Writing on photography

Risen from the Deep: Disphotic Returns

I have decided to raise Disphotic from the abyssal depths in which it has for too long lain abandoned. It’s time to patch the rotting hull, fire up the rusting engines, and set forth once again upon the stormy seas of blogging. In other words, I’m back.

When I gave Disphotic up two years ago I had no intention of ever returning to it. I still feel very strongly the frustrations which I outlined at the time, both with writing and with the broader field of photography. But in the time since then it become more and more clear to me that my decision to quit was made in the heat of the moment, and not sufficiently considered in the cool light of day. With time I’ve identified some changes to Disphotic which I hope can offer a way past some of the things that bothered me, and make the blog a bountiful endeavour once again.

One of the main reasons for giving up Disphotic was the hope that other voices might fill the gap left by my departure. I was always wary of this site becoming another immovable fixture in the photographic landscape, and that was exactly what I felt was starting to happen at the point when I began to think of giving it up. There are so many people, perspectives, and experiences which remain entirely unheard from in photography, and I was starting to feel that the last thing the medium needed was another blog written by someone like me. At the same time, I realise now that given the huge work involved in setting up a site like this I was naive to think that new voices would spontaneously appear to take my place.

So the first major change is that I will be offering Disphotic up as a space for new writers with something to say but without the platform to say it. I have been very lucky to have had some fantastic people mentor me as a photographer and writer and I’d like to extend a similar offer to others keen to test the waters of critique for the first time, particularly those with backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints currently under-represented in photography, and photography writing. If you have something to say that you think might be a fit here, get in touch with me and let’s talk it over. What I can offer in return is to work with you to refine what you want to say, and also to try and share some of what I think I have learnt about blogging and photography. I hope in time this might this informal mentorship lead new voices to become established themselves and perhaps eventually feel in a position to break away from this flagship, and chart their own courses.

The second reason for abandoning Disphotic was a matter of time and the frustrating sense that writing was getting in the way of my work as a photographer. What I failed to appreciate was in how many ways my writing here and my photographic practice were bound together, and fed into and informed each other. This last last year has been a very productive one for me with two books published and two new projects well underway, but paradoxically that photographic productivity has reinforced the sense of an imbalance in my practice before, but an imbalance that has shifted it in the exact opposite direction, towards a sense that I need to write more. I also feel less and less committed to the idea of myself as a photographer. Which is not to say that I do not feel committed to making photographs, but only that I do not feel the need to be identified as someone who does this.

So another change, to keep the balance between these two things in check there will no longer be a schedule to posts on the blog. Instead they will come when they need to come whether that means publishing four posts in one day or one post in four months. This is a pragmatic change, a concession to how busy my life is with other things, but I also hope it help to improve the quality on writing on this site, something which certainly waned during the periods where I set myself more punishing and inflexible writing schedules. In September I will be starting a PhD at the London School of Economics researching the role of automation and artificial intelligence technologies in visual journalism. I also hope that when that starts this blog will provide a forum for some of the writing and ideas which I find don’t quite fit within that research.

The biggest reason for quitting Disphotic remains the one to which there can be no easy change or fix, because it is a problem less to do with the functioning of this blog than with the photography industry as a whole. Two years ago I was just deeply tired of challenging issues which few others seemed willing to put their necks on the line for, from blatant conflicts of interest, to exploitative competitions. I completely understand the reasons that others do not speak out, but I am also keenly aware that withdrawing from those battles only makes it easier for the people and organisations who behave unethically (through intent or oversight) to continue doing so. Time away has allowed that sense of tiredness to transmute, back into one of anger. The wrongdoers need to feel the heat, and I intend to bring it. I have never loved photography more than I do right now, but I have also never felt more out of love with the photography world, and also less than ever like I need to pull the punches I want to throw at it.

(Photo: Two divers preparing to explore the wreck of the RMS Lusitania, 1935)

About the author

Lewis Bush

Lewis Bush works across different media and platforms to make structures and cultures of power visible. He has exhibited, published, and spoken about his work internationally, is a lecturer in documentary photography at University of the Arts London, and runs workshops from his studio in London. From September 2019 he will be a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics researching automation's impact on visual journalism.

5 comments

  • It’s great that you’re back and I certainly couldn’t agree more about the photographic industry and competitions. Competitions have become an industry within themselves in the last few years which has led to many exploitative practices.

  • I’ve been doing my damndest! People in what you might call “photoland” clearly do read me every now and then, but as far as I can tell they remain quiet in the hopes that I will just drop dead eventually. My more visible readers, who are a lovely and engaged lot, also exist entirely outside the unhealthy little hothouse of modern Art Photography.

  • However there is an intrinsic beauty in photography reading memories and researching visual identities – which sits in the everyday world well away from the photography world which often overlooks the everyday power of the medium

Writing on photography