Category : Section 3 – The Photographic Industry

The Photography Industry – Tutor feedback

Having submitted my essay I was unsure how my tutor would receive it but his feedback was pretty good.

He felt that it could have been written in a slightly more academic vein but this wasn’t really a big issue. I’d deliberately done that to make it more readable since, although it was part of an academic course, it didn’t feel as though it was a key element in the way a thesis or dissertation would have been. ls, the interviews themselves which were an important part of the essay were very definitely written (and carried out) in an informal fashion. Of course, it it became a problem I could rewrite it to reflect David’s issues but neither of us felt that was necessary.

David felt that it was a good use of primary research. The interviews seemed to have been on track with relevant and pertinent questions. There could, possibly, have been more interviews but, again, this was not necessary. The fact that the two roles were very different but still related was good

In the conclusions I should add what I’d learnt about the role of a curator including elements such as

  • Is the curator a barrier between the artist and his/her vision?
  • Is the role different for a single artist vs multi-artist installation?
  • What is the role of curator?

These points will be in the assessment submission, but I should include them in this essay

All in all I’m quite happy with that so on to the exhibition !!

The Photography Industry – The Role of a Modern Curator

I finally managed to get through this essay though, as I mentioned earlier, I found it a bit of a chore or, more accurately, found it a bit of a distraction from the main body of the module. Having said that, I realise why it’s necessary – it just seemed as though it didn’t fit within the structure of the module.

I’ve removed the interviews from this post as they were included in an earlier post and I’ve anonymised the interviewees since, again, I did not want to put their names here on the Internet without their permission

Curator noun /kjʊˈreɪ.tər/ – person in charge of a museum, library, etc.

Art noun /ɑːt/ an activity through which people express particular ideas:

The above definitions from the Cambridge dictionary introduce the idea, discussed within this paper, that the role of a curator has evolved such that they can also be viewed as artists, producing their own artwork, publicising their own ideas.

This view arose after interviews with two curators in Windsor, one of whom was based in a commercial gallery whereas the other was in a community arts centre. Together with my experience of self-curating my own exhibition these caused me to reflect on the changing role of the curator.

A cursory study of the subject on the Internet was enough for me to realise that this was a contentious issue with numerous views available, many of which reflect on the flexible, multi-dimensional role of today’s curator.

This flexibility has even led to the creation of new professions such as “Experience Designers” and “Content Farmers” (Balzer, 2014) which utilise this multi-dimensionality to create a wider experience beyond the single-view experiences of early exhibitions.

However, the role of the original photography curators such as John Ruskin was very different, he “was dedicated to widening social access to cultural experience” (Hanley & Walton, 2010, p19) and was aware that not everybody would be able to travel and experience these cultures at first hand. Instead he brought the culture to his workers in the shape of artefacts at his Walkley museum, near Sheffield, curating a cultural experience for those unable to visit the source themselves.

Despite the primary role of the museum being education Hanley and Walton go on to suggest (p55) that Ruskin’s art critic background was integral to his approach, the ‘visual’ creating a link between “sensation and idea, the material and the intellectual”. Thus, even then there was an argument to consider the curator as an artist.

However, the more typical or traditional view of the curator’s role can be seen in the Tate’s rather bland definition of the role (Anon, 2005): “The curator selects a work for exhibition and makes decisions about the context within which it will be displayed. This requires sensitivity to the interests and intentions of the artist. The curator also needs to ensure that the work is displayed in such a way that it is accessible and meaningful to the public. “

This definition does appear to be based on the historic role of the curator despite many of the Tate’s own exhibitions demonstrating how the role of the curator has evolved. The forthcoming Anne Imhof exhibition combines paintings, sculptures and architectural interventions during the day and music, painting and choreographed gestures during the evening performances.

