I first heard about The Curious Society is a nonprofit organization created to support and promote photojournalism and documentary photography. To this end, they publish a large, rather lavish quarterly magazine, provide education and training opportunities, and offer a small grant to college students, among other things. I first heard about the Society maybe a year ago. I was intrigued by their mission and purpose, but was in debt reduction mode and balked at the membership price. Despite following them on Instagram, I forgot all about the group until a couple of weeks ago and, feeling flush for a brief moment, I went ahead and joined.
Now, I’m not a college student and don’t spend much time on social media, so all I have to go on is the magazine. I knew the Society planned the magazine to be oversized—their website makes that clear—but I didn’t expect the size to be so off-putting. With the huge size, rather substantial weight, and floppy cover, you really need a table, and at 14.5″ x 11″ the magazine is much bigger than any of my bookshelves will support. Also, my copy arrived in a red padded envelope, and at some point in the shipping, the top left corner got bent or crushed. This may have been worse with a smaller size: the British Journal of Photography regularly arrives in pretty bad shape and also doesn’t come in a bubble mailer. It’s great to have the huge pictures, and the magazine is well printed and feels luxurious, but there’s a cost to the lavishness.
The book opens with a statement from editor-in-chief Kenneth Jarecke. My copy was signed and numbered (#576 of 2500) in black Sharpie that has left a groovy and potentially stylish fluorescent yellow stain on the previous page. Of mild and potential interest, the 11 member staff is composed of 3 Jareckes: in addition to Kenneth, Shadya is the Marketing Director and Yasmine is the Story Editor, and Kenneth’s statement has a couple of rodeo photographs from Tala Jarecke. So it’s something of a family affair. Kenneth is, or was, a practicing photojournalist with many published images and a few books, and it’s good that there’s someone at the helm with some experience and credibility.
From a 21st Century perspective, The Curious Society are doing great things. An early section containing brief biographies of “the Talent” is composed of, by my count, 24 men and 25 women, so GoGo Inclusion! I’m serious. This is great. The Society also runs a scholarship for college students that provides two recipients per month with a small stipend and access to the editorial team, and six early recipients received a spread titled “The Future,” with a short bio and a single image, and their work looks strong.
About 30 pages of mostly single images from photographers around the world follows. I’m somewhat less interested in these, or, rather, I’m more interested in stories and sequences: most photographers, and here I serve as the negative proof of the thesis, have at least one strong image. Thankfully, the rest of the magazine is all photo essays all the time, with lengths from 2 spreads to a dozen or more, with a bit of reportage-style writing to introduce the project and brief captions for each image.
A wide variety of articles follow, from global and regional issues to sensitive, intimate projects, and many things in between. Standouts, for me, include a series following people from Honduras to the United States; an artful group of “in camera” multiple exposures* made on cruise ships; a group of self portraits by a young woman with an undiagnosed disease; photogrpahs of a family of foxes that live in a McDonald’s parking lot and seem largely tame; a strange group of digitally degraded images around the January 6, 2021 disgrace; and a story on clandestine miners in Bourkina Faso. In a general interest magazine, the big jumps in topic and theme might feel schizophrenic, but the editors did a nice job making it flow, and given the Society’s mission and the purpose of the magazine, the variety works fine.
The magazine ends with a few image-only book reviews (Eliot Erwitt’s Found, Not Lost (unboxed, review forthcoming), Donna Ferrato’s Holy (unboxing & review forthcoming), and Neil Leifer’s Boxing: 60 Years of Fights and Fighters), and a brief interview with Yunghi Kim. All together, the magazine is quite a bit to get through, and really something that needs to be digested in small pieces, returned to from time to time, and I need to handle-up on my oversized book/zine storage.
I’m no photojournalist, of course, but I do appreciate good documentary work, even if my own is incredibly lacking, and I look forward to seeing what all the Curious Society has to offer. If you’re a documentary photographer or photojournalist, even if you’re a confirmed hobbyinst like me, check out the Curious Society and join them if you’re able. They’re fairly active on Instagram and have a sort of talk show on YouTube that I need to look into. It’s a good thing they’re doing and am thankful to have the ability and privilege to support them.