The artist Natasha Caruana has just started a residency at the Open Data Institute. I went along to the launch, curious to find out why a photographer would be a good person to have around in an organisation that aims to 'catalyse the evolution of open data culture'. Caruana had just finished a residency (funded by BMW) at the Musée Nicéphore Niépce and had an exhibition at Arles so I might also get some tips on how to get on in the photography world.
I also spoke to Hannah Redler who used to be the curator at the Science Museum and had invited Caruana. She had some interesting things to say about considering photography alongside data. Caruana is in some ways an old fashioned photographer: she uses film and found photographs and her approach is often quasi-anthropological, yet many of her projects would be unimaginable without the internet.
Her work Fairytale for Sale apparently describes a brief moment when women felt able to sell their wedding dresses online but were sufficiently concerned about what their wedding pictures disclosed to erase their own faces from the pictures. A couple of years later (and with people used to disclosing everything about themselves on Facebook) the same pictures appear online with the faces visible. The project shows that we can't live with technology without it changing us. In six months time we will have to see what Caruana makes of 'open data'.
John Duncan is a co-editor of Source and one of the co-organisers and judges for the Solas Prize. To help anyone submitting work for the prize get an idea how it works he has conducted short interviews with fellow judge Natasha Egan and runner up in last year's award Andrea Gruetzner. But it's only fair that he answer the questions as well so here, in a sort of auto-interview, he has answered some of the questions he has put to the other judges.
What got you interested in photography?
I studied photography at college and university, I thought I wanted to be a photojournalist so I went to Newport to study with David Hurn from Magnum who was course leader. Once there I was introduced to a whole range of other work by other tutors like Paul Reas, Peter Fraser, Ian Walker, Ron McCormick and Keith Arnatt. Peter Fraser had just come back from assisting William Eggleston and switched me on to that work. American Images was remaindered at the local Bargin Books and it was a focal point for late night discussions in my student flat. After that I went to Glasgow School of Art to study with Thomas Cooper and again got exposed to other work through tutors like Roger Palmer.
And what kind of photography interests you now?
We get a lot of books sent to the Source office for review. I guess I tend to take home the more critical theory or histories of photography publications I enjoy the overview and the broader trends they examine. Outside of that and in my role as co-editor of Source I am always on the look out for new work. It's the bread and butter of my job. Although it often feels like looking for a needle in a haystack. When I look at new work I am subconsciously cross-referencing it against all the other work I have seen. If it’s too close to something I have seen before it’s of less interest. I am drawn in by work that is visually interesting. Although there has to be something to engage me critically as well. I do still take my own pictures so I bring that experience with me.
Are there particular themes that have consistently been of interest to you?
At Source we always say we are a ‘broad church’ meaning that we try to remain open to as wide a range of photography as possible.
What advice would you give artists on accompanying text?
Keep it straightforward and to the point. Don’t be afraid to include some basic information about the subject you are addressing, including who and where and why?
What is your view of the general standard of contemporary photography?
If I look hard enough I can still find work that's fresh.
Herman Seidl from Fotohof in Salzburg is one of the judges for the Solas Prize. Tanya Kiang spoke to him about his background in photography and what he would like to see from this year's submissions.
Tanya Kiang: What first got you interested in photography?
Herman Seidl: You could say that I got into photography in a very unusual way. My father was a policeman and my mother a midwife so both were working. From the time I was six years old, my father used to take me with him to the police station. It was quite boring except for when I would get to see the police photo archive.
My father had to document all the crimes going on – burglaries, suicides, car accidents – they were small b/w prints, stored in a box. I frequently went through this box. Some of the photos were really shocking but my father never prohibited me from going through it. I saw photos that most ordinary people wouldn’t ever see in their lives – people hanging from rafters, a skull divided in two, homes trashed after burglaries, car accidents – I think it has influenced me and my photo work to this day.
