BJP #7844: Shooting the Rich

When does campaigning documentary photography become political art? Probing this question is at the heart of the latest issue of BJP, which looks at contemporary depictions of wealth and the structures that support it. The global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 has provoked an outpouring of feeling towards the so-called ‘one percent’ and a new wave of creative responses.

It’s a subject that’s having a moment, and rather than the traditional documentation of marginalised communities we’re seeing photographers who are turning their cameras towards the wealthy and privileged. We’ve just scratched the surface in this issue, which features seven recent series, one curatorial project and one archival body of work recently published as a book. But in producing it, we hoped to find out how these projects were made – and perhaps more importantly, why.

There’s a range of styles on display that interrogate these ideas in complex ways: while Dougie Wallace has shot in-your-face street portraits, using a flash “to bring out the ridiculous in the situation”, Zed Nelson doesn’t want to “vilify” the subjects of his recent work shooting the homes of Britain’s billionaires (which graces the cover of this issue). Myles Little curated an international set of images to create a show “so cohesive it was almost unassailable”, with a book emerging from the project that includes an essay by Nobel Prize-winning economist and inequality expert Joseph Stiglitz.

With financial and political crisis in Spain, a new generation of photographers have been spurred on to document the instability of their society. Carlos Spottorno was an advertising executive before he became an award-winning documentary photographer and created a richly imaginative, black-and-white brochure for the fictitious ‘WTF Bank’, pixelating the faces of the wealthy individuals. Daniel Mayrit has repurposed found press pictures, turning the tables on the post-riot ‘Wanted’ posters issued by the Metropolitan Police, instead collecting CCTV-style images of “the 100 most powerful people in the City of London”. Juxtaposing extreme poverty and privilege “like a series of blows”, Vicente Paredes travelled to Congo to photograph the contrasts.

But if making these projects isn’t always easy, the people who have pursued them seem highly motivated – driven by the desire to make change, even while questioning how much they actually can. Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti hope The Heavens deepens people’s understanding of tax havens, and so encourages them to put pressure on governments to close loopholes; Nelson avoids simplification, but says that he’s always believed “if you present things straight, with the facts, there’s no risk of sitting on the fence”.

If one thing’s for certain, this work, whether you see it as campaigning documentary work, consciousness-raising or even political art, is providing a new insight into a notoriously camera-shy world.

There’s much more besides: In Agenda, we’re pleased to announce the winners of the BJP’s 2016 International Photography Awards and find out more about Paul Strand’s first UK exhibition in over 30 years at the V&A and Projects showcases work by Ben Alper and Nat Ward, Sophie Green, Turkina Faso and Stefano Galli.

In Intelligence we look at World Press Photo’s new code of ethics, launched after last year’s controversy around disqualified contest entries, and in Technology we examine whether image compression software JPEGmini Pro lives up to its considerable promises.

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