Monday, 3 November 2008

"photojournalism; its intellectually bankrupt"

Glory Trip 197 © Simon Norfolk

These words are from Simon Norfolk in an interview in the latest issue of Foto8 - pages 13-17 of this online PDF, which sadly is too lo-res for reading the text. The magazine itself carries it over pages 32-41 and makes for a great investment, buy it or subscribe.

His work is unusual on many levels, having left photojournalism behind in 1994 in favour of landscape photography - he only shoots with large format wooden cameras - but his topics stay in the realm of war, war zones and war technology.

I saw one of his lectures a few years ago when he came to visit my university and it really was memorable. At the time he was in the process of shooting his Supercomputers project and one of the girls at the lecture ended up being his assistant for the project there and then as he needed a German speaker.

Glory Trip 196 © Simon Norfolk

Simon from the Foto8 article: "The problem with photojournalism is that it is hooked on the visible. When these photographers are invited along on a little jolly ride to be embedded with the troops, the military know where the real war is taking place. So the reason they allow people to tag along is because they know that what they will be able to see is unimportant. Hegel says that the Owl of Minerva spreads its wings at dusk. When the thing is over, that's when you get access to it. It's because its irrelevant that they allow you to embed and watch them fire some guns through a slit."

"Once the war has moved into this other realm, its completely unstoppable, because no one is talking about it. That's the powerlessness of photojournalism; its intellectually bankrupt, locked in a mode of operating that came to an end in the 50's, its heyday. Like an old bloke who still listens to the records he got into when he was 18, photojournalism is unable to unhinge itself from the modes it learnt in its puberty."

Glory Trip 195 © Simon Norfolk

His images of missile launches - or glory trips - are perhaps more painterly than journalistic but if you bother reading his extensive captions they take on a whole new depth of meaning, something which is a rare thing today.

From the Foto8 article: He admits to spending as much time writing these days as he does photographing, decrying those those who feel the caption is some kind of poor relative.

Related: blog interview with Simon from just under two years a go. Interesting Flickr thread.

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