Photofile: an expanded perspective

Mireille Juchau talks to Alasdair Foster

Alasdair Foster is Director of the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP) in Sydney and Editor of Photofile. A long-standing publication of the ACP, and the only art photomedia-dedicated publication in Australia, Photofile combines quality reproductions, essays, surveys and reviews. Each edition has a different theme and often a different guest editor.

Is there a new editorial vision for Photofile given the new format?

Strong ideas, clearly expressed. That’s the underlying philosophy. And this is a national magazine, the only one dealing exclusively with photomedia art, so it is important that it reflects what is happening nationwide, not just in the southeast and not just in the metropolitan centres. Although there has been some increase in the physical size and number of pages in the new format, there is considerably greater increase in the amount of content. And that increased content is more diverse, both in opinion and in the method of presentation. There are more voices, more ways of showing and telling.

What will change?

[The] way in which the images and ideas are explored in the main body of the magazine will tend to change with the theme and the editor. I’m editing the next couple of issues myself until we resolve the technical and editorial side of the new format. Then it will return to the practice of having guest editors for each issue. This ensures a level of expertise about the theme concerned and allows the magazine to explore with different networks of writers and photographers. Before we have the benefit of hindsight, it is only prudent to look at things from as many perspectives as possible.

Will future issues be themed? What are the forthcoming themes and how do you hope to explore them?

At this stage I want to stay with themed issues, it helps give each edition a focus and allows each guest editor to play to their strengths. This is balanced by the expanded review and preview sections, which allow for a reflection of what is happening more generally. In this way, there can be a balance between thematic focus and currency.

The re-launch issue explores the short and medium term future in the light of exponential technological growth. It looks to a world of the transhuman, when photomedia may not so much be a reflection of the world around us as the perceptual world in itself.

Photofile 69, out in August, looks at Australian suburbia. Australia must be one of the most suburban populations on earth, and this suburbia is by no means the dully conformist mire that received prejudice might lead us to believe. It is a place of contentment and pathos, comfort and irony, fierce individualism and nagging doubt.

In issue 70, Photofile will explore money and power, not simply in terms of its representation in photomedia, but in terms of the fiscal frameworks and patronage which sustain the Australian art world and particularly those who arbitrate the cultural value to photomedia. Like the ‘Futures’ issue, it will reflect not only the ideas articulated through photography, but the framework in which the photographic image reaches us and is valued.

What are the key aspects of photography that you see Photofile debating, showcasing or responding to?

Certainly where things are going. Because we are headed there very fast, faster by the year. As a technological artform, photography is both subject to and well reflects upon the rapid technological changes we are witnessing today. The advent of video, DVD, mobile phone cameras, internet porn…is changing the way we engage with photomedia and the more cultural and artistic practices can hardly remain untouched.

I think it is useful to look at art photomedia from outside the rhetoric of art. To consider what is happening in our ever-changing art world from the perspective of psychology, neurophysiology, physics, economics, history, sociology, consilience theory and so on. To try to understand where art fits into the world at large.

Is the new format Photofile a response to broader changes in the production and reception of contemporary photography in Australia?

Yes. I think this is true in a number of ways. There is definitely a greater plurality of approach to both making and showing photomedia in Australia (and internationally) these days. Things are less dogmatic. There is a wider range of what is shown and that allows for and interesting exploration of the interface between these diverse areas. On the one hand institutions like the Photographers Gallery in London or the Netherlands FotoInstitut in Rotterdam are showing a much wider variety of work–conceptual, documentary, historical, snapshot–and on the other magazines like doingbird, Purple and Big bring together a really diverse range of photographers from international big names to eccentric one-offs and emerging practitioners.

I’m not looking to copy those magazines, but they inform the way in which a readership responds to printed images, and the visual fluency and expectations they might have. So it is important to me that we span a range of work, but work which is of real contemporary interest, whether or not it itself is contemporarily produced.

How do you see your role as curator at the ACP in relation to the direction and content of Photofile? How do the 2 responsibilities inform each other?

They inform each other, particularly during this transitionary period when I am also editing Photofile. Information that comes in for consideration by ACP for exhibition automatically becomes known to Photofile and vice versa. It is important given the national scope of the magazine that it draws its information from a wide and diverse range of sources, and this two-way information flow certainly helps that.

That said, I try hard not to overly influence what is contained in Photofile when another person edits it. I do have strong feelings about how things are expressed, but what is expressed is, I believe, up to the editors concerned. I do passionately believe it is not simply unfortunate but unethical to end up limiting the appreciation of contemporary art through ‘mandarin’ language. It’s very difficult to find ways to express complex and evolving ideas and translate them from the visual world to the written. But no one said it was easy. It is difficult. Let’s start there and get on with the job…

RealTime issue #84 April-May 2008 pg. web

© Mireille Juchau; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2008