My grandfather was an avid photographer and from when I was 16 years old I always carried a camera. It was after taking a course in photojournalistic photography at university that I really got hooked, it introduced me to all the greats – Eugene Smith, Cartier Bresson, Robert Capa – all the traditional masters.
Are there particular subject matter or themes that you have consistently been interested in?
After doing workshops with Juan Fontcuberta, Thomas Cooper and Dieter Appelt at Salzburg College University I saw that there was not just this photojournalistic, passive approach to photography; I saw there was the possibility for more conceptualizing and constructing the image. I had more friends in the art scene than in photography and my interests shifted from being a passive onlooker on society to these more artistic approaches. I am very interested now in how photography is used as a conceptual tool more than regular photographic approaches. For example, John Baldessari – an artist who uses his own images but also uses appropriated images – that’s a very interesting way of working with photography in my opinion.
Appropriation can be infringing copyright…
Of course it’s a no-go to just steal another’s images. But for example when Richard Prince used the Marlboro Man image, there was a reason for it – it was making a personal statement. Now, with the internet, we need to be sincere with what we do – there are a lot of artists who use images from Flickr and produce a new form of work out of it by bringing them into a new context. This should still be allowed – it is part of artistic freedom.
What advice would you give to people submitting work for The Solas Prize or for other online competitions?
Look around at what has been done in photography and ask yourself if your photos are really a new way of telling a story, or if the story that you are dealing with is an untold story. Be sincere about your work. For example, if the photos are staged, that’s fine but you must declare it. And avoid submitting single images with no connection to each other. I’m looking for the story behind the images or a coherent artistic concept informing the work.
And advice about writing a short text to accompany the images?
Just say why you have made the work and please, just tell it simply.
What projects are you working on now?
Right now I’m curating a show of 15 photoprojects, with a publication, that will open at the Cortona Photo Festival in Italy. I’m also enjoying curating a show for Fotohof of Marion Kalter, a French-Austrian photographer based in Paris. She has been working for 40 years – but its not the usual kind of ‘retrospective exhibition’ – it is really fresh photography.
Fotohof will be presenting and exhibition of the winners of The Solas Ireland Awards – what’s the background to that?
Fotohof has developed an exhibition format that has focused on artists of a single country – in the past, we have curated shows of Italian, Polish, Dutch, Belgian, French photographers, for example. In our more and more globalized world this concept is intriguingly problematic – but still, I think photographers from Lithuania are different from those of the US – though it is of course very diverse, I think there are characteristics specific to each, and the question of a visual language coming through particular cultures is very interesting to me.
What kind of work do you hope to see in judging The Solas Prize?
Surprise me! Show me images that I’ve never seen before! This isn’t to do with the work’s exhibition history, and it doesn’t rule out older work – so long as there is something new, technically, conceptually, or in the photographer’s approach – so long as it is fresh!
Last year Takashi Arai won the Source-Cord Prize (now the Solas Prize, deadline 19th July) and an award of $10,000. But how to spend it? In this short film Takashi talks about the work he submitted, the circumstances of his putting work in to the Prize and what he has done since winning.
It's now ten days until the deadline for this year's prize. I hope in a year's time we will have as enterprising a story to tell from this year's winner.
Andrea Gruetzner won the $1,000 second prize in last year's Source-Cord Prize. In anticipation of this year's Solas Prize John Duncan spoke to Andrea by Skype about what the Prize has allowed her to do and how her work has developed over the year.
John Duncan: What is your background in photography, where did you study?
Andrea Gruetzner: I first studied Communication Design at Konstanz, in the south of Germany. I learned a lot about Swiss graphic design and art, concepts that are very broad – how we design our environment, how we do things in cities – and there we also had photography studios where we could rent the cameras. I got on well with my photography professor and I wanted to learn more about how we deal with pictures in society so I decided to study on the masters course in Bielefeld. I studied under Katharina Bosse and Kirsten Wagner.
And was there someone that you’d say has been a big influence on your work?