Curating such an exhibition goes beyond the Tate’s definition and Obrist’s view (Obrist, 2019) that “It means to preserve, in the sense of safeguarding the heritage of art. It means to be the selector of new work. It means to connect to art history, and it means displaying or arranging the work.” seems more pertinent to the modern day curator but even this does not address all the complexities of a multi-dimensional event such as Imhof’s.

Steve Rosenbaum (Rosenbaum, 2014) takes this further and suggests that “curators are mixologists” using a DJ as an analogy. Good DJs won’t necessarily use tracks from the same artist or even the same genre but will mix to create a new experience much as today’s curators often do. He also suggests that curators must now be “makers” with a leadership role, defining the conversation or agenda, in effect a creator rather than a traditional curator, a stance that could almost be said to define an artist.

Interestingly, Bridget Kendal (BBC World Service, 2016), while chairing a discussion where Obrist repeated his definition as described above asked the question “has curation displaced creation?” reflecting on the creative role of curation rather than the custodial aspects.

Brown and Tepper (2012) take this still further and look at the role of the modern curator in the community. Whilst acknowledging that some, particularly with reference to crowdfunded art, believe that the role of the curator is being dumbed down, or even being made redundant, they argue that the opposite is true. The curator must now understand the needs of the community[1] as well as be a “researcher of artistic possibility”. To combine the two the curator must now utilise their own artistic vision rather than simply use the vision of any participating artist.

Ventizlavov (2014) discusses this changing role of the curator in depth and suggests that the curator creates artistic value merely through the process of selection, an argument that is difficult to counter when the appropriation work of Sherrie Levine and others is so highly sought after as art. Ventizlavov further suggests that over the last hundred years or so, our understanding of what it means to be an artist has changed to include practices and approaches that are safely attributable to the contemporary curator.

This latter argument is strengthened by the fact that much of an artist’s work has developed to include curational activities which is regarded as being totally acceptable. Many of those who argue that the role of the curator cannot be considered artistic ignore this fact that artists themselves regard it as an extension of their own role. Again, returning to appropriation, is their any difference between displaying another person’s work in a different context and displaying a collection of artworks in a different environment or context?

The hanging of Matisse’s The Dance at MOMA, New York is a good example of the artistic nature of the curator’s work. The image was hung in a stairwell, away from the Matisse gallery, and this was considered irreverent at first. However, the painting itself had been commissioned by Sergei Shchukin to hang in a stairwell in his residence and its placement in MOMA’s stairwell introduces an additional element into the viewer’s appreciation, this element solely the creation of the curator. In effect the curator was expressing a particular idea or concept which would otherwise have been missed.

There have been many who have dismissed the idea that a curator could be considered to be an artist and one of the most prominent has been Robert Storr, himself both a curator and an artist. His, often stated view, is that the curator is more akin to an editor

I do think that curators have a medium … like that of a good editor to a good novelist. Although it’s not the same thing as being a novelist, being an editor involves a deep identification with a living aesthetic. That aesthetic vantage point is as important or, in many respects, more important than what we usually call “ideas” about art. As a curator, you can work through problems by working with materials … instead of approaching things as if a curator was primarily an explainer or educator. (Storr, 2000)

However, many of the points that he raises to contradict that view can themselves be used to support that view if one now considers the multi-dimensional productions such as Imhof’s that was mentioned earlier.  Indeed, in the above quote Storr himself defines the role as being beyond an explainer and an educator which were the traditional forms of curation and talks about the aesthetic vantage point working with materials – strikingly similar to the definition of “Art” at the beginning of this essay.

Furthermore, Ivan Gaskell (Gaskell, 2000) suggests that the juxtaposition of works of art can generate additional meaning, in effect create new art by the arrangement of the original elements or “working with materials”, much as Storr describes in his contrary argument.

Contrarily, this additional meaning could be contrary to the wishes or intentions of the artist suggesting that the curator could be a barrier to the aim of the artist in publishing their view. In many ways this is dependant on whether the exhibition is a single-artist or multi-artist exhibition. One would hope that in the former case the curator and artist would collaborate to ensure that the intent is satisfied whereas, in the latter case, the message is primarily within the curator’s remait from the start.

