David Bram is editor, curator, and founder of the popular and influential Fraction Magazine, now in its eleventh issue. Based in Albuquerque, NM, David keeps an active Facebook and Twitter presence and will be lecturing at FotoFest on the use of online media and photography on March 16. We recently had the privilege of asking him a few questions:
How does the online delivery of images differ from delivery with printed media (books, magazines, etc.)? And beyond the financial realities of publishing a physical magazine, could you talk about the decision to remain exclusively online?
The main difference between online and physical media is the way it is delivered. We are able to see much more work online than we ever would in a book store or magazine stand. Whether getting RSS feeds or following Twitter and Facebook, the amount of work being put online and sent around is huge. Doesn’t Flickr have two billion photos on its site? As for me, I probably look at 75-100 websites a day along with a few dozen submissions. This would be incredibly difficult without the internet. The decision to keep Fraction strictly online is a financial one but also having minimal overhead allows me to make each issue as big or as small as I desire. I am now considering a bi-annual magazine that will be produced via Magcloud or something similar. Also, I am reaching about 5000 people per week. I could never do this with a paper product.
There are a variety of photography magazines available on the market. What is the photographic niche Fraction Magazine aspires to interest or what sorts of readers is Fraction seeking?
Fraction is trying to be the site you visit to see the work of new artists who have yet to get exposure they deserve as well as very established artists who are showing off new projects. I try to show work that fits together and work that is both strong in concept as well as execution. I am looking for and publishing work that has yet to have great exposure to the world. As for readership, I am looking for those who are looking for more than just pretty pictures. They are looking for work that makes them think about what the photographer has created.
What sorts of criteria (personal or otherwise) are used to select the photographic work you publish in the magazine?
First and foremost, the work must be strong and somewhat provocative. I don’t necessarily want it to “push buttons” but I do want it to be thought provoking. I also consider how much exposure the artist and the work have gotten. If the work has been shown around a lot and has been on more than two or three sites, I probably won’t show it. Mostly, I am looking for a portfolio that is thematically tight and technically perfect. I am fortunate enough to have created something that artists like David Maisel and Phil Toledano want to be a part of.
One of Fraction’s stated goals is “to provide an alternative to the fixed gallery, and to continually examine the role that photography plays in society.” As Fraction comes to its 10th issue, what new roles do you see photography playing in society, and which artists exemplify those roles?
With the advent of digital photography and the internet, photography is able to reach audiences that it could not only 15 years ago, if not 10 years ago. We are able to see images from the war in Iraq or the destruction of Haiti almost immediately and completely uncensored. Today, almost everyone has some sort of camera with them, whether it be a little point and shoot or a camera phone, pictures make it to the internet very quickly. Ever notice how the local TV news asks you for your newsworthy photographs?
In Issue 10, which primarily is about people, I chose artists whose work showed various parts of our culture, from Jake Mendel’s Short Track series about auto racing, to Phil Toledano‘s The New Kind of Beauty which showed people who have extremely altered their physical appearance. Both bodies of work showed people in a very caring, non-judgmental kind of way.
What reoccurring themes in photography do you notice from work submitted to Fraction Magazine. And are those the themes most frequently published in Fraction Magazine or are there less common themes you prefer to consider?
The work that is submitted to Fraction varies in content. Sometimes it is obvious that the person submitting the work has not looked at past issues and is submitting work that will never be included in Fraction. As for reoccurring themes, it is very apparent that artists like Alec Soth have had a great influence on up and coming artists and well as some very established artists. The ‘vacant landscape’ as well as what I like to call “the dude in the road” photograph is often included in contemporary work. I feel that Brad Moore and Dave Jordano have had a bit of influence as well. If you don’t think so, check out their work. Also be sure to check out the original New Topographics photographers. The ground breaking show that was the New Topographics (1975) has had more of an influence than people think.
I also see a lot of work that comes from an artist who think they have “hit it” because they are using a large format camera and a certain type of film. As any art critic or college professor will tell you, the camera has nothing to do with what you are doing. It might help you get to the conclusion you are looking for but it is merely a tool. It took me a long time to realize this.
As for what themes I publish; I publish what I like and find the most interesting. I only use a theme to coordinate an issue.
We notice that Fraction previously published book reviews and articles, but now only publishes images of photographic work. How have you arrived at the decision not to include essays, reviews, exegetic works, texts or other parallel discourse?
Honestly, we stopped publishing reviews for two reasons: First, it was getting hard to get people to write reviews and keep to deadlines, and two, I personally hate writing reviews. Issue 11 has a review of the show Versus, by Mary Goodwin, who is the Associate Director of Light Work. She is an amazing person, writer and artist and someone who truly understands and appreciates what I am doing. Also, Issue 10 had a group show about Lishui Photo Festival in China that was text heavy. In the future, we plan to have more reviews and essays. It’s just a matter of getting reviewers who can keep to deadlines and are willing to do some work for almost no payment. Know anyone?
In addition to the submissions you receive, how do you stay current with what is happening in photography right now?
I follow about 50 blogs and I have been doing portfolio reviews where I get to see a lot of work. At each review, I see at least 25 portfolios on a one to one basis and then meet and see a lot of photographers during the course of the event. Luckily, people respect what I am doing and want to show me their work. Twitter and Facebook also play a part in keeping me in the know. I use them both to make announcements and to drive traffic to my website and blog. I almost never post important topics to Facebook or any other place.
With your vast experience as a reviewer in Review LA, a partner with Center on their yearly competitions, and a portfolio reviewer to FotoFest, in addition to other projects, who are the contemporary photographers, and what are the movements or ideas about which you are especially excited right now?
I love the new urban landscape photography that I am seeing more and more of. Contrary to popular belief, I think there is a lot of really good work being posted to Flickr right now. Once you get past all of the crap, and search a bit, you can find some really original and edgy work on Flickr. Fraction now has a Flickr group and I am searching for some work that I might not otherwise include in an issue. But I do have plans for a Flickr group show that will debut in April. Unfortunately I am not sure there is a singular movement right now that is exciting me other than the one where artists are moving back to using film. I seem to be reading a lot lately that for more and more personal work, photographers are choosing to shoot film and usually in the larger formats. This is a good thing.
Many thanks to David for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to visit Fraction and let us know if you get to meet or hear him at FotoFest (We will be there, but on a different week…)