I would say my surroundings and where I come from are a big influence on me; I am from the eastern part of Germany. Also my friends, the ones who were with me through my studies, professors and fellow students, they all had some kind of influence on me. Katharina Bosse taught about single images and with her I learned a lot about seeing the different parts of an image and colour. Professor Kirsten Wagner was really into space theory and this was very important for me to develop my thinking and I’m still reading a lot about memory spaces, about cultural spaces, so this has had a lot of influence on my work.
You were one of our winners last year, can you tell us what you have been up to since last September in particular in terms of the work we had selected, the Erbgericht work. Did it go on to be exhibited?
It was really great to win the prize. It gave me the chance to work more on the project and to go back to the house and have some money for materials, this was the first thing that was really good for me, some encouragement to work on it.
What were the new pictures like? Did you develop the work in a new direction?
That’s a good question, I think there are more colours in each picture now, they are more colourful. I want to make a publication but we'll have to see.
Where did the work go on to be shown?
It all came together, there was the Source-Cord prize and then I won another prize in Germany - Gute Aussichten 2014/15 – and the work was exhibited at different venues, also at the Brighton Photo Fringe and in South Korea. I have also had some people contacting me after the prize from England for example, this has been really great.
And how did the work end up in South Korea?
I have a friend who was with me on my Masters and she wanted to show young German photography in South Korea, she does themed exhibitions and this one was about spaces. I had sent her the essay by Gavin Murphy [that was published with Andrea's work in Source], this is a really great text I think, with some insights about my work. I have sent it to other people to read because I think he wrote really well about my work.
I’m sure he’ll be really interested to hear that. I’m curious, what do the people in your village make of the photographs or of the work?
The people who own the house have seen the pictures. They have their whole world inside this house and they don’t know a lot of things outside of it. So it was something that came into their environment that they had never thought about before. They said that they liked that there was someone who was working with their building and thinking about it for a long time, but also of course they thought ‘its strange to us, but if you like it and can work with it then go on, we support you.’ They also have a son and he is more understanding of what I am doing there and why exactly I am doing it. When some images were ready I showed them to some other villagers and my family and they could see their environment in another way and I really liked this. They could view pictures of an environment they have known all their lives, but now maybe it is a little bit different.
When you first approached them to take the photographs did you know the people who owned the house? Was it easy to convince them initially to let you come and make pictures?
We had almost every family activity there – weddings, our children go to the school, then we go to the cemetery – so I already know the people there from activities and events. But then I came back and said I want to make a portrait/project about your house, and they reacted by saying ‘we don’t really mind just go into our house and take pictures’. They were really relaxed and I was surprised by that.
You mention you’ve been back in the house and making some new pictures but I notice on your website the Tanztee and Melange projects. Are either of those a direct follow on from the Erbgericht work?
Tanztee is a project which comes out of the house, because it is an event which takes place there. The old women go, and some men (maybe two thirds women to one third men), they go in the afternoon on a Sunday and dance together. They all wear special clothes, special textiles with wild patterns. I was looking for shots that showed some tenderness and sweetness between them and also the strangeness of it. So pictures of the hands coming together and the patterns.
That’s two projects based in the village where you live, is that your preferred way to work – to work somewhere repeatedly in a place you are familiar with?
On the one hand this is very familiar, on the other hand they have a very different life compared to my life. This comes together and it creates a tension between the two things. I think I develop my art from this tension. This is where I come from but it is really another life. But I would still say that my working method is to go to a place and stay there for a long time and take a lot of pictures.
In terms of your working process, do you have a studio or do you work from home?
Last year, it was this village and this house, it was my part-time studio. In Berlin in my apartment I have a special room for that so I also do some shoots there.
What have you got coming up in the future?
Right now I have some sponsorship from another town in Germany to develop a photography project about the city. I am working on this until next year and then it will get exhibited and there will be a little publication.
A city is a pretty big place - how far have you got into that?
