Alan Attwood talks photography

17 March 2014 Alan Attwood

Alan Attwood talks photography

Among the most popular sections of The Big Issue are the 'Vendor Profile' and 'Roving Eye'. Photography – whether portrait photography or 'Roving Eye' photo essays – is central to both features. We asked Big Issue Editor Alan Attwood about the role of photography in the magazine.

Alan, how important is photography to The Big Issue?

Very important. Both in terms of arresting/compelling images for the cover and also to help create interesting layouts to keep people engaged. 

Do you think the presentation of photography is one area where print media has an edge?

Certainly much better than radio! Or TV. More seriously, despite all the banging-on about screen resolution of various electronic devices, I personally still think of the best photographs as prints. Meaning ink and paper.

Dave Tacon's photograph of a Chinese textile factory. 'Roving Eye', Ed#420.

What do you look for when choosing photo essays for 'Roving Eye'?

The most important thing is the theme. The series needs to explore a subject. Quite literally depicting or examining a subject from many different angles. I can't think of any other print publication that regularly publishes photo essays, as we do in 'Roving Eye'. Also, if we publish a photograph across a two-page spread, that image is bound to have an impact.

What have been some of your favourite 'Roving Eye' spreads in recent editions?

I like the range of subjects we can present. From singing freedom fighters in Myanmar (Ed#453) to a mobile GP service in Perth (Ed#452) and inside the Moscow subway in our last Christmas edition (Ed#447).

Tony McDonough's Mobile GP series. 'Roving Eye', Ed#452.

Alongside your career in journalism you also have a long-term personal interest in photography. What sparked your interest?

I inherited both my interest and my earliest equipment from my father. I have been taking pictures most of my life. I have also annoyed a series of housemates/ family members etc by improvising home darkrooms in bathrooms and/or laundries. People can be very inconsiderate  about wanting to use a bathroom when an important print is being processed.

Which famous photographers do you admire?

Just a few of them: Henri Cartier-Bresson (French), David Moore (Australian), Elliott Erwitt (US) – the latter because he has a visual sense of humour; a very rare thing.

Andy Drewitt's Moscow underground series. 'Roving Eye', Ed#447.

What kind of photographers should pitch their work to The Big Issue

Anyone at all. Amateur, professional, doesn't matter. The crucial things are the idea and the work itself.

What are the challenges of writing about photography?

Some of the worst writing I've ever read has been about pictures. More and more, I suspect pictures, photographs or paintings should be allowed to speak for themselves. I also believe that saying simply "I LIKE that" is a perfectly satisfactory and adequate response. Indeed, often it's best to say nothing more than that.

Read our contributor guidelines for more information on submitting work to The Big Issue. For more info on Big Issue photography, read our Q&A with portrait photographer James Braund. Sydney people: if you loved our Wildlife Photographer of the Year series in Ed#400, check out the exhibition from 29 March at the Australian Museum.