Discursive Photography Essay
When researching into printed media that exists on the fringes of society, you will most certainly find photography, journalism and graphic design that all seem to fall between the cracks of conventional categorised material. This relates to the individualistic photographic subject ‘Colors Magazine’. ‘Colors’ predominantly features ‘photojournalism & documentary photography’. However to simply categorise this magazine into any one group is against everything it stands for; diversity and an open ended approach that lets readers see the world for what it really is. The photography of ‘Colors Magazine’ is not for people who see everything in black & white and to some it may appear unconventional, but that’s because it is. The magazine thrives in the space between the vague and ambiguous and deifies to conform to the ‘every day’. Its photography that can’t be categorised, nor can the journalism, It’s a style of its own, a genre that exists on the periphery of what photography and what indeed media itself, is. The magazine is in every sense of the word, discursive.
An early example of someone identifying and analysing photography that can be considered digressive, is in Rosalind Krauss’s article ‘Photography’s Discursive Spaces’ – 19821. Krauss cleverly dissects two very visually similar photographs, fg.1 was taken by Timothy O’Sullivan in 18682 ‘’with special insistence within the art historical construction of nineteenth-century landscape photography’’3 and fg.2 is a ‘’photolithograph of O’Sullivan’s photograph, created for the publication of Clarence King’s Systematic Geology in 1878.’’4 Krauss talks about how both photographs belong as material objects in a place, as well as two conceptual discourses. ‘’they convey two distinct kinds of knowledge; in a more recent vocabulary, one would say that they operate as representations within two separate discursive spaces, as members of two different discourses.’’5 Krauss analytically explains how these photographs create their own contexts as well as the context they already belong to, they push the boundaries and exist on the fringes of how photography is categorised.
‘Colors Magazine’ itself was founded in 1991 by Tibor Kalman a graphic designer who worked as the editor and chief of the magazine, Oliviero Toscani an Italian photographer who photographed for the magazine and is best known for his controversial work, and Karrie Jacobs who was the executive editor for Colors magazine from issues 1 – 4. Today ‘Colors’ has evolved into a multinational magazine that is published quarterly at the Fabrica research centre in Italy and shipped globally. ‘Colors’ has also had contributors with world renowned status, including; designers, photographers and artists such as Fernando Gutierrez, a well know graphic designer, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin whose unique photography helped weave the very fabric of what ‘Colors’ is today and Mauro Bedoni who worked as the photo editor of ‘Colors’ and is a well-respected photographer.
To quote the magazines own website; ‘’there is so much of the world to see, we just need to keep our eyes and minds wide open.’’6 ‘Colors’ celebrates diversity and thrives off of the controversy that it creates with each issue. In recent years the discursive magazine has become more prominent amongst people interested in contemporary photography & journalism. Contributing reasons for this may involve; the increased prominence of the internet in our everyday lives, websites such as ‘’www.bruil.info’’9 interconnects people interested in this type of diverging media and sells hundreds of variant magazines. Another reason perhaps is that photography as a medium is still quite arguably in its infancy, allowing a lot of room for it to distort, change and evolve, combine that with language which is constantly evolving and the opportunities are virtually limitless.
More and more people are likely to tier of mundane censored media, and are likely to embrace the little niches that truly interest them. This increased interest has helped strengthen these niche magazines, fuelling them both in economy and publicity.Delving into Olviero Toscani and Tibor Kalman’s past it can be seen that in 1982 Toscani started working as the Art Director for the clothing company ‘Benetton’ running their advertising campaigns. Among others, one of the most contentious campaigns that Toscani and Kalman ran featured a photograph fg.5 by Threse Frare that had been manipulated from a black and white photograph to a colour ‘editorial-esque’ image.
The photograph features a man named David Kirby who is dying from AIDS and is surrounded by his grieving family. Of course using a photograph of a dying man in a campaign by a clothing company was going to ruffle some feathers and ruffle it did. Many AIDS activists stated that the campaign painted victims in a negative light and only added fuel to people’s misconceptions about the disease. Toscani aptly named the photograph ‘Pieta’ as the piece bares a strong resemblance to Micheloangelo’s Pieta which depicts Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus Christ. Toscani was quoted saying ‘’I called the picture of David Kirby and his family ‘’La Pieta’’ because it is a Pieta which is real. The Michelangelo’s Pieta during the Renaissance might be fake, Jesus Christ may never had have existed. But we know this death happened. This is the real thing.’’10
By using Frare’s photograph, Toscani and Kalman took it completely out of context by publishing it as an advertisement for a clothing brand which also was a political statement within itself. This placed it into a new discourse entirely that few people ever dare to use. I feel this is the perfect example of taking a photograph and forcing it to digress through means of reapropreation, relating to what Krauss aforementioned above. If we analyse ‘Colors Magazine’ in the here and now we find that the magazine has a large online presence made up of four pillars, its website, its ‘’blog’’11, it’s ‘’notebook edition’’12 and its honest journalism. This relates to ‘’Niche Theory’’ ‘’as a mass media theory, niche is broadly defined as a medium’s use of limited resources that determines its ability to compete and coexist with another medium.’’13 The reason ‘Colors’ has thrived and not faced ‘extinction’ is because it utilizes its resources efficiently and by using ‘niche minded people’ ‘Colors’ continues to be at the forefront of delivering its unique adaptive subject matter. ‘’The permanence of the printed pages lends professionalism and credible journalism to the quality of magazine content’’14.
