|Jon Feinstein: There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about how the internet and the digital age are changing the nature of photography, how populist photo sites like Flickr and JPEG magazine, and online art/photo projects like Tinyvices, Humble, and now Fjord (as well as a million blogs!) are dramatically altering photography’s venue, audience, the way it is perceived, and often its philosophical implications. What is your take on all this? How does Fjord fit in?|
Grant Willing is the co-founder and curator of fjordphoto.org and Jonathan Feinstein is the curatorial director of humbleartsfoundation.org.
Jon Feinstein: There has been a lot of talk over the past few years about how the internet and the digital age are changing the nature of photography, how populist photo sites like Flickr and JPEG magazine, and online art/photo projects like Tinyvices, Humble, and now Fjord (as well as a million blogs!) are dramatically altering photography’s venue, audience, the way it is perceived, and often its philosophical implications. What is your take on all this? How does Fjord fit in?
Grant Willing: I was thinking the other day about how the internet affecting photography could be compared to when Kodak introduced the Brownie over 100 years ago. It is allowing almost anyone to be a photographer—now anyone with a digital camera and a Flickr account can become well known on the internet. In terms of art photography, I think results in an increased need for curated projects, sites, or blogs. Flickr is a free-for-all, and these more mediated sites can separate the wheat from the chaff. Fjord as a project fits in this mediascape as something that is specific by design—everyone is a young, up-and-coming photographer whose work can be easily located on the internet. This acts as the bond between all the photographers in Fjord, but the most compelling thing for me is the variety of work occurring right now. When you curate the group shows for Humble, do these factors play a part in what work you decide to include?
JF: When we launched our first project, group-show.com, we contacted friends and photographers whose vision we admired, both aesthetically and conceptually. We wanted to create a venue where strong work could be shown without the financial pressures of the gallery world, and an online venue seemed perfect for this. While we continue to contact new photographers whose work we admire, the majority of the work that comes in is from outside submissions (reaching as far as Warsaw and Bombay). While we try to remain "humble,” the growing popularity of the project over the past 18 months has allowed us to continually increase the standard for the quality of the work we select.
We gather the 18 (initially 24) photographers per month, and curate their individual photos so they follow a kind of natural flow, and subtle themes tend to arise after the physical order is determined. As I’m sure you have seen with Fjord, the influences (and our particular taste) tend to split three ways between the "New Topographics" photographers like Stephen Shore and Lewis Baltz, to the work of younger, but still established photographers like Alec Soth (who has been a tremendous influence on the younger wave of emerging photographers, especially through his blog), to the "nu" snapshot photographers repopularized by Ryan McGinley and Vice magazine. What kind of curatorial decisions have you made in selecting photographers for Fjord? Do you see common themes arising, or is it to early to tell?
GW: The project began as an idea while my girlfriend, Alana Celii, and I were having coffee. Later that night we discussed together whom we should invite, how it should function, and many of the other details we wanted to make sure to touch. That night I wrote up an e-mail to a handful of people whose work we respected and really enjoyed. The two qualifications for being a part of Fjord was that one must be under 30 and have an online presence. We asked everyone from the first e-mail to recommend other photographers they know that might be interested in a project like this. We asked everyone to submit six to eight images from any project, then edited those down to five and put them on the website.
From the beginning we didn’t really exclude any specific style of photography, yet the bulk still fell into the categories you mentioned. Even though many people sent us extraordinary work, we didn’t add all of it because it was so similar to what was already there. It became harder and harder to choose which images or photographers are saying something different than what we already have. Does anything similar happen in the Humble shows?
JF: We try to keep things unique as to avoid boring people with only slight variation on the same show each month. One rule we initially established was that photographers had to wait an entire year to resubmit after their chosen photo was displayed. We find that a lot of recurring themes make the curatorial process increasingly challenging. We’ve developed a few unspoken rules about the types of photos we won’t accept because they are too common or too derivative.
Do you think there is an eventual goal or endpoint for the online photo community? A number of photo bloggers have taken down their blogs recently. Do you think that signifies anything about the role of photo online?
GW: When I initially came up with the idea of Fjord I was thinking of a book. It was one of those ideas I had and felt like acting on at that moment. I figured that between all the blogs and networking occurring on the internet, it was a good time to begin a collective project like this. Even though we’ve been talking about how the internet is becoming a serious resource in terms of good photography, I still feel like there is nothing better than seeing work physically. If you can’t see the prints, I think most of the time a book is a good runner up. The fact that a book is tactile also presents itself differently than something like an e-book or an online gallery. There is more of a sense of intimacy with a book than a computer screen.
It’s funny to think of photography as something with an end goal, or a definite result that is no longer changing. One of my professors has this running joke about how the Germans have "won" at photography. They are at the top of conceptual work (i.e. the Bechers, Thomas Ruff) and they are at the top in terms of gallery sales (i.e. Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer). I sometimes feel like work like this— Shore’s, McGinley’s, or Soth’s—just makes you feel like you have run out of things to photograph. It is the new photographers who are adding a twist or finding something original to do within these guidelines that are the most interesting.