How can contemporary photographers shoot stories from the past? By taking a long hard look at how they continue to inform our cultures and lives, as our July issue shows.
If photography is indexically tied to the present moment, the past presents something of a challenge. Yet the features gathered here this month all draw on ancient customs and legends – from The Ramayana and The Bible to Greek mythology and traditional festivals held in Valencia and the Chiapa de Corzo in southern Mexico.
What these projects record isn’t the past but the way that that the past lives on; old narratives that continue to inform lives that are also shaped by technology that would once have seemed like science fiction. And these series also show how photographers and their subjects can subvert and evolve these ancient stories, whether by using traditional carnival characters to question modern gender roles in Central America, or Classical statues to consider Western depictions of female nudes. If everything in the present day has evolved from something that went before, photographers can tunnel back through time by carefully selecting what they look at.
How does our front cover fit in? Taken from Leslie Moquin’s project Shanghai Cosmetic, it seems to do just the opposite, focusing in on the present day to reveal the disconnect between the advertising on display in the city and the experience of living in it. But even leaving aside the aesthetic traditions the advertisers draw on, I’d say it shows how, far from abandoning myths or simply updating the old stories, we’re still actively engaged in making up new ones – fictions that underpin our lives and our thinking in ways that can be hard to unpick, or even discern.
– Diane Smyth, editor of the July issue