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Behold: Ruben Natal-San Miguel

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers and curators.

Ruben Natal-San Miguel might be one of the hardest working people out there. The trained architect turned to photography after the September 11 attacks in New York City. “The world became more of the moment,” Natal-San Miguel said to Slate in a 2013 story. “Photography became a passion to collect as an art media and for me (a medium) to communicate all the activities, the costumes and traditions of everyday life.” Using mostly a bicycle to get around his beloved New York City, Natal-San Miguel’s photographs of the people he encounters are intimate, sometimes alluring, other times provocative, and always overflowing with emotion. He has also curated a number of shots including the current one on view at Station Independent Projects in New York titled “WE:AMEricans” that asks (and answers) the question: what does it mean to be an American? We caught up with Natal-San Miguel before he left for Boston and the Griffin Museum; he has work included in The Peter Urban Legacy Exhibition.

You will find some extra Q&A below and can read the original Slate interview here.

Ruben Natal-San Miguel,  AMEricano (selfie) , 2013, Rockaway, Queens. Image Source:  Slate

Ruben Natal-San Miguel, AMEricano (selfie), 2013, Rockaway, Queens. Image Source: Slate

You work as both a photographer and a curator. Talk a bit about wearing both hats.
 
It can be quite challenging. The amount of time that you spend curating takes away from working on your personal work, which, it is sort of taking off. It is a tough act to balance but, there is a great learning curve that can be applied to your own personal work while curating.

I am fortunate enough that every single curated show I have been the creative director of so, it gives me the freedom to create the concept theme, select the works, and create installations with it .
 
What do you feel are some of the major changes in the art world these days?
 
I think that artists need to be very careful in selecting from the opportunities listed out there. There are a ton of competitions, call for entries etc, etc out there now (which it is a positive thing) but, most of then have turn into fundraising events for institutions which are considered non-profit. Yet, the artists are subjected to spending tons of money just enter and and participate with no guarantees. I only charged $25.00 per five entry photos, kept the exhibition's print size small (so printing and framing will be affordable and more accessible) and even referred a very affordable master printer to keep costs down for artists. To print, frame and ship a print with return label (besides entry andorganization membership fees) can be extremely expensive for most artists. Something needs to be done about it.

The art dealers and galleries are at times more conservative and afraid to take chances on new work, so when I curate exhibitions, I try to bring and combine selected new work with more established big names. In doing this, the dialogue between both has a great learning curve and more impact. It also inspires and motivates newer talent to do their best to have great image quality on the wall. The established artists benefit also because they tend to resonate well with the press, fan following/audience, reviews and any type of show coverage. It is a Win -Win.
 
How would you like to change things in the art world?

It is very important to give a voice to new talent.
                                     Hope Will Never Be Silent.
                                                            -Harvey Milk
 
You are a prolific photographer. How has your work evolved over the years and where do you want to take it?
 
After more than a decade photographing the five Boroughs of NYC non-stop, I am approaching communities in nearby states to see how they mirror each other in terms of gentrification, street life, and sense of community.

The good news is that my work is reaching and getting museum attention. I am currently on display at the Alice Austen Museum on their First Triennial of Photography , The Griffin Museum of Photography, The African American Museum of Philadelphia ( 10/1/16-1/30/17)  and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I also just recently just taught a photo seminar based on the Rashaad Newsome exhibition at the Studio Museum of Harlem where the work was shot live and displayed.

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Behold: Haley Morris-Cafiero

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.

When Haley Morris-Cafiero’s series “Wait Watchers” went viral, it quickly set out to do what she intended: open up a dialog about the ways in which we perceive one another.  Cafiero’s self-portraits of strangers looking at her (she allows interpretation of the glances up to the viewer) are provocative. When the series took off, Cafiero felt the critique of the series would revolve mostly around the quality of the photographs. Instead, although many comments were positive, many were negative, attacking Cafiero’s weight, appearance, clothing choices and lack of makeup. Her intention to begin a conversation about body image partially morphed into a conversation about the darker side of the Internet, one fueled by anger she feels is the product of invented – and anonymous – personas. After meeting with Mary Ann Camilleri, the Magenta Foundation published her work, along with many of the comments, titled The Watchers. We caught up with Cafiero to find out what it was like to make and publish a photo book.

You will find some extra Q&A below and can read the original Slate interview here.

How did the opportunity to work with Magenta come about? 

I met with the Director and Founder of the Magenta Foundation, Mary Ann Camilleri, at the 2012 Fotofest portfolio reviews. I think I met with her at another portfolio review, but I definitely met her again at the Fotofest in 2014. She gave me excellent feedback the first time we met and she saw how the project had progressed over the two years between our meetings. When I met with her the second time, I told her about my plan to self publish a book as I could not find a good fit with a publisher. At the end of our meeting, she offered to collaborate on a book. We did a kickstarter and raised the funds and it took off from there.

