As the 2012 July issue of the international and hugely influential design and style magazine Wallpaper* hits bookstores around the world, we spoke to Wallpaper* Editor-in-Chief Tony Chambers about the current photography landscape, collecting photography and the importance of editing in such an image-saturated world. Tony Chambers joined Wallpaper* as creative director in 2003 and was appointed Editor-in-Chief in March 2007. He has also held positions as art director at British GQ Magazine and art editor of The Sunday Times. In addition to having attended the 2011 Joop Swart Masterclass as a Master at World Press Photo, Chambers is on the Board of Recommendation at Unseen Photo Fair.
You have held several positions at magazines including art editor, art director and creative director. Do you have a personal interest in art, specifically photography?
Yes, actually, photography and typography have always been my two passions. I studied graphic design at Central Saint MartinsCollege of Art and Design in London. I am an editor now but my background is in the visual arts. Photography and typography are so much about visual communication and that is what I am most interested in. My interest and knowledge of photography took a huge peak when I joined The Sunday Times. That was my first job. I learned from one of the best art directors in relation to photography, Michael Rand. I was very fortunate that Michael was the art director of The Sunday Times at that time. He and his team were so informed and had such a grasp of photography – more so reportage, but portraiture and art photography as well. Now, I am talking about the late 80s (I joined in 1986) and art photography was in its infancy. But The Sunday Times did give it good coverage. From that moment, I became even more interested and passionate about photography, the two ends of the spectrum: pure photojournalism, and the more aesthetic angles of art photography. Since the 80s, the art photography world has grown exponentially.
Are you a collector of photography?
I have never consciously collected. It is something I do not honestly have time for but I have collected over the years, collected things that I have liked. For example, I have work by Thomas Demand (1964), more an artist than a photographer but who produces his art through photography. Work by Andreas Gursky (1955) is a little out of my price range, out of most peoples’ price range [laughs]. I have a small Irving Penn (1917-2009), a still life. So you could say I have a random collection of things that I like and work by friends who are great photographers. I would not call myself a collector. I collect many things, but not consciously.
What makes someone a ‘collector’?
When it is a conscious decision to collect a particular persons' work or a particular genre, then you would call yourself a ‘collector.’ I do not consciously collect. I have things because I like them.
That’s an interesting point. Can someone collect without being a ‘collector’?
You can collect without being a collector. I have just come back from Basel, and a week like this is full of ‘collectors’ and they are a particular type of breed. They are ubiquitous. I think a lot of them, without being disrespectful, are ‘collectors,’ the noun. It is a thing to be, a thing to do. It buys them into a new world and into a new environment that they would not otherwise be in. Then, of course, there is also the general enthusiast who loves a particular photographer or photography in general.
Unseen has a focus on potential ‘first-time buyers’ of photography. We hope to encourage people to make the first steps in collecting photography. How does Unseen then fit in with this idea of the ‘collector’?
What Unseen is doing is very good because it allows people who might feel ostracized from that serious world of very wealthy collectors the nod that this is affordable and accessible, and a way of enjoying and actually buying and collecting things that you like.
What is the role of collecting, then, in such an image-saturated world?
It is an interesting time for photography. Photography is an old medium - what is it, almost 170 years old? But it has such a broad appeal now. Everyone is taking photographs on their camera phones and digital cameras. Everyone has access to photography. It has never been a more interesting time. And a perfect time for Unseen, the photo fair.
But images are everywhere, how are we supposed to select just one?
The most important thing now, and this is something I have been thinking for a long time, is editing. Choosing, selecting and editing. There is just a plethora of images. Millions and millions of photographs are being taken. Certainly now and definitely in the future, it is the art skill and the experience of editing that is important. Even back at The Sunday Times when I went from an art student to working in the real world, editing was the biggest learning experience. That was a process where we would edit down to 7 photographs from 120 or 150 – a hell of a job. And now we are talking about editing from billions. The art of editing is going to be one of the more important things in this world of photography. Out of billions there is one, or maybe 10, that is really special. Editing has always been of paramount important, but it is now more than ever.
The Wallpaper* July 2012 issue is on sale now in bookstores around the world. Wallpaper* magazine subscribers will receive a limited edition cover created by Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto (more about the artist on Artsy). Pick up your copy with an exclusive Unseen insert featuring an interview with Amsterdam-based designers Müller von Tol, a preview of the Unseen fair and festival programme, a series of collector portraits by Dutch photography duo WassinkLundgren and a mini-Amsterdam guide!