BJP #7841: The Idealism Issue

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The British Journal of Photography’s November 2015 issue, featuring exclusive photography from Sweden to Nigeria to Japan, is now available to download in the app store or to buy direct from us in the BJP shop.

The issue features the enigmatic Swedish photographer JH Engström, who allowed BJP into his home in the Swedish heartlands for a week, for one of the most intimate insights into his process he’s ever revealed.

We also talk to the celebrated Spanish photographer Cristina de Middel about her work at the Lagos Photography Festival – and how the Nigerian people are embracing photography wholeheartedly.

We go behind the scenes of Burden of Proof, the new exhibition at Soho’s The Photographers’ Gallery, which looks at the relationship between photography and forensic science.

Elsewhere in the issue, the influential photographer thinker and writer David Campany explores a very alternative history of photography.

Diane Smyth, editor of this month’s issue, introduces the themes of the issue:

“At first sight, JH Engström’s faded Utopian architecture, forensic photography, images of dust and the Lagos Photo Festival don’t have much in common, but this is definitely one of those issues of BJP where we gather disparate interesting projects without worrying about an overall theme.

“But maybe they share more than you might initially think in that they all oscillate between the ideal and the flawed. For the Swedish photographer JH Engström, making photobooks and exhibitions offers the chance to “reflect my own personal sensibility”. This, he tells our writer, Michael Grieve, “is a symbolic act towards the pursuit of reinstating the right to be who I want to be”. There’s a creationist spirit in this, a sense of using photography to give shape to a dream, though his images aren’t utopian in themselves. In fact, they show an often gritty take on everyday life, from edgy portraits to intense landscape scenes.

“Similarly, the images collected together in this year’s Lagos Photo Festival show a possible future for Africa, crafted out of the present. Using carefully constructed photographs – especially portraiture – these images deliberately reshape the view in front of the camera to show how things could be, rather than how they are. Themed Designing Futures, the festival encompasses artists who re-work with archives “because it falls within my definition of design”, explains Spanish photographer Cristina de Middel, who curated the festival – “designing the future and how history is built and told by the winners”.

“Laurent Kronental and Noritaka Minami, on the other hand, show architecture once
intended to herald social change but now faded, bearing all the lived-in hallmarks of time.

The buildings look both futuristic and retro. “I am interested in the capsules as containers of people’s worldly possessions and the traces of history that have accumulated,” Chicago-based photographer Noritaka Minami says of his images of Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower.

“For their illustrious creators, they embodied modernity. But their controversial urban planning now evokes a vanished social utopia,” says Laurent Kronental of his images of France’s Grands Ensembles housing projects. “There is an unsettling paradox of life and void.”

“Burden of Proof, the new exhibition opening at The Photographers’ Gallery after its debut at Le Bal in Paris, takes a look at the role of photography in the history of forensic science. Using images to record fingerprints, footprints and corpses, detectives have constructed cases from rubble, even reinstating buildings destroyed by drones. These marks and blemishes are then reformulated into theories, providing proofs that take the mystery out of wrongdoing.

“Because human memory is faulty, and because objects constituting physical evidence decompose, change or are lost, it is important that a contemporary record be made of the event,” wrote the film director John Ford in a manual for military photographers charged with gathering evidence that would convict Nazi war criminals. David Campany’s alternative history of photography, meanwhile, looks at how dust has seeped into 20th century images, from Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp’s Dust Breeding to Eva Stenram’s Per Pulverem Ad Astra, which pairs domestic and cosmic dust.

The modern age is more readily associated with the gleaming machines and dreams of Futurism and yet, as Campany points out, Dust Breeding was originally captioned ‘View from an aeroplane’, and even TS Eliot’s 1922 poem, The Waste Land – the key text of the new avant-garde – speaks of “fear in a handful of dust”. However far we push forward into the future, it seems, the dust and dirt of everyday life continues to lurk around the edges. We might have the apprehension of angels, but somehow we’re still rooted by our feet of clay.”

Visit the BJP shop to buy the latest issue and back issues direct from us, or download the iPad or iPhone editions from the app store.

The portrait of JH Engström, on the fifth second second of the video, is © Michael Grieve

Tom Seymour

Tom Seymour is an Associate Editor at The Art Newspaper and an Associate Lecturer at London College of Communication. His words have been published in The Guardian, The Observer, The New York Times, Financial Times, Wallpaper* and The Telegraph. He has won Writer of the Year and Specialist Writer of the year on three separate occassions at the PPA Awards for his work with The Royal Photographic Society.