Continuing with our series of interviews with the Selectors for Graduate Photography Online 2017, we talk to Salvatore Vitale, Photographer and Editor-in-chief at YET magazine.
Photographer and Editor-in-chief at YET magazine.
Tell us about your work at YET? What does your core role at the magazine involve?
I co-founded YET magazine and this means that I've been shaping it since the very beginning. Of course this allowed me to foster a particular approach that mirrors what I and my colleagues believe are the strongest features of contemporary photography. My role as editor-in-chief ('at large' you might say) involves a lot of activities. I take part in the editorial line decisions, I collaborate in the content building, vision and commissioning of each issue. I, also, actively take part in all the different activities that our work involves: from participation in festivals and events, to education, development of parallel projects, writing and, last but not least, promotion and administrative matters. Having said that, our structure at YET magazine, is very open and we see ourselves as an open lab where everyone contributes their expertise and participates in the construction of the editorial line.
How did you make your way into the career you're now in? Did you always want to work in a field that involved photography?
Actually I had no idea I would find myself working in/with photography. I haven't studied in an art/photography school and I've never found an old camera in the cellar of my parents' house. I studied communication and my first encounter with photography was in the context of a research project I was taking part in that involved childrens' photography. I was so fascinated by the pictures taken by those very little children that it led me to study image reading and image making. Slowly, I started to get more and more into photography, I started to produce it and to study and make it my job. I became a photographer. YET magazine is also part of this journey as, of course, my previous studies gave me the knowledge and the skills needed to formulate and deliver an editorial product.
How do you decide on what makes an interesting photograph or photographic project?
Well there are several factors which come into play here. First of all, I think a good balance between research, content, language and aesthetic. We are overwhelmed by photographs and this is nothing new, but those are for me some of the key elements that make a single image or a body of work stand out. Of course when we speak about a single photograph there is still a big dose of subjectivity and instinct that play a role: there are pictures that just invite you to stare at them. Pictures that stand by themselves, that are aesthetically captivating and at the same time manage to be conceptually meaningful. This depends on the view of the subject that a photographer has, but also on the knowledge of the medium and the basic elements that go together to construct a photograph. If we speak about a photographic project, we really have to look at elements such as narrative, coherence (both conceptual and aesthetic), engagement and relation to the subject. For me, for instance, it becomes interesting when I feel that I need to know and see more, when I want to go deeper.
As regards the photographer's statement, what are the most important things for you to know about the work? When it comes to showing their work outside of University, have you any tips on how graduates should prepare their work and the supporting material that accompanies it?
It is extremely important to be able to write a statement since, in many cases, that is the means by which the viewer can go deeper into the photographer's work. A good statement must reflect the artist's intentions, the strategies used to achieve them, the context of the work and the message it conveys: it is important to ask yourself who your audience is, what the main message of your work is, what influences your work and – most important – who you are! Don't be afraid to show yourself and your beliefs and attitudes. Be true! Also, very often, the attention dedicated to the presentation of a body of work is a plus when applying for funding, grants, competitions or post-graduate programs. Jury members pay a lot of attention to the way a body of work is presented and the more your message is clear, the more possibilities you have to succeed. It is also very good to have two different statements, a short one that can work as an introduction when you approach people for the first time and a more articulated one for the people who become interested in your work. The reason for this lies in the fact that the world is moving very fast, we have to deal with a large amount of content and having a succinct glimpse into a photographer's work always is a great help! I suggest photographers should be very clear and clever when presenting their work: making a strong edit, writing a good statement and captions (when needed) and finding the right channels. Then there is no magic formula, but if one already has the right structure then the possibilities increase.
In your view, what are the kind of qualities that completing a degree course in photography should endow an individual with? Aside from specifically technical skills, what is the difference that having a demographic of emerging photography graduates makes in the world?
I dedicated a whole issue of the magazine to this topic, trying to understand what the strong and weak points are in photography education. It has been a great experience delving into such an interesting topic, and one which has led to the birth of other projects. There needs to be greater dialogue between the parties involved - both from the side of the providers (institutions, private schools, post-graduating programs) and the users (basically students). The discussion is still far from any definitive end, largely because photography is changing so fast and thus photography education must change also. I personally think that a good degree course in photography is the one that manages to give the students a strong background both in terms of knowledge of the history of the field (and so, what has gone before) as well as the contemporary scene. A good school is the one in which debate is always open, that encourages students to take part in discussions and make research, to develop a critical view on the world (by offering a program incorporating disciplines that are not photography-related), to be able to use different strategies and languages for image-making, to be able to know and face the world outside (from the knowledge to institutions and actors to the rules of the market and all the possibilities it offers – i.e. how to write a statement or how to apply for a grant!). I strongly believe in the mentoring role of the teachers, a role in which they are not just the knowledge-holders, but where they help students to construct their own system of knowledge. I believe that personal experience is very important and it has also to be part of the learning process. In this sense, I definitely share Bruner's theories about the narrative thought that is based on the sharing of experience as an active part of the pedagogical process. Fosi Vegue from Blank Paper School in Madrid explains it in a very direct way: "pedagogical work has to be about the fullness of experience, beyond a knowledge that is purely photographic. Life is more important than photography." This last point applies to every kind of (photography) school and learning situation.
What are the challenges you see facing graduates from photography degree courses as they make their way into the world at this point in time?
Of course the challenges are many and very varied. As I said before, there is no magic formula or an instruction manual on how to succeed in the photography world. I think a lot depends on motivations and commitment. I firmly believe in hard work and long-term strategies to produce results. The competition is fierce and the market is far from rosy: if we want to make a living from photography today we have to throw ourselves out there, figure out which way to take, follow it, and learn everything we need in order to be able to convey and circulate our message. Graduates should be able to find their place in the world, to understand what moves them and try to develop and articulate a strong concept that, in time, will delineate their career. At the beginning of your career you should be aware of what you choose to do and how you do it, you should be able to improve yourself and stay open and receptive. All of these micro-choices will make a difference in the future.
What advice would you have for someone interested in working in your area of photography?
I have two main pieces of advice:
- Be curious, explore different possibilities, keep on learning and questioning yourself, engage in research – we always have to be able to question and improve ourselves.
- Focus on the work and be in absolutely no hurry to come up with a product. Haste never produces anything good.
Salvatore Vitale will be selecting his favourite sets of work from the BA phase of Graduate Photography Online 2017.
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