Review: Georgian Spring - A Magnum Journal


Book Reviews, Photobooks


Is there a crisis in photojournalism? By “crisis” people either mean the business (“with the media in crisis how will photojournalism survive?”) or the photography itself. I am on record for criticizing a subset of photojournalism for its overly generous use of cliches; but I don’t think there is a crisis in photojournalism, at least as far as the photography side is concerned (In the following, I’ll ignore the business side, since I’m not an expert on it, and since it’s besides the scope of this article). Georgian Spring - A Magnum Journal is a wonderful book for many reasons, one of them being the fact that it can serve as a good starting point for discussions of the nature of the beast, photojournalism’s imagery. Of course, it is a little bit unfair to use the book in such a way - shouldn’t I be talking about the topic of the book? But in this case, talking about the book almost inevitably involves talking about photojournalism itself. (more)

Georgian Spring contains photography by ten Magnum photographers (Antoine d’Agata, Jonas Bendiksen, Thomas Dworzak, Martine Franck, Alex Majoli, Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Martin Parr, Paolo Pellegrin, Mark Power and Alec Soth; technically speaking, there are more, since the book also contains photography from the agency’s archives), taken in the country of Georgia in Spring of 2009. Ten photographers - that means ten different approaches to photography, and also ten different approaches to an assignment. Some of the results are rather predictable (for example Franck’s or Parr’s), others offer surprises (especially Soth’s). There is b/w and colour; there is “classic” photojournalism, and there is what people would probably call “fine-art” photography - one could probably come up with an almost endless way to classify the selection.

So there are ten photographic voices, all from the same photojournalistic agency - how could there be a crisis in photojournalism when there is such variety? Or asked in a different way: What kind of crisis? The only one I could come up with would be caused by not knowing how to simply summarize “photojournalistic style” (again, l’m ignoring the business side here).

Maybe photojournalism is a bit like jazz - the “best days” are over, but there are still practitioners of all the various styles around, and there’s a time and place for it. Of course, such a comparison is not entirely useful, since unlike jazz photojournalism serves a very important purpose. Especially when people are arguing about the business, that purpose is often simply ignored. Of course, the same is true in debates about newspapers.

Coming back to the photography of photojournalism, the reader of Georgian Spring will inevitably be drawn towards some chapters and not to others - this is where personal preferences come into play. For me, the book’s highlights are: Mark Power’s very contemporary view of industry and cityscapes; Alec Soth’s channeling of Miroslav Tichy - I’m exaggerating for effect, but I’m not making it up (“The Most Beautiful Woman in Georgia”) - in the form of scanned journal-style pages with actual handwriting (oddly, with the same text printed next to the scans - the handwriting is perfectly legible); Jonas Bendiksen’s portraits of young Georgians; and Antoine D’Agata’s curious mix of Baconesque portraits and completely deadpan shots (which are even printed in a grid).

But as I said, personal preferences might make you prefer Parr’s over Soth’s work, or maybe you’ll be drawn to something else entirely. It is obvious, though, that the photography in Georgian Spring is top-notch. These ten photographers know what they’re doing. If you want to study how photojournalists (might) work, here’s a book with a lot of material.

In terms of its production, Georgian Spring is as good a book as it possibly could have been. It’s made to look like a journal and printed very well, with a lot of attention to detail - I’m a sucker for details, and Georgian Spring contained more than one surprise.

Georgian Spring - A Magnum Journal, featuring photography by Antoine d’Agata, Jonas Bendiksen, Thomas Dworzak, Martine Franck, Alex Majoli, Gueorgui Pinkhassov, Martin Parr, Paolo Pellegrin, Mark Power and Alec Soth, 240 pages, Chris Boot