A Conversation with: Photographer and Editor David Bennett

I recently met up with the photographer David Bennett since we are planning to collaborate on the next edition of PpR Journal [http://www.ppreditions.com]. It’s going to be a really exciting edition – as creator and editor of PpR, are you allowed to tell us a bit more about the upcoming edition, or is it top secret prior to publication?

What I can say is that I am very excited with the content of the second issue. I am working with a 16 year old boy in Russia who makes photographs and avant-garde music as homework. He also loves fashion.

PpR stands for People Pages Research since it acts as a catalyst for my own research interests. For a long time I have been very interested in collaboration, curation, and collecting and how they can operate together. I am also a photographer and have worked in editorial. I had considered going back into education to study further but did not find the school/programme that interested me. Instead, I founded PpR as a way to satisfy those interests so that they can be appreciated by others.

In the 1990s I was an avid reader of Purple Magazine, Self Service and INDEX Magazine and found the content intellectually stimulating. Titles that I find pleasurable and functional today are Vestoj and F de C Reader. However, I am equally interested in other printed ephemera i.e. look books and vernacular pieces.

PpR is distributed very personally, which is a luxury but a lot of work. It is stocked in very good stores in London, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, LA and Tokyo. Instagram (@pprjournal) plays a very important role in the distribution process and has opened many opportunities. One of our very first stockists to carry PpR was IDEA Books at Dover Street Market London [http://www.idea-books.com]. The fashion designer Yoshikazu Yamagata (writtenafterwards and written by) contributed to the launch issue and had an installation of his written by AW 15 collection in the basement of the Dover Street store around the same time as the launch of the magazine, so it made real sense.

PpR is interested in fashion and culture within a broader context over a consumerist and trend perspective. The content is built around the taste and sensibility of its creators and this is mirrored by its Instagram feeds. In the early 2000s I was introduced to students living in London who were studying fashion design and illustration at Central Saint Martins. Later, these friends moved back to their respective countries to develop their careers. Together with musicians Kumisolo and Joakim they contributed to the launch issue of PpR, which loosely explored the emotive responses we have to clothes.

I am interested in chance and spontaneity and excited by the opportunities that exist in the unknown. With the exception of the Kumisolo story that was produced in Paris, the rest of the material in the launch issue was conceived externally and online without meetings or art-direction, and with the confidence placed in each contributor to create content on the loose thread of an idea. It was only once all the material was received that PpR could begin to be created.

As an independent I am able to exert control over editorial content, publication dates and format. It is rather like an album. It should come out when it is ready. I enjoy the freedom and flexibility to also decide on a format that is dependent on content. There is no advertising at present in the traditional sense of what we recognize as advertising, i.e. the back cover. However, in the launch issue Yoshikazu Yamagata provided an archive image from writtenafterwards AW 2013 collection, photographed by Nobuyoshi Araki. It plays with the idea of conventional advertising space. I am interested in using the back cover to communicate ideas without necessarily advertising a current/future product. It acts as a means for a creative to present information.

You also have a huge personal collection of magazines and print media. How did this begin, how it has developed over the years, and where do you see it headed in the future?

I started indulging in books when I worked at Zwemmer with Claire de Rouen (later at Claire de Rouen Books) as a buyer in 2000. Working with Claire I created windows in collaboration with Ann-Sofie Back, Yoshikazu Yamagata, Raf Simons, Issey Miyake and Eley Kishimoto so very early on I was exploring the possibilities of fashion communication in the institution of the bookstore, where the book became of secondary importance but attracted clients to the store to look at the printed matter within. We were the first to bring Sofia Coppola’s book SC into the country from Japan and also the one to get exclusive copies of Mark Borthwick’s xerox version of Social Documentaries: Amid This Pist from NYC. It was also here that I met people like Olu Michael Odukoya (Kilimanjaro and Modern Matter), John Spinks and Aleksandra Olenska, who all shared an appreciation of print media.

I soon grew tired and frustrated of knowing what was coming out 6-9 months in advance and became more interested in the excitement of finding out-of-print titles for the store, although it was not really recognized or appreciated at that time so instead I started buying stock for myself. It has always been a pleasure finding things and this relates to my interest in research. It was also a time I started buying lots of magazines as they were pocket money compared to books, and much more regular. I became more interested in magazines over books when I realized most consumers discarded them after their monthly shelf life, believing magazines deserved a longer life, as with books. I would sometimes buy magazines just for the advertising content and other times for the editorial. Magazines define a period, a time and space in popular culture and are more immediate than books. I like this immediacy. I am also fascinated by the amount of content within a single title for its relatively low cost.

I was starting to buy so much stock but always had trouble when moving apartments as magazines and books are so heavy and accumulate so much space, which I don’t have. So it is a growing problem. I cannot get rid of anything. However, once in a period of frustration I disposed of a pile of magazines including a precious issue of W Magazine Office Politics issue shot by Juergen Teller. I regret this moment as I went to Paris to buy that already rare issue and it ended up in a black refuge bag on the Hackney Road. Collecting can cause unnecessary anxieties but it is addictive and so exciting when you find great old stock.

