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Phil Coomes | 09:57 UK time, Monday, 20 July 2009

Calcutta by Gary Knight

Photographers often lament the passing of the golden age of photojournalism. For 50 years or so Life Magazine in the US and Picture Post in the UK sold millions of copies each week at a time when the still picture brought the world to the breakfast tables of the Western world.

By the 1960s television began to take over this role and indeed attract much of the advertising revenue that supported the picture magazines, though many newspapers picked up that baton. By the 1990s photographers seeking to get a large number of their images in one magazine were starting to struggle.

The world has changed since those heady days when photographers working for the major newspapers strode the globe, parachuting into the latest story, and in some cases remaining with that story for many years.

They ruled the world of photojournalism, defining what history remembers and indeed what it forgets. Today it's the wire photographers whose pictures dominate our publications, be they on the internet or in print.

With commissioning budgets being cut many photographers are seeking new ways to get their work seen, in the form they want, which is probably why the photographic book is still the holy grail for photographers.

Looking at the UK there have been a number of magazines launched whose aim was to promote quality photojournalism, one that sticks in the mind is Colin Jacobson's Reportage Magazine, and more recently Jon Levy's Foto8, which oddly began life on the internet and then expanded into print, fairly successfully it would seem, long may it last.

Dispatches magazinePhotographer Gary Knight also felt he needed a new outlet for his pictures, which could be seen as surprising as he is very successful, published in some of the biggest magazines out there, including Newsweek to which he is a contract photographer. He is also one of the founders of VII photo agency.

Together with ex-Associated Press journalist Mort Rosenblum and publisher Dr Simba Gill they conceived and then launched a new magazine, Dispatches, just over a year ago, and the fourth edition has recently hit the streets.

The publication is the size of slightly swollen paperback and dressed in brown card, a bit like the school textbooks that had to be covered in brown paper (do they still do that?), anyway, it works, it's a simple design.

Dispatches is not a photographic magazine, the majority of its pages carry high quality journalism on the theme for that issue. America, Iraq and Russia were covered in the first three issues.

The latest, not surprisingly, moves away from one geographic locations and looks at poverty, and for the first time includes pictures by Gary. Previous issues have included the work of Seamus Murphy, Yuri Kozyrev and Antonin Kratochvil.

This being a photo blog I want to concentrate on looking at the photographs, and the presentation of the long form essay. The presentation is simple enough; blocks of pictures are run with minimal text, sometimes across the fold, sometimes turned on their side, giving the whole package the feeling of a journal made on the move, a work book if you like.

This feeling increases when looking at the first set of pictures in issue four which are in the form of postcards. They are actually pictures taken by Gary and printed in his hire car, then mailed home. They depict Youngstown, in Ohia, USA, no trips to far flung locations here, turn a street corner and there's always a story to be had.

Youngstown by Gary KnightOn the back of one card (photo) he writes: "Two houses for sale $800 in Campbell, Youngstown. That makes this house in Ohio six times cheaper than in Cambodia. More chance of a job in Cambodia though."

Simple enough presentation, and not a new idea, but the fact that it follows an essay by Mort which includes interviews from Youngstown that capture the despair, and indeed hope for the future of its residents, makes the pictures very effective.

The photographs are shot in the style of the American vernacular photographers of the 70s such as Joel Sternfeld and have a large format landscape feel, yet this is deceptive as they were shot on a standard digital SLR camera.

Their delivery as postcards, disposable, jumbled on the pages counteracts this notion of value as art. The precious images are almost discarded, just as the lives of those who once lived and worked in the properties have seemingly moved on, for better or worse. There maybe a little poetic license being taken here, by me not Gary, but you get the idea.

The other two photos essays in the latest issue are more traditional black and whites explorations of a prison in Rio and another set on poverty in India. Captions for these can be found on a printed insert at the back of the magazine, but in many ways you don't need them.

The pictures speak for themselves, you can interpret them yourself, get the grey matter working and analyse each frame. It's certainly liberating, not having to read captions on each picture.

You could of course retreat to the accusation that the pictures don't tell us anything of the lives of the individuals, but just reflect their appearance to an outsider and fail to address any of the structures within society that created these conditions. But context adds meaning, and these pictures when seen in the context of Dispatches, alongside the essays do give you a insight into the issues at hand, draw you in and perhaps entice you to seek out more information.

In all the editions the photographer is addressing a subject or place, and then saying this is my take, my view of it, do you get it or do you see something else?

Seamus Murphy's pictures of a trip across Russia are particularly effective in this way, if you don't know his work then check it out, I promise you it will be time well spent.

It's been said many times, but a good photographer has to have something to say.


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