Conversations | Photography Talk | The Future(s) of Photography
Conversations | Photography Talk | The Future(s) of Photography

I would like to introduce our guests here, who are here to talk
about the futures, not the future,
but the futures of photography. We have three very
distinguished experts in the field, and most of all
it’s interesting that we have… because from different fields. We have a museum director,
a renowned dealer and a curator
and museum man as well. Nathalie Herschdorfer is
director of the museum in Le Locle, Thomas Zander has a famous
gallery specializing in photography and Philip Tinari is the director
of the Ullens Center in Beijing. I would just like to ask
you to introduce yourselves by maybe just telling us what seems to you
the most important issues that we need to talk about
when we think of the future of photography. I would like to hear from each
of your individual point of views, what would that be. Nathalie? Well, as a historian of photography, I would say that we speak
about the future of photography since photography was born
180 years ago we started this discussion, and even working in this
field for the last 15 years, I realize that it’s constantly
a question, thinking about the future. The more I think about photography,
the more I try to focus on different themes; the more I see the complexities, and the more I see that
photography is so multi-layered… and even today thinking
about what is happening with contemporary artists working with photography, I try not to say just photographers. I can see how this
inter-disciplinarity is wider and wider, and makes this theme so rich. For me, as a gallerist, it’s a problem
that has extended photography. We started with straight photography,
like classic photography, a nice beautiful print,
a nice beautiful image. So now, like Tillmans,
old, young artists, good artists stay more in the art world, and we have to explain to people also about different kinds of printing,
edition numbers, and this is a little bit confusing. This is the biggest problem
with photography, that the editions and printing
are not very clear for many people, but it’s very easy when
you have someone explain to you how the artists makes
the edition number, and you cannot… Everybody asks me,
“Oh, you have a negative, you can make thousand
prints more”, but this is not true. This is a little bit what
we have on our part as a gallerist, to talk about the nice print,
the good edition, and a good image. I think, I’m sort of the
non-photography-specific person on the panel, I’m also coming from
a different part of the world, not by birth, but by career. Photography’s actually been a pretty
significant piece of my program at UCCA, One piece of what we’ve tried to do. We’ve tried to do one
major show in this area each year. I think it’s very interesting
as a kind of test case, what are the limits
of the medium specificity, and how we conceive of
the entire field of artistic production today, because it’s something
that comes from a place where it had its own distinct sphere, and I think, if we look at,
for example Thomas, I think when he was
first participating in Art Basel it was in a special photography
section, which no longer exists. Or if you think about
the listings in The New Yorker; first there were always the art listings, then there would be
especially the photography listings, so that’s not happening
in that way anymore, I guess the question is like
now that a lot of this has to do with art entering a sort
of more post-medium condition. But there is still this community
and this body of scholarly interest and collecting activity and such, so… there’s this big question
of what that means now. So, do you think that
the field of contemporary art is kind of taking over
the traditional photography world? I did a talk a few weeks ago
with Thomas Demand at Photo London. Always the first thing
Thomas says is, “I’m not a photographer.” so many of these
people using photography, they insist on not being photographers. Thomas, is that a problem for you that you find successful
people working with photography but they would rather be in
an art gallery and not a photo gallery? This is a big problem because
everybody wants to be in the art gallery. So, when you build up
a good artist, in photography… but most of the good artists
have something to say: not only a good image, it’s a concept. So after the good concept, you want to be in the art gallery,
not in the photo gallery. My problem is that the art gallery
does not specialize in photography. So, it means we build up a good market then they leave and go to art galleries. So, this is a big point.
