February 3: “We all know what a photograph is…A photograph is (simply) an equation of light, time and space,” wrote Peter Turner who was born in London on this date in 1947.
As noted here, my formal education in photography started at Prahran College in the mid-70s. I am indebted to the teaching of John Cato, Athol Shmith and Paul Cox there especially, but I had another teacher, in the form of Creative Camera, that landmark British magazine of contemporary photography, published between 1968 and 2001.
The College library was in an old, dark, dank brick building fronting High St next to the staff car park, and my frequent visits there always took me to the last rows, thankfully near the windows, to the 770s in the Dewey numbers, to search amongst the periodicals in the usually vain hope that a new issue of Creative Camera had arrived.
Beneath its silver-grey cover, a colour so apt in a period in which photojournalism and art photography (the magazine covered both) was still silver-bromide, wondrous discoveries were to be made.
It sat near APERTURE, the American magazine, which was so much more glossy, and bigger but quarterly, while CC was (mostly) monthly. Both magazines radicalised artistic photography, but CC was socialist in its perspective, while APERTURE during this period was in transition from founder Minor White’s Whitmanesque mystical tendencies (really just an extension of Pictorialism) to a contemporary stance more prepared to promote the documentary stream.
These magazines were both museums and galleries. Articles included the history of photography not found easily elsewhere at the time; CC included a column by Aaron Scharf (author of Art and Photography) as early as 1968. Turner uncovered, for instance, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the European Worker Photographer movements of the inter-war years putting them forward as models for current practice. Influential feminist UK photographer Jo Spence, herself from a working class background, has recorded that this encouraged her own radical work. Turner published his own History of Photography : Exeter Books, in 1987.
Both made their pages virtual galleries for photographs, giving them plenty of ‘air’ with big borders and usually with minimal captions.
This prompted imitation; we students would file out our negative carriers to expose the rebate around our images on the film and print them through masks onto larger sheets of photographic paper to imitate the look of pictures on the pages of these magazines. It saved on matt cutting (you just flush-mounted the printed sheet onto cheap card), and an exposed black around the image provided evidence that you had shot ‘full-frame’, which was regarded as de rigeur amongst acolytes of Cartier-Bresson and Tony Ray-Jones.
Sampling just two 1975 editions of ‘CC‘, confirms that its interests were international. It featured English photographers certainly; Colin Curwood, John Goto, Paddy Summerfield, and Europeans ; Czech Josef Sudek (No. 137): Conrad Hafenrichter, Guiseppe Pino, Heinrich Riebesehl, and South African Stephen Williams (No. 138), but also Americans including Alex Webb and Charles Harbutt.
By contrast, APERTURE during this period was US-centric and only (nominally) quarterly. Just to assure that I’m not biased in that judgement, let me detail what could be found in that magazine throughout my years as a photography student. Each issue was themed, while CC offered more variety. 1974’s first issue of APERTURE, Vol. 18 (2) was devoted to Celebrations with introduction by Jonathan Green (an editor of the magazine and author of American Photography: A Critical History, 1984) essay by Richard Baldinger, and photographs by Emmet Gowin, Bruce Davidson, Ken Josephson, Richard L. Smith, Stevan A. Baron and other Americans, though with a shot by Koudelka and couple of other Europeans; double issue Vol. 18 (3-4) was devoted to Tennessee photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard; Vol. 19 (1) assembled The Snap Shot featuring photos and short articles by Lisette Model, Emmet Gowin , Henry Wessel, Jr., Tod Papageorge, Joel Meyerowitz , Paul Strand, Gus Kayafas, Nancy Rexroth, Steven Halpern, Wendy Snyder Macneil, Richard Albertine, Garry Winogrand, Walker Evans, Bill Zulpo-Dane, John A. Kouwenhoven, Judith Wechsler, Lee Friedlander and Robert Frank.
APERTURE ran only two issues in 1975; the first with Helen Levitt’s photographs of New York, an essay by Robert Coles on ‘Photographs of New York in 1890’, Milton Rogovin’s ‘Photographs of Buffalo’ and Alan Trachtenberg on ‘The Camera and Dr Barnardo’; the second contained an extensive essay on historic British photographer P H Emerson in a double issue. That was followed in 1976 (the year its founder Minor White died) by only one bumper issue on Joseph Koudelka. So substantial were APERTURE magazines that the same issues would reappear in bookshops, hard-bound (at a higher price).
Peter Turner studied photography at the Guildford School of Art (1965 – 1968) where he suffered under the strictures of vocational education and participated in a famous 1968 student sit-in; the head of department, the formidable Walter Nurnberg, caught Turner lying on a table. “What are you doing?” Nurnberg enquired. “Thinking,” replied the startled Turner. “You are not here to think, you are here to study photography!”. Despite these experiences, Turner admitted that going to art school was the ‘best thing he could have done’.
On leaving Guildford, Turner put his thinking into practice as a journalist for SLR magazine, then later in 1969, graduated to assistant editor to Creative Camera‘s founder and publisher, Colin Osman. He took over from Bill Jay, who had in 1968, with Osman, bought, then transformed, the magazine from Camera Owner, a hobbyist’s ‘how-to’ periodical.
