WHAT has changed recently in the world of photography? Every – thing, and nothing. Digital is now king. Good news for Adobe and the CCD chip-makers. Not so good news for the makers of processing chemicals and film. But, quite frankly, who cares? It is what is in front of the camera that is important. Not whatever datacapturing device is stuck on the back. Right?
Well, no, actually. The Marines series by Alastair Thain could only have been shot on film. The prints are blisteringly sharp and 6m high. Yes, six metres. Well beyond the resolution of any digital capturing device. They were, in fact, shot on huge, soon to be obsolete, sheets of aerial colour film. If you haven’t seen the images in the flesh, you should. The subject matter is closely cropped portraits of young marines in some distress after a training run. Amazing pictures. You will find them, considerably reduced, in the catalogue of Tate Britain’s recent How We Are: Photographing Britain exhibition.
Of course, many commercial campaigns get their inspiration from the gallery wall. Indeed, everything we see is copied and referenced endlessly, which is fine, as long as the idea progresses in some way.
So, what’s been ripped off – sorry, referenced – recently? Where else shall we look for stunning photography? CD sleeves? Billboards? The ad pages of the Sunday supplements? Well, thankfully, we can still find the odd gem, but, overall the situation is pretty bleak.
It seems that very high quality commercial photography is becoming somewhat devalued as a result of downward pressure on budgets, production time and adaptation to new media – ever seen great photography in a Web banner? Everything’s got to animate these days, hasn’t it? And it’s great that we all have that capability now, but, let us not forget the power of the still image.
A shift is happening in the way many images are consumed. The time to contemplate photography has partly been changed by new delivery mechanisms, and this has had an effect on some of the images produced.
But, what are we looking for? Is lighting everything? Are we seeking a naturalness? A thought-provoking theme? Beauty in whatever form it manifests itself? Confessional, interesting subjects? A slice of life?
Or, maybe we could simply rely on good, old-fashioned gut instinct. Some pieces of creative work, photographs included, just have that indefinable magic. Photographer Giles Revell is always breaking new ground. His Leaf Litter series reveals leaf skeletons to be spookily similar to city grid patterns, simultaneously beautiful and disturbing. And now they have been used in a book called At This Rate, a campaigning volume for the US-based charity Rainforest Action Network to raise awareness of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which has been designed by Matt Willey at Studio 8.
Nick Knight’s gently heaving lenticular bodies currently adorning the giant figure ‘4’ outside the Channel 4 building are also impressive. Staying with the ‘four’ theme, I heartily recommend the collaboration between John Ross and Farrow Design for Disco Four: a collection of remixes by the Pet Shop Boys. White fluorescent tubes photographed on a white background. Beautiful.
Jonathan de Villiers’ album photos for Roisin Murphy are refreshing, fun and self-deprecating, a mocking glance at the world of fashion and celebrity culture. And from the world of advertising, I draw your attention to Nick Meek’s ‘lost figures in an urban landscape’ images. It’s a new ad campaign for fashion label, you guessed it, Lost Souls. And the simple graphic impact of Laurie Haskell’s British Airways ads reminds us that photography, used in design and advertising, can be very good, but is still very much the servant of the idea and the layout.
As ever, most of the interesting stuff lies off the beaten track, aimed at niche markets and free from the mind-numbing corporate filtration process. Indeed, in Haskell’s personal work portfolio, the Crystal Series is some of the most brilliantly unusual photography I have seen recently. More microscopy than photography perhaps, but great images nevertheless. And that is all that really matters, isn’t it?
Paul Belford is a partner at This Is Real Art