THE NEW WAVE
The Winter issue of Source is about new photography organisations. Despite the economic downturn and the dominance of digital technology the last five years has seen the appearance of new galleries, publications and festivals dedicated to the medium.
Jennifer Good has spoken to the people behind five new photo galleries: Third Floor Gallery, White Cloth Gallery, Fishbar, Hotshoe Gallery (which has since closed) and Brancolini Grimaldi. Tom Allbeson surveys the new generation of print and digital publications: Hungry Eye, 1000 Words, Photomonitor, blow and Supermassiveblackhole.
Finally, Rebecca Hopkinson has talked to the directors of the latest photo-festivals: Brighton Photo Biennial, FORMAT, Photoireland, Belfast Photo-festival and the Cardiff International Festival of Photography, which is currently in preparation and opens in 2013.
With this new movement goes a new approach. To sample this ethos we have asked three up-and-coming curators to tell us what they think the role of photography exhibitions is today and will be in the future. Katrina Sluis is the curator of the new Digital Programme at The Photographers' Gallery, Matt Packer is Curator at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery and Karen Newmann is Curator at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool and soon to set up a new commissioning organisation in Birmingham.
To complement the coverage in the magazine we have been visiting organisations (not covered in these magazine features) and asking them about their work. These visits will form a series of short audio interviews that will be published over the next two months.
For the first audio interview in our New Wave season we go to Brighton. One recent development in photography has been the growth in interest in photobooks and self publishing. Photobookshow, an organisation that exhibits independently made photobooks, epitomises this trend. Richard West met up with William Sadowski and Kevin Beck in a pub.
On arriving at their studio (situated in a former abattoir) Richard was shown their shelves and filing cabinets of books, submitted to previous shows and donated to their collection. Both the organisers place great stress on their openness to different kinds of work and their desire to show the books in the best way possible. There has been a growing tide of exhibitions of this kind from the Martha Rosler Library, shown at Stills in 2008 to the recent Japanese Photobook show at the Photographers' Gallery last year. There are also a number of similar projects being undertaken elsewhere in the world such as the Indie Photobook Library in the US and more recently the PhotoIreland Library Project in Dublin.
Sadowski and Beck are animated by a keen interest in photobooks, as was clear when they opened the latest batch of submissions they had received. They have also included their own books in the shows (Sadowski, Beck). And finally, they are enterprising - their current show at the John Hansard Gallery is the eighth event they have been involved in. Their next ambition is to go to Japan, where I'm sure they would be made very welcome.
Margaret Street Gallery started as a partnership between Zelda Cheatle and the collector Deborah Goldman.
As Goldman explains, discretely, this partnership 'was short lived' and now she is the sole Director. Although she may be discrete about her business dealings she is candid in her opinions about the programmes of other galleries and the kind of work she wishes to show. Hilariously, she describes her near neighbour the Photographers' Gallery as 'wholly uninspiring' and is very down on a group she characterises as the '40-year-old white male photographers', although unfortunately this same reviled demographic are apparently the people who actually buy photographic prints.
It may be that Goldman is just finding her way in running the gallery. It is hard to take seriously her intention to exhibit work that is 'even 2 and 3D' but the gallery programme does feature predominantly young artists that are not shown elsewhere. And although she may claim she can bully those '40-year-old white male photographers like there's no tomorrow' I have to report that Deborah and Lily were not at all intimidating. Undoubtedly there will be many that welcome their ambition to sell 'affordable work to a younger demographic'.
On a rainy day before Christmas, and sounding a bit hoarse, Richard West went to visit the Belfast Photo Factory. Zoe Hamill and Andrew Rankin were the only members present and Zoe showed him round the largely empty offices and shared gallery space which they occupy.
Apart from their unusually corporate-looking location (which they will soon leave) it was the similarity of their set-up to an artists' studio group that was most striking. Belfast, like many cities, has a number of artists' studios, such as Queen Street studios, but it is relatively unusual for photographers to form into collectives along similar lines. As Zoe explained, the benefits for them are partly about shared equipment but more significantly about sharing ideas and getting feedback. This is a continuation of their experience at university but also shows that they all see themselves as art photographers working toward gallery exhibitions, rather than making pictures for agencies, publishers or other traditional outlets for photographers.
A number of the members of Belfast Photo Factory have been successful, notably Alberto Maserin who was shortlisted for the Showcase award at the Gallery of Photography. They also did well to generate interest and submissions for their open submission exhibition last year. Longer term challenges will include finding a balance between the interests of the group and the careers of the individual members and finally, making links with other arts organisations (considering they are making art photography they have few links with other Belfast galleries). Considering how many photographers are coming out of universities with aspirations to exhibit their work we will undoubtedly be seeing many more collectives formed like the Belfast Photo Factory.
Photographers are publishing their own books in ever greater numbers but they still need to find ways of getting them to readers. One way of doing this is through sympathetic independent bookshops. Donlon books, specialises in art and photography books. This has made them one of the first ports of call for the growing group of collectors looking for those hard-to-find self-published titles.
