From the 80’s to Photographica – A Fond Farewell to the Independent’s Print Edition.

From the 80’s to Photographica – A Personal and Fond Farewell to the Independant’s Print Edition- full transcript below.

An essay on the power of one broadsheet newspaper, The Independent, that did more for the love of black and white photography than any other media outlet in modern times.

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Beautifully arranged spreads and layouts honoured the power of great black and white photography from its first edition in 1986. Now the Indie is going online and the end of its print edition is slated for March 2106.

This podcast pays a person homage to this great innovator and inspiring paper.

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The founders of the Independent, r to l - Andreas Whittam Smith, Stephen Glover and Matthew Symonds
The founders of the Independent, l to r- Andreas Whittam Smith, Stephen Glover and Matthew Symonds



The first issue of the Independent in 1986 saw Andreas Whittam Smith, its editor, become a hero to photographers. The Independent boldly placed black and white photography right at the heart of it design and built entire spreads around photographs giving picture editors new, enhanced status as it brought images and text together on equal terms for the first time.

Around that time in 1986 (I was sixteen) my friend, Tom Blass and I, took to various things in order to style ourselves as ‘artistic intellectuals’. I think we might have even smoked a pipe – the memory pains me now. Tom always had the ‘ups’ on me because he wore glasses and this made him much more likely to become a proper artist or intellectual. I don’t remember there being many girls in our lives at this time.

Tom wanted to be a writer like Hemingway – I wanted to be a photographer like HCB. I mention all this because it gives you an idea of the sort of personal cultural terrain on to which that first, eagerly anticipated edition of the Independent landed. For us the Independent was a manifestation of our liberal, artistic ideals. It was serious and beautiful. Much as we would have wished ourselves to be. The advent of the Independent was to have repercussions for Tom and I right up to the present day.

In my broader group of friends the Independent became de rigueur because it spoke directly to the young. By placing black and white photography as one of its key design elements it was making a statement that it placed visual story telling in the same league as the written word. How electrifying would that be if you imagine that one day you might become a documentary photographer?

Come to think of it, I don’t think the term documentary photographer would have meant anything to my adolescent self yet it was the careful nurturing of the paper by its editors and its designers that made black and white documentary photography come alive on the breakfast tables of British broadsheet readers. It is not too hyperbolic a thing to claim that the Independent taught the British to love and value great photography for this was the first newspaper to value, simultaneously, the story telling power of black and white photography and its potential for aesthetic beauty.

And yes – I know the Sunday Times had amazing work by leading photojournalists and had blazed a trail since the Sixties with colour spreads but it was this independently minded Eighties newcomer that was the first to weave photography into the very fabric of its existence.

But the Independent never really made it to the inner circle of the British psyche. It remained aloof on key issues such as eschewing reporting on anything ‘Royal’ and its politically independent stance purposefully never found a place on either side of the political landscape; it seems we British don’t have an appetite for news supplied free of bias. This political ‘statelessness’ was perhaps to have the biggest impact on the newspaper’s success.

The Independent innovated from the word go; it was the first to change format from broadsheet to Berliner and it adopted an uncompromisingly modern aesthetic and typography but it never lost its love of photography.

Photography was always key to the newspaper’s design and often gave the lead to stories where words might more traditionally have held centre stage. To sum it all up the Independent was modernist in its values and artistically liberal at heart. In an era dominated by the Sun and the Daily Mail – both staunchly conservative and vitriolic – the Independent calmly sailed along placing the work of photographers at the heart of its journalistic output.

But this is not just about the Independent – its also about Tom and me. The Independent was the first paper to run my pictures when I was just a fledgling photographer in the early nineties and Tom has gone on to have many articles printed here. Indeed, in the last few months Tom had a large ‘excerpt’ from his new book ‘The Naked Shore of the North Sea’ excerpted (the words set amongst lovely photography of course) and I had several pages devoted to my latest book, Want More, published in its Saturday magazine.

The Indie will of course continue online… But we all know that pictures seen on a screen have not the power of their paper and ink counter parts. A picture on a screen can’t be held in two hands, wide apart, or spread on a table and lovingly studied or folded or even ripped for sticking in a notebook for later reference. The demise of the print edition of the Independent is a blow to anyone interested in the history of black and white photography.

How can we be indifferent to the passing of such a loving innovator of the medium we all love? There are at least two people working today that might never have chosen their path if it wasn’t for this risk taking, innovative broad sheet. Tom and I are very sad indeed.



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