What were the biggest challenges you faced while working on the book? Both before, during and after the process.

The first challenge was the kickstarter campaign.  I was doing the campaign a year and a half after the project went viral, so I knew that people had seen the project, but I didn't know if they would support it financially.  I then contacted all of the media sites that ran a story on the project and asked them to run a follow-up about the kickstarter. I was surprised and grateful that so many shared the project and the campaign. I think that exposure is what helped me reach my funding goal.

Between the kickstarter and the time of publication, I had to make new images.  Lots of them.  So many of the images had been on the internet, and I knew that you can't have a book if the images primarily live online.  So I did a significant amount of traveling to photograph new images - all while juggling a full time job and media opportunities.

After the book was published and delivered, the hardest thing was sending out the kickstarter rewards.  I know that sounds simple, but I live in a small house with no studio and way too many animals to set out tables and create an assembly line for packing and mailing.  I bartered with people so they would help me, and I spent many days in line at the post office sending out books. 

How did the translation of your work from something that was seen online to a book form influence the ways in which you decided to continue with the project?

I am very lucky to have worked with Mary Ann and her team (Julien Beaupre Ste-Marie was the editor and the Office of Gilbert Li designed it), because we were on the same page with the design from the beginning. The team knew that I had started archiving the hateful comments and inspirational messages that I received through emails and in the comment section of the online articles.  So when it came time to design the book, we knew that the way to present the images in a unique experience from how they were shown online was to incorporate the comments into the narrative of the book. To do that we made the cover plush and squishy. The front cover has positive messages debossed into the surface and the back cover has a similar treatment but with negative comments. The liner pages present the comments compiled together. Then there are several spreads throughout the book where we neutralized the negative, bullying comments with the positive, inspirational messages. While the comments do not have anything to do with the images, they provides the reader with the environment wherein the project was created and how people interpret the gaze.



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Behold: AaronBlum

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.

When Aaron Blum left West Virginia to study at Syracuse University, he quickly realized there was a lot of misunderstanding about his home state. Combined with a desire to better understand his personal history, Blum began an ongoing series, “Born and Raised,” about Appalachia that includes not only the landscape with light that inspires his imagination, but also his friends and family. Photography is a way for Blum to tell a story and he hopes viewers of “Born and Raised” will understand his a bit better.

You will find some extra questions and answers below and can read the original Slate interview here.

Tell me about when you first started thinking you could pursue a career as a photographer?

I think I make a distinction between making a living as an artist and as a photographer. I make absolutely no money as a photographer. I make most of my money selling my prints and teaching college courses, but I don’t make any shooting for other people. I do a lot of workshops and freelance education work as well. So really I have a small art business that has a lot to do with photography, but I’m not sure you could call me a commercial photographer.

I was really unsure what I would do with my career after school. I had mostly art training and like any postgraduate was terrified of what was next. My mom and one other classmate really encouraged me to apply to some exhibitions as soon as I got out of school, and to my surprise I got a lot of good feedback and then eventually it just kept snowballing and then I won the Jurors Choice Award at Center within the first year of exiting grad school. I was shocked, and that’s when I thought maybe I could make this into a career.

You seem to have entered a lot of competitions and festivals. Is that so? How has that been helpful to your career?

I have entered a lot of things at this point, but I’m starting to slow down with that a bit, and from what other people have told me that is somewhat normal. I’m starting to only enter the things I really want to do. I entered a lot at first because it seemed like a great way for people to see your work, and it was. I made a lot of important connections that way. I started realizing that some were worth it some were not. I got way more rejections than anything else. I started to learn when to enter and what they were looking for. At this point my success rate is much higher. I will say that the connections I have made are invaluable; whether making them through a review or a competition those relationships have proven to be the most important thing in my career.

If you can pinpoint a "break" that advanced your career, what would that be? Or, perhaps a shift?

That’s really hard to say.  Everything seems to be more about momentum and not one big moment for me. It has been more about taking one opportunity and transferring it into another. There have been big memorable moments for sure. Like I said earlier The Center award was big, being chosen to be the Carnegie Museum of Arts representative for the Leopold Godowsky Color Photography Awards and being recognized by the PRC in Boston was amazing, having a show with Doug Dubois my Professor and mentor at Syracuse was very rewarding, but I think the biggest moment was being named one of the FOAM Talents this year. I got cold sweats when I saw the cover, which read “21 artists that will define the future of contemporary photography” that was an amazing moment, but also terrifying. It’s a lot of pressure in a good way.

