Redeye's Paul Herrmann interviews Christiane Monarchi, the founding editor of Photomonitor, one of the leading websites of photo exhibition listings, reviews and essays, based in London. Christiane also writes on photography for other publications, organises artist talks and symposia, conducts portfolio reviews and judges art prizes.
Paul Herrmann (PH): What do you see as the main trends and currents in photography exhibitions at the moment? Are there any areas or genres that you think are underrepresented?
Christiane Monarchi (CM): Looking back at the breadth of features I've been able to select for Photomonitor in the past 3 years, taking in the varied output of the annual degree shows and the exhibition programmes of the UK and Irish galleries that I follow, I do enjoy looking for trends in photographic practice today. Often I now see a conflation of the traditional portrait/landscape/still life genres, where series and photobooks may contain elements of each, for example, in a narrative arrangement. I believe we are witnessing a return to hand-made prints and a rejection of photoshoppery, at the same time a strong interest in alternative processes in image making and printing. Of course this also reflects my personal taste; in selecting features for my online magazine or writing for another platform, I welcome images with a strong unifying concept, a reason for creation, a truth or a fiction to evoke or narrate - for me the days of nice, stand-alone, perfectly composed images are certainly numbered.
I am always interested in what helps define a geographic location - in my case, having focused Photomonitor on artists and photographers living, practicing and/or exhibiting in the UK and Ireland there do emerge some affinities over time, whether by curatorial choice, institutional history or artist affiliations. I am interested in collectives such as Document Scotland and A Fine Beginning and curated projects like Photo Ireland's 'New Irish Works'. These for me are fantastically interesting at home and even more important to promote abroad.
PH: What is your view on photographic artists who have moved to working with other people's archives, found photographs, and so on? Is that a temporary trend or is it indicative of something longer term?
CM: This is a tremendously interesting genre, and has lent itself well to several great exhibitions and photobooks. One of my favourites recently, Amore e piombo: The Photography of Extremes in 1970s Italy curated by Federica Chiocchetti and Roger Hargreaves, was produced as both a visually compelling exhibition in Brighton last year and a great publication which has just won the Kraszna Krausz book award for 2015. Where can found photograph exhibitions can go? Penelope Umbrico's Flickr Sunset was a trailblazer for found internet images, Mishka Henner has produced acclaimed bodies of work with images sourced from Google databases. Small archives of found prints, like Erik Kessels' wonderful 'In Almost Every Picture' photobooks work well when they are concisely edited with artistic intervention. I am anxiously waiting to receive my crowdfunded book from Ania Dabrowska's 'Lebanese Archive' soon to be published by Bookworks and Arab Image Foundation, as I am very interested in Ania's project working with Diab Alkarssifi's vast archive of thousands of images of the Middle East.
PH: I sometimes hear about some of the bigger photography exhibitions that don't make it to the UK. Do you think that's a problem? If so, what's causing it?
CM: In the past three years overseeing Photomonitor's listings of exhibitions in the UK and Ireland, we have listed more than 2,000 shows. There are dozens and dozens of current photography exhibitions, festivals and talks on in any given week, all across the UK and Ireland. It's hard to complain, really.
PH: What about touring exhibitions? Could and should that happen more in photography?
CM: Having had some experience in the commercial gallery sector, I had seen some of the opportunities and limitations for artists exhibiting in public institutions. Having a public gallery exhibition is not always remunerative; although it may increase one's 'profile,' there are a lot of costs involved. Touring exhibitions are a wonderful idea, and seem to happen successfully in Wales more often than other places I see. I'd like to know more about this myself, and wish institutions could be more open with their curatorial process so that artists can propose projects more directly.
PH: Is there something that you think that photographers could improve in the way they exhibit? What do you think are the main mistakes photographers make when they put exhibitions together?
CM: Take enough time. This means time spent planning ahead and notifying press - months in advance if possible - to have a chance of getting a commissioned review allocated. It also means giving visitors enough time to see the works. It costs money to have a show, but if you are going to spend money hanging printed and framed works why not maximise the time they are hanging? A weekend gig is just not going to get as much attention as a month in a space open during business hours, so that reviewers can make it. As a footnote I would also request that press releases be concise and have dates, addresses, links - sounds obvious but you'd be surprised what gets sent out.
PH: I've heard a few people say that students and young artists tend to travel less and look more at the Internet. Do you see that happening, and if so is it a problem for exhibiting? Is the place of the physical print as strong as it ever has been?
CM: I think students get put off going to galleries and art fairs, even though they should go - to see what museum curators are buying, and what gallerists think is important to promote. The online world is only useful up to a point - one needs to see the work in person to see the artists' print decisions, framing, curatorial hanging decisions - they all greatly influence the professional delivery of the photographic image itself. No, not everything centres around commercial galleries - but artists wanting to make a living from their art need to care about what is happening and transacting in these spaces. I hope many students made it to Photo London and Offprint last month in London; worth the trip to see the variety of photographic works and books all in one place.
PH: Thinking about the photographic ecosystem as a whole, what do you see as the main strengths and weaknesses at the moment? I'm thinking of areas such as education, museums, libraries, agencies, independent galleries, magazines, networks and collectives, and other parts of the infrastructure that support photography.
CM: I see a very vibrant ecosystem. Photography programmes are turning out great students, perhaps they may like to learn more of the 'real world' bit which some courses seem to provide more than others. Magazines are evolving; just when someone calls for the death of print, another fresh new title pops up on the shelf. Museums are putting on great exhibitions and showing more photography than ever before. But one missing puzzle piece seems to be institutional sponsorship from private monies, which for a variety of reasons are not as forthcoming as they are in the US for example. Without changes in tax legislation related to charitable giving, institutions will continue to be reliant on government funding and a few generous benefactors. It's all we seem to talk about, especially now as some notable institutions are threatened with closure due to budget cuts. Is there a commercial alternative?
PH: Can you say something about Photomonitor's business model? How do you interact with other organisations? Do you get or want public funding?
CM: Photomonitor is a small, private enterprise created to promote photography and lens-based media made and exhibited in the UK and Ireland. Our editorial style is collaborative in that we commission features from writers' suggestions, rather than top-down assignments. In this way we learn about emerging artists and projects that we are keen to highlight alongside more well-known names and spaces. Our commissioning budget continues to grow thanks to the advertising revenue from institutional partners who list their exhibitions, talks and logos on our site.
The goal was to create a platform where all content was accessible and free to read, with timely features from all over the UK and Ireland. We aim to have all reviews featuring exhibitions that are still running at time of publication, something that is almost impossible to do in the print medium.
I'm pleased that in just over 3 years, more than 170 contributing writers and artists have helped create more than 560 features which are read in more than 120 countries. I started this venture with an eye to creating a platform to promote artists and photographers living and working in the UK and Ireland, and I am also interested in supporting this idea beyond the internet. Photomonitor continues to convince me of the democracy and accessibility of the online word and image platform, but it also makes me want to see things with my own eyes, be it in a gallery or on the printed page. They all go together and I'm pleased to help promote the best within my own site.