Photo Histories

Some months ago, Graham Harrison contacted me about a new on-line photography site he was setting up, looking at photography in an intelligent way, and invited me to have a look at the preview site. I was impressed, and offered to write something, though as yet I’ve not got around to it. Perhaps later…

Photo Histories is now up for all to read, and the content so far is impressive, with a great interview with Philip Jones Griffiths, who talks about “why the ideals of the thinking photojournalist forged in the 20th century should not be sacrificed for the dumbed down culture of the 21st.” His ‘Vietnam Inc’ (1971) was one of the most important books of the era, and one that moved me and others powerfully when it came out – and is still a fine example of why photojournalism is important. I also have a great deal of sympathy for his views on the current state of Magnum which you can read in the interview. While others – including myself – have written about his work and its significance, this interview does add some insights into the work and the man who produced it – and has a nice picture of him by Harrison.

Another photographer I’ve also written about previously is Homer Sykes, whose self-published books Hunting with Hounds and On the Road Again I reviewed at some length. (You can download a pdf file of the Autumn 2002 issue of the LIP Journal where my review of On the Road Again appeared in print – and both – along with features on photographers Berenice Abbot and Brassai mentioned below – are probably available on the ‘Wayback Machine‘ or its mirror from About Photography.)

In Photo Histories there is another detailed interview with Sykes, as well as a interesting set of pictures ‘Unknown Homer Sykes : The English 1968 – 78‘.

I met Homer again earlier this year, when he was back photographing Swan Upping on the Thames for the first time for many years. You can see some of my pictures from the event at My London Diary, but surprisingly I don’t seem to have mentioned him. The two of us were the only photographers who ran along the river bank to record the Dyers and Vintners men raising their oars to salute the Royal uppers at the end of the day. I hope he got the exposure better than I did in the wickedly contrasting light. I left the D200 to sort it out and it didn’t.

Other features on Photo Histories include some on key books from the history of photography, including Berenice Abbott‘s ‘Changing New York‘ and ‘Paris de Nuit‘ with pictures by Brassai. Perhaps these were a little disappointing in not really dealing with the images, more with biography and background matters, but still useful introductions. Perhaps it might be a useful addition to have features about key images or sets of images from them as well.

Graham Harrison has of course worked for some of the big names in British publishing, and at the centre of Photo Histories is a section called by that same title, which includes an article (originally published on EPUK) about the first Press Photographer’s Year Expo held this summer. At the end is a footnote:

After the success of the Press PhotographerÂ’s Year Expo it was sobering to see StoddartÂ’s stills used with effect throughout the C4 TV documentary The Rise and Fall of Tony Blair credited to Getty Images only.

Moral rights – including that of attribution – are something that photographers still have to fight for. The Photo Histories section also has a very nice insider story by Brian Harris about working with the late Don McPhee during the 1988 US Presidential campaign.

As well as his main site, you can also see more of Graham Harrison’s work in ‘The Oxford Year,’ though in the two years this has been going he seems so far to have missed those swan uppers!

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