I'm sitting here people watching at a mall and reading a paper edition of Lenswork Quarterly #10 (specifically Stewart Harvey's essay entitled "The Elequent Image" which was published in 1995) and I'm pondering how photography magazines have changed over the past 20 years.
There was a time when one could choose photography magazines about experimental photography, criticism, commercial, wedding, etc., etc. I suppose we could even add black and white v. color to the list, as the cost of printing color could be prohibitive for some publishers, and small camera v. Medium format v. large camera.
But now when I go into Barnes and Noble, which is essentially the only place to buy paper magazines now, I see very few that deal with the art of photography. Instead, there are an incredible number of titles, both American and imported, that deal with Photoshop or other software tips; issues of mechanics rather than aesthetics.
Because of its mechanical nature I suppose, photography has always attracted a large number of gadgeteers, those who have preferred to discuss lens sizes and technical details over actually taking pictures. This is complicated, I believe, by the fact that culturally we lack a commonly shared aesthetic language through which to discuss art. Stop for a moment and discuss the notion of signifier and signified in an image at your next photo club meeting and watch everyone's eyes glaze over. Bring up the new sensor from Canon or the latest large format lens you bought from KEH and watch the same people in the room light up. Discuss the golden mean and people will take a slug of champagne. Bring up the latest Red camera and they'll toast.
And so magazines devolve into being about gadgets and computer tips, and journals like the old Lenswork Quarterly, which discuss the meat of photography evolve into something else. (Lenswork, if you're not familiar, now has an Editor's Comments, and an interview, but is otherwise filled with photographs. It's much different than the early days.)
But where does that leave us photographers who are looking for more? Where do we go now for photographic art criticism? Where do we go for the meat of photography magazines? Are these topics not financially sustainable? Are they better suited for books? These questions interest me.