Posts Tagged ‘photography’

The Future of the Photographic Magazine

Thursday, February 10th, 2022

I seldom these days think or write much about contemporary photography or the future of photography, though it was something that was a part of my remit as a working journalist for some years a while back. Nowadays I seem to be too busy with my own work – both current and past – to think or write much about anything else.

But I’ve recently been intrigued by a Twitter thread by John Macpherson, better known as duckrabbit, a photographer and author of one of the few photography blogs I read regularly and admire greatly for the principled stance he has taken in recent controversies over Magnum and Child Abuse and other issues.

I have to admit I don’t actually take any real part in Twitter, never having found out how to sort the wheat from the incredible volume of chaff. I post (when I remember) tweets linking to pictures from current protests and events which I’ve posted in Facebook albums, but that’s about all. So the link to duckrabbit’s thread came to me by a ‘Your Highlights‘ e-mail from Twitter.

The thread is difficult to follow, but it seems that the British Journal of Photography has been sold or is in process of being sold and its Twitter account with 250,000 followers has been asset stripped from the company.

The sale appears to be to a company engaged in the promotion of NFTs, and BJP appears to be morphing into ART3A brand new platform bringing the best lens-based art to the metaverse” offering these as rather intangible Non-fungible tokens for sale through an outlet, OpenSea.

Having read and tried to understand what an NFT is, I still have no idea why anyone would want to own one. Certainly it is something far more to do with the art market than with photography. It’s worth reading the thoughts of Jack Lowe on them in his ‘Are Aspiring Photographers Being Used to Prop Up the Grave New World of NFTs?’

Magazines have played an important role throughout the history of photograph up until now. The BJP can trace its ancestry back to the 1854 Liverpool Photographic Journal, though it only became the BJP in 1860, but it wasn’t the UK’s first as the Journal of the Photographic Society (now the RPS Journal) has been publishing continuously since 1853.

Probably the most influential of all was Camera Work, published by Alfred Stieglitz from 1903-1917, which set new standards for photographic publishing and helped bring photography into the galleries and museums. Established firmly in the era of pictorial photography and promoting Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession, its two final issues launched the new Modernist photography of Paul Strand which was to become dominant in the following decades. The US-based Aperture magazine later became the most prestigious of all photographic magazines, though its book publishing is arguably even more important.

Here in the UK, several magazines have been important in our photographic history, including the illustrated magazines around the Second World War, notably Picture Post, which although based on photographs were not aimed at a photographic audience but a mass one. More narrowly when I came into photography at the start of the 1970s, Creative Camera was the Bible for many young photographers, introducing us to a new way of seeing, particularly from American photographers.

There were other influential British magazines too, including Camerawork, obviously named from the earlier US publication but with a very different approach, and many others, but for many years BJP remained at the centre of British Photography.

Part of BJP’s appeal was that it covered all areas of photography except amateur photography, being a trade journal, publishing exhibition listings and reviews, news items about new equipment, materials and services etc. Its reviews of cameras were always by professionals who actually used them rather than re-hashing the spec sheets and PR releases and while not greatly embellished by detailed charts or test results gave a very practical view. Many of the articles commissioned, particularly under the editorship of Geoffrey Crawley (1967-87) were by leading experts in their respective fields, and his example was largely followed by Chris Dickie and Reuel Golden.

For many of us working in photography it was essential reading to keep in touch with photography in the UK every week (from 1864 to 2010.) Like most other magazines mentioned above it then underwent a dramatic change, becoming a very different publication, appearing monthly and largely devoted to portfolios of images from the fine art fringe of photography. I didn’t bother to renew my subscription as I already had subs to several other magazines which did similar things but usually better.

In 2016, the BJP turned to equity crowdfundingto monetise our global digital audience, expand on our competitions and events, and sell access to our unique 160+ year archive.” Many of its subscribers responded and became shareholders in a company that was set up so as to retain control in the hands of its major shareholder. The company was asking for more investments as recently as June 2021, but the latest confidential e-mail tells them that for a total of £1.8 million invested they will only get £50,000 back – which if my calculation is correct is less than 3p for every £1 invested.

