Collecting History Now: A Collector and an Art Advisor Discuss
Harriet Logan of the Incite Project and its curator Tristan Lund on building a collection of images of war, conflict and other challenging themes
With a large print of Richard Drew’s famous shot of a man falling from the World Trade Centre featuring prominently on the stairs of her home, former photojournalist, and now collector of photography, Harriet Logan wants the rest of the world to see and appreciate some of the more difficult images in photojournalism as large prints displayed on a wall. With the collection she started to build only four years ago, Logan wants to show that “photojournalism is not purely an illustration for text” and to both define and preserve important moments of history and history-in-the-making. In doing so she aims to support photojournalists producing work today. The Incite Project, run by Harriet Logan and her husband, is a private collection of issue-driven photographic prints, motivated by current political and social concerns that are still within our power to change.
Also featuring in Logan’s private collection are: a Tom Stoddart shot from Sarajevo; Josef Koudelka’s photograph of a gypsy with a horse – “that’s one of my favourites, if the house was on fire we’d take that picture,” she says; and work by Diane Arbus, Richard Mosse, Moises Saman and Robert Capa. And in her dream collection she’d like to own Koudelka’s iconic picture of a dog, which she narrowly missed out on at an auction, having stuck diligently to her set budget. Logan and the collection’s curator Tristan Lund, recently spoke to Magnum about the motivation to collect contemporary photojournalism.
Motivation to start a collection
Starting her collection with Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Logan initially focused on collecting a foundation of exceptional, history-defining, photographs, images that condense major global events into singular objects.
“I hate the word iconic, but it was about collecting the lynchpins of historical photography and documentary photography. I was immediately drawn to Koudelka, Cartier-Bresson and Capa – the ‘godfathers’ of photography, I suppose – and the people that, in my opinion, made images that defined history. That, to me, is the important part of it, particularly now when we live in a world in which everyone is a photographer and history seems to be quite blurred. I’m really interested in the images that are produced almost on a daily basis and how they define the world that we’re living in today.
What’s interesting is how a point in history becomes so defined by an image – the falling man from 9/11, everyone knows that picture. For me it’s such a key, emotive image; we have it printed huge. That moment in history has been condensed down to a single image. Like the tank man in Tiananmen Square, history stops at those still images, and the photographers that took those pictures did an incredible job of essentially isolating, for all of us, those moments of history.” – Harriet Logan
"The idea of these images getting stuck in drawers and forgotten about feels slightly irresponsible"
- Harriet Logan
Living with difficult images
Despite the images often being quite difficult to look at, Logan is compelled to give the photographs, and the photographers who took them, a respect she feels they deserve, no doubt down to her own experience as a photojournalist in the field: “Someone has had the drive to actually get out there and show us something about the world we’re living in. I feel like not looking at those pictures is bizarre for me because I think we have an obligation to see them. They went and they made these pictures and to not look at them, I feel is wrong. I feel like the least I could do is look at them every day. The idea of these images getting stuck in drawers and forgotten about feels slightly irresponsible.” – Harriet Logan
Collecting living photographers’ work
By focusing on collecting the work of living photographers who are currently creating work, Logan is able to support their ongoing projects. “We made a decision a while ago to stop buying a dead photographer’s work unless it was something that was an obvious hole in the collection, and that we would really go after photographers who were out there today creating work that we felt was important,” she says.
Logan’s primary motivation is to support the continued work of contemporary photojournalists, and enable the production of more work. She’s supported Matt Black’s Geography of Poverty, enabling the photographer to continue to build a comprehensive document of poverty across the United States, in return for prints of his work; and she’s also supported Magnum’s Moises Saman’s acclaimed Discordia book project, a visual account of the Arab Spring, made up of work compiled over four years spent living in the Middle East, and received prints of this work to add to her collection.
"I think Koudelka is quite an interesting example of a photographer who sees the utmost importance in the physical object"
- Harriet Logan
Scouting and supporting new talent
Harriet Logan’s collection spans the true photojournalist heavyweights, established contemporary names, as well as virtual unknowns. She has followed the career of some photographers from emerging talents to in-demand names in the print market. As well as visiting galleries and fairs, Lund and Logan do other types of legwork of their own to find new photojournalists to collect, looking at awards, such as World Press and the Eugene Smith awards, as well as scrolling through Instagram. “We’re taking it beyond what we are offered by galleries, so we’re trying to be proactive about the way we find images and approach photographers,” says Lund.
“We definitely hope it’s encouraging for young photographers that we are coming to them directly and asking to turn their work into physical prints that will go into the collection,” says Lund. “You rarely get shown prints by a photographer now, and one of the things that we feel is really important is that photographers, particularly young photographers, learn the value of printing a set of prints and editioning and signing them – seeing the value of them as a physical object,” adds Logan.
From Instagram to wall
The photographers who have successfully caught the eye of collectors on Instagram, but who also produce highly prized print products take as much care on the fabrication and printing of their fine prints as they do curating their Instagram feed. Magnum photographer – and former printing tech Matt Black – is a case in point. Black’s bold and graphic style has earned him a huge Instagram following, while his printing, which is produced to exacting standards, creates an object that collectors are keen to own.
“The amazing thing about Matt Black’s work, was seeing his photographs as an Instagram feed and then seeing his work in a gallery. He prints really beautifully; they are such wonderful objects. I was blown away by the quality of his printing.” – Harriet Logan
Purity of the work
What appears to attract Logan to the work of the photojournalists she likes is a purity of intent in their work. She cites Magnum’s Josef Koudelka ‘s “honourable” approach as an example. “I think Koudelka is quite an interesting example of a photographer who sees the utmost importance in the physical object, who has been very controlling of what’s out there in the world,” she says. “I don’t think he’s interested in the money that his prints are worth at all. He’s interested in the home that it goes to and where it ends up, and that’s very honourable.”
Logan also sees a similar quality in Matt Black. Black, she says, “feels like a really pure storyteller, in his vision and the way that he sees. It seems like he’s been able to do that because he’s sticking to his belief in how he sees.”
Elevating the photojournalist
Through elevating single images and taking them out of the context in which they are usually experienced – on a page, next to the text of the story which they illustrate – Logan and Lund want to give photojournalists the recognition they feel is deserved. Lund explains: “We are really trying to show that photojournalism is not purely an illustration for text. Removing the text, putting the printed photograph in a frame and behind glass and treating it as a work of art definitely makes people slow down but also makes them consider that somebody went and made that work; it wasn’t just chance that the camera happened to be there at the right place at the right time.”
History through a Lens: Iconic Photographs from the Incite Project is on at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath until 10th May.
View the Magnum Fine Prints available to buy online on the Magnum shop here.