Tuesday 1 February 2011

Interview with 1000 Words Deputy editor Michael Grieve

An abridged version of the following interview between Nina Strand, editor at Objectiv and 1000 Words' Deputy editor Michael Grieve was recently published in the Norwegian newspaper, Dagbladet. Read on for a more in depth discussion about the future of print, digital curating, the problems with the term 'emerging artist' and the thinking behind 1000 Words as the magazine prepares to launch its landmark 10th issue.

Nina Strand

Michael Grieve

NS: After 22 years Portfolio ends, what are your thoughts?

MG: I think it is very sad that Portfolio will no longer exist. Its design, editing, writing and production values are superb and set the standard for any aspiring photographer to grace its pages. Photography needs high standards in all areas and that this particular magazine has folded is a great loss.

NS: And your thoughts on Photoworks?

MG: Photoworks is an integral aspect of the 'art' photography community in Britain and across the globe. It tends to deal with more conceptually driven photography with a very clean aesthetic which dominates a great deal of photographic practice these days. I feel that there is room for more variation, photography which perhaps does not fit into neat categories.

NS: Is it a trend in Britain now for online journals, like 1000 Words?

MG: I am not sure it is a 'trend' in Britain. There are perhaps lots of blogs, but I would differentiate between a blog and an online magazine. We regard our blog as the sister site and we use it as a platform to promote work that does not make it to the magazine and to promote 1000 Words events. At a time when photography is becoming sanitized and institutionalized we are in need of new and interesting ways to harness the mass proliferation of images. 1000 Words is simply utilising technology to curate quality photography. We see an online presence as a thing in itself, it is not trying to replace the printed magazine. I see it on a par with the 'punk ethic' and remember friends using photocopying machines back in the early 1980's to produce fanzines. 1000 Words is using a more sophisticated technology but it is still a DIY attitude born from frustrations and a reaction to the 'institutionalisation' of the 'art' photography world. But the 1000 Words magazine is the first step in our concept. It is essentially our flagship and the power we have is in being able to communicate to a mass audience (the magazine attracts approximately 140,000 unique visitors from more than 75 countries every month) and we can utilise this fact to promote other 1000 Words activities outside of cyberspace, such as the the recent workshop we organised with Antoine d'Agata in Morocco. 1000 Words is not just an online magazine.

NS: Do you think the paper magazine will survive?

MG: People will always find ways to produce print magazines. It is a fetish and therefore a seduction that is essential to any lover of the photograph. An audience needs the tactile relationship to photography. Money is always the issue, but just as photographers are now finding ways to raise the finances to self publish, in response to the limited and often dire financial restrictions of established publishers, so will those with a passion to produce the printed magazine. 1000 Words also intends to produce an annual printed magazine. As I said before it is not a question of one thing or the other. However, our project has the benefit of experimentation and Tim and I are constantly thinking on lateral terms, in other words, how can we arrive at a certain point from a different perspective.

What are your thoughts on the magazine as a showroom for emerging artists?

MG: Not sure about the term 'emerging artists'. I think this term is slightly patronising and presupposes that at some point you emerge.... but into what I'm not sure! It is a tidy term that has entered into recent language to deal with the huge proliferation of younger photographers. These 'emerging photographers' are the victims of this terminology and therefore enter the huge amount of competitions and unproductive portfolio reviews for 'emerging photographers', spending money they probably do not have. Being a photographer should never be neatly categorised into some careerist mode. Photography is a journey and at no point do you 'make it' as the journey is never ending, even after death.

There are obviously well-known, lesser-known and unknown photographers but we believe in merit and strive to showcase those works that represent creative skill, emotion, intelligence and that certain something that cannot be pinned down by words. We do not subscribe to trends and fashions in photography but rather pluck out what we consider to be relevant to the contemporary world and highlight work that will stand the test of time. A selection process on every level of photography is greatly needed. As a platform for showing the work of photographers 1000 Words offers promotion on a massive scale and hopes that it will stir the curiosity of people to buy the photographer's book or go and see their work in galleries, or simply look and read about it on our magazine. Like all mediums ours has its limitations. For example, we have designed the magazine in a simple but sophisticated way that gives photography and writing prime space. Advertising for us must be effective for the advertisers but not at the expense of what really matters. So we are always finding ways to not allow advertising to encroach yet make sure we develop bespoke packages for them that reward their loyality. It's a fine balance but it is all about working with advertisers and sponsors who want to relate to the topics and themes we're engaged in; a shared interest.

NS: Writing about photography is an art in itself, how do you work with the writers?

Writing about photographers work is a very responsible thing to do and should not be taken lightly. It is, of course, an interpretation of someone else's creative output and it should only ever be perceived as that. But the work of different photographers demand different approaches. With some, it may be appropriate to ask questions, with others it could be a features review about a book. The balance to be achieved is always to be sensitive but also to project your ideas onto a body of work with the greatest respect. We commission writers who we feel have a certain understanding and appreciation of the particular photographer. In the current issue the curator of photography at the Tate, Simon Baker, applied his theories of George Bataille towards an interpretation of Leigh Ledare´s recent body of work, and it was the perfect mix as Simon had co-curated a show dedicated to Bataille at the Hayward Gallery a few years ago and instantly understood and brought the connection to Ledare´s work, which in itself is a creative act. And, like the photography we choose, the writers we commission share a passion.

The essays we hope, are open to debate as there is nothing worse than a culture of nodding dogs. Some magazines may declare that they are the authority on photography but we prefer an attitude of open mindedness and declare nothing accept to confess that we have everything to learn.