The Parisian curator Quentin Bajac has spent the past two decades working in three of the world’s leading cultural destinations – starting out at the Musée d’Orsay, he moved to Centre Pompidou, and then the most coveted post of all, chief curator of photography at MoMA in New York. Here he shares his insights into photography and life with BJP editorial director Simon Bainbridge
“How to fill the gap between politics and art? This is both an old and a new problem,” writes Takuma Nakahira, in the afterword to PROVOKE no.1, published 50 years ago this month. Led by some of Japan’s best-known photographers and art critics – including Takuma Nakahira, Koji Taki, and iconoclast Daido Moriyama, who joined from the second issue – the magazine stemmed from the anger and discontent that they felt towards the post-war world. Though it survived only three issues, and was criticised at the time, it is now widely recognised as a ground-breaking publication in the history of contemporary Japanese photography.
The magazines were printed in 1968 and 1969, both turbulent years for politics which featured the May 1968 riots in Paris; the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr and the anti-Vietnam protests in the US; the end of the Prague Spring. In Japan, 1968 was the year that a string of violent student uprisings forced many of the top universities to close.
When the first issue of Huck went to press in 2006, it was quite different to what it is today. Started by a team of friends passionate about the skate and surf scenes, and formed soon after the closure of Adrenalin magazine, where many of them had worked, it championed the personal stories of the sports’ icons and surrounding culture, rather than the action. Though still passionate about radical culture, Huck is now decidedly less niche.
“Over the years, the voice we’ve always had as an alternative to the mainstream became more relevant to more people,” says Andrea Kurland, who has been part of the team from the start, and became editor-in-chief in 2010. “As we’ve grown, the generation that grew up with us has become more socially and politically engaged. This is now very embedded in the magazine, so we’ve been bolder and braver with this particular world stance.”
In 1919, a year after the end of World War One and the start of the Weimar Republic in Germany, $1 was worth 48 Marks. By early 1922, $1 bought 320 Marks; by late 1922, $1 bought 7,400 Marks. By 1923, $1 bought 4,210,500,000,000 Marks. “Lingering at shop windows was a luxury because shopping had to be done immediately,” said the artist George Grosz at the height of this hyperinflation.
“Even an additional minute could mean an increase in price. One had to buy quickly. A rabbit, for example, might cost two million marks more by the time it took you to walk into the store. The packages of money needed to buy the smallest item had long since become too heavy for trouser pockets. I used a knapsack.”
If you don’t get the reference, it’s a curious title for a photobook – Fables of Faubus, the 30-year retrospective by British documentary photographer Paul Reas. But if you’re a jazz fan you’ll know it’s taken from a song by Charles Mingus, written after Arkansas governor Orval Faubus decided to bar the integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
To Mingus, and many others, Faubus stood for a dark force holding back progressive social change. For Reas, the title suggests the metanarrative that runs behind the many stories he’s shot in the UK on heavy industry, consumer culture, the heritage industry, and more – namely, the disenfranchisement of the British working class, “the years of decline of industry and the fall out from that, communities being de-centred and levelled”.
Born in Berkeley but raised in the East Bay suburb of Walnut Creek, Mimi Plumb has been a lynchpin in the network of photographers and educators who keep the region grounded in socially engaged documentary traditions. In her own photography, she has remained close to her roots, shooting long-term projects all over northern California. Many of those projects are only now beginning to see the light of day.
One of the reasons why her archive has lain dormant for so long is that she has been teaching photography most of her adult life at local institutions such as San Jose State University and San Francisco Art Institute, where she herself gained an MA, and which has played a key role in educating many photography students in the region. In 2014, her first body of work, Pictures from the Valley, was exhibited at City Hall in San Francisco. These pictures, taken in her early 20s when she was still a student, were a campaign for trade union rights among the Hispanic field workers of California’s farmlands.
Think of Guy Bourdin, and you’ll probably think of intense, transgressive images shot in highly-saturated colours. There’s his photograph for Pentax in 1980, for example, which shows a gush of red liquid apparently streaming from a prone woman’s mouth; or his shot from 1978, which shows a woman’s bottom and legs lying on orange sofa – her head firmly out of the picture.
But Bourdin also shot award-wining black-and-white work, which is less known now but which was celebrated in its time. There’s his black-and-white campaign for Chanel’s first ‘Premiere’ watch, for example, which he shot in 1987. Influenced by his interest in Surrealism – in particular Man Ray – and not clearly advertising images, this campaign went on to win the Infinity Award at the International Center for Photography (ICP) in New York in 1988.
Alec Soth’s first book, Sleeping in the Mississippi, was so sweeping in its epic statements, it seemed that Soth had nothing left to photograph. What could he do next? The answer is Niagara, a portrayal of the town that has traditionally been the romance capital of North America. In Niagara, Soth sets out to capture the grand passion of life, to do for love and marriage what Sleeping in the Mississippi does for the American Midwest.
“Niagara is part of American mythology. It’s a place of romance, where people go to get married,” says Soth. “But when I got there my view of the place totally changed. The American side is economically devastated. It’s bleak.” As Mack Books republishes Alec Soth’s classic book, BJP revisits our review first published in 2006
A white painted stone sits atop a pile of concrete from a fallen telephone pole. A seemingly random assortment of rubble, it has in fact been gathered to fasten a manhole cover in place. During a period of particular hardship in Ukraine in the 1990s, manhole covers were often stolen and sold for scrap metal, leaving dangerous open holes in the road. This makeshift device, erected over time out of miscellaneous materials, is one of the objects in Viacheslav Poliakov’s Lviv – God’s Will, a taxonomy of the “unexplored field of accidents” that make up his surrounding urban environment.
Portrait of Humanity is a new global initiative in partnership with Magnum Photos, seeking to prove that there is more that unites us than sets us apart. Through the power of photography, we want to portray the unity of human beings around the world, by inviting photographers to capture the many faces of humanity. There has been only one exhibition that has sought to spread a similar message on this scale before, and that was Family of Man, which toured the world for eight years in the 1950s. In 1955, almost a decade into the Cold War, and as anxiety was building surrounding the possibility of a catastrophic Nuclear War, Edward Steichen, the director of the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Photography, decided to take on a momentous challenge; to create a photography exhibition showing the “essential oneness of mankind.” Calling for images taken by photographers across the world, Steichen’s aim was to build a visual manifesto of peace. First shown at MoMA in New York (US), the exhibition then toured the world for eight …