In summary, Boris Groys suggests

When it comes down to it, the contemporary curator does everything the contemporary artist does. The independent curator travels the world and organizes exhibitions that are comparable to artistic installations – comparable because they are the results of individual curatorial projects, discussions, actions. (Groys, 2008)

Throughout this brief essay two points keep recurring. The first is simply terminology. Whereas the denotative meaning of “curator” or of “art” can be consistently defined in any dictionary the connotative meaning can vary dependant on context or a person’s experience. The second point follows from this in that, to some people at least, the roles of curator and artist must be separate but there is no reason why this should be the case. After all, an electrician and a plumber are very different but there is no reason why a good electrician cannot be a good plumber and vice versa.

To finalise I need to return to the origins of this paper which were in the research and interviews that I did in Windsor’s local art scene. These interviews were with two different “types” of curator, one being in a community arts centre and the other in a commercial gallery.

If we return to Brown and Tepper (2012) they define a “curator” as referring to any artistic decision-maker within a nonprofit arts organization. This being a connotative definition to align with the purpose of their document. In a performing art presenting organization, this would typically refer to the executive director in an organisation such as the Old Court referred to in Appendix A where interview 1 fulfils this role.

However, a curator can also refer to a gallerist/curator such as the second interviewee whose interview is in Appendix B or Laura Noble of L. A. Noble Gallery.

Both the interviewees were asked the same question – namely “What are you looking for when you curate or host an exhibition here?”

In my view their respective answers, reflecting their roles, provide a simple answer to the debate of the role of a curator as an artist.

Interviewee 1 had already spoken about the Old Court being a focus for art in the community, pulling together many forms in the same location, primarily for the benefit of the residents. His answer to the question continued in this vein “The purpose of the Old Court is primarily to be a commercial organisation, without the revenue from the theatre, cinema, classes and the bar we, obviously, couldn’t survive, we need them to subsidise the other areas. At the same time, we want to encourage the art scene in Windsor as we are, as I mentioned, in effect the Community Arts Centre, so we’re heavily associated with the Windsor Festival and with the Winsor Fringe. As part of that we try and have a permanent exhibition in this area to, in effect, advertise art. Mainly we’re looking for something that has a local interest and encourages people to take an interest, both in the art and in its subject. We’re looking for exhibitions that ‘talk’ to the visitors and interest them. Of course, if it increases the footfall into our commercial activities then we’re double happy!

Interviewee 2’s answer was much more direct: “We’re primarily a brand outlet so our usual, day-to-day, gallery exhibition simply contains a selection of the artists, works that might interest potential buyers. Obviously, we still try and present these in a complementary fashion. Our occasional, themed exhibitions continue this, and we might just have one artist or two or three covering the same subject. The main idea behind these is to act as an introduction, getting the artist known to the public, raising his or her profile, getting them to the market”.

The contrast between the two answers is clear and comes down to Brown and Tepper’s definition of a curator. If there is a commercial element, then this takes precedence over any artistic intentions of the curator. Conversely, in the absence of commerce then there is no reason why the curator cannot be regarded as an artist, contrary to Storr’s polarised view.

[1] “Community in the broadest sense whether it be a locality within a town or a global network


Anon (2005), The Role of the Curator. Tate Gallery, available online at: http://www2.tate.org.uk/nauman/themes_4.htm# Accessed 12th January, 2019. 

Balzer, D., 2014. Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else. London: Pluto Press.

BBC World Service, 2016, The New Curators, Who decides what’s culturally important, available online at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04cy8zz . Accessed 12th January, 2019

Brown, A. and Tepper, S., 2012, Placing the Arts at the Heart of the Creative Campus,

Gaskell, I., 2000, Vermeer’s Wager: Speculations on Art History, Theory and Art Museums, London, Reakton

Groys, Boris., 2008, On the Curatorship. Art Power, p50. 

