Channel / 29 Nov 2021

Director's Blog Post - November 2021

This month I attended Paris Photo, which returned after a two-year hiatus, and it felt great to reconnect with international photography colleagues and to meet new ones, and to see some stunning work on display across the city. The event reminded me of how highly photography is regarded as an artform, in Europe at least.

I’m especially proud of Ffotogallery’s European engagement during my tenure as Director, and it was gratifying to see so many artists I had given exposure to earlier in their careers now receiving the wider international recognition that is due - Katrien de Blauwer, Trine Sondergaard, César Dezfuli, Jon Tonks and Edgar Martins to name but a few. Paris also offered an opportunity to catch up with some of the curators, publishers and gallerists I have worked with from France, Lithuania, Germany, Spain, Italy and Denmark.

Paris Photo reminded me that the photography world I inhabit has two sides. On one side, there is an open and generous spirit of collaboration, of the sharing of ideas and insights, a commitment to nurturing new talent and giving a platform for diverse voices and emergent artistic practices. On the other, a tendency to mimic the modus operandi of the art world, in which collectors and big brand sponsors are wooed, where those who buy and re-sell artworks and limited edition photo books act like commodity traders, an exclusive realm of VIP passes and globetrotting blue-chip artists and curators.

When a talented new photographer gains early career recognition by the art establishment, I encourage them to focus on developing their practice and to work with people whose judgement they trust, be that editors, curators or gallerists, and to not be seduced by the circus of art fairs and photography prizes. As Edward Weston said “there are no shortcuts in photography”. To succeed creatively, you need to work hard, be self-critical, and learn from seeing other’s work using that knowledge to find your own voice.

There are certainly some privileged and influential figures in the photography world who see themselves as arbiters of taste and market value, who trade on past glories and seek to control who and what gets exhibited or published. In my view, they present an obstacle to progress and suppressor of raw talent. It is time they moved over and allowed a bolder and more energetic next generation to set the agenda.

Photography is arguably the most democratic, accessible and popular artform – and it seems everybody’s a photographer now, for better or worse. Nevertheless, the audience for photography as art needs to be cultivated, to be given an appetite for new and under-represented voices, and access to new forms of expression that look beyond the prosaic and clichéd. My sense is that everyone who is passionate and committed about contemporary photography sees the importance of these changes to the status quo, and that the old order is rapidly fading and a bright new one is emerging from the shadows.

David Drake, November 2021