to do with the self-consciousness of the genre and the broader ambivalence about the role of images in a media-saturated world. Yes, photography is a kind of atavism, a by-now instinctive response to the technologized, spectacular world, a mad cataloging that often resembles nothing so much as a vast collection of toenail cuttings. Yet these days every photograph taken by people who do it for a living arrives inside a set of quotation marks, a bracketed form of perception that says: "Don't trust me!" and "Should I really be showing you this?" and "Should you really be looking?" Above all, "does it matter?"
     
  9. rolleiman

    rolleiman Member

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    This is very true. I think magazines find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. In order to attract the advertisers and survive financially, they feel they have to publish lots of (often meaningless and inconclusive) "test features" on digital gear. Yet how many digital images are going to pass the test of time?

    Many of my professional digital images taken approx. 10 years ago and stored on discs, have gone "corrupt" Now the Ansel Adams film originals you mention are far older than this, yet they will still print up as if they were shot yesterday. My earliest images shot in the 60's and carefully stored, are all printable.

    If Ansel Adams had been able to shoot on digital, there must be considerable doubt as to whether his work would have survived. If there were a magazine solely dedicated to film photography and its many advantages over digital, perhaps it would encourage more budding photographers to switch to the medium, therefore ensuring the future production of film and.....who knows...maybe the re-birth of cameras like the FM2n?
     
  10. BJP Editor

    BJP Editor Member

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    Hi,

    I'm the editor of BJP, so I thought I'd give my perspective. Since joining the magazine 12 years ago, I'd say documentary photography has been very much in the ascendency, but among younger photographers, is giving way to a new practice that typically might involve collage, still life, found photography and very graphic forms. It's more interested in "investigating the medium" than social concern, and although I fear it has become something of a cliche already, we covered it extensively in our March 2012 issue.

    The aim of the magazine is to reflect current trends, so we tend not to dwell on the classic stuff, which I feel is well covered elsewhere. We are partisan, of course, and we tend to favour the more creative or socially concerned end of professional photography, rather than the purely commercial. So that tends to be documentary, art photography, fashion, portraiture, and so on. We probably are pretty niche. We don't try and compete with Amateur Photographer and the like. We're aimed at pros and people trying to create signature images, rather than what I call visual karaoke. In general, we feature new or recent work.

    We do regularly feature landscape, it just might not look like traditional landscape, depending on your view. So recent people we've featured include Miti Ruangkritya, Stephen Shore, Joel Sternfeld, Mark Power, Simon Roberts, Edgar Martins, David Goldblatt, Nadav Kander, and the list goes on...
    The last time we did a dedicated landscape issue was in April 2010, which focused on landscape photography that had a message (it included Michael Light, Paul Seawright, Olaf Otto Becker, Mitch Epstein, Michael Najar, Jem Southam, Thomas Joshua Cooper and Justine Kurland.

    Our most recent issue, August, includes quite a bit of landscape.

    We didn't really do anything on Mitch Dobrowner, we just said we'd won this year's Sony awards. He's not really the kind of photographer we feature, because although he's very good at what he does, it's been done so many times before.

    In terms of art photography that we've featured, I'd put most of the people I've mentioned above in that category too. We've also featured Nan Goldin, Roger Ballen, Phillip-Lorca di Corcia, and many more lesser known people.

    Each issue tends to have a particular focus. To give you an impression of this year, we've had:

    January: Back to work (high profile commercial commissions)
    Feb: Storyville (photography's relationship with cinema)
    March: Still life
    April: Odd man out (Boris Mikhailov and Roger ballen)
    May: Night photography
    June: Image as Icon (Alinka Echeverria and Simon Roberts)
    July: the London issue
    August: depictions of family
    September: fashion
    November: portrait
    December: People of the year

    We've got nothing against black-and-white, and often feature it, and we make no distinction between analogue and digital capture, but we tend to steer away from anything that would be termed "traditional", simply because we're about now – even if that's sometimes a throwback to another era.

    Simon Bainbridge
     
  11. BJP Editor

    BJP Editor Member

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    "We're also living in a time when anyone with a phone is a documentary photographer and many say this will inevitably force 'serious' photography to move away from verisimilitude."

    What if Canon brought out a camera that would guarantee your images were perfectly in focus, perfectly exposed, and found the best composition for you? What if it was small enough to carry around with you wherever you went, and could render the most complex landscapes in perfect detail? What if the skill was taken out of photography?

    I believe we'd still be celebrating the same kind of photographers; people who've got something to say, or a signature way of looking at the world. I still think that photography's main draw is looking and revealing.
     
  12. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Thanks for your response Simon. Thomas Joshua Cooper is definitely up there in my mind and like John Blakemore I feel often overlooked, perhaps merely because their subject matter is the wild landscape.
    I'm a great admirer of Nadav Kander's work and love Mark Power's Shipping Forecast series too.

    I completely understand your reasoning for not including what many here would call 'traditional' photography and personally, I'm less interested in the modernist & formal concerns of years gone by, which we often associate with this work. The only way I can describe my view of BJP is what I see as a heavy emphasis on straight photography, which addresses its subjects literally as opposed to the transformative/metaphorical/play on perception approach - which is why I call it documentary & journalistic in its concerns. In actual fact I think that stylistically, a lot of work today just looks documentary. A problem that came with the New Topographics?

    The first names you gave, including Stephen Shore and Nadav Kander, I think all work within the 'cultural' or 'social' landscape and some of this work I like very much. By 'landscape' here though, I really mean the natural landscape - which is notably unfairly treated by the contemporary art world. For many with a Contemporary view of photography and what does and doesn't fall into it, it seems the natural landscape by default is simply dismissed as traditional photography, but you mention Thomas Joshua Cooper, who is one of my favourites and very much a natural landscape photographer. He falls into the metaphorical/symbolic category and like Blakemore, I feel these suggestions in the work mark it more than what it is subjectively. I can only say that it would be great to see more of this kind of photography championed as a valid and timely form of expression. It seems like too many people coming out of photography school have a deranged aversion to nature.

    I'm 24 and very much interested in what's relevant and of our time, but feel much contemporary work is metropolitan to a fault. Many who work in the natural landscape, very capable and thoughtful photographers, are almost forced to retreat to a more traditional mode of image making because of a certain snootiness and blinkered idea about this subject matter. I believe Blakemore moved into still life work for similar reasons.
     
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  13. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    Simon, I fail to see how any camera will ever be able to find the best composition, unless it is God. Being in every position/time and perspective simultaneously. But hey, this could be a new ap?
     
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  14. batwister

    batwister Member

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    Composition is an open ended personal puzzle, there isn't one right solution, even by God's judgement. We can't yet give the camera a human soul and tastes, so nothing to worry about. I can only ever see this being of interest to the happy snapper market - holidaymakers and such. Art is about the artist - his view, his decisions, his genius.

    I saw a programme about a computer that made paintings by collecting image data and adding its 'personal expression' based on this culturally relevant visual information. However interesting visually, we won't see the work displayed consistently in galleries, only maybe as a one off gimmick, because ultimately the art world and public are interested in the personality behind the work - someone we can fantasize about and mystify. So the computer as artist is a dead end that we've already reached.
     
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