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January 29, 2004

Analog Readings: Ag Magazine, and Sad American Fashion

Well, I hit one of my busiest stretches yet since the holidays passed, and gained a new appreciation for just how difficult it can be to keep the blog updated regularly. One of the things that kept me away was the darkroom (gasp!)...yes, my first extended period with black and white and chemicals in over two months...just catching up with some old negatives that needed to be printed for a magazine submission.

I'd love to wax rhapsodic about how the smell of the chemicals and the appearance of all those prints fresh from the fumes sent me into heights of rapture and ecstasy...but it wasn't quite that. It *was* fun, though, after not doing it for a while, and I was most struck by how a couple of negatives that I overexposed significantly (had to open up the enlarger all the way) ended up being nice looking 11x14 prints, just through simple dodging and burning...if they had been digital shots, I'm sure the highlights would have been toasted. With that said, I'm going to scan a couple just to see what I kind of results I get digitally...and I'll share them this weekend if they're worthwhile.

I've noticed in my brief time in the world of blogs and photoblogs and art blogs how a big part of what makes the world go round is links, links, and more links, making the Web and the blogs themselves a rich but perhaps constrained and inward-looking universe for content, knowledge, reflections and discussion. There are still a fair number of offline sources of good information, though, and to the best of my ability, I'd like to try to regularly provide references to good offline tidbits and periodicals...maybe it all goes to the web one day, but I'm one of those old-fashioned troglodytes that actually likes picking up something printed once in a while.

I just received my issue of Ag Magazine, a 12 year old UK based fine arts photography quarterly that is heavily focused on photography and darkroom technique, with some aesthetic discussions (mainly courtesy of photo critic A.D. Coleman), artist portfolios and brief reviews of books sprinkled in. I chanced upon the publication purely by accident when browsing Amazon...did you know they have a magazine subscription area? I didn't, but purely on impulse, I browsed their photography category, and came across Ag, which intrigued me because the regular writers were folks I'd recognized as being smart and down to earth authorities on photography; besides Coleman, there is Eddie Ephraums and (the recently deceased) Barry Thornton.

Even more impulsively and irrationally, I sprung for a subscription, and so far I have enjoyed what I've gotten. For American readers familiar with photographic magazines, the best description I can make for Ag is that they're a hybrid of Photo Techniques (more technique oriented) and Lenswork (more oriented toward fine arts), and Ag shares Lenswork's form factor, which is smaller and more like a booklet. I have yet to fully read through the latest issue of Ag, but one of the immediate highlights is an article by A.D. Coleman on the haunting self-portraits of Laurence Demaison, who I'd never come across before.



Ag is, unfortunately, not cheap, nor is it carried by US bookstores to the best of my knowledge (though really well-stocked urban bookstores may carry it)...and it's very expensive even by the standards of fine arts publications, especially one so focused on technique...about $20 to $25 an issue as part of a yearly subscription. They are building up their website gradually, though, and perhaps we'll see at least a taste of their high quality content and writing online in the future.

Sometimes, in a fit of "grass is greener on the other side" syndrome, I'll lament how folks in Europe get all the good stuff...take for example Vogue magazine, which is at least interesting and occasionally electrifying in the UK and Italian versions and positively sleep-inducing in its American incarnation. I had an old UK Vogue lying around from my travel last summer and looked through it, and it had more interesting ideas and layouts than the last half-dozen American Vogues combined.

The latest issue is no exception: the only remotely interesting photography comes from Mario Testino's images of Natalie Portman inspired by her role in Cold Mountain (which as a movie seems to be inspiring interesting celebrity photography)...and Irving Penn steals the show with his image accompanying a feature on the allure of mud in beauty products.


Bare Necessities, Irving Penn

Oh, and though I gave props to Interview Magazine in my post A Guilty Pleasure, their latest issue (Feb 2004) is very boring as well: the obligatory spring/summer fashion feature (with photography by Cleo Sullivan) is cute (but relies as much on illustration as it does on photography). Otherwise, the most interesting thing from a photography/design standpoint is the Prada foldout in the center.

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