Finally, an article by photographer, educator and photographic author Grant Scott on his United Nations of Photography web site written in 2020 is titled IS THERE A FUTURE FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHY MAGAZINE? His answer after a lengthy look at how photography magazines have worked and his own experience is “Sadly, I don’t think so.” And his final two sentences:
You may agree with me or you may not, but whatever your opinion please answer just one question. When was the last time you bought a photography magazine?”


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Naomi Rosenblum (1925-2021)

Monday, February 22nd, 2021

Naomi Rosenblum, the celebrated author of two landmark histories of photography, her World History of Photography (1984) and A History of Women Photographers (1994), died on February 19th, 2021.

Her work widened our knowledge of the history of photography and gave it a more international perspective as the ‘World Photography’ in the title indicates, and it was an inspiration to me later to try and write about the history and development of photography in countries around the world when I wrote online for ‘About Photography’.

Similarly her book on women photographers opened up a wider area for study, and was of particular interest to me as many of my better students were women. Of course there were women who had become well-known as photographers and who I had featured in my courses – Julia Margaret Cameron, Dorothea Lange, Berenice Abbott and others spring obviously to mind, but many others had been sadly sidelined from previous histories, often mere footnotes to the work of their male colleagues.

Together with her husband, Walter Rosenblum she did much to promote the work of Lewis Hine, and of the photographers of the New York Photo League, where Walter had met both Hine and Paul Strand and had become its President in 1941 before his war service. Naomi had also been involved with the Photo League, although she was not a photographer. As a designer she designed the cover of ‘Photo Notes‘, the influential magazine of the League (Edward Weston praised it as the most worthwhile magazine dealing with photography.)

I’m sure there will be many detailed obituaries of Naomi Rosenblum appearing and I’ll not write one here. But I do have fond personal memories of meeting her back in 2007, in Bielsko-Biala, Poland. For me the most important exhibition at the FotoArtFestival there was the early work of her late husband, ‘Message from the Heart‘. Naomi was there to launch the Polish version of her ‘World Photography’ and also, like me, to give a lecture, and her daughter, film-maker Nina Rosenblum came to present her film about her father, Walter Rosenblum: In Search Of Pitt Street.

It was a great privilege for me to go with Naomi and Nina around the show of Walter’s work and to hear their stories about him and the pictures. We talked too at some of the meals and events, and in the lecture hall – where I listened to her lecture and they to mine. There was actually some overlap the two, hers on the New York Photo League but rather more wide-ranging and mine on street photography in London, and it was interesting for us to compare our slightly different thoughts and wildly different presentations.

There is just a little more about our meeting in the lengthy diary I put on line in 2007 about my experiences at the FotoArtFestival. It includes brief thoughts on many of the of the exhibitions and events as well as photographs of the festival and of my walks around Bielsko-Biala.


Violence or Photography?

Thursday, November 19th, 2020

According to some I should be confessing my sins for the criminal behaviour of taking pictures of people in public places like this without first gaining their permission. Of course I don’t see it that way.

On the streets we have no “reasonable expectation of privacy” and while I think we should all – whether taking photographs or not – generally try not to behave in ways that give others reasonable call for upset, making a photograph does not usually fall into that category. Of course there are some photographers who have adopted a very aggressive approach which I feel is questionable, and there are offences such as stalking and ‘up-skirting’, but in general photographing people in public is not a criminal offence, even if those being photographed may not like it. And of course there is sometimes a strong public interest in photographing people who make it clear that they do not want to be photographed.

Mostly those I’ve photographed, at least in recent years, have been involved in protests, and making a protest implies a clear statement that you wish your actions to be recorded and there is also a clear public interest in doing so. But there is also a public interest in the recording and making statements about everyday life, the ordinary behaviour of people often unaware they are being photographed. So while I may occasionally have upset people by taking their pictures, and I may apologise that they feel upset, I’m not apologising for taking pictures or for my actions, but that I’m sorry that they think that way.

This doesn’t mean that I never ask people if I may take their picture. There are times and places where I do, usually when I need to work closely with them and take more than a single image, but more often to do so would mean missing the moment and failing to express what I saw as important to say.

