BJP, Documentary, Editions, Portrait

BJP #7833: Songbook

Image © Alec Soth/Magnum Photos, courtesy of Mack

What does it take to be a photography great? In our latest magazine, we feature four artists who have managed to keep going, whatever the cost, and even if they remain unsung.

British Journal of Photography’s March issue is about the long game, what it takes to spend a life making photographs, and what it means to return to a place that was once home.

The issue is on sale in all good newsagents from the first Wednesday of February, or you can pre-order it now, directly from the BJP shop.

Last month we featured the Ones to Watch, a celebration of the best emerging talents in photography. Now, we’ve gone in-depth with four photographers who have managed to keep going, even while remaining unsung. And who are, in their endurance, their dedication and their ability to adapt, each remarkable.

Fame, or at least recognition, has found each differently, but it never struggled to locate Alec Soth, whose Sleeping by the Mississippi became one of the iconic series of the twentieth century. Now he talks about Songbook, a revisitation of his beginnings as a staff photographer on a suburban newspaper in Minneapolis.

“To sustain myself creatively is to not give myself over entirely in one way or another,” Soth tells Lucy Davies. “And I like to try things that really knock myself out of the park. Who cares if you fail?”

Raymond Depardon’s presence is also felt wherever he is, as Michael Grieve witnesses when he meets the 72-year-old in a gallery in Berlin, after an event honouring the 50 years the Frenchman has spent photographing the city (a project now published as a book by Steidl).

Before he became a celebrated member of Magnum, Depardon grew up on a farm in rural Rhône. Now he is returning to where he began with the insight of an older man, and all the experience of a life describing reality.

But we’ve also looked beyond the big names. Ken Grant, who grew up in Liverpool and who, for a long while, photographed the rhythms of the city on the side, is only now being discovered on the international stage. “My wife will tell you, there’s a gasket that blows when I’m not making pictures,” he tells Colin Pantall. “I have to make work.”

In 1998, he became the course leader of the Documentary Photography undergraduate course at the University of Wales, Newport, and soon after he was picked up the James Hyman gallery. Now the 47-year-old who can still “shock people by knowing how to hang a door” has his photographs in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and has published a series of books.

George Georgiou has never chased recognition, shunning the very idea of a ‘career’. He grew up in London, but left the city to live “in debt and on the breadline” in Turkey, the Balkans, Georgia and the Ukraine. Georgiou made “massive financial sacrifices for his work” but, as he returned to photograph his native city, found it has somehow all paid off. “I think our stubborn persistence and belief in our work has, after half a working lifetime, started to pay off,” says Georgiou of his life with fellow photographer Vanessa Winship. “This can always change, as we live in a world dominated by trends.”

“It’s a sobering insight into the commitment that’s required to carve out a life in photography,” writes Diane Smyth, BJP’s deputy editor, of our featured photographers. “The Ones to Watch we featured have talent, but their futures will depend on their tenacity, endurance and ability to sacrifice and adapt.”

For those photographers, indeed for any photographer intent on this path, these are the stories to remember. And, if there’s a message from each, it remains the same – overcome the indifference, ignore the platitudes if they come, and focus entirely on the work.

This issue is available from the BJP shop.

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