Catchup with Fred Ritchin

This was one of the highlights of Phonar as myself and student Olly Wood were lucky enough to be able to conduct an interview with Fred Ritchin alongside Jonathan Worth. We had the chance to prepare a question which Jonathan would introduce at the appropriate moment. Ritchin explained the overview of his two books After Photography and Bending The Frame for the benefit of any listeners who weren’t familiar with them, after which we entered into discussion.

Ritchin observed that we are constantly trying to describe the unfamiliar aspects of the world following the latest paradigm shift using familiar but perhaps outdated terminology referencing the description of the motorcar in history as the ‘horseless carriage’. Images and videos are in dialogue now with the production of ‘photo films’ and the capacity to extract a ‘still’  from a piece of moving image. When talking about the strength and potential of the digital image Jonathan Worth suggested the digital image may have more veracity because of it’s embedded meta data. However Ritchin counteracted with the perception that ‘truth’ is an image made up of a wealth of different images including the content, data and context; each of which is easy to manipulate or distort. As Joan Fontcuberta indicated, the credibility of the each photograph now seen in society very much depends on the credibility of the photographer. In terms of the ‘proactive photographer’ Ritchin referenced in previous interviews, this concept is still unseen in the current field of photojournalism however practitioners such as Marcus Bleasdale and Aaron Huey are working towards this idea through the process of collaboration. Although they are still working in the reactive sense, the creative methods they use to engage different demographics are an example of the responsibility David Campbell describes that a photographer needs to take on to produce social change. As Shahidul Alam denoted, photography is the current tool in which we are striving to create change in our society; the introduction of digital technology to which has without a doubt expanded the capacity. However we must continue with the idea of quality that Ritchin continues to examine and ultimately make sure that the most effective bodies of work are the ones that stand out from the noise.

In extension, whilst most practitioners praise the use of digital technology to achieve change Ritchin still states that perhaps the most effective communication of ideas is the original face-to-face interaction. This perhaps references his faith in the front page acting as a rallying point that the population could collectively engage with and respond. He talked about the discussion of iconic imagery on the Subway and although the viral nature of the Internet has been proven to provoke a mass response, this is a very disconnected method of evoking social change. Ultimately the most effective force is a physical group of people which has been narrated throughout history through events such as The French Revolution. In addition to this, the introduction of digital technology has increased the capacity of a person or organisation to control their own image. Ritchin explored this concept in his first title ‘In Our Own Image’ and the power of this control is being seen today through the videos produced and distributed by ISIS. Ritchin also urged society to consider the possible consequences of the digital revolution, referencing the historic example of the motor car; although it brought opportunity, it also eventually brought about climate change. Perhaps the digital revolution in facilitating different tools for social change, has also increased the capacity and provided platforms for the act of terror to be maintained and preserved.

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