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Submissions open for JPG Magazine issue #6 + thoughts on themes

Posted 1 April, 2006 in Calls for Entry + Op-Ed

JPG Magazine writes:

Sometimes the best shots are accidents. They come from the moment your finger slips, your settings are wrong, you shoot into the sun, or your model sneezes. The results are more about serendipity than technique, and they can surprise even the most accomplished photographer.

The theme for Issue 6 is ‘Oops!’ to celebrate these happy accidents. We’re seeking submissions of photos that say ‘Oops!’ to you. Maybe it’s a photo you didn’t mean to take, or a moment you didn’t expect to capture. You’re encouraged to have fun with the theme. Surprise us!

Got the perfect "Oops!" photo? Submit it now! Submissions open until April 30.

Go to submissions page at jpgmag.com

Thoughts on themes

I think magazines like JPG are a great idea, but the themes for many of them are getting a little strange. Most of them seem off the mark in many ways, both as a potential buyer and contributor.

JPG’s last theme, "Photography Is Not A Crime", was interesting and relevant, but it leaves me wondering what the point of JPG really is: is it a magazine of photography, as their previous issues have led me to believe, or is it a magazine about photography? The way I see it, the two have less in common than it initially seems. (As David Bayles and Ted Orland pointed out in their book Art & Fear, making and viewing art are completely separate activities.) As a customer, I’m confused as to what I’m actually buying; as a potential contributor, I’m at a loss as to what to submit. Reportage? Shots constructed to take a stand on the issue? Photos of places that other people have or are likely to be harassed for shooting even though it’s legal? Throw me a frickin’ bone here!

The "Oops!" theme leaves me similarly lost, not about what to submit, but what the point would be. I’m sure there will be some great work in that issue, but it won’t be because it was accidental. I see no connection whatsoever between something about a photo being accidental and it being a compelling image. It probably took me a few hundred rolls of film to learn the lesson, but a photo being of something you love or a nice color, fun or difficult to make, shot with a particular camera, or developed or printed with a particular process doesn’t magically make it good. A shitty photo is a shitty photo with or without that stuff. All that yields is a shitty photo that’s sentimental, colorful, or was a pain in the ass. A platinum print of a bad image won’t make it any better than having shot it with a Leica will; it can still suck mightily. None of this process stuff has anything to do with the experience of viewing the end result. So who cares if it was an accident or not? I don’t. I care that it’s engaging—that’s it.

What I think would be an interesting approach to this theme is for people to show an initial accident that started them down an artistic path that they’ve then deliberately developed: what they were going for, what they got instead, what about the accident made them see the potential for future work, how closely the initial idea of where they would take the idea matches where they’re at with it now, and what that development pictorially looks like. But then we’re back to the about or of photography magazine question, as this is more about process than result. Not that there’s anything wrong with convering both, but when you have a narrowly-defined theme, it creates expectations one way or the other.

While this is a matter of personal philosophy, I’m not sure why themes are necessary for this sort of thing at all. It’s certainly a common practice, and I’d hesitate to call it a bad one, but I think I’d prefer a broader sampling of whatever the editors think is good in general. (For a good example of this, check out File, an online photography magazine with no theme and no deadline, who simply publish whatever they find compelling.) It would probably offer more opportinuty for discovery, which is, I think, what I’m really after when buying this sort of thing. Of course there are many, many ways to interpret a theme, but I know that my editing can get a little narrow when I’m going after a theme vs. simply being open to anything that’s compelling. Perhaps most interesting is the opportinuty to find your own themes within a diverse body of work, as it’s not only more participatory, but can teach you something about yourself.

(I’m not a big fan of the one-way art experience where you’re shown a piece and told what it’s about, what it means, and how and what you’re supposed to feel and think about it. To me, that usually feels like a joke that has to be explained. I’d rather strap myself in, go for the ride, and see where it takes me. I’m not saying that this and themes are the same thing, but it feels to me like themes are a step up the one-way hill.)

My aim is not to slam JPG. There’s a lot of this happening with these sorts of publications, both electronic and print, and JPG just happened to be the example at hand.

Comments

Derek

Yes, a shitty photo is a shitty photo. That’s why we generally try not to print those.

As for the themes, some like them and some don’t. That’s why we tried a “No Theme” theme for issue 4. It went just fine, but we feel the themes help tie the issue together, and help guide the submissions.

Personally, I think you’re over-thinking here. The themes are meant to be inspiring, not limiting. Just use the word “Oops” as something to inspire you. You have a whole month to think about it!

And in the end, it’s okay if not all themes appeal to all people. Maybe the next one will float your artistic boat.

Thanks for thinking about our humble little magazine!

Nicolai

I’m not for a second implying that you do print shitty photos; quite the opposite, from what I’ve seen! As I said, I’m sure there will be some brilliant work in the Oops! issue, my point was just that said brilliant work won’t be brilliant because it was accidental—it’s a question of causality rather than result.

You may be right, I may be over-thinking it, but that’s what I tend to do, particularly when I’m going to plunk 20 bucks down for a book. That’s just my experience of it as a customer and a potential contributor. But I’m aware that it’s very easy for me to sit here and armchair quarterback editing your magazine when I don’t have to actually do it. I can imagine the number and the diversity of the submissions you get and don’t envy the task of sifting through it all and making something coherent out of it. Maybe themes are necessary for making your particular book, I’m really not in a position to say. Whatever works!

Derek

Think of it this way: If your photo is selected, you don’t have to pay that twenty bucks! ;-)

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