The New BJP

I was rather sad when I heard a few weeks ago that the British Journal of Photography (BJP) intended to cease weekly publication and become a monthly magazine after so many years.

Wednesday is a day I normally set aside for tidying up things, doing a little shopping, visiting the library and my pharmacist and other odd jobs that can’t be avoided – unless there is something happening I think is really worth photographing. It seems things seldom happen on Wednesdays, and part of the routine of my life was to pick up the latest BJP from the doormat and sit down for lunch with it open on the table as I ate. Normally I would finish all I needed to read in it while having a boiled egg, a couple of slices of bread and a piece of cake, though just occasionally there would be a longer article I felt was worth reading in detail later.

No longer. The BJP will come just once a month, and will be rather thicker. The first monthly issue (since the 1860s or so) arrived this morning (it should be in the newsagents in a few days time) and my immediate impression was disappointment. Frankly the cover looks confused, messy and dated and the design inside didn’t immediately appeal. Even the typeface is annoying, profusely dotted with little squiggly ligatures that make reading for me a tiring business. To be a success in the new format it needs to sell off the shelf in the newsagents, and given the price I think it will need a redesign to do so.

The BJP has never quite seemed a professional magazine, but when I started reading it you could forgive it because the people who wrote for it were clearly professional so far as photography was concerned. In more recent years it seems to have passed into the hands of journalists who occasionally seem a little lacking so far as photography is concerned, although some at least of the contributors clearly know their stuff.

They were occasionally especially fine appreciations of the work of some photographers. Sometimes there were some good pieces on technical aspects, and at times reviews of equipment by people who had actually used it in anger and could give valuable insights into its strengths and deficiencies in practical situations which some of us found valuable, even if they lacked the facts and figures of the better technical reviews (such as those that used to appear in some US magazines or those now on Digital Photography Review.)

Of course there were also other ‘reviews’ that appeared to be written from the press releases and some that would never have survived peer review, or had perhaps been slipped in while the editor was napping. The sloppiness continues. In this issue we get a piece that starts by naming an exhibition that took place 35 years ago as one that many photographers would consider the most important in the last quarter century. Well, perhaps there are many innumerate photographers!

I’ve not really read thoroughly yet, but my initial impressions, having leafed through it and read the odd piece that looked of interest are not positive, and I’m not sure I’ll find the time to go back for more. There is what looks like a decent piece on Don McCullin, but although I’m a great fan of most of his photography (spare me the landscapes) I was tempted to say ‘again.’ And there is another piece on an internationally known photographer who certainly ranks high in my list of the top ten most boring well-known photographers, but someone must like.

There is one new section – Projects – which looks to have some purchase, but at the moment it seems far too cramped. Perhaps the space for each project could be doubled in future issues? Reproduction of images – one of the advantages listed for the change – is generally better than in the weekly, but usually in the past it was adequate for purpose, and even now it is certainly no ‘Aperture.’ Decent but not outstanding, I can’t see it being good enough to persuade people to buy the magazine.

Overall I think the magazine seems a mess, without the fairly clear structure the weekly magazine used to have, rather as if it has grown out of control. But this was an issue produced while they were still bringing out the weekly, so perhaps this is understandable and we can hope it will improve. It would surely have been better to leave a week or two longer gap to produce the new issue so it could really have been well prepared.

I’ll get the next few issues – at least until my subscription runs out – but it doesn’t at the moment seem to have found its new place and format. I subscribe to a number of photo magazines including several more expensive than this, but each has a clearly defined character that this seems to lack.

One thing I certainly miss which was probably the most valuable single feature of the BJP for me was it’s ‘On Show‘, a listing of photographic shows around the country. The current magazine seems only to mention a couple of shows in London (one of which also has a full page advert) and nothing elsewhere in England, although for the moment at least ‘On Show’ is still available on line.

On Show claims it “keeps you up to date on what is being exhibited in photography galleries across the UK. It is the one stop guide for showings in the next few months” but neither it, nor so far as I can see the magazine appears to have any mention at all of what is certainly the most interesting photographic show in London at the moment. Where Three Dreams Cross continues at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London (Aldgate East or Aldgate tube) until 11 April 2010 . But that’s the BJP for you, never quite professional.

The BJP has been a part of my life for longer than I can remember and I really do hope that it will continue. I’m sorry they felt it had to change to a monthly, but I sincerely wish it well for the future. I’m sad it hasn’t made a better start to its new era.

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