Last Thursday’s headlines informed us of the death of two photojournalists, Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, killed sadly in Libya. In August 2010, on the Peta Pixel site, Neil Burgess, head of London-based photo agency NB Pictures and former head of Network Photographers and Magnum Photos was quoted as having declared that photojournalism is dead. Burgess’s point, apparently, was that news-based magazines simply were not running great photo-essays any more. If what he said is true, without intending to seem callous, it begs the question: what were these photographers doing there?
Could the old adage: ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ in the era of Facebook – where images put up on a member’s wall reveal so much more than any hand-written letter – be more apposite than ever before. Are these pictures of themselves and those they’ve taken of their friends to be considered portraits? If it was indeed dead, has You-tube resurrected and become the new home of, albeit short-lived and disposable, photojournalism? Does this cheapen photography or merely democratise it?
Photography galleries and auction houses selling archive prints, for the most part produced by those who have become household names – on April 9th, a Philips de Pury auction of 261 photographs, where the top prices paid were for Cindy Sherman and Robert Frank prints, sold for a total of 5,802,250 US$ – have developed the output of the sub-genre into a valuable commodity. Currently though, prices fall far short of those that paintings and sculpture are fetching. Have sales peaked? Will a photographic print or an image that is intended to be admired exclusively on a computer screen ever be worth as much as a Van Gogh?
What I am trying to get at is that the world of photography has, in recent years, fundamentally changed to become an enormous, shifting, complex and often perplexing subject to try to understand, follow or find a clear basis to form an opinion about.
Not so long ago, a reliable colleague, friend or trusted acquaintance might point someone out across the room at an event and tell me that he/she is a new and interesting photographer. I might get an introduction, wander over and introduce myself – in those days, before I became a full-time photographer, I was commissioning a lot of photography and was keen to work with and encourage up and coming talent – or the photographer might sidle up to introduce his/herself or wangle an introduction to me. Things were simpler when I saw one photographer at my office, at an alloted time, every weekday. Once I had chatted with them and looked at their work, regardless of whether I thought it was right or relevant for whatever projects I was involved with, I thought I could tell if they were any good. These days, I’m no longer commissioning but like to keep reasonably well informed. The ever-growing amount of stuff out makes it all the more difficult to make an immediate judgement. I want more information, I miss the personal contact; I find myself canvassing the opinions of others, looking not for guidance, exactly – perhaps I’ve grown lazy – more for them to have done an initial sift.
Having looked at a lot that I was unimpressed with, I have subscribed to a small number of on-line photo magazine sites and adopted them as my regular ports of call. None of them provide answers to the questions I would like to ask or forums for discussion about the aspects of photography that I feel ought to be discussed. However, by looking at their offerings and clicking on the links they provide to galleries, book publishers and photographers’ personal sites, I use these as springboards to what I consider interesting, and where I can keep informed about what is happening in photography. Currently, in my opinion, the best of these comes in the form of a daily, La Lettre de la Photographie, which, in the last few days led me to the following:
Patrick Tosani, photography 1980-2011
La Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France. Until 19th June
Image: Talon réf. 100-40,1987 © Patrick Tosani /ADGP, Paris 2011
Michael Thompson: Portraits,
Damiani, 2011. $65.00, 45,88 €
The Feast of Trimalchio
Le Royal Monceau, Paris. Until 25th June
Image: The Feast of Trimalchio. Allegory #1. The Triumph of America. AES+F 2010-2011. Courtesy, Triumph Gallery, Moscow
The Lives of Great Photographers
National Media Museum Bradford ,UK. Until 4th September
Featuring Henri Cartier-Bresson, Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Capa, William Henry Fox Talbot, Weegee, Tony Ray-Jones, Fay Godwin and Eadweard Muybridge
Image: Carlyle like a rough block of Michael Angelo’s (sic) sculpture, 1867, Julia Margaret Cameron. Courtesy, The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Media Museum/SSPL
Do you have any favourite photography sites?
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