Your work is included in museums. Do you have gallery representation? If so, describe that relationship. If not, tell me about how you market yourself?

I do not have gallery representation. It something that I have thought about of course, and I’m sure I could sell more prints if I did, but I would also have to split the commission. I think you really have to find the right gallery as well. I have been always told it’s a little bit like getting married. You have to find the perfect gallery or set of galleries. So if the right one came along of course I would do it. For now though I have a presence online through social media and I keep in contact with the people I have met. I do portfolio reviews every so often, and if I need to get my work in front of someone I put out the call and see if someone can help me get some time with the person I want to see. Usually that works. If you are honest, and nice and help others in the community it will come back around.


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Behold: Greg Brophy

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.

Greg Brophy’s work documents New York’s disappearing neighborhoods, although he doesn’t necessarily focus on the most obvious areas. For the past two years, Brophy has paid multiple visits to Willets Point, a somewhat raw area in Queens that is populated with metal foundries and automotive repair shops. The aptly nicknamed “Iron Triangle,” is also the title of Brophy’s series of mostly environmental portraits of the workers who do business in the shadow of Citi Field, home to the New York Mets. Although a plan that was put into place during the Bloomberg administration to turn the area into a shopping mall was struck down earlier this year, the area still faces an uncertain future.

We asked him about how he became interested in photography and about how he funds and markets his personal projects. Read the full Behold feature here.

Tell me a bit about your background in photography.

I went to Syracuse University for art and during my third year I studied abroad in London where I learned photography. It was already my third year, too late to switch (majors). I thought ‘Why am I painting? I can get my message across by taking a photograph. I’m very impatient and need to get things done quickly.

How do you manage to finance your career as a photographer?

I don’t really do this for money. I work for B&H Photo Video; I work on their website. It’s a great help because I have access to cameras I can take our for free. I went to Willets Point to test out a camera for B&H. One of the reasons why I met Jennifer was that I realized nobody really teaches you how to market yourself to get your work out there. My wife was yelling at me, “You’re doing all this work but nobody is seeing it!” The hardest thing as a photographer is to get your work out there. I’m passionate about what I do whether I make money form it or not doesn’t matter. I still have stories I want to tell and sometimes its nice because I don’t have to worry about anyone’s voice interfering. I can tell the story I want to tell. In the past if I was hired for work I would have to do it in a different way; more and more people are getting away from that and then figuring out how to get their work out later.

Are you interested in finding representation?

If it happens, it happens. I’m not going to say no to being able to finance this stuff. I have a decent paying job and can afford to buy some things and print the stuff in my darkroom at home. One thing I’m working on is applying for grants. I’d like to work for NGOs to offer my services for free in order to help them help other people. Sometimes it’s strange the money aspect of it, trying to do this kind of work without exploiting the people I’m taking photos of. 

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Behold: Marc Yankus

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.

In 2013 Marc Yankus, after a period of focusing (or, soft focusing) on a somewhat abstract look at cityscapes, took a photograph of the Goldman Sachs building that rests along the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey. Inspired by the detail he saw in the image once he opened it up at home, Yankus began photographing buildings around New York City that jumped out at him. He then manipulated them in order to both isolate them from their surroundings and to create a sense of timelessness. Last year, Yankus showed some of the work at ClampArt in New York where he has been represented for a decade. We asked him a few questions about his career.

Read the full Behold interview here.

Do you call yourself a fine art photographer? Describe what that term means to you and why you do or don't call yourself one.

I do call myself a fine artist. I create artwork for myself and where it ends up is secondary. Where as commercial art is for and directed by someone else what I create is totally for me and thats a very freeing experience. Making art is my high!

Talk about your first break specifically regarding gallery representation but also when you started to think this would become a career for you.

When I was around 20 I created artwork for the windows for Grey Art Gallery and they introduced me to Barbara Milstein of the Brooklyn Museum who included me in an exhibition at the museum on the Brooklyn Museum in 1983.

You've worked with ClampArt for a decade now. Describe that relationship and how it has evolved.

ClampArt is the first gallery to represent me and it has been a learning curve for me to work with a gallery. It’s been a fantastic experience and our relationship has grown to be very productive for both of us.

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Behold: Jess Dugan

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.

Jess Dugan has often used portraiture as a way of exploring gender and sexuality. Her latest series, “Every Breath We Drew,” to be published as a monograph this fall by Daylight, is a body of work in which Dugan not only questions the definition of masculinity but also the idea of identity. Is our self defined from within or is it part of a larger question about our connection – and desire to connect - to others?  “I was trying to make something more universal than just showing a group of people who share a similar identity,” she said. “I wanted people to reflect on that process for themselves, and how we connect with people.”