Hanley, K., and Walton, J. K.,2010, Constructing Cultural Tourism: John Ruskin and the Tourist Gaze, Bristol, Buffalo and Toronto: Channel View Publications.

Imhof, A, 2019, BMW Tate Live Exhibition, available online at https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/anne-imhof, Accessed 12th January, 2019. 

Obrist, H. U., 2019, The Art of Curation,  Available online at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/mar/23/hans-ulrich-obrist-art-curator, Accessed 12th January, 2019

Rosenbaum, S., 2014, The 5 Key Roles of a Killer Curator, Available online at https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenrosenbaum/2014/11/06/the-5-key-roles-of-a-killer-curator/#90eb56430f88, Accessed 13th January, 2019

Storr, R., “The Exhibitionists,” Frieze No. 94 (2005)

Storr, R, 2000, “How do we do what we do. And how we don’t” In Curating Now: Imaginative practice/ Public Responsibility. Philadelphia, PA: The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage

Ventislavov, R., 2014, Idle Arts: Reconsidering the Curator in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 72:1 Winter 2014

The Photography Industry – Other Research

I’ve been doing a fair amount of digging to find other views and thoughts on the subject of curating and found some interesting articles and papers that I’ll refer to here, just by including snippets rather than any lengthy analysis of them.

The best resource was the book, Curationism, by David Balzer which was recommended to me by my Contextual Studies tutor. In it Balzer looks at the cult of the curator and how the role has changed over the years until the curator is now part of popular culture. One of the elements that I found interesting/amusing was how popular culture has allowed curators to become stars of the postinternet era and this has led to new job titles for the traditional role such as “Experience Designers” or “Content Farmers”.

Another useful resource was “The Future for Curators” (Edwards, 2007) which suggested that:

The role of the curator has changed and is likely to change in the future. Current issues

of postmodernism have affected their authority and status, by calling on new voices and

narratives. Criticisms continue to be levelled at curators for failing to change communication through display and to maintain subject-based expertise, while new technology constantly increases both the demand for and the supply of information. A survey of curatorial jobs in the Museums Journal confirms that the level of skills and knowledge required of curators has decreased.

Again, like Balzer, Edwards is looking at the way that curators have had to change because of the internet but whereas Balzer suggests that many have become multi-skilled Edwards suggests the opposite.

Another useful element was an interview (Fruchtnis, 2018) that David Campany gave in which he was asked “When you curate an exhibition, how do you select the images to include?” His lengthy reply is below

DC: It’s a very slow process. Often there are key images. For example with ‘Anonymes’ they were Jeff Wall’s 2002 image ‘Men Waiting’ and Walker Evans’s 1946 Fortune magazine piece ‘Labor Anonymous’.  I wanted to have those two works in the same exhibition space, in close proximity. A huge tableau photograph made for the gallery and an old magazine spread, both dealing with exactly the same subject matter (the daily work of anonymous citizens). Other images followed from that. Works are chosen with the exhibition space in mind. An exhibition is not a catalogue. An exhibition needs to work as an embodied experience. I think that very often curators of photography exhibitions forget this, and shows end up feeling like catalogues on the wall.  I think also that many contemporary shows of photography are too big. I like to work with just two or three rooms. Photographs demand a lot from us: they have a profound effect on our nervous systems, even if we’re only looking at them for a few seconds. Despite that fact that we might live our lives surrounded by photographs, we cannot look at many and keep our concentration.

I’ve included the lengthy answer here as I’m being heavily influenced by it in my  choosing my final portfolio for exhibition.

The BJP guide referenced below also has some great advice about curating though some of the comments were daunting when I was thinking about my own exhibition!

Ventzislavov (Ventzislavov, 2014) had some interesting ideas, particularly in suggesting that the curator should nowadays be considered an artist in their own right.

