Collecting the evidence: The Incite Project
© David Corfield
Photographer Harriet Logan and curator Tristan Lund have assembled one of the largest private collections of news and documentary photographs in the UK. They speak to CPN Editor David Corfield about their goals and why it’s important to support young photojournalists by buying their work...
Nothing quite prepares you for the impact of a big photograph in a big room. And as I take in an incredible two-metre wide print of Tom Stoddart’s iconic image of Meliha Varešanović, walking defiantly past a gunman on her way to work during the Siege of Sarajevo in 1995, I study it as if I had never seen it before.
“Photojournalists do more than just record an event,” Tristan Lund remarks, standing next to me while I pore over the image that hangs – with hundreds of others – on the walls of Harriet Logan’s home. “Separating these images from text forces their reconsideration,” he rues. “Importantly, recognising that aesthetic judgments have been made by the maker acknowledges that there was a maker in the first place, something often overlooked by the format of the newspaper page...”
Here, then, is the nub of the issue and the reason for my visit. News images elevated to a world beyond the newspaper page. In an art context, new arguments over photojournalism’s place start to surface and Harriet is very quick to leap to its defence.
“When I originally started thinking about what I wanted to collect it was to do with iconic images which I felt encapsulated moments in history. I am interested in how history can boil down into those exact moments,” she explains.
“In the last two years we have turned our attention to photographers who are out there making pictures now,” Tristan tells me. “We are really excited by the work of Matt Black and have just bought a good body of his work. We’ve also gone back to look at photographers we think have been under-represented, Eugene Richards being one example. Funnily enough both these photographers are looking at poverty in America.”
He continues: “We are also trying to support photographers a little more creatively. We’ve funded the Ian Parry Scholarship award since 2012 and for the next three years we are supporting the Eugene Smith Grant. Also we are delighted to have funded a book project for the first time – Moises Saman’s amazing ‘Discordia’ about his experience of the Arab Spring.”
“We are living in an incredibly fast society,” Harriet rues. “Everything disappears very quickly. It is all so throwaway and so a photographic print has a life that lives longer. Where else are you going to see groundbreaking photography these days? Certainly not in The Sunday Times Magazine now. They should be f*cking ashamed of themselves and their attitude to photography. Please stick that in your article. Talk about provenance! All those years with photographers risking their lives for their images, shooting those incredible stories that actually changed opinions and made a f*cking difference, and then some d*ckhead comes along who’s only interested in animals and shopping and takes away spectrum and trashes what used to be an institution and a home for photography with their vacuous nonsense. It’s appalling. So for me to have this collection and to be able to live with it is just the most enormous privilege.”
Harriet is certainly no shrinking violet when it comes to expressing her opinions, but her words carry meaning and it is clear that she cares about what she is doing. Her collection is, for the moment, private but she has plans that extend far beyond her home...
“We work with the Ian Parry Scholarship winners to add them to the collection and I think it is really good for the photographers whose work we have that they come and view them here. We’d never throw the doors open to everyone, of course, as this is our private home, but perhaps one day this collection can be in a permanent, public place. I’d never split it up – I couldn’t bear it – but when I die it would be great for them to have a home in London, in their own foundation, to continue to be seen.”
She continues: “Don McCullin came here a few weeks ago and I hope he enjoyed seeing his work on our walls where it is seen every day. He has a whole corridor here. His photographs are on the walls because it would be such a shame to have them all in storage. Plus I am a massive fan of his. He is one of the few photographers in the UK to have had something of the recognition he deserves, not only from the media but also from institutions and museums. I think you could just about call him a household name, which is very rare for a photographer in this country.”
Life after dev
Harriet’s journey into photography never followed a conventional path. “When I was at college in the USA I started a degree in illustration but realised I didn’t have the patience for it. So I went into photography and completely fell in love with it,” she laughs.
“I immediately saw that photography was a way to tell people’s stories. I wasn’t interested in the art side of photography at all and that’s an interesting part of my relationship with Tristan as the collection’s curator. He is more art based and I’m not. My heart is in photojournalism. I am completely in awe of photojournalists and that was always what I wanted to do.”
Harriet came to prominence after returning from the USA with “ambition and not much else”. In 1992 she won the Ian Parry Scholarship and – thanks to a commission from The Sunday Times and with the prize money, went on a six-month trip following the railway line from Benguela in Angola to Beira in Mozambique. The work was published in a book by Picador called ‘Blood on the Tracks.’ Her career was underway and two years later she won The Observer’s Hodge award for young photographers and then a place in World Press Photo’s Joop Swart Masterclass.
“I began working for The Sunday Times with Aidan Sullivan who was its then Director of Photography. It was a really exciting time back then; I was young and I didn’t have kids. I was sent to all sorts of places: Somalia, Sudan, the former Yugoslavia, Chechenya, Kosovo, Mongolia, Iran, China, Iraq, Kenya, Kashmir, Angola, Mozambique, India and America... the list goes on.”
