Wednesday, September 24th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Nick Knight

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you! I’m back (more or less), and regular posting will resume here pretty much immediately. I have a long cue of sites built up ‘To Blog,’ so I’ll be working through those at a measured pace as well as posting some news that I expect soon. Also, I’ll be in Cologne this weekend for Photokina, which, frankly, I know almost nothing about except that the Schaden 10 year anniversary party coincides with it.

In the meantime, in my absence, Nick Knight published an amazing series of photos in the latest Dazed and Confused (a gallery of which can be seen here). Nick Knight is, of course, well known for his fashion work and for being the driving force behind SHOWstudio. I’ve always had quite the liking for his work, but I hadn’t seen anything recently, so it was great to stumble across this series.

One thing that occurs to me, though, is how rarely I find fashion photographs that really strike me. It seems to be a common perception: Take a look at this NY Times article of a year ago

True, there was a period within the last decade, said Vince Aletti, a photography critic for The New Yorker and adjunct curator at the International Center of Photography, “when every time I went to look at a fashion magazine, I was psyched.” At the moment, he added, “there is not much to jump out of your seat about.”

The article goes on to note that the only people who seem to be doing anything interesting are the photographers who came to promminence in the 80’s, a thought that seems to be borne out here.

A Short Break

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Gifs of stereoscopic photographs made by Cursive Buildings

I’m dying to blog these days – There’s a few things that have come up lately that’d make great blog posts. Unfortunately, though, I’m swamped with work and will be taking the next 1-2 weeks off in order to catch up on it. I’ll be back with all of those posts I was planning to write, but in the meantime check out the posts on A Photography Blog, run by Rachel Hulin of Shoot! fame.


Tuesday, September 9th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Yuri Kozyrev

State of the Art has another take on Perpignan that they titled ‘Read This Now.’ There are some complicated moral questions here, and though the subject at hand is conflict photography, it speaks to wider questions of documentation, as well as some of the issues we discussed in the last post. An excerpt from some of Stanley Greene‘s comments:

Yuri [Kozyrev] brought up Georgia. There’s a picture I’ve seen of a woman covered in blood. I know what it’s like to be in an explosion. She’s coming out, disoriented. Coming out of a building on fire. And this pack of journalists — this wasn’t people like Yuri or our colleagues, just people who have cameras and cell phones — they are on this woman like a pack of wolves. No one taking any time to ask what it’s like to be this woman. And this picture is no doubt going to be considered for World Press. What really rocked me was, there was no sensitivity. I wanted to see what happened: did someone go and pull her out of the rubble? When I see a lot of pictures today, I see this attitude that, this is going to win me a prize or this is my subject.


Sunday, September 7th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Randomly, but not unrelated, Lynsey Addario [click for caption], for a story in today’s NYTimes Magazine

The Visa Pour l’Image festival in Perpignan, France ends today, and Foto 8 has coverage and the usual audio slide shows… One of the recent posts had an interesting item:

Opinions are rather divided on Perpignan in this 20th anniversary year. Some say it should be celebrated for it’s consistent commitment to photojournalism, a yearly gathering of common interests and important issues. On the other hand is the view that the format is tired and uninspiring to new photographers, with many similar stories and photographic styes repeated year after year. Is this the fault of the curators, or the fact that photojournalism is “in crisis”? I am inclined to agree with a certain agency director who told me last night he sees plenty of brilliant photojournalism produced on a daily basis all over the world – but only a fraction is featured here.

I had lunch with a prominent curator recently, who, when asked to explain what she viewed as her mission when it comes to documentary photography, explained, “We’re looking for new forms to explain stories in a compelling manner- that’s why I’m not going to Perpignan: We have no need of that kind of work,” by which, of course, she meant the classical photodocumentary form which to a large extent has remained unchanged since the 60’s.

This is an interesting thought given the interview that APE posted with Jean-François Leroy, the director of the festival, back in June. Reading back through it now, Leroy completely avoids the question of a stylistic crisis, focussing instead on the increasing difficulties of distribution:

Three or four years ago, I’d tell professionals in the press: “Stop saying you like photojournalism, buy it instead!” You see plenty of people who come to Perpignan and go into raptures: “Oh, that’s quite remarkable, wonderful, magnificent!” So why don’t the same people buy the reports? Why don’t they publish them after the Festival? I can remember a story, in 1998, by Ettore Malanca, on the children at Bucharest railway station. He’d shown it to everyone and hadn’t got it published anywhere, but after his exhibition in Perpignan, he made a number of sales; that was great. But that’s increasingly rare now. Last year we screened 100 photos Diane Grimonet had taken over a ten-year period reporting on social outcasts and disadvantaged people in France; VSD and Libérationwere the only ones to commission anything from Diane after that – no one else!

For their part, though, Foto 8 continues the post with a follow-up complaint:

One thing which has been noticeable at the evening slideshows is an extreme lack of European and American based stories. Of course it is crucial to highlight events in Asia and Africa but are there not equally important stories to be told in the West? Munem Wasif, the Bangladeshi photographer who has won the Young Reporter’s Award told me he’d like to see more photographers working within their own country, wherever that may be, as they have a unique perspective which can never be replicated by an outsider.

Could that problem have more to do with photojournalism defining itself away from those stories? There is a complete overabundance of photography shot by photographers in their own countries, but it tends to fall into the “art” or “editorial” categories. Increasingly, photojournalism is defined as documentary photography that takes as its medium the SLR camera and its subject the disenfranchised or oppressed. Obviously, these stories should be covered, but aggressively and narrowly defining the medium does a disservice to its own goals – to document the world as it is for all to see. Perhaps expanding the definition a bit would give a much healthier picture of the medium than the one we frequently hear.

Photography In A Moving World

Monday, September 1st, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, ‘Bladerunner

What are the benefits that photography provides in a digital world?

In a posting a while ago, I stated that,

Perhaps the only reason photography still has a place in contemporary visual culture and the digital world has more to do with its efficiency in delivering visual information than it does anything else.

I was playing the devil’s advocate here; I was basically asking the question of whether photography has any intrinsic merits that can’t be duplicated by other mediums. What I meant in that post is that when we arrive at a page or poster or whatever, we can glance at a photograph and immediately know a certain amount about the given subject. We are able to read this visual information almost immediately. And, to top it off, it’s relatively easy and cheap for an advertiser to put a photograph on a billboard or page and mass reproduce it.

Deeper and more complicated images require a longer look perhaps, but for the most part a cursory glance will do, which is not the case with text, which requires the attention and concentration of a few seconds (advertising copy) to days or months (a long novel), or video, which we must let play out at its own pace [which is a funny irony – the medium that has done so much to limit our attention spans is limited by the fact that it consumes so much of our attention].

But, for speculation’s sake, imagine a world where a technology has developed that delivers the same kind of information at an equal brisk pace. What then for photography? I think that day is probably very very far away, and when it comes photography will probably go the way of other obsolete mediums, fetishized and (if it’s lucky) relegated to a marginal role in contemporary culture. But that’s kind of besides the point. My question could really be expressed as what elements of photography are inherent to the medium and cannot be found anywhere else or in any other medium? What would allow photography to carve out it’s own niche indefinitely, however marginal? What is it that makes photography special?

This is a question we all ask, in one way or another, while looking at images. I’m going to try and puzzle out some of my own thoughts on this question (in a cursory fashion) over the next week or two on this blog. Let me know if you have any questions, comments, whatever, in the comment section of the applicable posts…