Read the full Behold interview here.

 

Left:  Betsy, 2013 . Right:  Jet, 2013 .

Left: Betsy, 2013. Right: Jet, 2013.

When you first began imagining a career in photography, what did that look like? Was gallery representation or a book publication part of that vision? 

I was lucky to get gallery representation at the very beginning of my career, so in many ways, I grew up as an artist within the gallery system.  I was also lucky to be working with a gallery director who acted as a mentor to me (more about her in question 3) and who was very sensitive to my work, always privileging the integrity of the work over its marketability.

To be quite honest, I didn’t know what a career in photography would look like.  My first year out of undergrad was a rough transition, as I had lofty ideas about grants and residencies and things like that.  My undergrad faculty were all Guggenheim-winning artists, so that was the model I saw most directly.  For many years, my career involved me working a 9 to 5 job and making just enough extra money to spend every weekend in the darkroom, which I built in my studio apartment.  After several years of that, I moved from Boston to Chicago to go to grad school (lured largely by the prospect of working with Dawoud Bey, who became a very significant mentor to me).  At that point, I was more aware of what I wanted out of my career, and it certainly involved galleries and books.

I have quite a photobook addiction, and I have always loved the book form as a way to experience photographs.  My earliest, most powerful moments with photography came from seeing myself (or people like myself) reflected in photography books at a time when I didn’t see these representations anywhere else around me.  I had many profound moments sitting in the basement of the Harvard Book Store flipping through used photography books and discovering influential photographers I would come to know and love.  

I have made many artist books and self-published books over the past 6 or 7 years, but I’m currently working on my first monograph and am really excited about that.  I’m already thinking in terms of books for my next two projects, which are well underway.  

 

You're quite a prolific photographer. Talk about the importance of producing work both for yourself and for your career.

Thank you.  You know, it’s interesting that you say that I am prolific, because in some ways I don’t know what that means.  Since I discovered photography, I have been addicted, and I have somewhat obsessively been making work since then.  

Making work is the way I feel connected to the world, and also the way I make sense of my own life, my own relationship, etc.  So, I consistently and intentionally make pictures.  What’s interesting is that I don’t really make a lot of snapshots anymore- I’m not the kind of photographer who always carries a camera.  For me, making work and truly experiencing a moment are almost always mutually exclusive activities. 

In terms of my career, it certainly helps that I make a lot of work, as galleries like showing new images.  In some ways, though, it becomes its own kind of challenge to make sense of a photographic process that comes so naturally from my life.  Though I present my work in very distinct “projects,” their creation often happens simultaneously, or one project flows into another, or themes emerge from photographs I’ve been making over a period of years. 

 

What was your first big break? Describe what that meant to you and how/if your definition of "break" has changed as you continue your career.

My definition of a break has most definitely changed throughout my career.  My first big break would have to be when I met Arlette Kayafas, owner of Gallery Kayafas in Boston.  I had just graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, an amazing school that I was quite lucky to attend, especially since I didn’t fully realize when I applied at the age of 16 how amazing their photography program was and how it would form the foundation of my career.  I was working at the Bernard Toale Gallery in Boston’s South End with Joseph Carroll, who now runs Carroll and Sons, and through my experience in the gallery I got to know Arlette, whose gallery was just down the block.  We formed a relationship, I showed her my work, and I had my first solo show one year later in the fall of 2008.  My relationship with her has been career-changing; she mentored me in the business of galleries, supported my work both emotionally and financially from the very beginning, and provided a consistent, meaningful place for me to get feedback and gain perspective on my work. 

That summer, I also took a part time job at the Harvard Art Museum which led to a full time job there, which led to me to spend the last eight years working in the museum field, which has also been hugely informative to my career as an artist. 

Over the years, there have been many moments I would describe as a big break, and how I define that has changed with time.  My first gallery, certainly.  My first museum acquisition.  My first solo show.  My first real collector. 

At this very moment, I am excited about being represented by the Catherine Edelman Gallery, working on my first monograph with Daylight Books (due out Sept. 2015), and working on my first solo museum exhibition with curator Amy Galpin at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College in Florida.  

 

Left:   Ryan and Josh, 2013.   Right:   Laurel, 2014.

Left: Ryan and Josh, 2013. Right: Laurel, 2014.

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Behold: Rania Matar

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.

Rania Matar began her career as an architect but after taking photography classes to better capture her four children, Matar soon changed professions. Her work is informed by both her dual nationalities (she is both Lebanese and American) and her experiences raising her children, specifically her two daughters. What she is experiencing inside is often reflected by the images she creates of other people. Her current, ongoing, work explores the complex mother and daughter relationships she titles “Unspoken Coversations.”