Jay (whose version of events can be read here) hoped to exchange the audience of camera club members for more serious photographers and photojournalists, but he had left after differences with Osman to set up a glorious but short lived luxury periodical Album. Turner got on much better with the latter, whose finances supporting CC came from a profitable pigeon-fanciers magazine he had inherited from his father, hence the credit to ‘Coo Press’ as its publisher; Osman was also a sensible manager, though shared socialist sympathies with Turner.
Circumstances surrounding this British publication and its history could not be more different from the only other competition at the time, Camera Mainichi from Japan, the Switzerland’s Camera, and APERTURE which after Minor White died in 1976 made big changes with a new format designed by Malcolm Grear that would remain unchanged for the next 20 years and an editorial board that included Carole Kismaric, Steve Dietz, Lawrence Frascella, Mark Holborn, Nan Richardson and Michael E. Hoffman, a former student of White, the foundation’s publisher and executive director until 2001. APERTURE also boasted a New York office and later a gallery.
Jay had concentrated on Britain’s heritage from European photography. Turner brought the magazine’s, and its readers, attention to the history of photography but also to contemporary goings-on in the United States, visiting there at the urging of Tony Ray-Jones (who had returned from his time in the States to tell Turner “Your magazine’s crap, but I can see you’re trying. You just don’t know enough, so I am here to help you.”). The first publication of Ray-Jones’ photographs had been by Jay in CC’s October 1968 edition (above).
Creative Camera struggled throughout its lifetime of thirty years (LIFE only lasted 36), both financially and with the fickle demands of its readers, who were not an homogenous group and whose demographic developed with time. However it was protected to some degree by its changing editorship. Judy Goldhill replaced Turner when he left in 1978 to set up the short-lived photographic publisher Travelling Light in 1980 with his partner, Heather Forbes, in Putney. Then came Mark Holborn, and Susan Butler 1984 to 1986, before Turner became editor again in 1986 (after curating “American Images: Photography 1945-1980” in 1985 at the Barbican for the Arts Council of Great Britain, on the occasion of Osman’s sale of the magazine, only to resign in 1991, bitterly disappointed by the Arts Council’s cutting of the magazine’s funding during these, the Thatcher years. The last editor was David Brittain who changed the name to DPICT in January 2000 to incorporate digital technology. The magazine closed eighteen months later by the Arts Council.
A few Australians got their photographs into CC; amongst them were Max Pam in 1973, expatriate Grant Mudford and Fiona Hall in 1977, Jacky Redgate and Anne Zahalka in 1988, Simone Douglas in 1995, Brenda L Croft and Destiny Deacon in 1997, but even here Creative Camera was a sign of a worldwide renewal of interest in photography as an art form not seen since before the Second World War. We all read it. Here, in Melbourne, by 1977 there were three private galleries devoted to the medium; Joyce Evans’ Church Street in Richmond, with Rennie Ellis’ Pentax-Brummels Gallery and Ian Lobb’s Photographer’s Gallery both short tram rides away.
Church Street’s opening show, The Australian Eye, offered for sale works by Mark Strizic, John Cato, Paul Cox, Max Dupain, Micky Allan, Robert Besanko, Jean-Marc Le Pechoux, John Williams, Rennie Ellis, and David Moore (whose Sisters of Charity was on the catalogue cover). Dupain’s Sunbather and Meat Queue, were offered at $208 each, which would buy 10 weeks of groceries for the average student of this period. At those prices it is a wonder that students did not twig that the whole idea of a career in creative photography was a fantasy, but it was the presentation of the medium as an art form in the magazines and in these venues that kept us hooked.
The National Gallery of Victoria also promoted photography with the first dedicated department in the country (and one of only three amongst public institutions in the world) under the curatorship of Jenni Boddington.
On a visit to Australia that year Peter Turner visited Church Street for a public discussion where he was greeted fraternally and connected with luminaries of the local scene, including Jean-Marc Lepechoux who had founded Light Vision, ‘Australia’s International Photography Magazine’ much in imitation of Creative Camera. Significantly for the visibility of Australian photography , Dupain’s The Sunbaker made it onto the covers of both Light Vision and Creative Camera in 1978, during Turner’s last year there.
Turner notes that his experience at CC “taught me the history of art. As did three others; an academic, Ian Jeffrey, a resigned monk, Paul Harris and “…interestingly…”an Australian film-maker, Paul Cox, [a] maniac with a profound sense of dedication to the visual and the stories pictures can tell.” It was Paul who was one of the triumvirate of chief Prahran College photography lecturers with John Cato and Athol Shmith, and whom Turner could only have met here in Australia.
Turner moved with his partner to New Zealand in 1999 and taught at the School of Fine Arts at the College of Creative Arts, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand which after he died suffering from multiple sclerosis 1 August 2005, established the annual Peter Turner Memorial Lecture and Peter Turner Memorial Scholarship in his memory.
Paul Hill writes that Turner “will always be remembered for the ‘creative years’ of Creative Camera”.
Roy Hammans provides an excellent and comprehensive history and commentary on Creative Camera on his site, but it is the personal experience of having read the magazine during its lifetime that inspires me to write this, and which inspired my photography as a student. For anyone interested in the medium, it is still worth picking up today.