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Chris Dickie obituary

His beautifully produced and brilliantly edited Ag magazine reflected his painstaking pursuit of perfection in photography

Chris Dickie, who has died of cancer aged 59, was the editor of the British Journal of Photography (BJP), a position he held three times from 1987 to 2003. He nurtured the careers of many photographers and writers, and his books on photographic publishing, some of them under his own imprint, Picture-Box Media, are now standard texts for students.

His greatest achievement was the beautifully produced Ag, a quarterly fine-art photography journal. He conceived, edited, wrote, published and designed Ag in response to the perceived need for a more serious publication about a subject increasingly trivialised in the populist magazines on which Chris had cut his editorial teeth. Beginning life as Silverprint magazine in the spring of 1991, Ag quickly found its own character, and reflected, in the high quality of its printing, his view that fidelity of reproduction to the original image is sacrosanct. Within his means, he was quietly, doggedly painstaking in pursuit of such perfection.

Over the years he became a touchstone of photographic knowledge, contacts and laconic wisdom, which he dispensed with patrician authority over lunchtime beers at favoured Fleet Street and Soho pubs. His detailed knowledge of the history of photography, and especially of its publishing, is irreplaceable. Without his scholarship and advice to plunder, the work of others will become that much more arduous.

He was born in Carlisle but spent his childhood in Newcastle, where he attended the Royal grammar school. A county-standard rugby hooker, he gave up sport to pursue his interests in science and photography. He went to Bedford College, University of London, in 1970 to read zoology. Despite the fact that his family moved to Harpenden, Hertfordshire, he always considered Newcastle his home town, reflected in his lifelong devotion to the Magpies.

After university he worked at Parents magazine and a succession of photography titles. He was absorbed in equal measure by the technicalities and aesthetics of photography; he wrote extensively on both. This was reflected in all his editorial policies, especially at the BJP and in Ag. Forensic investigations of new gadgets and machinery, often involving bewildering detail, found their place alongside stimulating comment by leading critics. It was an unusual and occasionally uncomfortable mix but, he maintained, a necessary one.

Tied down by editing the work of others, he usually fitted in his own books on "holidays" to the remoter places that were his passion. Among his last projects were landscapes in the Outer Hebrides and in his beloved Lake District, an area of which he had an encyclopedic knowledge.

Perhaps his greatest asset, and a considerable rarity, was the ability to be editorially objective, irrespective of firmly held personal opinions. This allowed him to publish work in all styles as well as a diverse range of often unfashionable critical opinion. As an editor he used a light, precise touch, which immediately improved the writer's voice and authority: he preferred simplicity to verbosity and fair criticism to entertaining prejudice. Unusually for an art magazine, Ag was actually readable.

Chris was a popular lecturer, speaker and media commentator. It was typical of his modesty that his promotion of others was to the detriment of his own career as a photographer. He had hoped retirement would enable greater freedom to pursue that area.

He judged many competitions and was an honorary fellow of the British Institute of Professional Photography. He loved music and played the guitar; when young, he did the rounds of London's folk clubs, both as spectator and performer.

He is survived by his wife, Pauline, whom he married in 1976, twin daughters, Helen and Sarah, and a son, Simon.

• Christopher Gordon Dickie, photographer, editor and publisher, born 26 September 1951, died 8 June 2011 © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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