We asked her about her first break in the photo business and her work with galleries. Read the full Behold feature here.

 

Lauren and Kyra, Concord, Massachusetts, 2015. by  Rania Matar

Lauren and Kyra, Concord, Massachusetts, 2015. by Rania Matar

 

Tell me about your first "break" in the photo business and how that helped to push your career.

I might call it a "break" in the photo world rather than business, and I believe I had multiple "mini-breaks" sequentially, one leading to the other, rather than one big break. I was originally trained and was working as an architect. I started photography to take better photos of my kids. After September 11, I decided to start photographing in Lebanon, where I am from originally, as I wanted to tell a different story from what we were hearing on the news. My photo instructor at the time, Nick Johnson, was very supportive of this early work and took it upon himself to put it in front of a gallery owner who loved the work and connected me with Magnum photographer Costa Manos, who became a mentor and a teacher after that. This was important to me as it finalized and confirmed my shift from architecture to photography.

The second break came when I presented my work for the first time at a portfolio review with Leslie Brown, then curator of the Photographic Resource Center in Boston. She published the work on the PRC blog - my first (online) publication - and urged me to start submitting the work to competitions and presenting it at portfolio reviews. I then submitted some work to the New England Biennial and won the first and purchase prize. The jurors were Karen Haas, Lane Curator of Photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Arlette Kayafas from Gallery Kayafas in Boston. I believe this was a big turning point for me, and I will always be thankful to both Arlette and Karen for that. I also believe this led me to become a nominee and then a finalist for the Foster Prize at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston with an exhibition.  

The third break happened one year at the Meeting Place at Fotofest, when I presented for the first time A Girl and Her Room. The work was very well received, and I walked out that year with two new gallery representations, a couple of sales and some exhibition offers. 

I believe breaks happen because of people who believe in your work and are willing to support it. I could not have achieved any of what I have achieved if it weren't for all the baby steps and the people who supported me along every one of those steps. I am thankful to them all for that. 

 

Do you currently work with a gallery? If so, talk a bit about how that relationship began and what is expected of you and how that influences your work. 

I work with a few galleries, and this is a tough question as I find every relationship is different, and all started differently. Because I live in Boston, I might say that Carroll and Sons gallery in Boston is the gallery I work closest with on a regular basis, but I have very good relationships with all my galleries. I started working with Joseph Carroll at the recommendation of many people in the Boston community who thought we would be a good match. The Boston photo community is small and things seems to have happened very naturally. I am learning that often finding the right gallery happens because of people's recommendations and introduction, often artists from the gallery. I think it is hard and intimidating for most artists to approach galleries, and having people help make introductions is very helpful, but it is the first step then you slowly have to learn to know each other and figure out if the relationship will work and see if the work is a good fit. It is also always helpful to speak with other artists represented by the gallery and ask about their experiences. 

I started recently working with Galerie Eulenspiegel in Basel, Switzerland and this relationship also started because of an artist of the gallery who recommended my work to the gallery owner, but also highly recommended the gallery to me. I had my first exhibition there this past January.  

But then things can happen a little differently, and I have recently connected with Richard Levy Gallery who will be presenting some of my new work for the first time at Art on Paper in NYC this week. Richard and I connected, strangely enough, through Facebook as I had been posting some work in progress that I had made in Lebanon this past year about the Syrian refugees in Beirut. We then met coincidentally in person during Art Basel at Miami Project where the gallery had a booth and Richard asked to know more about this body of work, and here we are. Sometimes it is just serendipity. 

Having a gallery who understands and champions your work, who can help you edit, present your work the best way it can, and put it out into the world is key. It is also a treat to have someone an artist trusts deal with that, so that he/she can focus on making work. Galleries can also give you a presence in a place where you would not necessarily have one otherwise. Galerie Janine Rubeiz in Beirut is very important to me for instance. I live in Boston now, but Beirut is also home for me and it is means a lot to me to have someone giving me a presence in a place that personally matters very much to me but where I am not present physically most of the time. 

 

Do you categorize your work as "fine art"? Why or why not? Do you think categorizing photography is important?  

I don't personally like the categorizing of photography. I find it sometimes limiting. I do think my work is fine art - I treat it and present it as such - but it is also portraiture; it is about people, about girls and women, about identity and daily life. Sometimes my work has also been referred to as "Documentary" or "Personal Documentary". I stopped trying to put a label on it. I believe it could be all of the above and I want to keep following my own instincts as I am working without having to box myself and my work into one category or another. 


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Behold: Victoria Sambunaris

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.

Fourteen years is a significant amount of time to work on a series, but when you’re crisscrossing the United States by car – including Alaska and Hawaii – that period of time is really just a drop in the bucket.