Similarly Kowalski (Kowalski, 2010) had some interesting points

The roots of activist curating can be found in Western Classical culture.  The prevalence of conceptual art at the end of the twentieth century, combined with the explicit denigration of physical craft by artists, created a void into which activist curators moved.  The curator’s role as educator and referee in artistic style wars needs to be reexamined in light of contemporary analyses of the nature of power.  Our understanding of the nexus of art-making, criticism, and curating is profoundly compromised by our skill in suppressing the many pious fictions upon which these activities are founded.  

Hansson (2016) is another who regards curators as being akin to conceptual artists as well as providing an insight into the future of curating through a series of respondents.

Finally a whole series of curator interviews can be found at https://photocurating.net/?page_id=30 including Susan Bright, Peter Galassi and others. They provide an interesting and varied series of viewpoints on curating as it moves forward.

This post isn’t intended to be a deep analysis, simply a list of some of the resources that I have been finding useful as I write my essay on curating



BJP, 2018, A guide to exhibiting your work, Available online at https://www.bjp-online.com/2018/03/exhibiting-your-work-three-curators/ Accessed 16th July 2018

Edwards, E.C., 2007. The Future for Curators. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology, 18(S1), pp.98–114. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/pia.290

Fruchtnis, K., 2018. David Campany – Photography is a Passport, Available online at http://www.urbanautica.com/interview/david-campany-photography-is-a-passport/221. Accessed 12th July 2018

Hansson, J., 2016, The curator as a conceptual artist, Available onine at https://www.theseus.fi/handle/10024/107324, Accessed 13th July 2018

Kowalski, Michael J. (2010). The Curatorial Muse. Contemporary Aesthetics. 9.

Ventzislavov, R. (2014), Idle Arts: Reconsidering the Curator. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 72: 83-93. doi:10.1111/jaac.12058 Accessed 22nd July 2018

The Photography Industry – Interview 2

The second interview was with the curator/gallerist at a local commercial gallery. As in the first interview I’ve removed the name and replaced the initials with “Ans” as I don’t want to place the name on the Internet without permission.

GW: How would you describe the gallery’s role or function? And your role within it?

Ans: It’s primarily our reception room but also a retail space and at the same time it’s a local space. The things that we exhibit tend to be things that appeal to local people, they’re our main market, so we get to know those people and the work of local artist’s or photographers. The tourists that come in and buy also want local works as it reminds them of their visit to Windsor.

At the same time we host and sell a lot of contemporary art. Strangely, some of our most popular prints are black and white ones of Kate Moss who isn’t local at all. Those seem to be bought either by people wo just want a black and white print because it fits their home ,or they know and like Kate Moss – that’s a really strange one. Still, it usually means something to someone, it’s really personal, which, I guess, is like the local art.

People come in off the street and if they love it they’ll buy it !

GW: How did you get to your current position?

Ans: We’re a brand agency and they had a space for a retail consultant. They employed a consultant who’s quite well down in the art dealing world, particularly contemporary art. She was brought in to open and front this place. I finished a degree in illustration and wanted to do something creative in the art world but didn’t want to work on my own all the time. This gave me the chance to work with art but also, people come in off the street and thy know that they want something but don’t know what they want, they don’t know about the area … in an art sense I mean. So I end up talking to them about art in general, almost like a consultant, to give them a background before they can decide what they want.

It’s funny, some people know exactly what they want and I’m almost redundant but others want or need to chat for a long time.

GW: Could you give a snapshot of your daily activities?

Ans: It’s split between a simple retail function and organising events. Because we’re a brand agency we normally have themed exhibitions here, and most of my time is spent organising those from the initial contact – which could be us speaking to an artist or us being approached by an artist.

Then it’s a case of organising the images and the commercials with the artist if they’re not already on our books. We usually have exhibitions lasting two or three weeks and there’ll be some advertising or marketing for each of them, sometimes three or four exhibitions ahead.

