What is the photographic theme that defines the noughties? Who are the hot new names to watch out for?
Six creatives, from the magazine and design worlds, have come up with some recommendations and predictions for our new era. The tips came from Tony Chambers, art director of GQ, Rankin, photographer and co-founder of Dazed & Confused, Herbert Winkler, art director of Wallpaper, Lawrence Morton, art director of London’s Evening Standard ES magazine, Vince Frost of Frost Design and Lewis Blackwell, creative director of image resource Stone.
Their thoughts convey an incredibly healthy, international, yet London-centric feel. New trends show a futuristic, yet emotional photographic panorama.
Digitalisation seems to be changing the face of photography. “Real” is not what it once was. What photographers do with the image after they have shot it is defining the art itself. “In the hands of someone who is very creative and understands images, it allows you to do fantastic things,” says Morton, art director of ES magazine. He cites Nick Knight and his use of computers to enhance photography as a positive example. “Yet it’s difficult, because you can also achieve staggeringly bad results in the wrong hands. It’s a big subject for art directors and photographers.
“The question is why are you doing it, is it because you just want to be part of the ‘digital revolution’ or are you doing it because you genuinely think it’s going to enhance and improve your pictures?”
Rankin, co-founder of Dazed & Confused, is impressed enough to have become a partner in digital re-touching company The Shoemakers Elves. Others argue that scanning and manipulating images is just like old style re-touching. “Used sparingly it can be very effective, although it’s more like illustrative photography,” says Chambers, art director of GQ. He mentions photographers such as David Lachapelle, whose images make great use of it. “The images are not pretending to be real – he is introducing fantastic elements which are obviously being manipulated. There is no con going on. It’s a deliberate and honest use of the computer.
“People complain that it’s diverting photography from reality or it’s cheating. But there is nothing more abstract than a black and white picture, since the world is in colour. As soon as you take a black and white picture you have an abstract picture of reality,” says Chambers.
The rise of Wallpaper, the resurgence of Scandinavian designers at London auction houses and the sudden hipness of a smorgasbord approach may all have something to do with the new generation of Scandinavian photographers invading Britain.
Winkler, art director of Wallpaper, the magazine responsible for putting a lot of Nordic talent on the map, simply puts it down to the fact that the region is full of creative individuals. “There are some very good magazines in Scandinavia,” he says. “We get sent a lot of photographer’s books [from there].”
He cites Pelle BergstrÃ¶m and his still life images as one of his favourites. “There is a real Scandinavian influence at the moment,” confirms Chambers. He mentions Andre Wolff, a Swedish photographer living in Paris, as a hot name to look out for. “He has that cinematic approach to photography that many Scandinavians have. He’s terrific.” Another of his tips is SÃ¸lve SundsbÃ¸, also a favourite of Rankin. “He’s a great fashion photographer, who has come out of Knight’s studio and is destined to do great things,” says Chambers.
So what about the master’s role in photography today? Lewis Blackwell is creative director of Stone, an image resource which generates more than 15 000 new photographs for advertising and design clients each year. His favourites start with photographer Robert Frank, who made his name in 1956 with The Americans. Frank is also quoted as an inspiration by Jesus Ubera Biedma and Martin Crook. There is a tie for second place, between art photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, and American William Eggleston, who “pioneered documentary art photography”.
But today’s trendsetters are not just influenced by classical photography. Off-beat work from the likes of 1970s photographer David Hamilton is also influential. “Over the past years he was thought of as a bit naff,” says Chambers, “and in that respect fashion can be so cruel. Yet now photographers are starting to use him and those very grainy, rural images of innocence as a reference. Mario Sorrenti claims he was inspired by Hamilton for a recent lingerie shoot in Harpers Bazaar. Even Ellen von Unwerth and Knight quote him.”
Another influence is the work of American artist Philip Lorca diCorcia, who has recently applied his “freeze-frame” technique to Armani’s spring/ summer campaign. “So many people are using it as a reference that it’s starting to get a bit tedious,” says Chambers. “It’s unfortunate, because his work is extraordinary.”
Blackwell believes that there is still a difference between commercial photography and experimental work. “Commercial photography is about mass communication, while experimental [work] does not have to be, and almost inevitably, it is not appealing to the masses.”
Rankin also underlines the differences between “art photography” and more commercial work. He mentions photographer Gordon MacDonald as someone who “takes photography back to its essence. Yet his documentary approach is probably more subtle and intelligent than your average photographer shooting a pair of trousers. His work is emotional, sensitive but also very clever. That’s what photography should be about, but a lot of commercial photography has forgotten that.” Having said that, he still finds fashion photographer Juergen Teller’s work both meaningful and emotional.
A photographer whose shots transcend neat categorisation is Annabel Elston. One of the few women to receive a mention, she has built a reputation for individuality. “Her work starts from a very personal viewpoint,” says Morton. “And [as a viewer] you buy into that viewpoint. Her work is so considered that it almost crosses over into fine art photography.”
However cosmopolitan the new wave of photographers may seem, London is still the place to be. “Every city has a lot of talent,” says Rankin. “New York has loads of talent, but also the constraints of the commercial world. In Italy it’s even more specific. Every main city has an underground magazine representing new ideas but… maybe we just have more experience. Even if we hate the idea, we are somehow all children of Thatcher’s Britain. We made things happen for ourselves… and now we are in a position to be taken seriously. It’s not that Britain has more talent, it’s just more developed.”
According to Blackwell, “Britain is perhaps, frame by frame, the richest centre of photographic talent.” Even though he thinks there are a lot of interesting photographers in America, Europe or places like Cape Town and Sydney, “there seems to be more of a concentration of emerging photographers in London than anywhere else.” Frost confirms the importance of British photographers. “Britain is a creative centre for talent, it still has an influence over the rest of the world.”