COVER Jagoda Wisniewska

Notes: Letters to Photography / No. 1 / Autumn-Winter 2016.



Dear reader,

Thank you for taking the time to pick up NOTES. This is the first edition of what the editors hope will be a long and exciting journey. Like all good journeys, it’s often hard to pinpoint where they actually begin, but ours has an interesting history. This issue, strictly speaking is not the the first, but in fact a re-envisioning of an idea that has been evolving since 2003. Published biannually and sometimes quarterly, NOTES was originally edited by Scottish Photographers Association member Sandy Sharp, who created it to share news and promote the work of both amateur and professional Scottish photographers. For over nine years Sandy guided the magazine, featuring the work of both its members and others while contributing to Scotland’s multi-vocal photographic community. Unfortunately in 2012 circumstances forced Sandy to step away from the project, and since then, with brief exception, NOTES has been in hibernation.

New Beginnings

In May 2015, Nina Bacos, wondering about the possibility of relaunching NOTES, sent an email to Sandy Sharp through Scottish Photographers Association member and mutual friend Colin Gray. Some may know Nina through the artist talk and open forum called TalkSeePhotography which she organises monthly at the Center for Contemporary Art, Glasgow. After some consideration, the Association gave their blessing and support, and the journal’s new editorial team now consists of Nina Bacos, Melanie Letoré, and Ben Rush, in partnership with graphic designer Marco Scerri. Stewart Shaw from the Photographers Association will act as liaison between the team, and the association’s membership, and oversee the finances.

We are very grateful to the Scottish Photographers Association for letting us relaunch NOTES, with the full knowledge that this is, in some ways, a conceptual departure from the original iteration. Having said this, we share the association’s ethos of supporting the contemporary Scottish photography community, and the name NOTES persists in honor of the publication’s legacy.

About our editorial process

As editors of a small Scottish journal, it could be argued that one of our weaknesses is that at this none of us are, by birth, Scottish; yet each of has chosen to live and work here. As Scotland has become our home, we of course wish to contribute to its political and social discussions, and as our Scottish experience merges with our experiences elsewhere, this will help to create and broaden discourse.

As Glasgow is where each of us lead our lives, and where much of our rich network is based, it is unsurprising that this first issue is very Glasgow-centric. In future issues we hope to balance this with a more inclusive and comprehensive position, with contributions from across the nation. Despite being un-Scottish, Weegee centric, and all white, as editors we are also committed to inclusiveness and diversity in a world which is already too segmented along identity markers. For each of us, these concerns kept arising in our thinking and conversations, so as we set out, we began to formulate some questions to guide us:

  • Why do questions of sexual, gendered and ethnic identity, which have played such a strong part in photography practices globally in the last forty years, not play an integral role in Scottish photography that we see around us?
  • Why do performative practices, which often cross over with other fine art practices, seem to garner less attention?
  • Generally, why does there seem to be a largely unbridged gap in the discourses between fine art and photographic practices?
  • Why does landscape and social practice have such a powerful presence in Scottish photography, while other contemporary photographic practices seem less visible?
  • When so many fine arts practices are so firmly rooted in photography, why does there seem to be so little photography specific inquiry?
  • How can we, as a small visual artist-led publication, develop a richer and more nuanced discussion of photography’s medium-specific language?

In NOTES we are intent on pursuing writing, theory, and other responses to photography, using the playfulness that informs our own art practices in the editorial process. Rather than having a thematic approach to each issue, we made the decision to let visual trails guide our path. What we include in each issue will be informed by the synchronicity of who and what we like and find important, influenced by the group’s background, education, and disparate ages.

About this Issue

The journal’s strapline, Letters to Photography, came to us as we looked through contributor Agathe Weiss’ material. During an early meeting, an image jumped out - this strange picture of a dirty, homeless envelope upon which the words “A letter to photography” was typed. We chose this image as our opening page because it creates a perfect metaphor for the dialogues we wish to generate.

Much to our surprise, as this first issue came together, the contributions began a natural dialogue with one another, with each piece sharing multiple connections and themes.

In her work Household Forensics, Susanne Ramsenthaler’s attention to microscopic portraits denotes a detailed examination of “the female” space. This is similar to Calle’s performative documentation of her own life, which renders visible spaces that are kept hidden until the artist turns her gaze towards it.

In Katherine Parhar’s profile, she shares her thoughts on photography, and we are in complete agreement: we, too, believe that more international interaction will stimulate greater opportunities for discursive and practical developments. To this end, two young writers, Melanie Letoré and John Farrell have authored essays on two of photography’s biggest names: Robert Frank and Sophie Calle.

Melanie’s Letoré’s essay describes Calle’s influence on the her own reading of the world, and underscores our belief that photographic practice does not always need to be discussed in photography-specific questions and terms. John Farrell’s essay about Robert Frank’s visual diaries is a declaration of admiration to an artist who has had an incredible influence on us all. The essay, alongside Frank’s images, illustrates how this artist keeps contributing quietly to photography’s genealogy.

Agathe Weiss is an artist separated from Robert Frank in time by nearly seventy years. In her work, however, their kinship is obvious in the poetry of her unflinching gaze. Weiss’ connections to Sophie Calle’s work is perhaps less obvious, unless one considers how Calle draws our attention to the surreal and mundane. In Jagoda Wisniewska’s work Czarna Madonna, we are again stopped in our tracks as she renders the maternal love and family life mythologies in a kind of Lynchian visual narrative.

Acquiring the publishing rights for some of the images accompanying the essays entailed making contact with international bodies. This has already created opportunities for both our distribution and for contributors. Encouraged by this generosity, we continued to reach out hoping for more international and cross-disciplinary dialogue. Thus, Elsa Modin from Hasselblad Foundation has contributed a book review of Christina Christina McBride’s Bound. Contributors Duncan Chappell and Elizabeth Reeder have reviewed James Pfaff’s recent book Alex and Me and Alan Knox’s unreleased book Made of Stars.

One of the great joys in making this issue came by learning how we discover new material, and learning from each other in the process. For instance, we discovered Jagoda Wisniewska through Melanie’s focused habit of finding and maintaining an overview of interesting places to see new work online, and John Farrell’s essay came about because Ben and Nina read his undergraduate dissertation and suggested he develop it.

We have thoroughly enjoyed working together to bring you the publication in your hands. It has required many months of hard work, a bit of luck, lots of ambition and incredible support from places we never expected. We want to warmly thank all our contributors, and all the less-visually-represented individuals and institutions without whose help this publication would not have happened. Most especially, The Scottish Photographers Association, Sandy Sharp and Stewart Shaw.

For reproduction permissions we would like to thank Galerie Perrotin and Sophie Calle, Steidl Publishers and Robert Frank. We would also like to thank Erin Gannon and Marion Malique for invaluable editorial support.

With this we leave you to explore the rest of the magazine.

The editors