CELIA DAVIES ON CURATING THE BRIGHTON PHOTO BIENNIAL

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Brighton Photo Biennial, which kicks off on 6 October, is the UK’s biggest photography event. Celia Davies, Head of Programme at Photoworks – the photography agency curating this year’s festival – talks to me about the importance of exhibiting your work and what not to do when applying for commissions…

How did you choose this year’s Biennial theme, “Agents of change: photography and the politics of space”? 
We wanted to put on a photography festival that felt pertinent to the times we’re living in. Also, we’re interested in the role of photography in people’s lives: how that operates in the gallery world, in the media, on people’s mobile phones as a tool and as a creative opportunity. Of course it includes professional photographers, photojournalists and artists, but it also includes grassroots activity. Being able to see all those different types of photography alongside one another, within the festival, is a great opportunity to get a sense of how we understand photography now.

Aside from the IdeasTap and Magnum Professional Practice weekend, what is there for emerging photographers at the Biennial?
The Biennial is not just exhibitions. There is a whole public programme running alongside: talks with speakers, such as Julian Germain, and opportunities to meet like-minded people. The Crit is a free alternative portfolio review where people can come along and get feedback on their work. It’s less hierarchical than a one-to-one session with someone high profile in the photography world. There will be high profile people there, but it’s also about everyone pooling ideas. It’s more democratic, an opportunity to network but also to get some honest feedback and develop your project further.


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PHOTOGRAPHER LI ZHENSHENG ON DOCUMENTING THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION

Friday, 21 September 2012

While documenting the Cultural Revolution, photojournalist Li Zhensheng took photos of atrocities being carried out at the time, which he hid under the floorboards of his home. As his work goes on display at the Barbican in London, Li tells me how he got started and why history makes images important…


How did you get into photography?
When I was in secondary school I wanted to be a film director. I enrolled at the Changchun film school, majoring in cinematography, but my dream was crushed in the early 60s as a result of the great famine after the Great Leap Forward movement. None of my classmates could become cinematographers so we all went into news photography. That was in 1963, when I was 22.

How has your film training influenced your approach to photography?
Some of my pictures use cinematography techniques. When shooting a film you can roll your camera to take a panoramic view but in photography you can’t. So I used the camera to shoot individual photos, but in sequence.

If you could start your career again, what would you do differently? 
If I were starting my career now, I would probably choose to be a director, because you can do lots of things with it. But during the Cultural Revolution it was impossible to be a film director or cinematographer because what you produced was just political rubbish. My work is an unintended result of my using cinematographic skills to take photos. I don’t feel any regret about my work [as a photographer]. The films made during the Cultural Revolution were just products, not works of art.





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ILLUSTRATOR KRISTJANA S WILLIAMS

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Kristjana S Williams, whose clients include Chanel and the V&A, founded fashion label Beyond the Valley with two fellow Central Saint Martins graduates. Now focusing on her solo illustration and design, she tells us about the creative process behind her London Design Week show and how she broke into the industry…


Did you always want to be an illustrator?
If I asked my six-year-old self, I would probably have said yes because I was constantly drawing and painting, but when I became a teenager I thought, “God, surely nobody can make a living out of this”. I studied electronics at university in Iceland. I was slightly obsessed by designing and building logic circuits but my maths wasn’t quite as strong as it should have been. I went back to study graphic design at Central Saint Martins, majoring in Illustration. From there I ended up in fashion. I would create these huge digitally printed fabrics that became more and more like a story until I got to a point where each piece was more like an illustration in its own right. That’s when Outline Editions gallery picked up on my work and it went from there.

Why did you decide to set up Beyond the Valley when you left Saint Martins? 
It was about supporting up-and-coming designers and promoting the idea that you could do your fine art pieces and do commercial stuff as well. Now there are so many graphic designers and illustrators creating art work in its own right. All these boundaries are falling down and people are respected for what they do regardless of the name of their individual profession.





