Sarker Protick is 2014: One to Watch by The British Journal Of Photography

If you’re looking for something specific, you’ve got the internet. But a magazine should be about discovery – a place to find things you hadn’t even thought about, providing new perspectives on the talking points of the day, inviting you in on discussions between the people whose opinions count. I’ve always seen it as part of our remit to showcase emerging photographers, providing a platform for new talent to be seen by a wider public and by people of influence. This month, we’ve devoted most of the issue to our Ones to Watch in 2014, dropping our usual array of features as well as our Projects and Intelligence sections, to devote a full 61 pages to 30 photographers we believe are on the verge of something big. Plus it’s a positive start to the year – a way of looking forward after looking back in our December annual review.

But I’ve always been frustrated by these kinds of surveys, which so often limit their scope to a specific geography or age group or type of institution. There is no perfect way, just as there’s no easy way to define ‘emerging’, but what I have committed to is getting nominations from every place where there is a photographic culture made by people who have an active and proven engagement with emerging photographers. So we’ve reached out far and wide to people we know who fit that remit, and searched out people who could advise us, especially on territories outside Europe and North America. In that, we were not entirely successful, but we will continue to strive to improve it for next year, and I am nonetheless certain that, with the collective knowledge and experience of our 66 advisors actively seeking nominations rather than a random call for entries, this is the most far-reaching survey of its kind.

This year, the selected photographers are: Isabelle Wenzel, Sim Chi Yin, Arnau Blanch, Ren Hang, Alvaro Laiz, Thomas Albdorf, Kazuyoshi Usui, Txema Salvans, Aso Mohammadi, Gilles Roudière, Sarker Protick, Charlie Engman, Annegien van Doorn, Cemil Batur Gökçeer, Emile Barret, Patrick Willocq, Synchrodogs, Jon Tonks, Daisuke Yokota, Thomas Brown, Sanne De Wilde, Peter Watkins, Mathieu Cesar, Jamie Hawkesworth, Mari Bastashevski, Wasma Mansour, Louis Heilbronn, Jack Davison, Jana Romanova and Jill Quigley.

So what can we tell from this year’s Ones to Watch? A decade or even five years ago, most of them would probably have been working in an open documentary approach, committed to social engagement but dismissive of any claim to objective truths. The move towards a more process-led approach is hardly new, but it has picked up momentum, and arguably it has become the new decree. Art is the sacred cow providing the unwritten rules, not journalism. The work is usually staged or the subject intervened upon. It is often shot in a controlled environment, such as a studio, and often references sculpture or involves performative acts. Narrative, if it is present at all, is loosely traced and mysterious. Meaning has become as slippery as truth.

Much has been made of a generation growing up with the internet at their disposal. But anyone who has become interested in photography in the last 15 years also has infinite possibilities to discover photography in the real world – through exhibitions, festivals, books and magazines (though, curiously, not news-led publications) that would have been much harder to seek out. There has been an explosion in the number of photography courses in higher education during that time, as many have bemoaned, and even the most snooty institutions now embrace the medium. Photography has gone mainstream.

Young photographers don’t have the same grudges, or the same trenchant positions on art and fashion, or pretty much anything for that matter. They work across different media, and their influences are likely to stretch beyond other photographers to include different kinds of artists and the vernacular of advertising and commercial imagery. But, more than anything, the work is a lot less serious. Sometimes I delight in this newfound sense of play – a throwback to Dada and Surrealism – but other times, I’m left scratching my head at the emptiness of a purely aesthetic wisdom, and the curious reappearance of certain objects, such as oranges and bananas and broken mirrors and coloured paper and test strips and rocks and, lately, that ubiquitous orange plastic barrier netting used to protect us from temporary safety hazards or freshly laid turf. Why is that suddenly everywhere, on our roads, in our parks and even in our photographs?

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