Getting lost is all part of the journey for some photographers. And finding hidden treasures is a vocation for others.
Not every project has to have a beginning, a middle and an end that is carefully researched, deliberated upon and then structured. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut loose and throw yourself to fate.
This is the central theme to the May edition of British Journal of Photography, which sets out to explore why getting lost is often a necessary part of the journey, and for some, a means to an end.
We begin with French photographer Charlotte Tanguy, who has been photographing in Russia for the past three years, on and off, wandering around on foot, deliberately allowing herself to become utterly disorientated in order to make the kind of pictures she treasures. “When your surroundings are chaotic and incomprehensible, your vision becomes clearer,” she explains. “It is a state similar to the extreme lucidity that manifests itself in times of emergency and allows you to react appropriately. Photographs are everywhere, all the time – it’s just a question of being open to seeing them.”
And the result is a set of wonderfully strange and evocative images. They don’t attempt to describe or tell a story but instead capture something less tangible and perhaps more exciting. Overwhelmed by her surroundings, the city becomes magical – a place of endless visual potential. The originality of her pictures lies not so much in what she takes as in her state of mind, and in being able to translate that into photographs.
For another of our featured photographers, Robin Maddock, the freedom of letting go and embracing the unknown followed a severe case of creative block, on the back of two well-received photobooks that took a broadly documentary approach. Eventually, accepting that everything starts with “groping around”, he decided that what was most important to him at the time was throwing everything in and taking a risk. Find out why he’s not crying over spilt milk, but instead photographing it…
Michael Ackerman is interviewed by Michael Grieve in their adopted city of Warsaw. They discuss the American photographer’s seemingly haphazard working practice, never working to a prescribed project, and how he’s driven by a determination never to repeat himself. “I feel more lost as a photographer now than ever before, because if I try to work as I used to, it just comes out as weak imitations. If it comes across as the style, then it’s failed; I think you always have to subvert your style. Whatever your thing is, it needs subversion.”
One of the ultimate subversions for any artist is to make work without actually creating anything, and in recent years there has been a growing use of ‘found’ photographs – investigating the idea that art resides not so much in the production of ideas as in their conception. One of the best found image projects we have come across recently is Wanted by Russian photographer Anastasia Rudenko. Featured in May’s issue alongside an interview, she explains how her collection of sexualised images of Russian policewomen, culled from online social networks, can be used to explore complex themes of identity, power, dominance and self-representation.
We also meet Timothy Prus, who presides over one of the world’s most weird and wonderful photography collections, the Archive of Modern Conflict. Invited in for a rummage around its west London HQ, Diane Smyth uncovers its hidden treasures – from vintage police photos of transvestite prostitutes to the contemporary photobooks it has helped to support and fund.
We talk to David Campany about the scholarly research that led to his latest book, Walker Evans: The Magazine Work. And in our Intelligence section, we meet two couples who, in their own ways, are trying to democratise the art world – Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss by setting up Houston Fotofest and its groundbreaking portfolio reviews, and Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale through their roving Caravan Gallery. Tom Seymour talks to the British Library about opening up its archives through its Mechanical Curator blog. In our Technology review, we test the Nikon D4S and Elinchrom’s latest flash heads. Plus, we bring you four recently completed series of photographs in our Projects section, and more…
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