I only got involved a few weeks ago so I have begun to think about the urban space but I have really still got to dive into it! I’m fascinated by the fact it is a very old city in Germany, one of the oldest. There was also a lot of it destroyed during the war so it also has this mixture of contemporary architecture, and the 50s and these really old things. So I’m thinking about combining fragments of the city and bringing them together in a new way.
Jan McCullough is one of the three artists featured in the current issue of Source. Her work 'Home Instruction Manual' records her efforts in arranging a house following the advice of people in online chatrooms. She has also just won a prize so we thought we'd talk to her about it.
John Duncan: So you've just won the Kassel Book dummy Award, what do you get when you win that?
Jan McCullough: I will publish my book in time for the 2016 Awards, but at the moment the book dummy is travelling round with the other 49 shortlisted books at festivals and events all over the place – Madrid, Oslo, Paris, Rome, Dublin, Istanbul etc. Soon I’ll start to work closely with the publisher on how we want to make my DIY version into an actual book.
So it works that you win the dummy award and then you get into a conversation with the publisher and there's a decision made if that will go through with that publisher?
Yes, and even though there is a book dummy it'll probably change quite a bit by the time it’s printed. We'll have that conversation next month I would say. For now it was just brief introductions and we'll get more in depth about what we want it to be like later.
How did you go about deciding the design, layout, content of this particular dummy?
Well the dummy is blue and it is the exact colour you get when you highlight text or a picture on your computer browser. So that's a reference to the internet. And then being in a book form and having instructions through it is a reference to the manual. In the first draft of the dummy I had a much more straightforward title, 'how to plan the home you want' – this one is called 'home instruction manual'.
Did you have a set of prints made out that you shuffled around, or stuck on a wall? What's your working process?
I had a wooden board (from B&Q) and Blu-tacked prints up that's how I edited it, with little 2x3 inch prints. Then I hand made the book at home, just as cheaply as I could. A lot of the dummies I had seen before in various competitions were very finished. They looked like they could be published. I knew that if I aimed for that the book would never get made because firstly, I couldn't afford it and secondly, it would take forever to do. So it's a handmade and messy dummy, all stuck in with tape and Blu-tac.
What is the structure of the book? Does it take you through room by room?
Yes, and the conversation is ordered the same way. The conversation within the internet forum starts in the hall and then living room, kitchen, up the stairs and the bedroom and then out to the garden. So the way they pictures are sequenced is very simple. It hasn't really got a narrative it's more how you would see estate agent pictures for a rental house. I was also really attracted to amateur manuals made by people doing their own DIY. Like how they stick pictures into the book, that's something I want to think about for when it’s published.
Have you worked on book dummies or book projects before?
Just small artist books. I've never worked with publishers before. This is my first big body of work really.
You were over for the awards ceremony, what was that like? Did you get to talk to any of the other short-listed photographers?
It was funny because it was a bit like a tick sheet for all the faces in photography publishing, and all in the same room. There was a book market, as well as talks by Christian Patterson, John Gossage, Erik Kessels and Thomas Weski. It was a very relaxed environment and a really good weekend.
Frits Gierstberg is the Chief Exhibitions Curator at Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam and one of the judges for this year's Solas Prize. Trish Lambe of Gallery of Photography Ireland asked him about his thoughts on contemporary photography and his advice for photographers submitting work.
Trish Lambe: What got you interested in photography?
Frits Gierstberg: When I was a student I saw photographs from the 19th century for the first time. I was very impressed by photography’s ability to create and evoke another world – and to draw you into that other world. That was the first time I was really emotionally touched by photography – but that was 25 years ago…
And what kind of photography interests you now?
I am interested in photography that tells me something I don’t already know. I’m interested in photography that provokes my intellect or that sparks my imagination or fantasy. The main thing, I guess, is if it makes me curious.
Are there particular themes that have consistently been of interest to you?
No, it doesn’t matter so much what the work is ‘about’. What is important to me is that the person is presenting it communicates a strong sense of personal involvement and experience – a strong personal commitment to the work. I don’t go for something if it was made as a so-called ‘important artwork’.