I had to sort through my own ideas on this back around 1990 when I worked on a transport project taking pictures of people on buses. I don’t think there is a single picture I took for that where I asked for permission, and few that I could have made had I done so. Some were clearly aware that I was taking their picture, but most were not.

Only one person actually objected. He was a man sitting on a seat in a bus dressed in shorts with a snake around his bare upper body. I didn’t get a chance to reply to him, as two elderly women sitting to one side immediately butted in, telling him clearly that if he travelled on buses dressed like that he should expect to be photographed. I think his real objection was that I was not paying him – this was his working outfit, and he was on his way to pose with tourists in Covent Garden for a fee.

These thoughts were aroused by an article on PetaPixel, a response by Kansas City photographer Brandon Ballweg to an opinion piece published in the New York Daily News by writer Jean Son titled “When your photograph harms me: New York should look to curb unconsensual photography of women“. In Street Photography Is Not a Crime. Let’s Keep it That Way Ballweg describes her premise that any photographing of women in public places constitutes “gender-based violence“, as “hyperbolic and irresponsible” and goes on to comment on her behaviour and and arguments, as well as what seems to him (and me) her totally inconsistent later claim that “Garry Winogrand is one of my fave artists btw“. Somehow it was fine to photograph women (and men) on the street without their consent in the 1950s, 1960s, 70s and 80s as he so consistently did but now she considers it an offence.

Ballweg ends his piece – worth reading and illustrated by a number of Winogrand images – with a suggestion of a “rational, mature, adult way of dealing with a situation of you’ve been photographed” and don’t like it and goes on to suggest that if having someone take your picture causes you “such distress that you lobby to convene a task force to ban it” then it may be due to “some underlying personal issues that you need to work through and confront as an individual” rather than a problem with photography.

It’s perhaps a little harsh a statement, but reflects Son’s failure to distinguish between actual gender-based violence and the taking of photographs. It’s a vital line to draw if not always clear exactly where it lies, and one which the US Legal system has clearly failed to do in some cases as Son rightly points out.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Harold Evans

Friday, September 25th, 2020

Harold Evans, certainly one of the greatest newspaper men of the second half of the twentieth century and the early years of this, died aged 92 on 23 September 2020. Many obituaries have appeared about him in print and online, and there is little point in my repeating the details of his life.

One thing that his career does illustrate is the malevolent power of Rupert Murdoch and the undue influence of him (and other billionaire newspaper proprietors) on what we are allowed to read. Murdoch appointed Evans as Editor of The Times when he took over the newspaper group in 1981, but the following year Evans resigned because of policy differences relating to editorial independence.

Like many photographers I have a well-used copy of his 1978 book ‘Pictures On A Page‘ written when he was Editor of The Sunday Times and in association with the paper’s Design Director Edwin Taylor. It was Book IV in a series of 5 volumes in the series by Evans, Editing And Design, “Published under the auspices of the National Council for the Training of Journalists“. It was a work I made extensive use of when I taught photography. It’s worth reading if you have any interest in photography or being a photographer, not simply for journalists.

I never met Evans, but Graham Harrison did, and on his Photohistories site is a fine piece on the man and the book Harold Evans and Pictures on a Page which I firmly recommend you to read.

The book has gone through several editions and revisions since its original publication and if you don’t already have a copy is well worth buying. You can find later editions secondhand for around a fiver as well as rather more expensively, though I’ve not found anything to match the £5,710.07 plus delivery that Harrison found on Amazon in 2015.


Patina and Photography

Sunday, July 26th, 2020

According to Wikipedia, “Patina is a thin layer that variously forms on the surface of copper, brass, bronze and similar metals (tarnish produced by oxidation or other chemical processes), or certain stones, and wooden furniture (sheen produced by age, wear, and polishing), or any similar acquired change of a surface through age and exposure.”

For his post ‘Patina in Photography‘, Jörg Colberg interprets the word a little differently, using it to refer to the qualities of any surfaces in photographs, something I might prefer to refer to as texture, but also extends it to consider the content of images.