Victoria Sambunaris has been on that cross country journey, traveling around with her large format field camera while looking out for landscapes that are a mix of both natural and man made creating images that are easy to get lost in and often question the relationship between man and nature. Although she didn’t set out to create a book when she took her first road trip, last year Radius Books published Taxonomy of a Landscape that is in many ways a photographer’s version of writing the great American novel. That’s perhaps slightly too ambitious – at least at this point in the project – for Sambunaris who insists she’s not even close to finishing. The work is currently on view at the Nevada Museum of Art until May 3.

We asked her a few questions about her career as a fine artist. (Read the full Behold interview here.)

Untitled (Red Containers, Wet Ground), Fort Worth, Texas, 2000

Untitled (Red Containers, Wet Ground), Fort Worth, Texas, 2000

Did you always seek a "fine art" career? And, if so, tell me what that means to you.

Definitely not. At age 14, I saved enough to buy my first camera and was looking at pictures in magazines like Life. I think I fancied myself a photojournalist type, someone like Margaret Bourke-White, traveling the world, teetering on the edge of skyscrapers, photographing iron workers and miners, shooting out of bomber jets and the like.

Are you represented by a gallery? Talk a bit about that process and how it was to find the right gallery for you.

Immediately after graduate school, I had a show of my work at the architecture offices of Deborah Berke in New York. Deborah was on a grant committee at Yale and had seen my work.  From that first show, I was picked up by Christine Burgin Gallery. After she closed the gallery a few years later, Christine guided me to find my current gallery Yancey Richardson Gallery. Both Christine and Yancey knew my work previously so it was a smooth entry in both instances. 


Do you feel motivated to work because of your reputation as either a photographer who shows their work in a gallery space or has been published?

Not in the least, I've developed a work ethic that I learned from the artists David Deutsch and William Wegman who I worked for previous to graduate school. They both had a rigorous studio practice and the work took precedence to everything else. I realized that I needed to follow their lead and commit which is why I went back to graduate school. I have remained committed to the work wholeheartedly through the ebbs and flows of sales, through the fickle ways of the art world and before the book. I'm not going anywhere! 


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Behold: Birthe Piontek

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.

Birthe Piontek has often tackled photography series that coincide with her fascination of identity and how we as humans present ourselves to the world. In her recent work, Memensis, Piontek wanted to not only question her own photography practice but also further delve into how other people’s images inform our ideas of the self. Piontek uses found imagery she then repurposes to create what she calls mini sculptures that are then photographed. The results present a somewhat infinite storyline: the viewer is able to create their own stories based on the stories that Piontek presents. We asked her about what being a fine artist means to her and about her experiences navigating through the fine art world. Read the full interview here.

Untitled #1, 2013

Untitled #1, 2013

Do you consider yourself a fine artist? If so, what have been your goals while working as such?

I would call myself a photographer or maybe a fine art photographer but for some reason I've been reluctant to consider myself a fine artist, although my work definitely has been taking a bit more a fine art direction in recent years. 

That said, my goals are definitely "fine art goals", which means I'm looking for exhibition venues and finding opportunities to present it to a wider audience. And of course it's important to have a chance to talk about it, either by doing artist talks or in forms of interviews in blogs or magazines. 

Do you have gallery representation? How have you been able to maneuver through the fine art world in terms of finding gallery representation?

Yes, I have a gallery representation. 

It is part of the work as an artist to do the research, find out who could be a good fit, make connections and knock at doors. It's great when you find people who understand the work and support it but like for many other artists, promoting my work is not something that comes naturally for me. It is always a challenge and it's ongoing, it never stops because with the change in the work, the audience changes too. 

How has working in the fine art world influenced your own work?

I would say it hasn't really influenced my work. I'm working on themes and projects that are interesting and meaningful to me. I get inspired by looking at other work and of course I'm aware of "trends" or what sells on the art market and while that might influence me on a subconscious level, it's nothing I incorporate strategically in my practice. 

Untitled #11, 2014

Untitled #11, 2014

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Behold: Matthew Swarts

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.

As time passed after the end of a painful breakup, Matthew Swarts found himself feeling a kind of distance and disconnect when looking at photographs taken during that time in his life. In order to examine and process better his current feelings about the relationship, he turned to art and began a journey that blended some of the images along with found images he manipulated sometimes through Photoshop, other times through more concrete items including old fax machines and broken printers. The results are trippy, surreal, sometimes confusing and always mesmerizing portraits that are significant because, quite simply, is there another way to describe the emotions that arise both during and after a significant breakup? Swarts discussed his work in two series he began in 2014, “Beth” and “The Alternatives,” both on view at Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles beginning February 28. He also spoke about his fine art career for Crusade for Art. Read the full interview here.

