Anne Lyden, International Photography Curator
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Introducing the Selectors for the BA Phase of Graduate Photography Online 2016: we talk to Anne Lyden, International Photography Curator at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
What is your core role in the job that you do?
As International Photography Curator for the National Galleries of Scotland I am responsible for 38,000 objects from the 1840s to the present day. I curate exhibitions for our dedicated photography space, the Robert Mapplethorpe Gallery at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and author publications on all aspects of the medium. I help provide visitors with access to the national collection of photography through the library and study room and actively work on expanding the existing collection of photographs through donations and acquisitions.
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 studied Art History at Glasgow University, which included a focus on the history of photography. I knew that I wanted to work within the museum and gallery sector, so I pursued a graduate degree in Museum Studies at Leicester University. All through my academic years I consistently volunteered and took internships at various museums and galleries in order to get invaluable experience, but I very much wanted to specialise in photographic collections and jumped at the opportunity of a graduate internship at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. This in turn led to my first professional position and I've been working in the field for twenty years. I became smitten with photography when I was a teenager and remember the first photo book I bought was by Thomas Joshua Cooper.
How do you decide on what makes an interesting photograph or photographic project?
There is no magic formula for what makes an interesting photograph or photographic project, but there are key factors: clarity of vision and the ability to engage the viewer. When an image is arresting and stops us in our tracks, then something is working. But as a museum professional there are so many other contributing factors that I take into account, from the aesthetics of the image to the quality of presentation and the overall narrative.
As regards the artist's statement, what is important for you to know about the work?
An artist's statement must be articulate, clear and concise. I'm looking for a summation of the work/project in 1-2 paragraphs. Avoid jargon and keep it real; I am looking to understand the work better, not to be confused by obtuse or overblown theories.
What advice would you have for someone interested in working in your area of photography?
For anyone interested in working in the curatorial side of photography I would urge them to get as much museum experience as they can through volunteering and internships. Networking, attending conferences or even just informational meetings are also an important way of understanding the different aspects and challenges of the role today, while learning first hand from those already in the position. The field is increasingly competitive, so much so that it is pretty much expected you will have a strong academic background in art history and more and more positions are looking for Masters and PhD qualifications.
Do you foresee any significant developments in the role of photography in relation to your field of work?
I would like to think that we are moving toward a broadening of genres as represented in museum and gallery collections. The past hierarchies or categories of photography seem less relevant today and there is a fluidity to the medium that I personally find exciting.