The piece is an interesting discussion, illustrated with some of his own work, of what makes a “good picture“, something which he rightly says is “enormously difficult to describe” but is also “usually straightforward to see“, though I think we might often disagree with other viewers. Colberg continues to give what is I think a useful definition of “a good picture as a picture that makes a viewer look more carefully, that makes a viewer think.”

Colberg writes about the “lure of the easy picture” which captures many photographers – indeed all of us much of the time, including as he admits himself, writing “Mostly I now ask myself whether a picture challenges me. Not surprisingly, most pictures don’t. I still take them.”

He then discusses his different reactions to the very different cities of Warsaw and Tokyo, which he ascribes to their different patina. Colberg rightly comments that as photographers we react to what we see and chose to photograph because of our “background, culture, society…” but I think I would equally stress that what we have in the world to react to is also a product of these aspects, a different culture, particularly in terms of aesthetics, but also in terms of ideas about space and personal space.

Perhaps the most important picture I took in my early years as a photographer is one that I don’t think I have ever shown to anyone. Taken on a the building site of a new estate in Bracknell where I was then living, it showed a number of sewage pipes waiting to be installed. It wasn’t a great picture but it worried me because it stood out from the others I had taken that day and that in the terms that Colberg uses, it challenged me, though not at the point of taking, but when I saw it on the contact sheet and later as a print.

I couldn’t quickly find a copy of that picture, and I think it’s one I’ve never digitised, but probably neither you nor I would find it very interesting now, and if I had it to hand I probably wouldn’t have included it here. It wasn’t a bad picture – I was taking plenty of those – nor I think a particularly good picture but one that made me begin to think and study and change.

Showing faces II

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

For a rather wider discussion of the issues involved in photographing protests and showing the faces of those taking part, you may like to read On Ethics, The First Amendment, and Photographing Protestors’ Faces by Allen Murabayashi.

It is of course in some respects a very US-centric article, talking about Trump and about the constitution. But I think it makes some of the reasons for the disagreements over the issue clear, and is worth reading.

Murabayashi gives his own opinion in two short paragraphs as the end of the piece:

To me, the real discussion shouldn’t be about the blurring or obscuring of faces, nor gaining consent of a subject. These are tactical choices, and in the U.S. there is simply no expectation of privacy in a public setting.

Instead, we ought to continue to consider how photography is used to portray others (particularly the vulnerable), and whether an image truly advances a story or simply acts as a signifier for the photo we should have taken.

Op cit

The link in the last sentence is to another piece by Murabayashi, The Photographic Phases of Depicting COVID-19, which is also an interesting read.


John Pfahl (1939-2020)

Monday, May 25th, 2020

I was interested to read the appreciation of the work of John Pfahl by photographer, photo critic and historian Bruno Chalifour published by A D Coleman as a guest post on his Photocritic International web site, not just for the information it gives about Pfahl who died in April, a victim of Covid-19, and his work but also for its insight into some of the political aspects of photography and photographic history.

Although I’ve been aware of the work of John Pfahl more or less since I first started my serious interest in photography in the 1970s when I think I first came across his work in the pages of one of the US magazines, probably Popular Photography, he wasn’t a photographer who particularly inspired me, perhaps because I found his work a little academic. So although I have books with his pictures in, particularly Sally Euclaire’s ‘ The New Color Photography’ (1981). I didn’t buy a copy of his Altered Landscapes also published that same year by The Friends of Photography, and have failed to acquire any of his later publications.

Chalifour talks about the “Rochester camp of photography“, to which Pfahl belonged, being in opposition to the MoMa school around its curator from 1962-91 John Szarkowski: “Szarkowski — still echoed nowadays by non-rigorous if not lazy art critics, curators, photo historians and researchers — did not consider that there was any serious color fine-art photography before the William Eggleston show he mounted there in 1976.” But Pfahl studied on the “first graduate-level program in color photography in America” gaining his MA at Syracuse University in 1968.

Of course there was serious colour photography even before that, including by a number of European photographers (who certainly didn’t count either in New York or Rochester.) But it was still true for most of us at the time that real photography was black and white, and while there were books largely for amateurs on colour photography, my own real training in the medium came from Johannes Itten‘s The Art of Color, published in 1961 based on his teaching at the Bauhaus, a copy of which I found in the 70s in my local library (many years before the cuts.)