Untitled, 2014 from The Alternatives by Matthew Swarts

Untitled, 2014 from The Alternatives by Matthew Swarts

Do you consider yourself to be a fine art photographer? Tell me a bit about that and if that kind of categorizing is important to you.

Yes, of course, as my work has primarily been collected by museums and other fine art institutions and publications, but what I do now is evolving, both for me and for countless others, out of the sphere of what those words once meant. I don’t think about these terms with the same kind of religiosity that some people do, because that’s not really what my life is about. I simply make things. These days it is primarily with electronic cameras and computers, but I began as a social documentarian very much connected to a firmly established tradition. Over time, my practice has become more studio-based and specific to questions surrounding portraiture, copyright, and appropriation, but photography in the largest sense has always been my prime interest. I live and breathe for what photography can sometimes do to my mind and heart. The sub-categorization of my work into “fine-art” is useful only in the sense that that’s where my photography has found acceptance and its largest audiences. 

Do you work with galleries? If so, how did you find them and how do you keep up your relationship with them? 

Yes, my work is represented by Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles, and Paul Kopeikin reached out to me to establish this relationship after my work had some traction in publishing and museum venues. What has emerged is a kind friendship based upon a shared interest in bringing the work to a larger collector base. Even though we are geographically apart, we communicate regularly to strategize opportunities for pushing the work forward. Paul is somewhat extraordinary in his commitment to artists, and in addition to his regular gallery programming makes quite an international fair circuit with the work. I could not have been luckier in this regard, as with his guidance, support, and networking, collectors have responded very favorably! 

Do you feel pressure to keep making work for yourself and/or to keep yourself relevant within the art community?

Not so much pressure as a simple wish to be a relevant part of a conversation I find fascinating. I am constantly cross-pollinated by the work of other artists, many of whom work outside or on the periphery of traditional photographic ideas. At the end of the day, the people I admire most are very hard to pigeon hole into simple categories. They are simply makers and creators because there’s nothing else in the world they’d rather be doing. I am this way, too. What I would like most of all is to continue to make work that has these kinds of multivalent possibilities, and to challenge myself (rather than feeling pressure from any external source) to always make new things. I suppose with new technologies there’s always the feeling that what you’re learning about will somehow be eclipsed within the next fifteen minutes, but this is something you adjust to and learn to grow from, and frankly, so far it’s been  a tremendous amount of fun.



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Behold: Alejandro Cartagena

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.

Alejandro Cartagena’s images of young, joyous concertgoers that make up his series Bliss, are a reflection of the last feelings of happiness Cartagena felt as a teenager. At 13, he moved from his home in the Dominican Republic to Mexico, a change that was emotionally scarring and stuck with Cartagena into adulthood; working on the project was therapeutic for the Mexican-based photographer. Bliss is currently on view at Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles through December 20. Cartagena also recently published a book, Carpoolers. He spoke with us about his work ethic and how he built his relationships with his galleries. Go here to read the full interview.

Bliss 2 (left) and Bliss 1 (right)

Bliss 2 (left) and Bliss 1 (right)

Talk a bit about your process of becoming a fine art photographer.

At the beginning of my career I was doing work for myself and trying to get into contests and group exhibitions, and I was lucky enough to have galleries take me in. Whenever I have new work they’re always looking to see what they can show: they take it to art fairs or they put on a solo show. My career has shifted a little bit in that I have this outlet where I can put out the things I am thinking about.

How did Bliss become something you wanted to show in a gallery?

Bliss came out after three projects were done that didn’t even make my website. I’m always doing new work but then sometimes you get this moment of something that works both visually and conceptually. Sometimes the galleries are interested, other times other venues are interested; I’m always doing new work basically because I’m hyperactive and can’t stop doing stuff.

When you first started out, did you want to be part of the fine art world?

I’m not going to say everybody but that’s something you see when you’re completely outside (of gallery life), the possibility of making enough money to do what you love to do, instead of relying on grants or another job to put that money into your personal work. It’s a dream come true to be able to produce work, publish work and exhibit work to make money in order to do more work. I’m not making money: I’m getting money back to do work every single time. At this stage, the money that comes in I put back into my career and to explore things that are in my head right now. At the beginning it was something I aspired to and I didn’t know how to do it. The way it happened was for me to do consistent, good work and eventually things catch up and the gallery notices I’ve done many successful projects.

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Behold: Charlotta María Hauksdóttir

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.

Charlotta María Hauksdóttir is interested in discovering  - and documenting – some of the quieter moments that define what it means to be a family. Her series “Moments” is a nearly two-year project shot mostly in the San Francisco Bay area for which María Hauksdóttir spent a day shooting in various homes where friends and neighbors lived. Hauksdóttir would document the family for upwards of an hour over three sessions in the most popular room of the home. Using photoshop, she combines multiple images to create the final shot.

