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  1. #1

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    British Journal of Photography - broader concerns?

    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. #2
    htimsdj's Avatar
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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. #3
    Ian Grant's Avatar
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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

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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. #5
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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.

    “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”

    Francis Bacon

  6. #6

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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. #7
    cliveh's Avatar
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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.

    “The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”

    Francis Bacon

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by cliveh View Post
    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.
    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. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by cliveh View Post
    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.
    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. #10

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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

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