Chalifour also mentions another Rochester linked problem, in that “Most of Pfahl’s work until the 1990s was printed on Ektacolor paper” and is thus showing signs of fading. The George Eastman Museum apparently has two sets of his major series, one for display, research and exhibition, and the other kept in the dark in cold storage. Kodak’s colour materials were notoriously fugitive, and having read the research many of us switched to Fuji in the 1980s. Some of his work was printed by the expensive but much more stable dye-transfer process. Pfahl was also an early adopter of digital printing, using the Iris/Giclée process for projects in the 1990s.


As I go through my own old slides, produced from around 1970 to 1985, I’m painfully aware of the limitations of older colour processes, with many images faded beyond repair and others requiring time-consuming restoration and much digital tidying to remove ingrained spots and mould. Fortunately images taken on Kodachrome have survived well, but Kodak’s card mounts are a problem, producing stray fibres and dust around the edges as well as masking too much of the image. I should put them in proper mounts before re-photographing them but it takes too long. Fortunately much of the pictures towards the end of this period before I switched to colour negative were made on Fuji films.



FotoNostrum

Monday, April 20th, 2020

Welcome to a new free online photography magazine, FotoNostrum, published by FotoNostrum Gallery in Barcelona and their parent company The Worldwide Photography Gala Awards.

This is to be published fortnightly:

“The issue zero of this magazine that we’re presenting to you today is proof of what can and should be done to keep our social contact alive, to work for the future, to be able to improve our skills and showcase the work of our fellow photographers. When it seems that we’re lost in confinement, we propose to find each other in our magazine.”

The magazine is to be supported by advertising and donations which are solicited.

The first issue, Issue 0, is certainly well-produced and I wish it well, though I have to say it’s contents don’t particularly appeal to me, with a lead feature on Helmut Newton, a photographer whose work I’ve always found problematic. If you like his certainly very professional but extremely mannered highly commercial soft porn, you will probably also find some other work in the issue of interest. But it isn’t my thing. I’ve nothing against pictures of the nude, male or female, but other photographers, including some in this issue, have done it so much better. There is an element of falsity and sadism that doesn’t attract me and certainly fails to excite.

The only portfolio I found of interest was by Michael Knapstein, an American documentary photographer something in the tradition of Walker Evans. But I hope that having got Newton and some of the others off their chest they will find more interesting work for their next fortnightly issue.



Making Money

Wednesday, February 12th, 2020

I’ve just had a quick read of a post on the LightRocket Photography Blog entitled ‘9 Most Profitable Photography Genres‘, which aims to give guidelines based on broad international standards about “the value of your work, what sectors you want to work in and how much you should charge.”

Value of course is a rather wider concept than simply what someone will pay you for photography, and certainly some of the most valuable photography so far as I’m concerned both by myself and by others has been produced without any real commercial intent or support. Relatively few of the great photographers whose work I admire and which fills the histories of photography were actually making much of a living from those pictures at the time they made them. Some had other sources of income outside of photography, others produced routine and largely uninspired photography to fund their personal projects.

Many photographers whose work now commands high prices in the art market sold pictures for peanuts during their lifetimes or even gave them away. Few became rich from their photography and largely it was driven by motives other than financial. Even now for many – as one photographer jokes to me occasionally – the best career move would be to die.

But of course we do need money to pay our bills, to eat, to keep a roof over our heads, and to buy cameras and computers etc. So getting paid for our work is important, and some may find this guide useful, though it has few surprises, though by UK standards I think some of the prices mentioned are extremely optimistic.

The artilce is entitled ‘9 Most Profitable Photography Genres’ and it’s perhaps not surprising that it begins at number 10 with the area I sell work in, Editorial News. As they say, it “is one of the most popular areas of work for photographers but it is, sadly, one of the least profitable“, thanks to intense competition, particularly from the large agencies. They have driven fees down and negotiate licencing deals with major image users that make it very difficult for freelancers to sell work at prices that make any real profits.

In the UK the market for editorial pictures has shrunk considerably, with many newspapers and magazines largely relying on images, often of poor quality supplied free by readers and with press releases.

