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April 12, 2004

Magazine Update: The Latest "Art" Quarterlies

I've hinted several times in this blog that the best places to find modern photography reproduced well, and discussed with some sense of its artistic possibilities as well as its place in modern visual culture, is the "specialist" magazines. These don't have to be strictly photography publications, though magazines dedicated to photography have the advantage of starting with the assumption that photography matters, whereas general art magazines (and museums for that matter) still have an annoying tendency at times to relegate photography to a particular ghetto, unless it manages to (presumably) step outside the "limitations of the medium" and into the realm of "art" through conceptual indulgences or sheer scale (those ubiquitous 50x60 C-prints in modern galleries).

Until now, I've tended to discuss popular culture and fashion magazines, as well as notable photo magazines outside of the US, because I prefer it when photography is part of a broader culture discussion, rather than when the discussion (more commonly) bounces between rarified technical discussions (equipment, chemicals, computers, etc etc), rarified aesthetic discussions, and "debased" discussions about the business of photography. (I'm exaggerating, but only slightly) But there are the quarterly/bi-annual publications which focus on new photographers and provide some context on trends, though a wordy person like me wishes there were more context and intellectual exchange...sometimes I feel that the specialized magazines' primary role is to serve as a vessel for contemporary galleries. (This is why I liked Influence magazine so much, which I've raved about previously, and whose second issue I await anxiously).

The specialist magazines with the greatest cachet in art photography circles these days (as best as I can tell), are Aperture magazine (a quarterly) and Blind Spot (three times/year). Both feature rather sumptuous photographic reproduction and, in the case of Aperture, a slightly oversized book. Aperture has been around a long time, and I have several back issues that I am proud to own, as well as their 50th anniversary book project. Blind Spot has emerged in the last decade as a contemporary photography journal, and prides itself on a minimum of text and a maximum of diversity in visual images from a range of artists.

I found it interesting to compare these magazines with a broader arts journal that's caught my attention lately for the smart, jargon-free quality of its art content and writing, Modern Painters. The Spring 2004 issue is dedicated to photography, and it's outstanding.



As it turns out, all three publications' latest issues are worth reading and browsing, though I'll cut to the chase and say that Modern Painters at 10 bucks is a better deal than the other two, which run around $15 with less page count. Not everything in the current issue of Modern Painters has to do with photography, but it caters to a pleasingly eclectic range of photographic tastes, even though it's a range that covers the expected bases for anyone who's been following the contemporary photography scene -- Richard Misrach's "On the Beach" series, Stephen Shore, Nikki S. Lee, Katy Grannan, a remniscence of Helmut Newton, and fictional pieces inspired by Diane Arbus and Philip Lorca di Corcia's photography. There's also an unexpected and totally pleasing essay on Daido Moriyama (who I wrote about last week), an interview with John Szarkowski, and David Hockney's (increasingly repetitive) assertions about the superiority of painting to photography.


"Shoes" image by Stephen Shore

Because Modern Painters has to speak to an audience that may be less familiar with photographic trends and the history of the medium, its essays have the benefit of providing more background and historical context, as well as some framing of the artist's relevance with the contemporary art world. By contrast, Aperture and Blind Spot seem to operate at times in a vacuum, blithely assuming that, by virtue of their defining mission being photography, of course whoever they put in their magazine has got to be worth viewing. I do appreciate their willingness to push the envelope and the bounds of their readers' vision -- there have have been times where I was unmoved and maybe even baffled by a feature, and then came back to it months later and came around to the photographer's vision.

Aperture makes allowances for the occasional insightful essay and discussion of a photographer's craft, and often they do publish damn good photography. Their latest issue also features photographs from Misrach's "On the Beach", as well as an interesting series of black and white abstracts from photographer Paul Thorel. The magazine is really the place to see most of the work featured -- on the web, it's disjointed and too small. Ironically though, the reproduction quality and size of Misrach's photographs seems to me more generous in the latest issue of Modern Painters.

