28 September 2005

Blueeyes Magazine

Among the commonplaces that pop up in many analyses of contemporary photography is that the decline of big mass-market, illustrated magazines has left a void. Photographers, especially those who work in "documentary" modes, so the story goes, simply face a severely constrained market for their work. This analysis clearly seems accurate. The appearance of specialized photography magazines like Aperture or Foto8, despite their virtues, hardly compensates.

How might this void be filled in a more accessible way? One innovative effort is Blueeyes Magazine, an on-line project edited by photographer John Loomis. According to the submission guidelines: "The magazine will likely publish mostly documentary project work - but as we have demonstrated, we are open to all kinds of photography, as long as it has a point of view and something to say. One of our main goals is to try and expand the definition of what is considered as 'documentary.'" The site has a slick design and you can access it for free. More importantly, the work it presents is of uniformly high quality. Blueeyes currently is on "summer" hiatus with the promise to be back. I can only hope John perseveres!

Having said all that, I want to offer John (and others) a push. It seems to me that received notions of "documentary" ought to be tossed overboard altogether. As Alan Tractenberg makes clear (Reading American Photographs, pages 175-99) our common conception is part of a "polarized language" bequeathed to us by those who wanted to insure that photography is an "art" that could be treated as such by curators. But as Trachtenberg points out this language hardly accounts for the aesthetic dimensions of work by "documentary" photographers like Lewis Hine and Walker Evans let alone, say, Salgado and Nachtwey. And it gives contemporary critics trapped in dichotomous ways of thinking mental cramps when they see "documentary" work that departs in one or another way from naive realism. Finally, the conventional dicihotomy of "Camera Work/Social Work" (Trachtenberg) , I suspect, is a standing hinderance to our ability to think through the problem of getting photography out of the galleries, the museums, and the specialized glossy magazines. What exactly does this mean? I am not at all sure. If we are concerned with the politics of photography, though, we ought to be concerned with its uses, not with whether it conforms to some dichotomous categorization.

By the way, my favorite contribution to Blueeyes probably is "Raising Helena" (Lissa Gotwals). You can find it in the Archives. The essay raises all sorts of quesitons for those who wonder (or ought to) about the exigencies of military service and the nature of "family values."

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Blogger Riparchivist said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

28 September, 2005 12:35  
Blogger Catherine Liu said...

Very, very interesting blog. I wanted to let you know that I am going to send your blog url to students of mine at UC Irvine -- in intro to Visual Media course. We are at present dealing with many of the issues you raise about the photograph, the document and the documentary.

29 September, 2005 11:38  

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