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Foam Gallery: What's Next?

Dazed founder Jefferson Hack co-curates the Amsterdam gallery's latest expo by inviting up-and-coming photographers to submit images

Spanning across four different concepts with four guest curators, Amsterdam's Foam Gallery will be celebrating its tenth anniversary by inviting experts from varying cultural fields to challenge how a photography exhibition can be presented in the future. The curators - Jefferson Hack (Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Dazed & Confused), Alison Nordstrom (Director of Photographs, George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester), Erik Kessels (Co-founder of KesselsKramer) and Lauren Cornell (Curator of the New Museum, NY and Executive Director of the New Museums Rhizome programme) – will be offering four unique presentations set out to question the nature of photography.

Entitled, ‘What’s Next?’, the new exhibition focuses on the various underlying concepts of exhibiting photography rather than the kind of photography presented. As well as displaying artwork by established artists, Hack also invited budding photographers to submit a photo through a Dazed Digital competition. A selection of the work will be on the display at the Foam gallery, and some of the images can also be seen HERE...

Foam: Jefferson, please tell us something about the origin of your proposal.
Jefferson Hack:
I am very interested in the relationship between the viewer and photography through the screen. In this new digital era screens are omnipresent and this has changed our relationship with photography dramatically, especially compared to the times when photography was primarily seen as a print-based medium. I wanted to explore this new paradigm. Also given the restrictions with the space and the contributions of the other curators, I felt it to be a very natural, dislodging thing to explore the screen and future technologies.

F: In your proposal there is clear distinction between what you call the Mother Sculpture and the Rise Sculpture. Can you explain the first piece the audience encounters, the Mother Sculpture?
J: Yes, I wanted to do something that was respectful to some of the traditional notions of photography that was about looking at the work of established photographers. The idea for the 'Mother Sculpture' was to work with what I like to call the Dazed & Confused family of photographers. These photographers are all part of the current group of photographers who represent the visual language of the magazine across different genres. These genres may vary from fashion, portraiture and reportage to art photography.

F: All those different genres will be mixed in the presentation?
J:I think we have to use the word mixed quite carefully. What I am not interested in doing with the established photographers is remixing, reediting or even reinterpreting their work. It is about presenting it onto a screen and having the viewer presenting themselves to photography that is in a digital format. So in that sense the main question was how am I going to do that and still be respectful to the photography.

F: Also because most of the images in the Mother Sculpture were perhaps originally analogue and meant to be published as prints?
J: No, I have purposely tried not to show too much archive. I have briefed all the photographers to supply images that are either unpublished but have been taken recently or new work made in the last four months. So it is also about the current visual language of the magazine as it is on the shelves now. All images are shot within our current time and therefore the photographer is influenced by the contemporary time we are living in. They are not photographs taken ten or twenty years ago.

F: Obviously the audience has a comparable visual framework. They are also living in this digital, screen-based era in which photography is presented primarily on screens. How do you see the relationship between the viewer and the screen?
J: That’s the thing I really wanted to explore. The presentation shouldn’t be a step-back experience, in that people are looking at the entire as a single form of entertainment, as multiple screens simply bombarding you with images. That is the exact opposite of what I am trying to do with the Mother Sculpture. The idea for that is much more about drawing people into the image, to establish a lean-forward experience. The image that catches the eye should have a certain focal point, so the audience can choose their position and look at the picture as an image of itself in respect to everything else that is going on in the space. What happens then is a more meditative experience. It is not so much about the relationship with the screen. It´s about the relationship between the viewer and the photograph via the screen.

It’s quite interesting, I spoke with Ingrid Sischy about this just recently and she told me a story about the first show of William Eggleston’s colour images at the MoMA. It was a sensational show for many reasons but also because the images were very, very small. She said she remembered wiping the glass of all the images everyday and telling the curator that the Eggleston images had more spit on them than all other images. She ended by saying that sometimes the small bombs are the most powerful bombs. It made me rethink how big I wanted the screens to be. I thought it to be really nice if the screens were something like 19 or 20 inches, comparable with an average laptop. So it would become about a personal relationship with the image. I want people to get close and see their spit on the screen.

F: That requires a really focused, concentrated way of looking.
J: Therefore the overall impression I wanted to convey is a kind of minimal feeling, more meditative and personal. I mean, in a digital culture there is already the over-bombardment of images we are all subject to, the over-accessibility which results in a kind of visual junkyard. That’s not what I wanted the audience to experience. It should feel edited and curated.

F: The Rise Sculpture requires a less meditative relationship.
J: Totally. The Rise Sculpture has many more and larger screens and is about a different question. It is about using technology and about our relationship with photography via technology. For the Rise Sculpture we are using the internet, social media and other new media to allow young and semi-professional photographers who maybe aren’t shooting for D&C yet, but are developing their own work in their own way, to submit work to the show. It is a submissions project about the future, but it is not real-time and it is not a free-for-all. The idea is that the photographer will send us the work and we choose and edit based on the Dazed & Confused spirit. The best work will be put into the Rise Sculpture.

One of the interesting aspects of this method was to have an exhibition that builds over time. New submissions will continually be added to the screens that will build from an initial 150 images to perhaps more than 300 or 400 images towards the end of the show. It is a living, growing exhibition that’s never the same thing from day to day. The images will be presented pretty close to each other, resulting in a feeling like scattering images over a desktop. The other thing we are looking at is to create generative groupings of images by employing specific software. In a way it is about looking for technology that allows different curatorial schemes to be employed by me on a whim, wherever I am in the world. It is much more of an experimental room.

F: There is a third part as well, a room with a work by Hellicar and Lewis.
J: This is really interesting because this is about interactive digital art. Hellicar and Lewis are long-time collaborators and friends of Dazed & Confused. They have made incredible work with different musicians and different exhibition spaces involving the public in real-time manipulations of recorded images. The idea is that portraits of the public will be taken by video cameras and then, based on the movement of the public picked up by sensors, the images will be manipulated in real time. If the first room is about the relationship of the viewer with photography via screens, the second room is of the viewer with photography via technology, and this third room is about the relationship with photography via the self-portrait. It’s like a post-photographic meltdown of the idea of the portrait, with a real sense of engagement, interaction and fun.

What's Next? - The Future of the Photography Museum - Guest curators: Lauren Cornell, Jefferson Hack, Erik Kessels, Alison Nordström, 5 November - 7 December, 2011, FOAM, Keizersgracht 609, 1017 DS Amsterdam

The interview was first published in Foam Magazine #29 What’s Next?, Interview by Marcel Feil, Foam's Deputy director Artistic Affairs