BEST OF SOURCE
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I have been an editor at Source since 1998. These articles and portfolios are among those that have stayed with me since the time they were published. I am always glad to recommend them, like a favourite recipe or a good place to buy socks. Now you too may have this privileged information.
In 1999 Siún Hanrahan went to visit the archive of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and talked to some police photographers who contributed to it. The Good Friday Agreement had only recently been signed and people were adjusting to a less violent daily existence. This archive, as is explained in the piece, had become a troubling legacy of the preceding decades: too important to throw away but too awful to look at. And yet the article is also about the prosaic way in which individual crimes are photographed and assembled into small ring-bound booklets to tell stories for court proceedings. I remember these books in our office (being scanned as illustrations) and being struck by how the pictures they contained were ordinary, dull and simple while at the same time being unfathomable, bleak and compelling.
Many photographic projects attempt to depict things that have no visual trace and this is especially evident in David Farrell's project about 'the disappeared' – people abducted, murdered and buried during the Troubles. Excavations had taken place in an attempt to find bodies and Farrell's pictures are both a record of the act of digging holes and subtly suggestive of what had taken place at these sites. The landscapes that concealed the bodies appear impassive and unchanged in some images (hence 'innocent') and in others subject to violent upheaval. In addition to the portfolio of images published in this issue, a long running blog Innocent Landscapes Revisited followed up and developed the original project for a further ten years, making it the most sustained engagement with a subject Source has published.
The term 'collect photographs' refers to the images of victims or criminals that appear in newspapers. They are 'collected' from people that knew them, or the police, and then appear repeatedly whenever the story is aired. They are typically police mug shots or, in the case of child victims, school photographs. As Ronan Deazley explains, in his characteristically lucid way, picture agencies may claim they own the copyright to these pictures but they almost certainly don't. Selling something you don't own is bad enough, when it's pictures of child murder victims it's distasteful. I wonder if it's still going on today?
When I come across an unfamiliar set of pictures I am usually able to give a quick summary of what they show and what they mean. It's a necessary part of discussing pictures with colleagues. In this instance it's not so easy, I can't say simply what Becky Beasley's work is about. Some of the pictures show ordinary objects – a bag, a duster – in front of a plain backdrop, but the even grey tone of the images mutes them as if they were under a layer of volcanic ash. Other images show screens, covered windows and doorways each of which suggest some closed-off significance. I find they remain intriguing even after I have finished trying to figure them out.
From my earliest interest in art I remember seeing pictures of exhibitions of Malevich paintings in which they were exhibited high up in the corners of rooms. His Suprematist paintings also resemble abstract aerial views. So it seems fitting then that they should be transformed into kites. His later paintings resemble an idealised folk art with images of solitary figures against spare landscapes not unlike these photographs. I enjoy considering a viewer's relationship to a painting like that of a kite flyer to their kite. I find them pleasingly utopian.
A new six-part TV series should be a landmark event in the public discussion of photography. This series failed to contribute anything to that discussion and Daniel Jewesbury's review shows why. It seems archaic now to make programmes about photography that feature almost exclusively white men with the main purpose being to explain their 'genius' and yet this was only 15 years ago. This approach to making television prioritises talking head interviews with a soothing narration to smooth over any disruptive ideas. The series is supposed to go down easily without resistance, the review reveals its limitations.
Alexandra McGlynn photographed what was left behind after her daughter had been playing. She did this for five years without her daughter's knowledge. The pictures show a domestic interior disarranged, a temporary chaos, a benign disorder. But there is a method to each disarrangement. The strips of Sellotape across a doorway are an improvised barrier (not unlike the child barriers erected by adults to keep children in bounds). The doll sitting at the front of a line of chairs is driving a lorry delivering folders. Any available object can be pressed into this game of make believe. This child's constructions are playful, obviously, but in these pictures also a serious, almost sacred, activity.
One of the things reviews can do is rediscover work. Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel are best known for their book Evidence but, as this survey shows, they collaborated on a number of other projects. David Campany puts them in a context of other Californian artists of the 70s and 80s but also draws out their distinctively humorous approach (as in Mandel's Seven Never Before Seen Portraits of Edward Weston that simply show portraits of men named Edward Weston). He also highlights the way their appropriation of images and use of commercial settings (for example in billboard projects) has a broader purpose in addressing the power of modern media.
Like an orchestral conductor, a magazine editor knows less about their subject than the individual people they work with. So it is one of the pleasures of the job to receive a rich answer to a vague question like 'What is queer photography?' as I did in this article by Laura Guy. Any attempt at answering this question would be provisional but Guy starts this story in recent photographic history and the work of Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Sunil Gupta and Rosy Martin among others. A recurrent theme is how the marginal can be subsumed by the mainstream. But to show the ongoing relevance of queerness Guy ends with some fascinating contemporary work I hadn't seen before by Alix Marie, Ochi Reyes and Åsa Johannesson.
The Islamic state had an English language magazine called Dabiq, in style part Newsweek part church newsletter (100% violent fundamentalism). In reviewing the magazine Robert Hariman describes how it is able to imitate the formats of popular journalism for its propagandistic purposes. It employs lots of photography (although not as much as the titles it is imitating), has a clear editorial line and purpose. Curiously what is missing is the mess of daily life which includes things like advertising, every day reportage and photojournalism. In the end Dabiq more closely resembles a conspiracy-minded social media channel than a traditional magazine.
This essay is about the circulation of images in political debate. That makes it sound rather ponderous and serious but it is in fact about the anarchic, trivial and satirical world of memes. In particular it deals with memes associated with US politician Bernie Sanders around the time of his 2016 run for the presidential nomination. Even five years after we published the piece, and six years after the political events it relates to, these images are largely forgotten but, although ephemeral, they describe the partisan, witty and obsessive nature of online political campaigning today.
In this interview Camille Simon, the picture editor of the French news magazine L'Obs, talks to Annabelle Lever about how the images in her magazine are commissioned and selected. What is revealing is the way she considers the competing claims of the rights of information and privacy when deciding whether a picture is suitable for publication. This negotiation is mostly not decided by lawyers but by the picture editor's judgement, although in some cases there are blanket restrictions, for example of photographs of people in handcuffs. Most surprising to me is the ban on any photograph showing people under the age of 18 in public. The history of French photography would look quite different if this had always been the case.