GW: What are the challenges and rewards your role at the gallery offers? Do you enjoy it?

Ans: The best thing is the variety, no day is the same which is want you want. It’s why I didn’t want to work on my own after uni, I don’t think that I’d have that variety.

GW: How would you describe your relationship with the artists – collaborative? How would you define collaboration in this sense?

Ans: It’s really good. Most of the artists are local and we’ve been working with them for some time so it’s a really friendly environment or relationship in that sense. We do work together and chat about what’s needed. Sometimes the artist wants to bounce ideas off us on a change of direction or some new work and we try and help. It’s not just to help sell the pictures but both sides get some comfort from it if that makes sense? We end up knowing much more about the artist and the work but the artist goes away knowing that we’re interested and on their side. It means that when a customer asks about a work or about the artist we’ve got so much more information and can talk about it personally.

That way we can talk about the story of the picture, where it’s come from and why the artist painted it or took the photograph – it makes it much more personal. And we can talk about how the artist painted it, what materials they used and why – it all adds to the background story and makes it more interesting.

Also, we’ve had a couple of artists actually working in the gallery, painting while the customers are watching which was interesting for the visitors.

GW: What is the gallery looking for in the photographers the gallery chooses to work with?

Ans: It’s on the basis of the local interest that we were talking about. Some of the artists that we work with have been on our books for years, but the new work tends to be local or have a local connection. Like I said, it’s very much a local market, even the tourists want local work, so that’s the main thing. Like any business it’s a case of knowing your customer and it’s the local work that sells, which is the important thing for a brand outlet like us, but it’s the more contemporary or modern work that’s selling the best.

The way that the artist or photographer is presenting the work is important too. Some of them want to present it in a certain way which just wouldn’t work here. Most of our pictures are presented in a very simple, contemporary way and if an artist is insistent on a bright, garish frame then obviously it wouldn’t look right here.

GW: What are you looking for when you curate or host an exhibition here?

Ans: We’re primarily a brand outlet so our usual, day-to-day, gallery exhibition simply contains a selection of the artists, works that might interest potential buyers. Obviously, we still try and present these in a complementary fashion. Our occasional, themed exhibitions continue this, and we might just have one artist or two or three covering the same subject. The main idea behind these is to act as an introduction, getting the artist known to the public, raising his or her profile, getting them to the market.

GW: How involved are your photographers when it comes to mounting, hanging and installing works or do you do it all? – What tips or advice have you got for when it comes to installing work?

Ans: Our established artists or photographers tend to know what they want and are very particular, mostly, stick to a single style of mounting and framing. With newer artists we get involved if they want help. Generally, in photography I like a simple black frame though some contemporary images like these here can take a white frame.

The main thing is for it to look professional. If the work doesn’t look slick, if it isn’t presented well,  then the viewer doesn’t really look at the picture, just the mistakes.

We’ve had some school exhibitions and graduate exhibitions here and it’s not too bad then because ….. it’s OK because it’s an amateur setup but if it’s a professional artist then the presentation is really important.

GW: What keeps artists in the photography industry today? – What are the main challenges you think artists are facing today?

Ans: It’s rare now for a photographer to just be in a gallery. For example one of our photographers also exhibits in Savill Gardens and works closely with the Windsor Tourist Board, the Council and the Castle. That way she has a number of outlets but also she does commissions for those people. It’s important for artists and photographers nowadays to have those channels or markets if they want to make a living out of it to any degree. It’s no use just churning out work and expecting people to find it if you don’t make the effort to get it out as widely as possible.

It’s like fashion photographers who appear in Vogue, they wouldn’t get known by Vogue unless they were in galleries beforehand or being interviewed. Basically it’s a case of doing everything to broaden your profile, maximise the number of channels for your work.

GW: Do you think that artists or photographers need to understand the history of their medium and their place in the genre or should they just paint/photograph/sculpt?

