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’.
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.