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PHOTOGRAPHER DAVID GOLDBLATT

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Acclaimed South African photographer David Goldblatt has devoted his career to documenting his country of birth, during and since the fall of apartheid. As a new show featuring his work opens at Barbican Art Gallery, David talks about the role of captions and why a degree in economics is great training for a photographer…


How did your career as a photographer begin? 
I became interested in photography when I was in high school in the late ’40s. By the time I matriculated I wanted to be a magazine photographer. I tried for about a year to learn something about it but at the time there were no avenues in South Africa. I wrote to a well-known photographer on Picture Post. He was encouraging and told me to get on a ship and come to London, work as a tea boy in the magazine office, and that I would gradually progress. But I didn’t have the courage. I went into my father’s business and while I was there I maintained my interest in photography. When he died I sold his shop and became a full-time photographer.

What compelled you to stay in your home country of South Africa and document life under apartheid?
It was quite a slow process of self-examination and understanding. At first my wife and I felt that we had to get out of South Africa, that there was no possibility of bringing up children in a country like that, but then I realised I was far too involved in South Africa. And probably from about 1968 I had no wish to leave.

How do you approach your subjects? 
I very seldom talk. I don’t aim to make my subjects comfortable. I want some tension. I want to make the subject understand that for me, and possibly for them, this is a serious occasion. When I’m taking a portrait, I prefer to set up the camera and then not shelter behind it, but rather to engage directly with eye contact. That’s sometimes quite painful.




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FRANCESCA GAVIN, VISUAL ARTS JOURNALIST AND CURATOR

Francesca Gavin juggles multiple editorial roles, including Visual Arts Editor for Dazed & Confused, Art Editor for Twin and Contributing Editor at AnOther, while writing on art for a range of publications and curating shows. Francesca tells me why a career is what you make of it and how she picks artists to write about…


Did you always want to be an art journalist? 
I did History of Art at university but never thought I’d do anything with it because I didn’t think there was any way to make a living out of it – I just loved the subject. I used to say the one thing I didn’t want to be was a journalist. I knew lots of music journalists when I was a teenager because I grew up near Camden. It all seemed a bit awful but I had bought five magazines a week from the age of 12, so it was a world I knew.

I actually began at Dazed. I called them up and said, “I want your job, how do I get it?” I’d left university at this point and had been working for a year and a half in a picture research department at a book publisher. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a journalist until I was at Dazed. Then it started making sense. I loved being in that environment. I remember sweeping floors with eagerness! And I loved opening post – it felt like Christmas looking at everyone’s invites and press releases.

So did you start out as an intern?
I interned part-time and worked part-time for a year. I started doing bits of writing while I was there and it all felt natural. I don’t think anyone can teach you to write. You have to learn from doing it. I never understood people doing journalism postgrads. If I started again, I definitely wouldn’t do one.  I’ve always believed you need to create your own life. If you want to learn about magazine structure, just look at magazines. Cultural journalism is about coming up with ideas you find yourself.



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DEWI LEWIS ON PUBLISHING PHOTOGRAPHY BOOKS

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Dewi Lewis Publishing has a reputation for high quality contemporary photography books by the likes of William Klein, Martin Parr, Simon Norfolk, Anders Petersen, and Bruce Gilden, as well as lesser-known photographers. Here Dewi Lewis shares some advice for photographers…


What are you looking for when you decide whether to take on a new project? 
It’s hard to say. It has to work internationally. For whatever reason we [have to] believe it will be of interest to someone in the US, in France, and in the UK. That can simply be that it’s about a human issue that everyone in the world would respond to. It’s almost easier to say what you can’t do.

What can’t you do?
If it’s very personal, unless there’s funding you can’t take it on. One of the things a lot of photographers seemed to do as college projects at one point was revisiting a house that had personal meaning for them – their grandparents’ house or the house they were brought up in. To be honest, however good it is, the interest level [for that] is family and friends. Also a lot of young photographers do projects about their friends lying round drinking or whatever. Occasionally that works but it’s pretty rare.

What does it take for a great photography project to become a great photography book?
It’s essentially: is there enough in it to sustain a book? There are often things you see, particularly documentary work, that would make a really good extended magazine feature but there’s not enough for a book. And it’s not simply about the number of images. There’s a longevity to a book: you’re trying to create something that someone would be interested in looking at it several times over several years.



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