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 Taous Dahmani, Art Historian, Writer & Curator and Selector for the BA phase of Graduate Photography Online 2023.
Photo by Lynn S.K.
Tell us about your work? What does your day-to-day routine as an art historian and curator involve?
As an art historian stepping out of academia, I carry out research for various projects including publications, essays, or exhibitions. As a freelancer, my day-to-day is very much project-led but involves research (in libraries, conversations with photographers or other knowledgeable people, etc.); writing (and reading), and project management (admin etc.).
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?
I wanted to work ‘in art’ from a very young age, I always felt like galleries and museums were a ‘safe space’ — something I now look back on with irony. So as soon as I was legally allowed to work, I did, and did so in commercial galleries at first. However, it was my professor at the Sorbonne, Michel Poivert, who put me on the path to photography and opened my eyes to the versatility of the medium, realising that it was a great way-into other subjects — to address aspects of society, politics, human relationships, etc.
How do you decide on what makes an interesting photograph or photographic project?
An interesting photograph probably produces some sort of emotional response, however, an interesting photographic project is probably based on the person behind the camera. I’m a strong believer that who the photographer is informs what he/she/they does and ultimately shapes their work. Because of my own interests and directions, I always seek some sort of relevance to historical or contemporary conversations. It has to do with our shared humanity. If you have the power to create an image, use it wisely!
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?
Important aspects of a statement are biography, process and methodology, and intention. If all three (bio, process, and intention) can be somehow intertwined, that can feel like a good start. I also like to think that statements should be crafted as reversed funnels: first a simple couple of sentences that set the scene (theme, subject, etc.), then a paragraph with more details, and then the longer form. However, be careful not to ‘close’ your work to interpretation. Portfolios (especially PDFs), should provide enough to raise interest but not too much to discourage the viewer - particulary for professionals. It is also interesting to flag things like how many images exist in total; how you print or suggestions as to how it could be printed; whether the projects go with text/sound or any other technical aspects that a reviewer might not know.
In your view, aside from specifically technical skills, what are the kind of qualities that completing a degree course in photography should endow an individual with?
Knowledge of the history of your medium, knowledge of contemporary practices, and knowledge of photography’s possibilities and limits both formally and intellectually. Some sort of a critical mind. A sense of direction or purpose helps. A sense of why you are doing what you are doing will also help.
What are the particular challenges you see facing graduates from photography degree courses as they make their way into the world at this particular point in time?
The main challenge is probably financial. So probably getting a ‘regular’ job and continuing your practice at the same time. It will be hard but worth it if you really want it. I don’t think anyone survives on grants, at least not at the beginning of a career. The second challenge would be to show your work to professionals who might respond well to it. Entering prizes, and awards could be one way. I also hear that socials work too. The third might be to stay open to learning, progressing, evolving, and adapting. Just because you are out of university does not mean that you should stop your education.
What advice would you have for someone interested in working in your particular area of photography?
Think long and hard about why you are doing it because they are going to be a long list of sacrifices and challenges. But if you know why you are pursuing this career then it’s a very fulfilling one.