Ans: It’s difficult … a small number of photographers seem to be able to just go out and take amazing images that sell but for most it really helps to understand the background of the field. It’s crazy really, some people come in here to try and place their images when they haven’t even got the horizons straight in a landscape or something. It’s not that they don’t understand the background, but they haven’t learnt the basics and still expect to sell their images. Sorry, that’s a sore point of mine but going back, the more that a photographer understands the background of his field the more chance there is that he or she will get an image that talks to the viewer.

GW: What do you think contemporary photographers need to understand about storytelling to produce compelling work?

Ans: It always helps to have a background story because people can relate to it better. Obviously, some simple images don’t have a story or need one, but they tend to be in the minority. A lot of images don’t need the photographer to create one or talk about it because the viewer can make up their own. A simple picture of Windsor Castle has so many stories already in it depending on the experience of the person viewing it. Is the viewer a royalist and want to be part of it or do they look at the castle and thing of the class structure that it represents.

Even if it’s just the story by the photographer, just telling why they’ve taken the image or where it was, when it was taken and all that stuff. It all adds to the context of the image.

GW: In what ways do you think writers/critics and galleries influence the way photography is consumed, disseminated and understood by audiences?

Ans: Unless it’s really hardcore art I don’t think that they have that much influence. In fact, I don’t see so much of it – I think that Social Media has replaced a lot of that stuff. Now it’s simple for an artist or photographer to put their work out via Social Media and the feedback will come very publicly so that it affects everybody’s perception of it. Sometimes I think that it’s difficult to separate the work on Social Media from all of the stuff around it like the comments, links to other places, just the general chatter around it.

If you come back to it though, it’s just a person making that art and it’s their art so the feedback from a critic shouldn’t make any difference. Then it’s a case of the viewer looking at it in their own way, does it work for them. Like we said earlier, it’s all so personal and subjective. I think that people look at art, photographs at least, from their own viewpoint.

GW: Do you think a photographic artist should make work with the intention to sell, i.e. cater to the market? If so, how might one do that?

Ans: Be different !

The Photography Industry – Interview 1

It was pretty obvious that the first interview for this essay should be the director of the Arts Centre were I intend to hold my exhibition. Although not a curator in the truest sense of the word he is responsible for a large portion of the Arts Scene in Windsor and has been involved in curating many aspects of this scene. I’ve removed his name and replaced his initials with “Ans” as I don’t want to put his name on the Internet without his permission.

GW: These questions are about Art in general but, out of curiosity, do you have any interest in photography specifically?

Ans: My first interest is music and always has been but though my work in the Old Court, and before that, I found that it was impossible to not have some interest in other forms of art if one was interested in a particular form. Nowadays, classical music might be a slight exception, but in other forms there’s so much crossover between forms that you move, or are moved, into other areas almost without realising it.

GW: You’re central to the Arts scene in Windsor through the Old Court and the Festival – you could say “at the apex”. How do you see it?

Ans: Yes, I mean that I wouldn’t won’t to posture on it but that’s the aim of both of them, both organisations, and if my job is to facilitate that and get them both working like that then “yes” that’s absolutely right. Yep.

GW: Curator or Curationism is a trendy word now. You could describe yourself as a curator to Art in the community – is this fair?

Ans: Yes, I mean, I think that’s very much the case. I see it as <pause> it works … there’s two sides to it. One, it is providing for the people who are going to consume and the other is facilitating for those who are providing … and so it is a balance of the two because we’re not the Arts Council and we’re not solely concerned with providing work for artists. We are principally concerned with serving the community. So, you’ve got to think about what will work for them, and what people want to see. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re driven by being populist but by what you think is going to be of interest. But also, as a curator, and producer I suppose … there’s no science to it. You know, it’s very much an individual thing and somebody else would do it completely differently. But I always start with what I think are the opportunities to make life a bit more enjoyable, more colourful

GW: How did your role develop?

