The alternately oddball, esoteric, and witty photographs in Vice’s July 2010 issue have one thing in common, and pretty much only one thing: no portraiture. “It was a very rationalized decision, in retrospect,” Vice editor in chief, Jesse Pearson, tells The Daily Beast. “I think it started out as a reaction against last year’s issue, which was all portraits. And you see so much portrait photography these days.
Click here to view our gallery of VICE’S STILL LIFE PHOTOGRAPHY
Vice started in 1994 as the Canadian magazine Voice of Montreal, then became the current magazine two years later. It has since grown into a countercultural megalith—with print, Web, television, branding, and lifestyle arms—for an edgy demographic (no doubt “edgy” and “demographic” are verboten words in Viceland).
A dearth of faces and people is a refreshing visual change in a magazine where movement and the corporeal are standard content features. “The whole issue feels like a relief on the eyes. Further, it’s one photo per page, and only one photo per photographer, with no repeats,” says Pearson, who will host a huge opening this evening for one of Vice’s star photographers, Jerry Hsu, called The Torture Never Stops and will feature 200 of his photographs. While he was talking to The Daily Beast, Pearson was hanging the show himself. “I couldn’t have said I helped curate it unless I actually place these photos.”
On Vice’s website, the new issue has attracted a handful of nasty comments from readers, but Pearson stands by the strength of the photography: “Website commenting is the ultimate refuge for cowards, but for anyone who is underwhelmed by the photos online, having the issue in your hands makes the difference.”
Pearson need not worry: The photos are anything but underwhelming. There’s Maggie Lee’s juvenile druggie tableau; Jh Engstrom’s newborn twins’ placentas, in all their gory glory; Catherine Opie’s shot of a vandalized billboard; and other standouts from 91 other photographers, including David Lynch and Ryan McGinley.
Vice may take undue heat for its fetishistic, dare-we-say hipster content, but the photography issue shows off the magazine’s muscle for highbrow aesthetics and cerebral ideas. They faithfully put out a fiction issue every year, and this November, will produce a fine art issue as well. “I’ve already interviewed Marina Abramovic,” says Pearson, who’s still determining the rest of the content for the art issue.
Eileen Myles writes the introductory essay in the July issue, closing with, “For many people who come here” (one presumes she means Vice by “here” though it’s not necessarily clear), “[photography] tends to be their message to the world. It’s a kind of speech. It’s their sophisticated way to make something, to leave something here for everyone even if it’s only a pile of half-digested food and booze.”
The Torture Never Stops: A Selection of Photographs by Jerry Hsu runs from July 23 – 28, at 70 Franklin St. in New York City, where Vice photo issue will be available.
Claire Howorth is the Arts editor at The Daily Beast.