The 2022 editorial board for photogénie is happy to present its mission statement. This text is not a strict manifesto in which we claim to know how to write about film. It is rather a collection of beliefs that serve as an incentive for critical writing. We write film criticism by virtue of our persistent love of (and, necessarily, our thinking about) cinema. Our motivation has not waned: To make sense of the rapidly expanding audiovisual sphere.
Our intention is to offer photogénie readers knowledge of film history and the current state of critical scholarship. There will be four editions this year: a small, compact set of contributions to the dizzying, multifarious age of visual arts.
The ambition to write about film in an elaborate, well-textured, detailed style finds a rare home in a slow criticism venue such as photogénie. Because we are not restricted by clean-cut institutional requirements, we allow free associations to find fresh angles into the hyper-analysed world of film criticism.
After nearly a century in which the “history of cinema” as a unified concept has come and gone, the practice of questioning cinema itself and drawing knowledge from multi-disciplinary sources is at the forefront of our project. You might discover photogénie is a venue for shared cinephilia and find yourself drawn to new critical methods—in which case we welcome your submissions, all of which are paid.
photogénie is a film journal. It is not a political party (which saves us from external pressure and electoral costs), nor a history course (so not to bore our readers). Cinema invites us to think about the world in all its aspects, including the political and historical, though it is worth being cautious of how principles about the latter may distort your reading of the former.
As a rule of thumb, the central focus of this publication is aesthetics. Aesthetics are the open center of cinema, wherein connections to all other forms or art lie, and everything ultimately radiates from there.
Media archaeology has absolved us from believing that the evolution of cinema is linear and purpose-oriented, and simultaneously given us plenty of ways to approach what appeared to be settled: the past of cinema, its progress, its future. Freely think about what cinema is not, or not yet, and you may stumble upon a greater truth than common wisdom.
Call it cinema, film, moving image or audiovisual—the what is inextricably linked to the when. Take everything in its context, temporal or otherwise.
The editorial team of photogénie is an ensemble of film writers, curators and non-disenchanted academics who have in common their attendance at the Ghent film critics’ workshop. They are from various and distant geographical locations and have fallen in (and sometimes out) of love with cinema. We hope that if we make sense to one another despite our differences, whatever we produce will trouble and delight our readers.
When writing begins from a place of curiosity, wonder and enthusiasm, it often produces the most sincere, open and surprising work. Since writing is as much about technique and training as it is about imagination, here are some rules that we have each come to practice:
Ben: Criticism is most engaging when it finds the perfect synthesis of film and writer. Then, descriptive passages don’t read as such, and every line is both vital and energising.
Irina: Enthusiasm is the best resource for staying motivated to write, but constantly asking yourself why (and what you like) may be the only way to ensure that it translates to others; the less transparent it is, the more you need to argue in very explicit terms in favour of a film.
Joseph: Using the first-person singular doesn’t entitle one to be subjective without argument. Also, no adverbs.
Kathy: Be as precise as you possibly can be, so long as it contains useful information. Exposition is usually necessary but leave some things for the reader who might want to (re)watch the film(s).
Patrick: Comprehend the present state of film while maintaining a solid sense of history that can be drawn upon, so that the two can be discussed in relation to one another.
Savina: Dare to grapple with the negative (or negating) spectrum of film-watching/-writing—failings, agony, exasperation, exhaustion, non-cinema, cinema of the non-human—and your horizons may widen even more.
While everyone can talk or write about a film (and everyone who has the time usually does), we advocate film criticism that values precision, detail and illustration. A film is often richer than our first attempt to put it into words. Critical perspectives on character, aesthetics and abstraction must be founded on the accumulated analysis of texture.
Nobody could singlehandedly rescue contemporary film criticism from its many foes, but individual voices have a better chance than industrial mechanisms to throw something fresh and provocative into the world. Much of film criticism lacks personality, kowtowing to received wisdom. This is acutely felt early each year, as the Oscar train starts chugging and familiar film-stories repeat themselves with slightly different details, but it is evident all year round, as festival reporters make or break a film’s distribution chances via coffee-fueled scribblings. We’ve all been guilty of that, but we can break free of the bubble. Cinema is against the ropes, so let’s fight for it, and swear in blood to never write a line that could conceivably make it onto a poster.
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The editorial board
Ben Flanagan is a London-based critic and programmer. He is a co-founder of Cinema Year Zero.
Joseph Owen is a research fellow at the University of Southampton. He is an itinerant film festival critic and has recently completed his doctoral thesis on Carl Schmitt, sovereignty and modernism.
Savina Petkova is a Bulgarian freelance film critic based in London and a PhD candidate in film-philosophy at King’s College London. Her specialties include women’s cinema, human-animal geographies, memory studies, and the qualms of European identities.
Patrick Preziosi is a writer born and based in Brooklyn, NY. Apart from being on photogénie’s editorial board for 2022, his work has also appeared in Mubi Notebook, Ultra Dogme, Screen Slate, The Quietus, In Review Online and more.
Irina Trocan is a freelance film critic as well as lecturer at the National University of Theatre and Cinema in Bucharest, where she teaches Film Criticism to undergraduate and graduate students. She coordinates the online film magazine Acoperișul de Sticlă (“the Glass Roof”).
Kathy Vanhout studied Theatre and Film Studies at the University of Antwerp. She has written on film for various journals and is currently preparing a PhD proposal on tragedy in 1970s European cinema. Her focus lies on the intersection of cinema, art and philosophy. She is also a musician performing under the name of Imaginary Sister.