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Any Answers: Monica Allende

Monica Allende @ Mauro Bedoni

Monica Allende © Mauro Bedoni

Insights into photography and life from Monica Allende, director of the Format International Photography Festival while Louise Clements is on maternity leave

The London-based curator, producer and educator is currently the director of Format International Photography Festival (providing maternity cover for Louise Clements) and artistic director of Getxophoto in Bilbao, where she grew up. Previously she was the photo editor at The Sunday Times Magazine where she launched Spectrum, the award-winning photography section. This interview was first published in the BJP’s March 2017 issue.

I have always been quite self-reliant. I’m a low-consuming, low-impact individual who strongly believes in the social contract, which are values passed to me through my family and my upbringing in the Basque Country.

I loved this city from the moment I arrived. Every day I feel excited to be in London; every day there is something new to see, hear, talk about or investigate. There is room to be who you please but as long as you use good manners. I’m just devastated that after Brexit, I might have to leave my life here.

Do I miss being on a picture desk? I wish I was working as part of a team on a current-affairs magazine, uncovering stories that society needs to read about, especially now with all this ‘false news’ and misinformation. But the time when in-depth investigative visual journalism was commissioned and supported by newspapers is gone. That’s why it was time for me to leave.

I don’t miss the lack of integrity. There is a lack of commitment to an ethical code of conduct – or even the understanding of what that means. There is a collective sense of fear caused by an unchallenged bully culture and a decline in quality from lack of vision and investment.

The photo editor was a visual journalist with equal responsibility and influence as any other commissioning editor. The role is being relegated to finding pictures on the web to fill holes, rather than producing and editing exclusive narratives from visual journalists.

I’m proud of the Spectrum photography section in The Sunday Times Magazine.

I never stopped believing that good-quality visual journalism and provocative photography could be appreciated by the mainstream readership, contrary to the editor’s opinions. It was a massive challenge to change the tide of light-hearted, celebrity-driven and lifestyle photography. But I was vindicated by the popular appeal of Spectrum. It took years of determination to create an award-winning photography section, but it was almost entirely gone just a month after I left.

The biggest challenge for photography educators is keeping up. There are constant developments in technology, but also experimentation with new visual narrative experiences and distribution platforms.

Choices bring options. But there is a sense of overwhelming possibilities. And how can you concentrate and produce an in-depth body of work when you are constantly distracted by new market-driven trends?

Every action has a consequence and we must take personal responsibility for it.

I dread the idea of a purposeless existence. If we are on this planet just to consume, reproduce and deplete other species, it would be better to go back to the evolutionary drawing board.

The virtual world is the least exciting aspect of my life. Social media is a work tool, but I don’t enjoy staying on there longer than I have to. I have always suffered from being too connected. I always engage with my surroundings and talk to people wherever I happen to be. And I get to hear amazing stories.

We need to dispel the fetishism around technology and regain some sense of control. We need to use it to our advantage and make it work for us, not the other way around.

The future of photography? I’m not sure about the terminology or technology, neither am I concerned about it. Visual storytelling will continue to exist in one form or another. We have been communicating though pictures for thousands of years.

My interest in photo festivals is philosophical. I want to develop direct engagement with communities, discussing issues that affect us all, from the global to the local. And a photo festival is the perfect format for that.

VR, film, interactive web docs – they bring new creative and selling opportunities to an already existing body of work. Old structures are being replaced by new narrative forms and experimental platforms. Some might stay, others won’t. All experimentation leads to personal development and creative growth.

This interview was first published in BJP’s March 2017 issue, which was themed Habitat and produced in partnership with Format International Photography Festival. Back issues can be bought from www.thebjpshop.com

MAY 2017 ISSUE:

Female Gaze: New perspectives from the selfie generation. Charlotte Jansen considers a new generation of female photographers who make women their subject.

It’s available to order online now.

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