David Rosenberg (Slate)  first saw her work while working as a juror for Critical Mass and interviewed Hauksdóttir about what inspired “Moments” as well as her thoughts about working as a fine art photographer. To read more about Hauksdóttir and “Moments” head to Slate’s photo blog Behold.

"Keats Court" by  Charlotta María Hauksdóttir   

"Keats Court" by Charlotta María Hauksdóttir  

Do you see yourself as a fine art photographer? If so, why?

I do consider myself a fine artist. My photographs are an expression of my ideas and reflect my vision; they come from my core.

 

How have you gotten exposure for your work and connected to an audience and collectors?

I have applied to juried shows as well as approached museums with proposals and sent submissions to galleries. Last spring I participated in Fotofest, which was a great venue to be able to physically show the work and talk about it. I became more familiar with the art world and established connections as well as receiving invaluable feedback on my work.

 

If you were exactly where you wanted to be in your fine art career, what would that look like?

When I started out I had very specific ideas about where I would be and what I would be doing, but in the process I have realized the importance of being receptive to different things. There is only so much control one has in life and sometimes you have to let go and embrace change. It is the same as with the work, it is constantly evolving.

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Behold: Isabel M. Martinez

In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.

Isabel M. Martinez uses an analog camera and photographic film as “a vehicle to engage with the uncertain amid the assumed and probe the boundary between abstraction and representation, fact and fiction.” Her series “Quantum Blink," explores the idea that words such as eternity and infinity are known by definition but cannot really be understood in any tangible sense. Martinez, after a lot of experimentation, used a slicing technique to create fascinating imagery that ponders the idea of what our brain might record during a second of consciousness. We caught up with the Chilean photographer who now resides in Toronto to ask her about her career in fine art. To read more about Martinez and “Quantum Blink” head to Slate’s photo blog Behold.

Pond , 2011

Pond, 2011

1. What steps have you taken to get where you are with your work?

I did not, unfortunately, have the privilege of growing up in an artistic environment or a household that encouraged a creative path, neither a mentor in my extended family or school. So, firstly, I invested in an education. Now, that is a rather obvious route to take and it does not truly guarantee anything (ie. Art career, financial security, let alone success, etc.), but it helps. Consider as well this was in a country that offered little to no support for the arts; and in a city that, though being the capital, had a practically nonexistent gallery scene.

Shortly after graduating with a BFA, I realized the need to push things further not only by enrolling in a reputable MFA program, but by making sure said postgraduate studies took place in a foreign country with a different language, culture and approach to the Visual Arts. Alas, an MFA does not guarantee anything either, especially if one is not looking to go down the academic/teaching lane.

It is up to the individual. After graduating from Guelph, I emigrated to Canada and moved to Toronto. I sacrificed my entire world, left it all behind and started building a new one from absolute zero. I found myself having to penetrate an entirely new art community—should note here that I am not the most social of butterflies. Some art communities or factions within them can be hermetic and resistant; particularly when you lack roots or any connections whatsoever and find yourself starting from nothing. Perseverance, resilience, endurance and a thick skin are key. Then of course, is your artwork, without it all else in nonsense, and yet… it is an odd and backwards order things are in these days, shouldn’t the artwork come first?

2. How have you gotten exposure for your work and connected to an audience and collectors?

To a certain extent all exposure of my work is, in one way or another, the result of successful submissions. Submissions to calls from artists run centers, art galleries, awards, competitions, publications and any other opportunity that meets the basic conditions of ethical artistic professionalism. I have respect for submission-based opportunities because decisions are (or are supposed to be) made based on the quality of the artwork. In turn, these have led me to national and international exhibitions, invitations to participate in curated art projects, presence in art book publications, press, and sales. Finally, and in the recent past, the internet has played a valuable role insofar reaching distant international audiences via art sites, online art publications, and art blogs.

3. If you were exactly where you wanted to be in your fine art career, what would that look like?

I will respond this one in the present tense. I dedicate my time solely and uniquely to my art practice, it expands through various disciplines. My work has found its place in the world not because of my name, Isabel M. Martínez, or my ‘brand’, but because it is relevant in an of itself, because it makes people ponder, question, and wonder. I join others in promoting the inclusion of artworks by female artists (present and past) in museums, biennials, publications, academic curriculums, and among art collections so it may more closely reflect the true demographic of the visual arts. I work closely with scientists, philosophers and other artists. I stay humble, curious and hardworking.

Dock #1, Dock #2 , 2011

Dock #1, Dock #2, 2011

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