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What makes a project right for publication by British Journal of Photography?

From the series Monsanto®. A photographic investigation © Mathieu Asselin

Digital editor Diane Smyth sheds light on what she looks for when selecting feature-worthy projects.

What kind of work would you like BJP to feature next year? Send us your thoughts and ideas, along with any projects, here.

With so many photographers out there, the question of what makes for a noteworthy project is all the more important. A strong command of the medium’s formal elements is crucial, but so too are the ideas and narratives that hold a photographic series together.

Established as a trade journal in 1854, during the 163 years since its conception, British Journal of Photography has moved away from this original intent. Today it is focused on showcasing the most innovative photography projects and the concepts behind them, opening up the discipline for readers from all walks of life.

But what makes a project fit for publication by British Journal of Photography?

BJP’s Cool & Noteworthy issue, January 2017, cover image © Lena C Emery

Since joining British Journal of Photography in 2004, Diane Smyth, currently BJP’s digital editor, has selected the work of hundreds of photographers to feature both online and in print. For Smyth, the coalescing of form and ideas is of paramount importance. “I don’t mind if images are documentary, set up, portrait, landscape, digitally retouched, shot on large format film etc. – it’s whether I find the ideas and images themselves interesting. I think the images have to be appealing – having chosen a visual format, some of the potential of that format is lost if a project has an interesting concept but boring or cliched images,” she explains.

The series Monsanto®: A photographic investigation, recently showcased on BJP online, is a series that epitomises this for Smyth. Created by the Franco-Venezuelan photographer, Mathieu Asselin, this long-form documentary project was recently nominated for the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize. “It’s a perfect example of a series that has both an extremely important message, and sophisticated and interesting images,” she says.  

Van Buren, Indiana, 2013 © Mathieu Asselin. Courtesy of the artist

This research-intensive project, which took five years to complete, delves into the dark world of the US chemical corporation, Monsanto, exposing the devastating incidents that litter its past. From the catastrophic human cost of Agent Orange, produced by the company for the US military to spray across large swathes of Southern Vietnam during the War, to the infamous release of poisonous chlorinated PCB derivatives that destroyed a small American town.

Through an assortment of his own imagery and archival material, Asselin reveals the corporation’s shady past and its idealised facade, sustained through years of carefully thought out propaganda and communications. “It shows how a photographic project can raise important questions, and challenge the view of the world put across by powerful institutions,” says Smyth.

From the series Monsanto®. A photographic investigation © Mathieu Asselin

In a similar vein, in 2018 Smyth is keen to see work that engages with the issues around Brexit and the resulting climate of uncertainty. “I think we’re in a dark period politically and I’d like to see projects exploring issues related to this – I’m sure they will come to define this era,” she says.

What kind of work would you like BJP to feature next year? If you’ve seen an interesting project, know someone who’s working on one, or have a compelling series of your own, BJP wants to know about it. Send us your thoughts and ideas, along with any projects, here.