What advice would you give to artists when presenting their work via online platforms such as The Solas Prize?
When submitting your work for prizes it is tempting for artists to show absolutely everything they have, to tell the whole story completely, but really, that doesn’t work. Just like a normal portfolio review situation, when submitting your work online you should try to keep it brief, try not to show too many images, 12 is fine. Editing is the most important thing. It’s like applying for a job – to compensate for the missing human factor you need to keep it simple, straightforward and easily understood.
For an accompanying text what advice would you give artists on this?
I think it is most important to explain why the work was made – for whom, and for what purpose. However I know that jury members can’t read a lot of text, so it is also important to be short – efficient, focused.
In an image saturated world what is your advice to artists for getting their work out there?
Use all the media platforms you can – share the work and get it out by submitting to prizes, like the Solas Prize. Work on your personal network – that is the most important thing to do to bring attention to your work. Young artists are particularly good at this. As curators we can’t know everything and we can’t see everything. We also listen to other people, ask them what they have seen and what they feel is important.
Can you tell us about your current curatorial projects – what are you working on?
I have been working on a number of projects. A big project, Portraiture in Europe since 1989 – a show with 32 artists – has just opened here in the Fotomuseum in Rotterdam. One of the most interesting in this context is the project I call Quick Scan – a quick scan of what is going on in photography in the Netherlands – I do it every 5 years. It is very intuitive process. First, I try to see a lot, but I’m also using my network – talking to other curators just to understand what is going on and how they think about it. We will make a show early next year here in the Fotomuseum.
What is your view of the general standard of contemporary photography?
The standard is definitely going up. Young artists nowadays know so much, They are very aware of what is going on, how to promote their work and where to position themselves. They don’t need to bother about technical skills because they don’t need them. More and more young people are working in collectives or working in collaboration with other artists across different medium, for example with graphic designers, writers, theatre people etc. They are letting go of the idea of the single unique personality as an artist and that old idea that you have to suffer alone in a garret for your art. Artists are using Facebook and other media in a really creative way. They are sharing their work at a very early stage – not keeping it secret until the project is finished. They are confident about working in a more fluid, less defined way. They are more open and easy with it – and that is a really good thing.
John Duncan: When somebody shows you a new piece of work, how do you decide if it is interesting?
Natasha Egan: It has to ask a question in some ways. It has to hold me long enough for me to want to look deeper into the picture. That can either be through the content or more formally. If there is too little information I might pass it by but I won’t if it is more complicated, either visually or looking at the world from a different vantage point. I want to understand where the artist is coming from.
When I am doing portfolio reviews I often end up attempting to cross-referencing work against all the other bits of photography that I know. I am curious do you do that as well?
I do. I am not interested in work that I feel like I have seen over and over so I want artists to show me something new. Both of us look at a lot of pictures for a living and it is hard to do something new. Some people want to know, ‘what is on trend?’ and I say ‘if there is a trend, run the other way’. You can create something new but it is very common for me to say, ‘have you seen the work of this person because it reminds me of that’. Sometimes that’s a good thing because it seems that they are joining the conversation. At other times this other artist owns that style.
Do you have a mental map of contemporary photography?
My map is more of a network. There are a few galleries that I work closely with. Not necessarily buying work from them but sharing an understanding of what would be good for their gallery and then they look at what we are showing, and maybe pick that person up. Once a month we look at everything that is being submitted to us, but when one of those galleries writes to me and says, ‘we have started work with these new artists’ I will go the extra step in learning more about them.
Is there anything you like to see in an artist's statement or text introducing the work.
My biggest advice in an artist's statement is to be clear and direct about the project. Many people think that because you are looking at a picture that you understand it. They leave out important information that they think you should be able to see. Be very descriptive, be very clear, do not include a bunch of art theory unless it is super relevant. Just be real about what it is, like you are speaking ‘this work is about this’. When I am teaching, I always say, if we were to throw all the statements up in the air we should be able to match the statements to the work. It is amazing how hard that is. If there is a metaphor, tell us why you use that metaphor. Don’t think, ‘of course they are going to understand the metaphor’, we don’t.
