When George Pitts, founding director of photography at Vibe magazine from 1994 to 2003, passed away earlier this year at age 65, he was remembered also for his tenure at Parsons The New School of Design, where he served as director of photographic services and assistant professor.
Among those touched by Pitts at Parsons was Elizabeth Renstrom, photo editor at Vice. In her introduction to Vice magazine’s 2017 “Photo Issue,” she explains how his memorial services sparked the theme for this year’s 16th annual edition:
I was struck by the turnout at his memorial services, and it got me thinking about the significance of having an idol—particularly in this field.
Even as it searches for novelty, photography is fundamentally additive. It’s a process of building a tradition and a language—one that owes as much to what came before as it depends on what is still to come. At a moment when billions of photos are made every day, people tend to forget about the before, especially in reference to new work. George didn’t think that way. Connecting your work to that of the past was so important, he thought. It adds complexity.
So true. Dropping into any one of the 16 featured pairings feels like the equivalent of a millennial being shushed at a photo gallery. Put that phone down for a second, we can almost hear the magazine whispering. Drink in these legacies and ponder how they connect to the photographic arts.
Tommy Kha, a photographer who divides his time between Brooklyn and Memphis, has a funny logline for his professional approach. He says his work is “about the self in self-portrait, the portrait in self-portrait, and the hyphen in self-portrait.” And in this case, also about the hyphen connecting him to his identified idol William Eggleston, a pioneer of color photography:
Eggleston’s work emphasizes the interesting and beautiful complexities of the mundane world and the American vernacular—from gas stations to a diner’s vacant parking lot, Eggleston finds the vibrancy in ordinary life. Eggleston has received countless awards, including the Getty Images Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Center of Photography Infinity Awards.
Each issue pairing is dominated by large, intermingled samples of the featured photographers’ work. Editor Renstrom hopes the articles will ‘forge aesthetic connections and deepen artistic understanding, much like those first conversations with George did for me.’ There is no doubt that objective has been achieved.
The rest of the 2017 “Photo Issue” pairings are: Maria Gruzdeva and Mark Power; Olivia Bee and Doug DuBois; Nishant Shukla and Jim Goldberg; Luisa Dörr and Sage Sohier; Logan Jackson and Roe Ethridge; Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. and Carrie Mae Weems; Isabella Lanave and Alessandra Sanguinetti; Res and Sarah Lucas; Zhongjia Sun and Toilet Paper (Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari); Tasneem Alsultan and Maggie Steber; Ilona Szwarc and Gillian Wearing; Erin Carr and Lyle Ashton Harris; Prasiit Sthapit and Sohrab Hura; Jonathan Gardenhire and Leslie Hewitt; Adam Lach and Alec Soth.