She continues: “But perhaps the story that got me the most recognition was when I documented women in Afghanistan. The Sunday Times sent me there in December 1997 and afterwards I had my pictures exhibited at Visa pour l’Image.”
“The second time I went, though, it was a different experience for me. By that time I was a young mother and I remember being asked by my oldest son Jackson if I was going to die. It was at that moment I realised ‘what the hell am I doing?’”
It was a moment that remains indelibly marked on her memory. A change was coming. She continues: “I’d done a kids’ food book with Mark Hix and my career took off in a different direction. And at that point I could see what was going on with magazines and that – for me – advertising was the way to go. Dealing with ad agencies was wonderful. It felt like the way I saw the world mattered. I really enjoyed it plus the money back then was great!”
“But if you’d have asked me 15 years ago if I would ever think about stopping taking pictures I’d have said you were mad. But the collection has become what I’m really passionate about now.”
Harriet recalls an irony about the news business: “For many years I was with the agency Network Photographers and in those days, every time you shot a story you made a stack of work prints which were sent out to all the magazines and newspapers. I remember us all having clear-outs and chucking stacks of them in skips. And those now are what we are buying! Who would have thought it? It’s sort of ridiculous. I really like the pictures in the collection where there are chinagraph pencil marks, because it gives the picture additional context and an historical meaning.”
Smoke and mirrors
So how do you gauge what a photograph is worth? This is a question that is inevitably asked and debated between Harriet and Tristan. “Something is only worth what you are prepared to pay for it, and that is particularly true of this type of photography,” she muses. “It’s not like a Damien Hirst or a Tracey Emin where there is an established value.”
Tristan reflects: “Don [McCullin] is definitely uncomfortable about being called an artist or having his work considered as art. However – and particularly now since the magazines aren’t there like they used to be – photographers have to think of what kind of resting point their work will have. At least if the work is out there as a print it exists, physically, somewhere, beyond just being an intangible, digital file.”
Harriet adds: “Digital has done photographers no favours at all in terms of creativity. Because some tw*t account handler now thinks that they can take better pictures. I mean, Brooklyn Beckham taking pictures [for a recent Burberry ad campaign] is pathetic. Come on! We have just devalued photography by allowing everyone to have his or her two pence worth.”
“When I look at these pictures that I live with, an amazing sense of humility unites them all. One of my favourite images is the shot of Tomoko Uemura in her bath, taken by W. Eugene Smith. It’s full of respect and humility and that’s what I love about his work. He had a burning desire to tell people’s stories.”
“I always say to people, if you’re interested in collecting images, buy work that you like. You’ve got to care about it. There are pictures I would like to have but trouble me, especially when it’s recent news. For me, the drowned child on the beach, the Ebola images and the Paris shootings are all events where very compelling pictures have been produced. And very few other people are asking photographers to make prints of these images made so recently.”
Living with, and learning from, the past
Harriet remembers the image that started it all. It hangs in her gallery surrounded by other iconic photographs. “It was the Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange, which I bought at auction. And then my husband Mark saw a Desiree Dolron print he wanted at the Michael Hoppen Gallery and it went from there. Working with Tristan is great. He has a language that art people use and that makes me smile. We have a really good time together and we get excited about images. I’ve learned an enormous amount from him. It wouldn’t work if I were working with another photojournalist. We’d be competing with stories!”
Tristan adds: “I’ve learned a lot from Harriet too. Working closely with someone like her who has the means gives you the space to explore. She opened a door that introduced me to names that were big in her world but I’d never heard of. So we bounce off one another.”
“Not many people are looking at this work in quite the same way as we are,” Harriet laughs. “A lot of the photographers we are approaching have never considered having their work printed and displayed in a gallery. So it’s great to offer real opportunities.”
“I like to buy from people who really deserve it. Damon Winter is a classic example. Just such a nice guy and so totally deserving of that Pulitzer Prize. His image of US Soldiers shielding an injured colleague from a helicopter in Afghanistan I have in my sitting room at a huge scale because it is so awesome to look at.”
She goes on: “But why aren’t more galleries representing photojournalists? I know it is market driven but they should also educate people. Nostalgia plays a huge part in this business. Photography in the US plays such a huge part in its history, for example. But it’s not the same with the English. I feel incredibly privileged to live with these images and I never forget that.”
Biographie: Harriet Logan
© David Corfield
Harriet Logan has had two distinct careers in photography. Starting with years in the front line of trouble spots such as Chechnya and Afghanistan, she reported with her camera stories of utter horror and strife, going undercover in Afghanistan to photograph women and children in secret locations receiving education, forbidden by the then ruling Taliban, taking her pictures through a hole in her parahaan and chaadar. She covered brothels in the UK, Australia and India and helped a man find his freedom through her picture, having been charged with a murder he did not commit. She stopped going to places of devastation and focused on taking pictures of children after having children of her own and is now the pre-eminent child photographer in Britain, shooting for clients such as Sainsburys, Ocado, Crayola, Aviva, Butlins, DFS, British Telecom, Sabic, Talk Talk, The British Heart Foundation, Persil, Heinz, Carex and Channel 4 amongst others.