I didn’t actually see all of Channel 4’s recent TV series Picture This, though I’d seen people slagging it off. I saw the last episode though, and found it very interesting.
I understand that Mr Martin Parr, one of the judges, has amongst other things an extremely valuable photo book collection. He’s been giving local talks recently, was on the BBC Genius of Photography series, and last year undertook one commission I noticed for a women’s magazine, using his characteristic kitsch style. Mr Parr is loaded. The art director judge on Channel 4 was also a financial heavyweight, and Channel 4 itself is a serious, serious, commercial operation who had worked some kind of deal with Flickr. Some years ago I spent some time in an independent TV company who sometimes dealt with channel 4, and my impression was it like going into a ring with Mike Tyson: serious, intense stuff with heavyweight repercussions.
While I understand and sometimes sympathise with the ideas here for example the trite dissing of Photoshop when it can and is used for editing similar to filters, dodging, burnng etc, the real point here is what this was about: a televisual, reality TV-type programme as a C4 commercial project. I suspect millions enjoyed it for its reality TV content, who know nothing about photography. I suspect thousands have recently signed up for Flickr, and Mr Parr has just enjoyed even more publicity for his work even when people say they don’t like it. It doesn’t matter – there will always be a percentage who check out his books and buy them, or buy them for someone who does like them even if they do not.
Picture This was a very clever operation, tapping into the massive popularity of digital photography. I wouldn’t be suprised if it was deliberately planned to run after the BBC Genius series, after the BBC had done some preliminary work generating photo interest. Was it conceived by the people who made Big Brother? – I don’t know. But the internet component of Picture This is an important part of the overall project, as it was for Big Brother. And effectively, the TV show was to some extent serving as one big advert for Flickr.
On the matter of the photography itself, in the last espisode at least, I thought Liz would win because she had an attention grabbing story. Its not unusual to see technically crap photos attracting interest, because of their narrative appeal. I don’t agree – I think it’s like soap opera to start oohing and aahing over somone’e alcoholism. Big deal. But this is what happens, and much of photography is fashion driven.
I think the comment the Channel 4 judges about Lucinda was actually spot on, that her pictures were like a fashion shoot. There was no evidence of a library topic in her work, it was just an incidental backdrop for a group of beautiful people. I saw exactly the same thing about 2 years ago in a trendy magazine: models posing in libraries, playing with images about geekiness, sexiness, and ironic cool. It’s a look, a fashion, like the intellectual glasses people currently wear that Velma wore in the Scooby Doo cartoon. Very retro, very kitsch:
I do agree with some of the criticism I’ve heard about Picture This suggesting that it was cheap entertainment, representing photography badly and doing it a disservice etc.
But I don’t think that’s ultimately the point: what it does, despite that, is show the way people are thinking about photography. No doubt, it will get a repeat broadcast and I look forward to seeing the full series.