Lensculture & Child Rape

I’ve long been a supporter of Lensculture, which has done a great deal to popularise and support photography and educated photographers in the history and scope of the medium over the years and its editor Jim Casper is a friend I’ve met on many occasions. It’s sad to hear of the incredible mistake made by the site in promoting the Magnum Photography Awards, and I’m sad at feeling I have to write this. And I’m finding it hard to do so.

Although I often look at the site and see its Facebook posts I didn’t see this myself, as I long decided that competitions with high entry fees are something of a racket – and I get frequent mailings from a number of sources about them and simply delete or scroll quickly down when I see them.

This Magnum contest is a cut above some of the others which are pure money-making exercises for those who run them, but with fees of $20 for a single photo still seem to me something of an expensive vanity for most who enter, though for $50 or $60 (which covers 5 single photos or a set of up to 10 respectively) you do get a submission review which offers “constructive feedback on your photography plus recommendations for improving your practice” from “over 100 of the top photo editors, educators, portfolio reviewers, curators, and other industry professionals“. You can see some of these on the web site and decide if you think they are worth the money – you still have some days to make an entry – until May 16th. You can also get a free download of over 60 pages of advice from Magnum photographers; it’s title ‘Wear Good Shoes‘ is advice which I gave for free in a magazine interview many years ago.

Looking through a few of the reviews I feel they might be of some use to some photographers. But if you are a photographer the best advice is to get to know other photographers, and you will probably get a greater insight from passing your pictures around with them in the pub or café. You’ll certainly get far more (though at greater expense) from going to a good workshop if you can find one – I was fortunate to be able to attend a number with Paul Hill and Ray Moore and others at Paul’s Derbyshire Photographers’ Place in the 1970s.

Perhaps I was fortunate to get to know a number of good photographers fairly early in my life as a photographer, and we set up regular meetings where we would bring our current work and discuss it – something we could do rather more openly and honestly because we were friends than it’s possible to do in commercial setting such as this competition or portfolio reviews. A few photographers couldn’t take it and went off in a huff when people called a spade a spade (or sometimes an effing shovel) but they were generally those whose work was weakest and the exercise certainly helped those of us who stayed to improve. Of course I didn’t always agree with the criticism of my own work, but I tried to understand it and often went away determined to create more work to prove my critics wrong.

I was fortunate too that many established photographers were then happy to spend a few minutes looking through the work of me and other young(ish) photographers and give me their opinions, and gallery owners and editors too, without having to book and pay for portfolio reviews.   But while some like me regret the commercialisation that has taken place in photography and the relations between photographers (and its partly because of the sheer number of people who think of themselves as photographers now, particularly with the coming of digital) this isn’t that which the controversy against Lensculture & Magnum over the contest is about.

Quite simply, what has shocked many photographers is the use of a photograph of child rape to advertise the contest – and a picture in which the victim of the crime is clearly recognisable. It’s a picture – and a project that raises severe ethical problems, and one which certainly should not have been used in this context. It has now been taken down – apparently after the photographer who took it complained, saying he specifically told LensCulture not to use it.

You can read more about it in a post by Benjamin Chesterton on his Duckrabbit blog. I hadn’t read this blog post when I found the story – along with outraged comments by some photographers I admire – on a private Facebook group. I share that outrage.

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