Alternative Realities: Don't Take Pictures Magazine
What would compel a photographer to create his own magazine?
Founder of Musée, Andrea Blanch, herself a photographer felt curious to investigate the drive behind fellow like-minded photographers turned magazine publishers.
Interview by Baylee McKeel
Don’t Take Pictures is an online and bi-annual print magazine created by Kat Kiernan that takes a look at not only photographs and their creators, but also at the method behind them. Each issues features six contemporary photographers paired with book reviews, interviews, and essays.
What’s behind the name, Don’t Take Pictures?
Kat Kiernan: The title references the way in which we speak about photography. It comes from something I used to say to my students when I was a teaching assistant: Don’t take pictures—make them. This subtle change in language highlights the distinction between the widespread use of cameras in the modern world, and the considered act of creating photographic art. I use “Don’t Take Pictures” as a mantra to celebrate photography as a fine art, and to engage as many people as possible with the medium in a thoughtful and articulate way.
How many times a year do you publish and why do you feel an online presence is important?
KK: We publish two printed issues each year, in March and September. In addition to featuring photographers’ portfolios, Don’t Take Pictures includes thought pieces on photography history, trends and movements in contemporary photography, and other longer form features. The printed page encourages readers to set aside time to hold something tangible and read at their leisure. An online presence allows us to stay topical—publishing new content four days per week including video, exhibition reviews, news items, and other more up-to-the-moment articles.
How do you decide who to publish, what are the criteria for artists to be featured in your magazine?
KK: We publish photography from all genres, except for commercial work. Selecting artists to publish isn’t so much tied to a certain type of photography, as much as it requires having something substantial to say about the work. I need to be able to tell a story in images and in words. The pictures must be more than just pretty; they should provoke us to think about an idea rather than simply be of a subject.
What is your magazine’s goal for your readers, what do you want them to come away with?
KK: There are a lot of photography blogs that publish 10 to 20 images, accompanied by a paragraph or two about the photographer and the work. Many of these blogs are excellent sources for inspiration, but I want our readers to spend more dedicated time with photographs—holding each page in their hand rather than scrolling quickly down their screen. I hope that our readers come away with an informed opinion of the featured portfolios. The accompanying text doesn’t tell people what to think about the photographs, but offers a different point of view.
I like to think of Don’t Take Pictures as having something for everyone. I don’t want someone to pick up an issue or visit us online and think that the magazine is only for people interested in conceptual photography or documentary photography or film photography, etc. The diversity of styles, genres, and subject matter is designed to expose our readers to new ideas.
I noticed your post about the NEA and NEH petitions; do you see your magazine or your own work taking on a more political stance?
KK: I don’t think that Don’t Take Pictures has a strong political slant, but I do believe that art does not exist in a vacuum. Current events always have some influence contemporary art. On Fridays, Don’t Take Pictures Online publishes a recap of news stories related to the arts. Recently, it was announced that the White House’s petition to save the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities was not registering signatures. As a contemporary photography publication, I feel that it is important to discuss issues that will affect our readers, many of whom are artists.
Have you seen a change in your work or your creative process since starting the magazine?
KK: I spend a significant amount of time thinking about the work of a handful of artists that will be featured in each issue—what their work is about, and how to best present and promote it. This process of thinking, contextualizing, and writing about photography has helped me become more patient in my own art making. My personal photography has changed substantially since founding Don’t Take Pictures. I am currently in the beginning stages of a new series of self-portraits.
Your “Crowd Funding Roundup” series is quite innovative; can you talk a little about that and some of your favorite items that have been featured?
KK: Like many people in creative industries, I am constantly asked to give money to crowd funding campaigns by artists that I know. Selecting the campaigns that I will support is a difficult task. Crowd Funding Roundup is a Don’t Take Pictures Online column that spotlights crowd funding campaigns whose goals are to provide something to the photography and arts community. We don’t feature photographers looking to publish their own books, mount an exhibition, or travel somewhere to photograph. There is nothing wrong with those types of projects and I have personally contributed to many, but this column is about community rather than an individual.
In the past, we have written about campaigns for community darkrooms, a new type of camera, and non-profit exhibition spaces. One of my favorite campaigns to write about was Aeromoto: A Public Art Library in Mexico City. It was the first public library for contemporary art in the city. Books and lectures would be provided for free to a community that can’t afford to purchase expensive art books and lacks regular internet access.
What can we expect from your upcoming issues?
KK: Our next issue will be published in March and will feature six fantastic photographers from the around the world. In addition to a book review, an interview, and a great article on self-portraiture, we have also added short fiction. Flip to the inside back cover to see our newly added column, “In Context.” In each issue, a writer is presented with a found vintage photograph from the collection of John Foster to use as inspiration for a microfiction story. In doing so, the photograph is given new meaning, and the truth of the image is subject to interpretation. You can pick up a copy of Don’t Take Pictures at select bookstores and libraries or become a subscriber to discover new photographers.