Each year as part of Graduate Photography Online we ask a number of professionals from the world of photography to review all the work submitted and choose their favourites. We chat to Sarah Allen, Assistant Curator for International Art at Tate and Selector for the MA/MFA phase of Graduate Photography Online 2020.
Tell us about your job? What does your core role at Tate involve?
At Tate Modern I work on exhibitions, displays and acquisitions. At the moment I am co-curating the upcoming Zanele Muholi exhibition which installs in April. Last week we installed a mixed display of work by artists including Susan Meiselas and Paz Errázuriz. I curated a room of David Goldblatt's work in the summer and in a few weeks I will install Irving Penn's Underfoot series. One of the real joys is looking after the Martin Parr Photobook collection. For this I collaborate and co-curate exhibitions with the Luma foundation which are staged in Arles. As part of the photobook focus of my job I also oversee the Offprint photobook fair.
How did you make your way into the career you are now in? Did you always want to work in the field of photography?
I studied The History of Art and French at Trinity College Dublin and then did internships at The Brooklyn Museum and The Guggenheim in New York. I moved to London to study my MA and chose UCL because they offered modules on photographic history. Shortly after graduating I worked at The Photographers' Gallery and then moved on to Tate Modern.
How do you decide on what makes an interesting photograph or photographic project?
Of course there are many elements that combine to make a project interesting and there's no set recipe. It can be helpful to have some knowledge of what has come before you - to be aware of art history, but not burdened by it. Try and be ruthless in editing your work and consult with friends and colleagues through that process.
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?
Keep artist statements short and jargon free. Cover the when, what, where and why. Personally I would think carefully about quoting established photography theorists in an artist's statement unless absolutely crucial to the work. Let the work speak for itself.
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?
It's very important for graduates to be able to speak about their work - being able to present your work in a concise and compelling way is key. It would also be great if courses could equip graduates with practical information on the basics of editioning their prints. I meet so many young graduates who don't seem to have nailed the basics here and have begun selling prints in a haphazard way which can be difficult for them to straighten out.
What advice would you have for someone interested in working in your area of photography?
Start early. It can take quite a while to get onto the first rung of the ladder. Try and figure out what interests you the most and if you want to specialise. It seems obvious to say but the best training ground for this is to see as many exhibitions as possible. Try to really look and interrogate how exhibitions are put together. Go to photobook fairs to find the newest exciting work.