One of the ways information about these books and outlets spreads is via social media so I thought I would invite a photographer I knew only through Twitter, Brian David Stevens (aka @driftingcamera) to join me in visiting the shop for the first time and talking to the people that run it. As it turned out Brian has published zines of his own with Hamburger Eyes and was not short of opinions about the recent boom in self publishing and the market it has created.
The man behind (or rather, in the middle of) Donlon Books is Conor Donlon. After working for Wolfgang Tillmans for six years he started the venture, initially connected to Herald Street Gallery but then later in a beautiful old shop in North East London. Conor, although not wanting to alienate his customers, says he finds the photography world 'very narrow in what it appreciates' (a sentiment echoed by Brian) and that 'ninety percent of the books that Steidl produce are just a little bit dull'. In a nice, if rather unexpected, synchronicity with another interview he even complains that the photo world is made up of 40-year-old men (notwithstanding his own proximity to that club). Having said all that, his own sense of humour and the vigour with which he seeks out the varied stock that he sells is the best argument for the continued vitality of independent art and photography publishing.
Pádraig Spillane and Pamela Condell set up Stag & Deer in 2010 as a collaborative organisation to create exhibitions in 'slack space'.
They have worked with PhotoIreland and last year curated There There in Cork (see the review in the current issue of Source). Mary Conlon went to meet them in the echoey Sculpture gallery of the Crawford Art Gallery where they had installed Viviane Sassen's photographs in their last show. As well as being a high profile photographer the inclusion of Sassen's work generated much comment from its unusual location, amid a lot of neoclassical sculpture.
The office for the Brighton Photo Fringe is tucked away in the sprawling campus of the University of Sussex. Jane Noble, who I met there, was struggling with a cold but welcomed me in and told me about the festival's history and some of the facts and figures about the 2012 event that had just finished.
The point of the festival is that it is 'totally non curatorial' which distinguishes it from the Brighton Photo Biennial which I suppose is therefore able to be 'totally curatorial'. I was hoping to find some evidence of friendly competition between the events but Jane ignored my attempts to provoke her into preferring their own DIY ethos to the fancy 'international festival'. She did say that anyone can take part in the Photo Fringe and that as a result it is a 'chance to play' which sounds nice. She also said she would like a cake for their tenth anniversary. I hope someone provides one. It is true, as she says, that their logo would be very easy to render in cake form.
The photographer John MacLean was the perfect companion to visit a bookshop that specialised in self-published books since he has produced a number himself (see the latest, reviewed in the current issue). I had not met him before, although we had published his work in Source previously. As we walked down the noisy Stoke Newington High Street to the shop he explained his experience of publishing. Refreshingly, and in contrast to the cynicism about the photobook market expressed when I visited Donlon Books, John said he rejected the 'contrived rarity' of limited edition books and that he wanted his books to remain available.
I thought that Tipitin was a lovely name for a bookshop that specialised in photobooks because it is it a nice homonym for 'tipped in' the book dealer's term for a book that has photographs stuck into its pages. When I asked Katja Chernova, who runs the shop, about the name she told me it, 'comes from an old song by The Andrews Sisters'. This meant nothing to me, which, as it turned out, was the point: 'I wanted something without any meaning (as I didn't know where this project would go) and something short'. This neatly sums up the whimsical nature of the shop where the stock is obscure yet well chosen. Katja was friendly (if a little shy) and happy to show off some of the titles she had managed to find. Appropriately, these included a recently arrived copy of Afronauts, the self-published book that has just propelled its author Cristina De Middel to a nomination for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize. This book is also reviewed in the current issue's self-published book review section but was almost immediately out of print and is now fetching astonishing prices on Ebay.
As during my previous visit to Photobookshow I am still slightly mystified as to how this economy of self publishing works. John and Katja both highlighted the role Twitter and the web play in helping these titles circulate. Perhaps John makes the the most sense of it when he describes it as a 'very nimble way of distributing the work'. It is shops like Tipitin that make this distribution possible.
Paul Herrmann runs Redeye and Patrick Henry, until recently, was the Director of Open Eye Gallery, together they are organising Look 2013, the photography festival in Liverpool.
Laura Guy asked them why we need another photography festival, and why in Liverpool? 'Festivals are things that grow in places' says Patrick and have to come from a demand from local photographers and audiences.
Jonathan Blyth and Matt Pontin run Fotonow a community photography organisation based in Plymouth. Jesse Alexander went to speak to them and find out how Fotonow had come about and what they aimed to achieve with their projects. They describe a variety of influences: community photography; their experience of teaching; the example of other photography organisations like Photoworks and the specific circumstances of the South West of England, where there is not the same arts infrastructure as found elsewhere in the country.
Among their different projects is Camper Obscura, a converted Camper van that they bought on Ebay and now take to events to allow members of the public to experience a camera obscura and have their portrait taken. This was partly inspired by a meeting with Derek Swindley who had created his own camera obscura in a caravan in the 1970s. As Matt explains, they feel that their 'mission is being accomplished, because lots of people are having experiences of photography... you're embedding within them the importance of photography in visual culture and their lives.'