For anybody entering the Solas prize, what is the most important thing you think somebody should consider?
I want to look at work where I can tell that the intent is serious, where I can tell that the artist has spent a lot of time thinking about the subject. Whether it is a personal issue, or a political or social issue. That it is well informed.
What shows do you have coming up?
I am working with the guest curator Marc Prüst on an exhibition that explores how we see North Korea and how North Korea projects itself though its propaganda imagery. He sent me a proposal of some ideas and I sent him a list of some artists and we grew that show together. The next show after that is Grace of Intention: Photography, Architecture and the Monument which is being curated by my colleague Karen Irvine. Because I am the Director of The Museum I am involved in all the shows so if there is an artist I see – like during this prize – that will fit one of our future shows, collections or education projects then I will suggest them. I look at a lot of work for a lot of different reasons.
The Solas Prize has five judges and we plan to speak to each of them to find out what they are looking for in the submissions. We start with Tanya Kiang who has been the Director of the Gallery of Photography in Dublin since 1998. Prior to that she was Editor of Circa Art Magazine. She has curated exhibitions by many leading contemporary photographers. Recent work includes projects for Irish Museum of Modern Art, New York Photo Festival, Three Shadows Gallery, Beijing and the inaugural Chongqing International Photography & Video Biennale.
The Gallery of Photography will be putting on an exhibition of the winning work from the Solas Prize. This will include the The Solas Awards Exhibition and the Solas Ireland Awards, a special award for work made by Irish photographers or made in Ireland.
We are pleased to announce the Solas prize. This is an international award for contemporary photography and includes prizes of $11,500. This is a new collaboration between Source and the Gallery of Photography Ireland.
The Prize will be judged by a panel of five curators / editors from leading photography institutions in Chicago, Salzburg, Rotterdam, Dublin and Belfast. The deadline for submissions is 19 July. The winner will be announced at the beginning of December.
The prizes consist of an individual first prize of $10,000, a second prize of $1,000 and a third prize of $500. The work selected for prizes will be exhibited in The Solas Awards Exhibition at the Gallery of Photography in Dublin and published and distributed worldwide in Source magazine with a commissioned essay. Additionally, 22 artists will be selected for an online exhibition and everyone submitting work will receive a free one-year digital subscription to Source.
Furthermore, work by Irish photographers, or work that was substantially made in Ireland is eligible for the Solas Ireland Awards. Three winners’ work will be included in The Solas Awards Exhibition and will each receive a 3-month artist’s residency at Gallery of Photography Ireland. Their work will be exhibited in a curated three-person show at Fotohof, Salzburg in 2016 for which they will receive a production and travel bursary.
The Judges are: Natasha Egan, the executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago (MoCP); Frits Gierstberg, the chief exhibitions curator at Nederlands Fotomuseum; Herman Seidl, a photographer and curator at Fotohof in Austria; Tanya Kiang, a curator and director of the Gallery of Photography in Dublin; and John Duncan, an artist and editor of Source magazine.
The objective of the award is to discover new work. Submissions are welcome from anywhere in the world and can include up to 12 images. The Solas Prize brings together two formerly separate photography awards: the Source-Cord prize and the Gallery of Photography Artist's Award. Previous Source-Cord judges have included Charlotte Cotton, Diana Edkins, Kate Bush, Stephanie Grebe and Mariko Takeuchi. The first Cord Prize was won by Eva Stenram for her work 'Drape'. In 2014 Takashi Arai won the award with his project 'Exposed in a Hundred Suns'. The Gallery of Photography Artist's Award was established in 2002. Previous winners include John Gerrard, Mark Curran, Noel Bowler, Suzanne Mooney, Eoin O Conaill, Stephen Ahern, and Patrick Hogan. The 2013 Award ran in collaboration with the Copper House Gallery and was won by Richard Gilligan.