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  • Writer's pictureSuresh Naganathan


Gilles Peress from his book "Farewell to Bosnia"

What is photographic culture and why try to have one? I am a frightful reactionary who considers that without putting in the work, any creation is doomed to failure. This includes exploring the work of others. We cannot just look at the creation of our peers on Facebook or in the supermarkets of culture. If we do this, we can only discover music like rap, Justin Timberlake or Madonna. Mozart and Beethoven will probably remain unfamiliar to us. As for Buxtehude or Kurtag, there is no chance that the idea of ​​their existence will even touch us. In the same way, if we mainly follow reading tips from the mainstream media, Ovid, Cervantes or Guimarães Rosa will escape us. Our education of culture can only result from a personal quest and an acquisition of our aesthetic tastes. The same goes with photography.

Guy Le Querrec, Gao, 1988

In 1988, Guy Le Querrec organizes a raid Conaky-Cap Nord with three Magnum colleagues: Alex Webb, Harry Gruyaert et Guergui Pinkhassov.

Harry Gruyaert, Gao, 1988 (Same room)

As photographers, we are subject to geographical and cultural determinants. We do not photograph the same way in England and the Mediterranean. First, because the light is not the same, but also because our cultural background is different. The problem is that the culture market is focused on North America and, to a lesser extent, Europe, and ignores what is happening elsewhere. For example, isn’t Cristobal Hara as important a photographer as Stephen Shore or Alec Soth? Or in another instance, although Raghu Rai or Raghubir Singh begin to be known outside of India, where can one find the work of contemporary Indian photographers? How can we explain that Magnum has not yet brought Vineet Vohra back to his natural habitat, the Magnum house? The same question arises for other geographical areas: what do we know about Chinese photography?

Outside a small circle of specialists, how can we get acquainted with Japanese photographers? Who will publish the books of Vladimir Sokolaev or Anzor Bukharsky? And where can we see African photography? Although Magnum recently admitted new members and its stated mission has never been to gather the best photographers in the world, it might be important to note that they only have one Russian, living in France, one Japanese, living in the United States, and one Chinese, born in Taiwan and living in the United States as well.

In addition to geographic and cultural influences, today’s legislation influences the way we photograph. The contemporary German susceptibility with regard to the right of their image certainly explains the way a Siegfried Hansen or an Enrico Markus Essl photograph, even if Enrico is not German. In this universe, photography becomes faceless. Whether we like this kind of dehumanized photography or not, does not prevent us from finding it stimulating. To know the work of others, to understand how their surroundings have influenced their work and their style is, according to me a necessity. Not vain curiosity, but as a way to extend one’s expressive palette, and escape the determinism of our destiny.

While some are afraid of losing their style due to the influence of others, I believe that to try to discover everything by yourself without knowing the fumbling, successes and failures of others is infinitely pretentious. Style is not a marketing gimmick that must be kept to retain one’s audience and should not be confused with repetition. If you spend your life creating the same image, we will recognize you at first glance, but how boring will that be! Building one's style should never be a concern. The style comes, or does not come, all by itself, as a logical consequence of our work. Manet or Picasso never thought of their style, they only sought to find their path and their style evolved over time. Borges and Tagore’s culture and knowledge were as immense as universal, and we recognize their styles from the first sentence.

This photographic culture is as necessary when it comes to selecting our images as it as for shooting, or perhaps even more. The field of photography has been deeply explored. Today, to photograph means playing with luck, playing with fortune to capture the unexpected. An interesting, strong photo, that we will remember, no longer obeys conventional criteria. The keenness of the photographer's gaze, his culture, which allows him to select his work is what will make his photographs coherent and personal, which in time will enable us to recognize his unique style. To me, the outcome of a photographer’s work is the book, more than the exhibition or the installation. Of course, a photo book is not limited to its images but has its own rhythm and logic in its entirety. To show some of the pictures that compose it is only an evocation, and at the same time a betrayal. It can, however, give the person who sees them the desire to know more. This is how our culture is formed. By seeing an image, we want to know more about its author and our active pursuit makes us penetrate his universe.

The modest goal of this website is to show pictures of photographers who have published books and whose work I find interesting. The idea is to recognize the styles of the photographers while having fun, and to open new horizons.

The music proposed to read this article, the duet Márta and György Kurtág.

This essay is a translated and lightly edited version of a post made by Yves Vernin. You can find the original version on his website.

Robert Frank photographed by Elliott Erwitt

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