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Source Magazine: Thinking Through Photography - Web Features - Careers In Photography - Senior Curator - Belfast Exposed - Karen Downey. Posted: Tue 24 Mar 2015.

Belfast Exposed
Karen Downey

What does your job entail day to day in a normal week?

My job is to devise and develop an exhibitions policy and annual programme of exhibitions for Belfast Exposed Gallery. On a day-to-day basis, I might be researching artists’ work, liaising with a photographer on anything from concept development to installation design. I am also responsible for writing the exhibition-related texts, including exhibition texts, marketing material and press releases.

What are the roles of the key people you work with?

The other key role at Belfast Exposed is that of ‘Curator and Gallery Manager’. This person is mainly responsible for the technical, logistical and administrative aspects of the exhibition programme. Belfast Exposed also runs a paid internship for University of Ulster graduates, so we have a Gallery Intern who supports the other gallery staff. Their main role is make sure the gallery is open and welcoming and that the exhibitions are invigilated. They also manage the day-to-day running of the volunteer programme.

How do you decide on the themes of each exhibition?

The exhibition programme at Belfast Exposed has evolved over more than a decade, through dialogue with artists, communities and audiences and in response to the changing conditions of life in Northern Ireland. Despite a non-prescriptive approach, the programme to date can be seen to represent a number of recurring themes and concerns, and these interests essentially form the basis of programming policy. Belfast Exposed is primarily interested in supporting and promoting photography-based practice, particularly, critical, documentary forms. We have worked on a number of major participatory projects, which involve immersive, long-term engagement with artists and participants. Some recurring areas of interest include: Photography and the contemporary city; Identity, memory and the archive; Working with individuals and communities in NI to represent less visible social experience, for example, the experience of migrant groups, or the homeless.

How do you decide which pictures are good?

I suppose I’m looking for pictures that show me something I haven’t seen before, or which look at something in a surprising or unexpected way? A good picture makes you see something differently – it can make you think differently. I will usually question whether the formal qualities of the image are appropriate to the concept / what the photographer is trying to say? I will also consider how well the image works in the context of the series or full body of work – does it add to the series? If it were cut from the edit would it make a difference to the meaning of the work as a whole?

Did you study photography or something else and how was it useful?

I have a BA Degree in Combined Studies in Art and Design. The course included a practical photography component as well as a focus on history ad theory of art. I also have an MA in Social Sciences, which included research in the areas of Social Theory, Identity and Visual Culture.

What was your first photography job and how did you get it?

My first photography-related job was in a commercial photography studio, working with Photoshop and setting up artwork for digital printing. The job gave me invaluable technical skills and a great understanding of print processes.

What's the most interesting piece of work or project that you have worked on?

I couldn’t choose one project in particular. What I enjoy most, and learn the most from, is working closely with photographers and artists on the development of new work – discussing ideas, working on edits and designing exhibitions together.

What advice would you have for someone at school (16-18) interested in working in your area of photography?

Go to photography and contemporary art exhibitions, attend talks and events. Volunteer or intern with a photography organisation to get hands-on experience. Keep making your own work, stay actively involved, know what’s going on.

Other articles in the ‘Careers In Photography’ series:

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