Looking deeper into the blog we find that it features single stories instead of full editions of each magazine, these short stories are what is keeping ‘Colors’ appealing to an entire online generation. By keeping up with the status quo and in a sense micro blogging, ‘Colors’ has cleverly filled a niche for people looking for short honest journalism and photojournalism. If we observe a popular blog post ‘’Drones On Rugs’’15 we find that it’s an article about middle eastern weavers whom have illustrated the wars that their daily lives consist of, dating back to the 1980’s fg.6. The article focuses on a man named ‘Kevin Sudeith’ whom became a collector and dealer of the rugs after stumbling across them in 1996. Needless to say these rugs make for subject matter that deviates from the ‘norm’ in photography & journalism and gives us a story that is both interesting and maintains the integrity of ‘’Colours Magazine’’. It’s this integrity that sets ‘Colours’ apart from other magazines within the niche discourse that it and others inhabit, it’s the defiance to conform or be grouped that is at the heart of this magazine.
In conclusion from the evidence aforementioned in this essay, digressive photography and indeed digressive media has been flourishing for a long time. From 1982 when Krauss cleverly pulled apart two images and explained why they belong in different discourses to the here and now, where ‘Colors Magazine’ survives in a constantly evolving niche of discursive media, alongside names such as ‘Fantastic Man’ and ‘032c’. The magazine is one of the few mediums that has crossed over to the digital platform in many aspects but still maintains the physicality of being printed, picked up and held. It has also been observed that with the prominence of the digressive magazine, that individualism is being expressed more publicly than ever and is leading to people who want more than just a glossed over summarization of the weeks events that differ slightly than the week prior. More and more anomalous circles of diverse groups are forming each day and it’s these circles made up of people are what is constantly forcing magazines and media it’s self to change.
It’s this change that contributes to ‘Colors’ being completely unique and undoubtedly its own magazine, from its cutting edge design (originally put in place by Tibor Kalman and continued by Fernando Gutierrez ) to its incredibly outlandish photography that for some boarders on the controversial (originally photographed by photographers such as Oliviero Toscani and Broomberge & Chanarin). After speculating what ‘Colors’ is as standalone form of printed & digital media and what it is as part of a sizable yet concise group of magazines, it can be seen that ‘Colors’ is the product of a thousand individual voices all talking at the same time to listeners (readers) with the same vision. It’s networking that has been with this magazine from the start and has helped to publish something that isn’t regurgitated rubbish from major media corporations but something that has depth, something that can call itself real journalism and it’s this gritty realism that advances us as people and connects us all.
1 Photography's Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View Author(s): Rosalind Krauss Source: Art Journal, Vol. 42, No. 4, The Crisis in the Discipline ( 1982), pages. 311-319
2 Timothy O'Sullivan, Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake (Nevada), 1868
3 Photography's Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View Author(s): Rosalind Krauss Source: Art Journal, Vol. 42, No. 4, The Crisis in the Discipline ( 1982), pages.
4 Photolithograph, Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Published in King Survey report, 1875
5 Photography's Discursive Spaces: Landscape/View Author(s): Rosalind Krauss Source: Art Journal, Vol. 42, No. 4, The Crisis in the Discipline ( 1982), pages.
6 http://www.colorsmagazine.com. Last accessed 25 Nov 2015.
7 Oliviero Toscani, Tibor Kalman. (1991). it's a boy . Available: http://www.colorsmagazine.com/magazine/1. Last accessed 25 Nov 2015.
8 Oliviero Toscani, Alex Marashian. (1997). animals . Available: http://www.colorsmagazine.com/magazine/19. Last accessed 25 Nov 2015.
9 Bruil & van de Staaij. (C 2015). Bruil . Info . Available: http://www.bruil.info. Last accessed 03 Dec 2015 .
10 DUNCAN MACLEOD. (April 7 2007). Benetton Pieta in AIDS campaign.Available: http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/2007/benetton-pieta-in-aids-campaign/. Last accessed 23/11/2015.
11 Oliviero Toscani, Tibor Kalman. (2015). Blog. Available: http://www.colorsmagazine.com/blog. Last accessed 25 Nov 2015.
12 Oliviero Toscani, Tibor Kalman. (2015). Notebooks . Available: http://www.colorsmagazine.com/notebooks. Last accessed 25 Nov 2015.
13 Haniff, Zeenath, "Niche Theory in New Media: Is Digital Overtaking the Print Magazine Industry?" (2012). UNLV Theses/
Dissertations/Professional Papers/Capstones. Paper 1571.
14 Haniff, Zeenath, "Niche Theory in New Media: Is Digital Overtaking the Print Magazine Industry?" (2012). UNLV Theses/
Dissertations/Professional Papers/Capstones. Paper 1571.
15 Colours. (Jan 19th 2015). DRONES ON RUGS. Available: http://www.colorsmagazine.com/blog/article/drones-on-rugs. Last accessed 25 Nov 2015.
Fg. 1 Timothy O'Sullivan, Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake (Nevada), 1868
Fg.2 Photolithograph, Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Published in King Survey report, 1875
Fg. 3 Oliviero Toscani, Tibor Kalman. (1991). it's a boy . Available: http://www.colorsmagazine.com/magazine/1. Last accessed 25 Nov 2015.
Fg.4 Oliviero Toscani, Alex Marashian. (1997). animals . Available: http://www.colorsmagazine.com/magazine/19. Last accessed 25 Nov 2015.
Fg.5 Threse Frare / http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/2007/benetton-pieta-in-aids-campaign/
Fg.6 Colours. (Jan 19th 2015). DRONES ON RUGS. Available: http://www.colorsmagazine.com/blog/article/drones-on-rugs. Last accessed 25 Nov 2015.