The Photographer’s Gallery’s annual exhibition for emerging talent, Freshfaced + Wildeyed, is marking its fifth birthday this year. Offering a platform to recent graduates and current BA and MA students to exhibit their photography in a professional space, 22 hand-picked photographers, each with a high level of skill and an independent voice, have been chosen by a lauded panel of experts.
More often than not, we work with images in sequence and series, and spend time thinking about a photograph as part of a wider whole
The exhibition promises to cover a wide range of topics, from David Birkin’s examination of war photography to Alison Bettles' investigation of the relationship between images and sculpture, as well as Emma Critchley’s underwater series that conceptualises the meaning of life. Here, we speak to curator Karen McQuaid about the selection...
Dazed Digital: What are the main qualities that make a photograph appealing to you?
Karen McQuaid: I work in a gallery where everyday people look at, talk about, and think about photographs, yet a question like this is still quite difficult to answer. Professionally, I don't really look for the single image; more often than not we work with images in sequence and series, and spend time thinking about a photograph as part of a wider whole. In terms of 'appeal', more personally I’d say it’s when the photograph demands a response. A response to what is being pictured; when I spill question after question onto the photograph and have a brilliant sense of urgency, a need to know the who, what and where of it. As well as an intellectual response there is also a purely visual one; where the eyes widen in an attempt to take in the denseness or simplicity of a photograph, or the inability to drag your eye away from a particular corner, line, expression or posture in the photograph.
DD: What is it like working with young photographers? And, do you see any similar qualities in their work?
Karen McQuaid: One of the great things about FreshFaced+WildEyed being a graduate show, rather than a ‘young talent’ exhibition, is that we get a real mix of ages. For example the selected artists in FreshFaced+WildEyed 2012 range in ages from 22 to 48. Working with emerging artists has always been important to the Gallery, and having a dedicated slot within the annual exhibition programme really cements this.
The exhibition includes a really wide variety of styles and approaches to photography, making it difficult to talk about similar qualities in the work. It is however fair to say that each of the artists has produced a body of work that is well formed and conceptualised in terms of subject and execution, even if those vary as widely as they do.
I think that rather than similar qualities in their work we could talk about the similar challenges they face - essentially the challenge to continue making and showing art without the support system provided by universities. Graduates have spent their time in institutions surrounded by formal and informal discussion about work in progress and with a set deadline of end-of-year exhibitions to work towards. In the years following formal education finding opportunities to discuss and show your work is often the most difficult and crucial aspect to maintaining one’s practice. This is where FreshFaced+WildEyed can hopefully provide another valuable punctuation point and a recognised platform to share work with a large audience. In addition to FreshFaced+WildEyed the Gallery also offers its support to emerging artists in the form of project commissions; the opportunity to lead workshops; as well as take part in events like Folio Forum where photographers can apply to discuss work in progress in front of an audience and specialist for feedback.
DD: What factors go into your approach in choosing the photographers /photographs featured?
Karen McQuaid: Each graduate wishing to take part in the exhibition is required to submit eight digital images and a brief artist statement. The judges then have a few days to privately go through hundreds of submissions before coming together to discuss the work and select the exhibiting artists - twenty two for this year’s show. It’s important to us that the judges don’t have access to details of whether the submission was made by a BA or MA level student, or have any indication as to whether the photographer is from an institution with a very celebrated reputation, or a small relatively unknown regional college.
Every year a new panel of judges is assembled with each member representing a different discipline within the arts. For example this year’s panel is comprised of Bridget Coaker, Night Picture Editor, The Guardian and co-founder of Troika Editions; Anthony Luvera, artist, writer and lecturer; Karen Newman, Curator, Open Eye Gallery; and Brett Rogers, Director, The Photographers' Gallery. This mix of creative and professional backgrounds and perspectives always makes for a really healthy dialogue in the room.
We accept submissions from any UK visual arts graduate, we only ask that photography is the main component of their work - in the past we’ve included people in the exhibition from fine art, graphics and media arts. Seeing where photography butts up against other mediums is always one of the unexpected treats of the exhibition.
DD: What has been the biggest challenge of this exhibition?
Karen McQuaid: I have been curating this show for the last five years and for me the biggest challenge has always been finding a way for many styles of work and modes of display to feel coherent in one exhibition. Trying to find the correct pacing of projects, allowing each work some space to breath, and making the right selection of works to ensure the audience gets a strong sense of each overall project within the edit. Our newly renovated building boasts bigger galleries and higher ceilings, it will certainly be exciting to utilise them to their full potential this year. Although challenging the variety of approaches to photography in the exhibition is what our visitors really respond to. It’s why the show is such a great testament to the many different directions in which photography can be pushed.
We have also augmented the programme this year to include a mentoring scheme for the twelve-month period following the exhibition. This will be offered to six of the graduates, so managing that, matching the mentors to the selected graduates, and ensuring that it is an engaging and useful experience for everyone involved will be our next challenge after the installation.
More info on FreshFaced + WildEyed 2012 HERE. Check back to Dazed Digital for upcoming interviews with our selected photogaphers from the exhibition.