It remains possible and almost certainly easier to make a living at the other 9 types of work mentioned, though in many sectors things are getting tougher, with jobs once done by a photographer now being handled by anyone who can hold a smartphone and produce a picture – if not a very good one.

Smartphones have also made it very much easier to produce videos, and in the right hands (or on the right monopod or tripod) the results can be surprisingly good. Certainly the much wider use of smartphones for making pictures and videos has led to the skills of photographers becoming much less valued – and for most people expecting to pay less for them.

It comes as no surprise to find Wedding Photography still fairly high on the list at No 4. It has long been a useful way to make some money, and when I taught I used to suggest it particularly to some of the more reliable students as a way of earning at least a part of a living. While most wedding work is routine and uninspired and not particularly well-paid, it is an area where it is still possible to develop individual approaches and find clients willing to pay high prices for something a little different.

And equally predictable at the top of the list is Fashion Photography, though as the article says it is an area which isn’t easy to get into “small, highly selective and sensitive to trends” and where success depends very much on networking skills.

I am however rather unsympathetic to the underlying idea behind this post, that that people will chose an area of work on the basis of the financial rewards that are possible. Chose to try and work in fashion if you have a passion for it and are not worried by the ethical considerations (the fashion industry is one of the major drivers of climate change, second only to fossil fuels) not because it may make you rich; chose to be a wedding photographer if you love working with people (and if you want to make a lot of money, with wealthy people) and so on. We each only have one life and it would be a shame to waste it in the pursuit of riches.

Bruno Barbey

Friday, February 7th, 2020

Bruno Barbey, a French photographer born in Morocco in 1941, has photographed around the world over the years, and is one of the few Magnum photographers who deserve to be better known. Not that the others are bad photographers, but rather that they are everyday names, at least in the world of photography.

I was reminded of Barbey by a Facebook post by photographer Antonio Olmos (who also deserves to be better known) of a group of pictures taken in Poland in the early 1980s, when Barbey spent 8 months living in a camper van and working there despite strict surveillance by the communist state, because “Poland was the page in history that was being written and it was the memory of an ancestral society on the verge of disappearing”.

Barbey studied photogrpahy in Switzerland in 1959-60 and first went to Magnum in 1964. He served as their vice president for Europe in 1978/1979 and as President of Magnum International from 1992 to 1995. He is now a contributor and you can see a great deal of his work on their site.

In an excellent short video made for Paris Photo he talks about his life and work and some of his pictures.

I hadn’t been aware until I watched this of the various similarities between his views on photography and mine, though in other respects we are so different (for one thing I hate travel and he has spent his life going around the world.) In part it is a generational thing, though I only really got started in photography around fifteen years later than he did.

He speaks of beginning photography with a Leica M2, a camera I bought back in my early years in photography in 1977, though by then my copy was something of an antique, and of course he was working as we almost alll did, in black and white. He learnt to work quickly and unobtrusively, moving close into situations with a 21mm lens, and saying “I never ask permission to take photographs … except for portraits”, using the depth of field of the ultra-wide angle to avoid the need to focus.

In that early work – like most photojournalists of the era – he worked entirely by natural light, and says at the time he really didn’t understand flash, when for example he was covering the events in Paris in ’68. Of course then flash outside the studio was crude and somewhat unpredictable, usually with flash bulbs, though electronic flashes were coming into wider use and largely replacing these. I still remember the first occasion on which I spent several minutes working out how to use fill-flash back in the 1980s, something modern cameras and flashes perform automatically (and at much faster shutter speeds.) And if he was then still using that Leica M2, it’s X-sync speed of 1/50th was more than a little limiting.

On the video he also talks about the difference between working with film for magazines in colour – that meant Kodachrome, a film I could seldom afford – in the old days, when after taking pictures you had to send off the film for processing and while travelling he might not see the images until weeks or months later, and today’s immediate digital photography, when instead of having a good dinner in the evening you might be up to the early hours working in front of a computer. It’s something I find it hard to adapt to, refusing to file without properly editing my pictures on a large screen, though often having that good dinner and a glass or two before finishing the edit.