Ans: It’s funny but I have no particular training or background in this, I’ve never read a book studied any theories on the subject to curating or on how to do what I do. It’s simply, I suppose, experience and intuition – a bit like life I suppose 😊

GW: You’ve mentioned your two roles and there seems to be a lot of synergy between them?

Ans: Indeed, they should do because this place is, as you know, the community Arts Centre and when we took over it was very, very important, to me, to get as many people through the doors as we possibly could. To make people want to use it, to make it busy, vibrant and with filling the time that it’s open. I mean it’s open 7 days a week. Adding a cinema to the site has been a good thing as well in this respect. So, it’s natural that the Festival should use this place, as is the Fringe this year. Because the Festival in its early days was very easily defined as slightly “club-like” and if you weren’t in it then it wasn’t for you. And there’s no point in that really because the Festival should represent all sorts of different people and events and audiences. So, this has been a great boost to our Festival program because it has allowed us to do stuff that we didn’t have the facility to do before. Because you can’t put on a Rock and Roll in St George’s Chapel so now, having an auditorium here of 160 seats with theatre-style equipment, we can do that so … in previous years the Festival did occasionally use here but it was very difficult from a relationship point of view. We couldn’t establish any sense of partnership so it is great that they do support each other.

GW: I’ve noticed that the successful exhibitions or shows in Windsor, including the Old Court, generally tell a story – do you agree and do you think that is necessary for a successful exhibition?

Ans: I think that storytelling is a very, very important part of Arts activity and provision and it can be very basic, it can be in the sense of a straightforward classical music concert where you might just listen to the music and you might not get much od a story at all. Obviously, with more romantic music you move into that where it’s telling you about something nut a Haydn symphony or a Mozart symphony doesn’t really give you a story. However, the experience of going to the State Apartments in the Castle for a performance or a concert in those wonderful surroundings is almost like a pilgrimage, walking up to the chapel and listening to this wonderful music is almost like a story in itself.

GW: In those circumstances isn’t it the listener that is creating his or her own story?

Ans: Yes, I think that people do, I mean if you’re hindered by detailed program notes detailing things like “listen out for the clarinet entry three minutes into the second movement” then it becomes deadly dull and the mind can start focussing on other things like “What did I forget in Waitrose?” or it can create a story. Having said that, in the visual arts, they are “given” to telling a story and you look around here and see the current photos of the Festival and you see Terry Waite talking and you wonder where is that? Why is he there? Similarly with sculpture, you have the horses on the roundabout by the Long Walk or … obviously in Windsor we have a lot of regal connections, with memorials or statues al creating or reminding us of stories. So there’s very much a place for “seeing” what somebody is trying to tell you. Which again, we all work on different levels. You might look at a work at a very basic level or you might go into it profoundly and that’s all about the experience.

It’s very interesting, when the Festival does its schools exhibit where we exhibit prize-winning work from A level students from all around the Borough the experience of seeing the artist as a child watching other people react to their work which they’ve being doing in the classroom and suddenly it’s out for the critical eye is fascinating. Because somebody might miss it completely whereas somebody else might say that it’s amazing “it reminds me of those Ghanaian pots that people carry on their heads” and the artist would think “Good Lord, I never thought of that” then thinking that there’s somebody that I will never meet again but is making a connection and thinking about my work.

GW: What are you looking for when you curate or host an exhibition here?

Ans: The purpose of the Old Court is primarily to be a commercial organisation, without the revenue from the theatre, cinema, classes and the bar we, obviously, couldn’t survive, we need them to subsidise the other areas. At the same time, we want to encourage the art scene in Windsor as we are, as I mentioned, in effect the Community Arts Centre, so we’re heavily associated with the Windsor Festival and with the Winsor Fringe. As part of that we try and have a permanent exhibition in this area to, in effect, advertise art. Mainly we’re looking for something that has a local interest