By Elin Spring
A modern Renaissance woman, Julie Grahame juggles a career as photography consultant, curator, reviewer, writer and speaker. Publisher of the online photography magazine aCurator.com, she is senior representative for the Estate of Yousuf Karsh, and currently sits on the Board of the American Photography Archives Group (APAG). Past adventures include running the Retna photo agency and acting as associate director of ClampArt Gallery in NYC. I caught up with Julie in her role as guest juror for the Griffin Museum’s 25th Annual Juried Members’ Exhibition, now on view through September 1st, 2019.
How did you become interested in photography? Was there a particular inspiration or experience that led you into it?
I was at a loss as to what I wanted to study and photography came to me in a flash, as it were. It seemed both accessible and thrilling. I took a job at a color film develop and print shop and applied to photography school. I came out the other end a mediocre photographer but with a huge love of photography so it occurred to me to do something around it. I took the first job I was offered, filing slides at a commercial photo library. Soon afterward, I came over from London to run their New York office.
How do you think your British background and education influence your sensibilities, preferences and approach to photography?
Perhaps I am a bit less conservative. The first exhibition I ever saw was Robert Mapplethorpe and then I got into Duane Michals. They were my earliest influences. Mapplethorpe shows got shut down in the US but not the UK… that tells us something.
How do you tackle a large, “open call” show like the Griffin Museum of Photography’s 25th Annual Juried Members’ Exhibition?
First thing is to decide which images are definitely not good enough, and I mean poorly executed. Then I sit and stare at all the rest for some time. I try very hard to make sure I consider images I would not necessarily want to have on my wall but are well made, have a point of view, and are bringing something new to the subject. From the Griffin’s Annual Juried Exhibition that I just selected, Sunjoo Lee’s still-life images were so quiet as to almost be imperceptible and gave me chills. Jennifer Georgescu’s image from her Mother series is so fresh! I found Brian Kosoff’s B&W photograph so classic and beautifully executed. I also try hard to make sure there is some joy involved… some images that raise a smile. I am also drawn to some that I am not sure about how they were made. If they keep me staring for a while and my eye is entertained the whole time, they’re in!
Do you think that juried shows are the best way for an emerging photographer to be recognized today?
Entering shows is great for some photographers but pointless for others. It’s distressing to me when I see images that are not good enough, don’t fit the bill, or are poorly considered – these photographers need to improve their work before they put it in front of a critical audience. I think it’s a good way to get into a show at a gallery you like, but I do not think it is a good way to introduce your work to a curator. Sometimes there is no data provided during the judging process or there are thousands of images and the juror just can’t remember you even if they love your work, but it doesn’t quite fit with the exhibit they are curating.
Across the globe, we are living in yet another era of political discord and cultural polarization. How do you find that photography is reflecting and defining our moment?
Drowned migrants, dead Syrian babies – I am scared that we are becoming desensitized. People find these kinds of images paralyzing, but I see important work changing minds on local levels. I have published hyper-local political images from Britain’s JA Mortram, he tells the stories of the most marginalized people in his immediate neighborhood; and the all-American “Stranger Fruit” by Jon Henry, a comment on the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of the authorities. The images shout for themselves. I see nostalgic escapism in the abundance of images being made that incorporate family photos, ephemera – reflecting on family history, mainly immigration – perhaps it’s not nostalgia, more reflection. I chose Astrid Reischwitz in this style as part of the Griffin’s Annual Juried Exhibition.
An increasing number of artists are embracing camera-less photography and other antiquarian methods, as well as fusing and combining techniques like film, digital and printmaking. What is the significance of this integration and how do you think it affects what we think of as a photograph?
The first modern process camera-less photograph that I saw was a Doris Mitsch image of a Datura flower. I didn’t realize at first but she made it using a scanner. I was perturbed and when I examined why, I couldn’t find a good reason! Since then I am fascinated by the creative ways in which people make images. Look at Toby MacLennan’s wild work and Cheryl Clegg’s mystery…
It seems every photography magazine has an online presence today. Does this spell the end of the printed journal? At the same time, photobook publishing is thriving, with artist-made self-published books, boutique imprints, and large commercial concerns all producing exciting work. What do you think is the future of photography publishing?
Photography magazines may have a presence online but few treat images with the space and respect they deserve. I wish there were more like aCurator, just designed to show off great images. A new online magazine just launched, Photo Letter, focusing on one photographer per issue.
There’s still nothing like holding a print, or a book. However, I do think there’s a misconception about what a book really does for a photographer’s career. They cost artists a ton of money and should be really carefully considered. Too many book publishers nowadays seem less inclined to curate a program and more likely to publish what comes along, accompanied by a check for $30,000. The future might be heading more in the direction of a print-on-demand or pre-sales model, like Minor Matters.