Friday, 22 January 2021

The democratic medium?

Before I get into my 'thought piece' some photos. The weather this past week has been wetter than ever, so I haven't been out much - with or without a camera. Thursday I drove round my most frequent walking route on the moss to see what was what as I didn't want to get caught in one of the frequent showers. I parked up and walked back to take some photos and before I reached where I wanted to take pictures I got hit by yet another load of rain. 

The downpours had made a significant impact on land that I hadn't seen so wet before.


Today the rain had gone and the sun was shining, although the sun did its usual disappearing act when I went out in the late afternoon. I'd put my wellies on because the field path had been under more water than I'd ever seen on Thursday. When I got to the field the wellies were more than sufficient s the water level had dropped back to below the ditch top. It was the same on the moss with the water being mostly back in the ditches. What a difference a day made.

Sunset is getting noticeably later now making it possible to get work done and still manage an hour or more wandering with the camera. This wood often attracts my attention at this time of year when teh sun sets behind, or almost behind, it. This evening  the glow from the low sun and the towering clouds made it look as if the wood were on fire. Or maybe I just have a vivid imagination?
Next to no photographs, certainly none with any great utility, and loads of rain. A dismal week all round.

Having been put in a miserable mood I got all gloomy an started pondering, for the umpteenth time, who is it that looks at zines and photobooks. Who are the people making these publications making them for? Given the limited print runs of most zines and books, and let's face it anything under tens of thousands is limited, I can only conclude that the audience is predominantly (if not entirely) other photographers plus those involved in the photo-world - gallerists, collectors, curators. this most democratic of media is making publications for an elite.

If that wasn't bad enough when I look at the price of photobooks these days they are creeping up beyond what I can justify paying. I grudgingly coughed up £45 for a copy of the reprint of Paul Graham's A1 because it was a book I had wanted for some time. Okay, so it was cheaper than buying a first edition, but compared to some other books I've bought it was a bit pricey. This week I saw that his Beyond Caring is to be reissued at the same price. Another book I'd like to have on my shelves but this time I'm wavering over the price. Almost a ton for two books. I could buy a whole library of zines for that kind of cash. I'd get a load more photos to look at that way. If I'm feeling flush when the release date nears I'll probably pull the trigger. However, Beyond Caring is scheduled to be the second of a trilogy of reprints over three years, the third being Troubled Land. This one doesn't interest me. I've never been a completist so not having 'the full set' wouldn't bother me at all. No doubt the publisher's hope if that most people aren't like me and will have to buy the hat trick.

I'm sure that the collecting of sets instinct, which I admit is tempting, works for a number of small zine publishers who produce publications which are uniform in cover design. I don't really have a problem with that as zines are still pretty affordable. Although buying them on a regular basis can soon put a dent in the bank balance.

Perhaps perversely, while I'll happily cough up a tenner for a small zine I am loathe to hand a similar sum over each month for a magazine like the BJP. When it was in the region of six quid I bought it fairly regularly, but when it got into double figures (despite it's increased heft) it had to have a lot of content which interested me to part me from my cash. Eventually I gave up on it altogether. Way back when I remember (perhaps wrongly) that the BJP was very much aimed at commercial photographers. More recently it seems to be aimed at the photo-art world. Another example of catering for an elite?

If a tenner is getting into the realms of putting off a pleb like me then what to make of something flagged up on The Online Photographer? At first glance a print magazine of photojournalism would be my kind of thing. especially one harking back to the days of Life, Picture Post, and the likes of the Sunday Times Magazine's long form photo features. Even though it was US based I had to check out The Curious Society. Particularly as it is fronted by Kenneth Jarecke.

Great photography about important stories in a well produced magazine. What's not to like? How about $300 for four issues? Again I ask; Who is it for? It can only be fore photoworld insiders and middle class elites. It makes £45 for a book look like excellent value.

Maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe I'm misjudging the average disposable income. It still doesn't seem to me that it's a good way to get photojournalism out to the masses. Which surely is what photojournalism used to do. If the venture succeeds with it's business model then it might succeed in its aim to pay photographers properly, as they used to be paid before print media began to be squeezed by the internet. But is that enough? I don't think so. Pictures like that need to be seen by millions, not thousands. I can't see it expanding the audience, just as I don't see worth projects like Small Town Inertia making a difference when it's audience is, once again as far as I can see, predominantly that photoworld elite.

Naturally I can't put forward a better way of doing any of this, but it does all seem a little futile and incestuous to me.

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