INTERVIEW WITH NEW YORK PHOTO FESTIVAL FOUNDERS
by Jon Levy
The festival is billed as “The Future of Contemporary Photography” but with such a weighty claim, I tried to find out what place photojournalism occupies in this new neighborhood of photography.
The New York photo festival is happenning in an area of Brooklyn known as DUMBO (down under Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Its an area I know from the early 90s as a windy, waterfront corner of industrial buildings and garbage collection depots. My friend Nader lived there and I remember sittiing in a car talking, watching the rats, even an albino possum once. We talked then, about how the area would become a bustling, funky neighborhood one day. Mostly Nader was concerned about developing his latest 60 rolls of film or managing to keep the vast loft he inhabited as a painters studio, photography darkroom and bedroom.
East River Fog – the view from Nader’s apartment in DUMBO, circa 1995 ©JLevy
Three years ago Daniel Power moved his book publishing business to the heart of DUMBO. He spoke to local landlords and when powerHouse decided to move out of its Manhattan premises he persuaded the owner of a massive space to take a gamble on them, at an affordable rent. It is apparent that their move to a new 10,000 sq foot “powerHouse arena” on Front Street may well have fuelled a property and photography boom in the area. Other galleries followed suit, and moved across the water to Brooklyn. “There has always been room here for the independents, and many of the Chelsea galleries find the model fits here,” says Power.
Power was introduced to Frank Evers by Nathan Benn, ex-director of Magnum Photos, and they soon after meeting compared ideas and formed a vision for a festival of photography. So what was it that informed the union of a prolific art book publisher and the business leader of a photojournalism agency?
“In Arles we see a different individual curator each year” explains Power. “In Perpignan it is the vision of one man, Jean François Le Roy, and so here, even though it was me and Frank, it was our in our interest to have all forms of contemporary photography.”
Curtis Mann from Lesley A. Martin’s The Ubiquitous Image
For Evers, the central focus of the festival is on the four curated pavilions:
St. Ann’s Warehouse featuring Chisel by Kathy Ryan;
76 Front Street featuring Lesley A. Martin’s The Ubiquitous Image;
70 Front Street houses Tim Barber’s Various Photographs;
and just like New York – New York itself, so big it had to be named twice –
Martin Parr at Smack Mellon and Martin Parr at DUMBO Arts Center (DAC) with New Typologies.
Advance press release estimates for the festival speak of 100,000 visitors and the line up of shows includes more than 15 separate exhibitions including satellite shows and events.
Photojournalism, it would seem, fits into this, but while part of the equation, it is not singled out for special mention. Kathy Ryan, the long serving and highly respected Picture Editor of the New York Times Magazine, for instance, has chosen photographers who are “painters, sculptors and alchemists”. Writing in her exhibition notes she talks about the form of the photographs’ gestures being instructed by Pollock and Twombly, with new Picasso-like meanings gained. She sees the expression of the artists’ craft in terms of brush strokes within the photograph itself.
Evers, too, identifies with this mode of looking at photography. “I have never been just a photojournalism person. My background and interest as a collector and someone who works with and enjoys photography has always been much wider than that,” says Evers. “We [Daniel and I] didn’t go with our own choices of photography, instead we invited top figures in photography today to be the curators.”
“There is ‘Concerned Photography’ but there is more besides,” Evers remarks in relation to the photojournalism quotient at the festival. VII themselves have their own gallery space in the area which will be showing work by Alexandra Boulat and the VII members will be holding a two day seminar after the festival.
Andreas Gefeller Untitled (Parking Site 1), Paris, 2007 from Kathy Ryan’s Chisel
To the debate on the art and journalism of contemporary photograpy Evers reminds me that the VII group brings a clear set of goals to the festival that underpin the purpose of their agency: “to shine a light on real life stories that otherwise may never be told.”
In June this year, after four years at the helm, Evers will leave VII to pursue other business ventures in photography of his achievements he says “It was really in a difficult state when I arrived. I see my major achievement during this time, firstly, to have turned it around by introducing new things and expanding the repertoire of the agency: exhibitions, seminars, tuition workshops and most recently creating an expanded network of new photographers who can benefit from and add to the VII brand. That the photographers have embraced these changes is also a crowning measure of success.”
“I was never interested in just running a picture agency. Today VII is selling more photographs, working on more assignments while growing as a business. I used to hear people say photojournalism is dead. For us at VII it is never about that.”
It’s hard to tell a week before the start of the festival where The Future of Contemporary Photography, as so broadly defined by Evers’s and Power’s curated exhibitions and events, will take us. Have the rats been swept off the streets of DUMBO or is there still a monochrome marsupial lurking around the corner?