Compared to, say, the over 40,000 year history of painting, the two centuries that people have been experimenting with photography is a blink of an eye for a medium, yet its rapid proliferation and dense, evolving culture have partially made up for lost time. Aperture magazine, which recently relaunched with its Spring 2013 issue, makes an ambitious effort.
Since its first issue in 1952, Aperture has been examining photography as an art, and that has endured here as an almost constant theme. Switching back and forth in the issue from the glossy “Images” section to the matte page “Words,” there’s still this idea that photography as an art is something that needs to be affirmed, while also approaching the digital realm of appropriation and found online images. Because of this broad embrace, the content bounces around from all angles, although as David Campany’s look back at Victor Burgin’s book Between (1986), points out: “none of us discovers things chronologically. We are always going backwards and forwards.”
The redesign was carried out for the Aperture Foundation by the London-based design studio A2/SW/HK. It’s clean with scatters of white space, where the doubling of pages is contrasted to the reduction of the front title that haunts a corner.
The editors present their two-part relaunch mission at the beginning: “First, that in a time when photography is abundant on digital platforms, images in print — ink on paper — continue to offer a uniquely actual experience. Second, that a magazine can engage photography’s changing narrative — while remaining attentive to the medium’s history — through thoughtful accessible writing.”
There’s a certain anxiety and adaptation of technology that is embedded in almost every story, as the writers and photographers examine how to talk about photography when it’s almost disposable (see Snapchat or even the Instagram photos we never bother to print or look at after their flash in the feed).
There’s Geoffrey Batchen’s story on Joachim Schmid’s obsessive culling of Flickr photographs into books on themes like parking lots and currywursts, as well as Laurel Ptak’s conversation with Andrew Norman Wilson on his equally intent searching of Google Books scans for anomalies that reflect issues of race and the operations divisions of Google. A long essay by Robin Kelsey links everything happening in photography with both space and unease to S. Billie Mandle‘s 2008 series on the compartments of church confessionals for the penitents, which, moving as those images are with their scuffed floors and worn kneelers, is a lot to hang on.
Yet, despite this discussion that can feel a little in disarray, it’s an important one to have and the content here in the new format with its wide pages presents what makes photography so engaging for exploration. The layouts and framing of the photographic portfolios are striking, from Christopher Williams’ studies of the mechanizations of an Exakta camera (one of which graces the cover) to selections from the stunning Gary Winogrand Archive. The details are sharp and impactful on the pages, and you’re reminded there is something in that initial editorial assertion of the experience of “ink on paper.”
All of this is perhaps best captured in a conversation with Jeff Wall by Lucas Blalock, where he says:
My take on it has been that photography as art is constituted by this complex interrelationship between the documentary root, the cinematographic, and the kinship with the other, manual, decorative arts. This is a very large and high-energy entity; it’s not swamped by the vast ‘social’ identity of photography — I mean, the aspects that aren’t art. It is almost magnetically attracted to them because they aren’t art. As we know, art needs non-art in order to recognize itself.