My stock is housed in several places, as I have no space to keep it all together. I do not know exactly how much I have. A couple of thousand, I expect. There is no inventory. However, I know exactly what I have and what content exists in each issue. This helped me when I worked freelance as a researcher for TV commercials where knowledge and speed is power. I had a dream to one day digitize all the content of my collection and to offer a service of some kind but this was too mammoth a task to comprehend let alone realize. I don’t have the time or patience to do this.

Recently I have been thinking about other ways to share the collection but that is all I can say at this moment. I would like to bring curation and research into this, as with PpR.

As dress historians we are fascinated by images, but also by the tactile responses that we have with images, particularly as they function in daily life as material objects. Is it a similar concern with images as objects that prompted you to begin collecting these magazines?

I like the idea that you can smell a period of our history in popular culture through the peel and sniff of perfume/cologne samples housed in back issues of magazines. In an old Arena magazine one can smell the original CK One, the first commercial scent for him & her. Another reason I may have bought a magazine could have been for its advertising content alone (Miu Miu, Jigsaw Menswear, Helmut Lang, and Hugo Boss c.1990s).

The fascinating thing about magazines that I find very interesting is the idea of how much work goes into the single issue – creatively, intellectually and monetary. Yet, in general terms it has a very short life before it is discarded and the next issue comes out. There is also something quite fetishistic in collecting and in going out on the hunt to find new (or old) items for your archive, knowing that one-day I might again find that copy of W Magazine Office Politics.

What relevance do you think your collection has in our contemporary age, when so many of the images we view are circulated online?

Recently I purchased a bound collection of HANATSUBAKI magazines from 1982. Although they are published in Japanese language the content is extremely universal simply because it is so good. It may be an essay, an editorial on beauty procedures, or a review of the world’s fashion collections. The covers were so fresh and free, full of colour and applying great typography. Because these editions are so rare the content probably hasn’t been posted on Instagram. However, had they been they would not communicate this universality as well as the original can. As Walter Benjamin wrote about the ‘aura’ of the original and how the experience is lost in the reproduction of the original, this is very true in this case. Although I have posted some content onto the PpR Instagram account, it just doesn’t crossover, while most other posts do.

What’s your favourite item from your collection, and why?

It is difficult to name a favorite item, however I am very fond of issues of The Architectural Review (AR) from the 1950s-70s. They featured great covers, beautiful photography, modern layouts, and very interesting essays and editorials on architecture and urban/city planning. There are two items that are very significant to me 1) Jigsaw Menswear look-book (c.1997) by Juergen Teller 2) RAF SIMONS Look-books housed in the original packaging sent to me from Robbie Snelders. The packaging itself defines a place in fashion history.

You are also programme leader on photography at Barking and Dagenham College, and a practising photographer. How does your own photographic practice impact upon your teaching, and vice versa?

I never really planned to work in education and to run a degree programme but I consider myself in a privileged position to work with students who have chosen to give 3 years of their life to learn from my team. The programme is a quiet gem in photographic education where my team has included the best creative people including Olu Michael Odukoya, Mark Lebon, and Jonathan Hallam. Our recent addition to the team is the Estonian artist Maria Kapajeva. I try not to separate the different things I do but instead unite them. My own practice as a photographer and producer of PpR naturally enters my educational role and that alone is another privilege to offer.

RAF SIMONS. Collection of Look-books, posters and invitations. In original packaging sent RAF SIMONS Office Antwerp with delivery note signed by Robbie Snelders.

Jigsaw Menswear Look-book. Photographed by Juergen Teller. (C. 1997).

Jigsaw Menswear Look-book. Photographed by Juergen Teller. (C. 1997).

Alexander Rodchenko and the Russian Avant-garde (Russian edition), 1992.

Alexander Rodchenko and the Russian Avant-garde (Russian edition), 1992.

Mark Borthwick. Xerox (4 volumes) 1978 / Synthetic Voices / Margiela 2000-1 / Social Documentaries Amid this Piste. New York. Self Published. (C. 2002). All 4 volumes signed.

Mark Borthwick. Xerox (4 volumes) 1978 / Synthetic Voices / Margiela 2000-1 / Social Documentaries Amid this Piste. New York. Self Published. (C. 2002). All 4 volumes signed.

Chikashi Suzuki. Driving with Rinko (THE International No.6). Radical Silence Production, 2008.

Chikashi Suzuki. Driving with Rinko (THE International No.6). Radical Silence Production, 2008.

Undercover Jun Takahashi ete 2005: but beautiful II “homage to Jan Svankmajer”. Look-book, 2005.

Undercover Jun Takahashi ete 2005: but beautiful II “homage to Jan Svankmajer”. Look-book, 2005.

Thomas Demand and Peter Saville. Art, Fashion and Work for Hire. Thomas Demand, Peter Saville, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Christina Bechtler in Conversation. 2008.

Thomas Demand and Peter Saville. Art, Fashion and Work for Hire. Thomas Demand, Peter Saville, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Christina Bechtler in Conversation. 2008.

Gareth McConnell, Sex Drugs and Magick (Book One). Unique. Edition of 23 + 5 AP. Signed and editioned.

Gareth McConnell, Sex Drugs and Magick (Book One). Unique. Edition of 23 + 5 AP. Signed and editioned.

Magazines (Detail).

Magazines (Detail).