In other words they are evangelists. But evangelists of a particular kind. They use the language of anti-elitism but flavour it with the bureaucratic terminology of funders and the education sector, they look to emulate the work of other photography organisations that mainly show art photography but are genuinely excited by the chance encounters they have when taking their projects out to the general public. They have ventured into publishing and have an ambition to run a building in Plymouth. With the growing number of photography students (and graduates) in the area and no other photography organisations they would seem to have a ready made congregation awaiting them.
David Eaton is one of three who look after Photomobile, an itinerant 'Mobile Photographic Unit' currently parked in Cheshire on the forecourt of the factory of Harman Express (home to Ilford, Kentmere and Harman Photo products). The oldest surviving British photographic supplier made a nice backdrop to an interview about the so-called New Wave of photography.
The unit was originally purchased by the Liverpool based charity Aware Photographic Arts and passed to Redeye, the North West photography network, in 2006 when the charity wound up its activities. Subsequently the Photomobile was relaunched as an independent initiative, helped by a successful Arts Council Grant and the dedication of a the small team who keep it running to this day. We met on a snowy day in January. Despite the bad weather, and similarly bleak economic climate, David was keen to tell a positive story of Photomobile at a point when the organisation seems to be finding its identity.
I take a two-carriage toy train from Manchester across the misty Pennines to Bradford. First a quick detour to visit the National Media Museum (unfortunately a few days too early for the opening of their Tom Wood retrospective) and then the short walk to Impressions Gallery to meet Director Anne McNeill. Impressions was founded four decades ago so doesn't fit the remit for these interviews on the so-named New Wave of photography organisations. Instead we met to talk about Ways of Looking, the photography festival that Anne co-founded in 2009 with Nicola Stephenson of the Culture Company.
The first Ways of Looking took place in 2011 and Anne (with others) has since been working hard on securing a future for the festival. Like other festival aficionados interviewed for this series she stresses the importance for a festival to have a sense of place. A quick assessment of the infrastructure that Bradford already provides for photography and you can see why those involved with Ways of Looking think it's a good site for the festival. The next one is due to take place in 2014 with the theme of 'Beauty'. Anne commented that it's not often something associated with Bradford. But as I made my way out via Impression's latest exhibition of Yaakov Isreal's large-scale images, the city was looking all right to me.
Continuing my tour of the North I set off to Sunderland where the revamped university campus provides a home for the Northern Centre of Photography. From within a stand-alone stone-clad building, incongruous against its shiny counterparts, Carol McKay and Amanda Ritson oversee the activities of the North East Photography Network. Inside, the centre's white corridors gleam and students hurry between darkrooms housing neat rows of enlargers. Despite the audible buzz of activity it's clear how a photography degree can feel a little removed from the world outside.
This is where Carol enters to tell me about why the network was established and what she, an academic, gets from it. For an organisation framed by a large institution there is something reassuringly grass roots about the way the NEPN pursue their activity. Perhaps this is why Carol is so resistant to calling their forthcoming photo month a festival. That is, their desire rests in finding meaningful ways to nurture a photography culture in the North East and for this they're in it for the long term.
The National Media Museum wants to open a gallery in London. In fact, depending on who you listen to, they have wanted to do this since they were first established in Bradford in 1983. What is more, apart from a few grumbles from rivals, everyone else wants them to achieve this as well. But, for some reason, it has taken a very long time to organise. Along the way the Museum has been restructured, changed its name and parted company with senior curators and its Director. A special Creative Director for the project was appointed and then later resigned. Funding was hard to come by and the project was scaled back. There have been countless delays. But now it looks like it is finally going to happen. Media Space should open in 2013.
On a less positive note, there are some reasons to be concerned that the project's problems will continue. Michael Wilson (described as the 'Evil Genius' behind Media Space) said that the V&A had been 'violently opposed' to the establishment of Media Space. It is hard to know what justification there could have been for this opposition and is not an encouraging measure of collaboration between our national photography collections. More than anything else what puzzles me about the venture is its remit and attitude to photography. The name Media Space and its role as a satellite of the National Media Museum would imply it will show new media, radio, television and film as well as photography. The launch I was invited to, (what PR people call a 'cultivation event') was exclusively attended by photography people and all the talk was about the 'photography community' but if you listen carefully to Hannah Redler she says Media Space will be 'photography biased, initially...'.
This appears, from the outside, to have been a contentious issue in the development of the project. Charlotte Cotton's version of Media Space was less of a conventional photography gallery than what is being presented now (after all, what could be more conventional than a Tony Ray-Jones show, even if you like his work). Cotton's version of Media Space also differed from the idea of a photography gallery promoted by Michael Wilson. But then Hannah Redler is a new media curator, not a photography specialist. What can it all mean? We'll just have to wait and see.