Blind Spot is perhaps the most confounding of the publications referenced here -- with no text directly addressing the images (outside of the occasional interview), the images have to stand on their own (or as a series) and the magazine also relies on the serendipitous juxtaposition of multiple artists. There is fiction that is contributed by trendy lights in the contemporary literary scene such as Jeffery Eugenides and AM Homes (which I find a mixed bag at best) as well as interviews that seem to be intellectual discussions as much as they are direct interrogations into an artist's work. There are many outstanding photographers that have been featured over the years in Blind Spot, but too often I find the impact of the magazine's layout of contemporary imagery, fiction and airy discussion to be rather arid...more joyless than it needs to be.

Having said that, the latest issue of Blind Spot is one of their best in a while. The magazine leads off with the ubiquitous Alec Soth, and his 8x10 work in Mississippi -- Soth was a leading light in the AIPAD and Armory art shows I attended recently, and has a place in the Whitney Biennial at present as well as a book coming out. Also featured is the nearly as ubiquitous Stephen Shore (who has a good interview in this issue regarding his work in producing personal iPhoto books that are a departure from the large format work he's well known for)...Shore also had a baseball portfolio in Aperture late last year, and he even did a fashion layout for one of the European magazines (though I can't recall the mag right now). Also featured are Joel Sternfeld's large format images from the reissued American Prospects...in fact, this issue is sort of an extravaganza for 8x10 specialists working in color, and I have to say I appreciate Blind Spot's obsessiveness with quality reproduction, for everything looks fabulous in this issue.

I do wish I could point people to places on the web for the specific articles, photographs and discussions in these magazines...for all my complaining, the three publications' latest efforts represent a good survey, well laid out, of what's going on these days that's worth paying attention to in contemporary photography. (It's easy to find Misrach on the web, but his large format work generally doesn't translate well to 30k jpegs, trust me...on the other hand, Sternfeld fares somewhat better, given the subject matter and size of the online images). But you can certainly steal several glances at these mags in your local well-stocked newstand or bookstore, and if you're going to spring for any of them, my pick would be Modern Painters first, followed by Blind Spot, then Aperture.


Richard Misrach image from "On the Beach" series

UPDATE: Conscientious has apparently the same good taste in magazines, as Joerg just plugged Modern Painter himself (talk about coincidences!)...and of course, he runs an indispensable site of his own that should easily please those who don't want to deal with the glossy magazines' flaws. But you knew that already.

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I stumbled across this via and this and this. My starting point was the always excellent Things Magazine. Photography as [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 13, 2004 9:29:09 AM


I also noted the coincidence about "Modern Painters"... :-) - On the other hand, I'll send an e-mail to Joerg about Duane Michals - I found it quite interesting that he did not know the man.

But that's another story.

I remebered your words about photo magazines when I was using my lazy Easter sunday to browse through "Source" - www.source.ie, a magazine from Belfast, Northern Ireland, in which I've been able to see some great work, including some work I found to be a bridge between things from the past and some of the most modern/contemporary/trendy artwork. Don't know if you know this mag?

Posted by: Farrolas at Apr 12, 2004 6:50:33 PM

thanks for the suggestion of Modern Painters. The magazine is wonderful.

Posted by: António at Apr 19, 2004 5:22:14 AM

Just recd my 1st issue of ModernP. Ripped through it in about 2 minutes after 3 jack and cokes and a bowl of rice and snow peas and carrots with curry. I paint oils, canvas, silks, figure, non-f, but they all rock even when they don't. Nome sane?

First impression, first passof May07-what happened to the high quality print Modern used to sell us? Is this recycled pulp, if so it cheapens the presentation, contrast, color, snap, and my experience, my pleasure senses. & Content is f-ing WEAK. Fire the editors I say just like 100 attorney generals, at the pleasure of the publisher. clean slate. Let artists kill art if they must but don't publish the sameness of everything dull. What kind of world is this where I flip through 112 pages in big format and not 1 rocks me. I don't golf (that's not true) but even in a crappy round there's 1 beautiful shot that brings you back another day. Hold my new subscription, I need a new prescription!

Posted by: rick at May 3, 2007 11:40:49 PM