All my artists have extended photography. When I talk with Lewis Baltz, he doesn’t see
his work in any photo galleries, in any photo museum,
he doesn’t want to be in. There is something
of the same with all these artists, but I came from
photography and we have to make more of an installation of our exhibition, more installation and each picture
for the next, that is the only way. Nathalie, is this a distinction
that matters for you? For collecting, or making exhibitions? For me it’s very interesting
because last week I was in Arles, France, where you have the only photography
school backed by the Ministry of the Culture, so this is really the best
photography school in France, and it’s a kind of master’s degree, so these young people
are very well educated in photography from the only photography school
in France, and the students said:
‘I’m not a photographer, I’m an artist’. But they have a master’s degree
from this photography school, so I think this question about ‘Am I a photographer or an artist?’ it has a long history, a long tradition. Now I work in a fine arts museum and I work with many people
who will switch from lens-based art to other kinds of installation
or even drawing and painting. And I think for the younger generation
this distinction is really something that… that they don’t want to be part of it. Philip, how is it in Asia? Does it matter or is it
a European thing or a western thing? Well in the specific case of China
where I’ve worked for 15 years now, it’s really interesting because
contemporary art as a phenomenon is not growing out of
modernist history in the same way. It came from academies, sort of Beaux Arts academies,
but it was focused on, say painting, Chinese painting, oil painting,
printmaking and sculpture. These are the four key disciplines, right? And so, a lot of the artists
who began to work with photography were doing it from already quite
an avant-garde sort of approach. But late, comparatively
late in the 1980s and 1990s, it sort of appeared
in that way, and of course, you had another system of photojournalism, and sort of photography proper,
but that was never quite as artistic as it might have been,
and that I think created a space for this conversation to not
be so bifurcated, maybe from the beginning. I think, obviously, new technology
is an issue that matters to everybody, wherever we are working in the field, We are moving from prints, objects,
to data on a memory stick or wherever. How do you see the future of
collecting photography in institutions, Nathalie? We will no longer have the
traditional approaches that we’re used to, basically, using the same procedures that were used for prints
and drawings for centuries, but we are going to
need entirely new approaches because we are not going
to have objects in the collections and we are going to be
facing conservation problems that a single institution
just cannot cope with. Is that something
that is a concern to you? Well, not really, maybe not yet, because I think
I still work with many people who still care a lot about objects. What happens is
they don’t really create prints, they create objects for
the walls, or books, artist’s books, and the care they give
to these objects — even the framing, the kind of print
and the paper and the texture if you open an artist’s book today, it’s all about the object itself, and as a collector that’s what counts,
and these would be the objects. Even sometimes
some kind of hand-made objects. So, that’s also a long tradition that is still going on
with even emerging artists. But it’s true, the other part
is about all these digital files, and that’s challenging,
of course, and I don’t have now… I don’t know how
to deal with that myself. Thomas, have you ever
sold a digital file to a collector? Yes. But we also have
an Anthony McCall light installation, and you sell a stick for $100,000 it’s really strange for me
to give a small computer stick and say, now you have that piece for $100,000, so that’s not an object. What the galleries or artists
create is a nice box around the stick. Otherwise a collector doesn’t
understand why they pay $100,000. This is a little bit strange for me. In photography, I think it’s very
important to get a really beautiful print, because good prints
and good work have a good aura, it’s like a good painting, it has energy, and this digital file will never have energy. You have a video without
electricity, no energy anymore. so for me it’s very
important to have a beautiful print, a beautiful work, and good meaning and this is different to digital. Philip, is that an approach
that people in Asia would share? is there also this appreciation
of the handcrafted object in photography? Well, I think there’s
just a bigger thing happening, which is that the way
we consume photographic images has massively shifted to,
the screens on our phones. That’s definitely a trend
that is global but I think also it manifests itself in
specific ways in different places. In China and Asia particularly
the amount of images consumed and circulated and produced
by people for each other is staggering, right? And I guess that’s maybe
one of the bigger questions facing the field: what does this new intensity
of production and circulation of images by all kinds of people mean
for the discipline of photography as such? What would you say, Nathalie? Yeah, and that’s true that we went from a world of picture-taking to picture-making,
picture-sharing, data-compiling, and that’s true,
when you see the amount of pictures shared or made every day,
I don’t have the figure because every time
I try to find it, it’s going up and up. What is interesting for me is to see
the response of the artist to that many artists try to slow it down
or to create these objects. It’s also a kind of response to this world because we live in a world
where it’s ‘now, now, now’, so we need also to take some distance, and I think artists help us to keep
on track and to have this distance, and to create something also,
to look at it in a different way. Thomas, I think you rather fear that traditional connoisseurship gets lost
in this new world, is that the case? For example, in Art Basel we have
now six galleries of photography, the title is ‘Classic Photography’ but who from these galleries
shows only classical photography, but when it shows you, when you
look here at the classic photo as a kind of photography
is as a top on the top. So, it’s really hard to say but, we have maybe 50 to 100
applications only in photography, maybe, and only five come in
and that is like the Fraenkel Gallery, we represent also Sugimoto
and all the famous ones also in the art galleries. So, the connoisseurs,
the real ones, this is difficult. I have a lot of young collectors
in paintings so how difficult is it to explain,
put one good work next to whatever, take a good Eggleston,
it needs so much time to do it. Because at the moment
it’s really, so you can find very cheap amazing pieces in photography because the market in photography
was not going up like the art market. So, it’s a big difference:
you buy a Man Ray paper work, it’s one million and two hundred thousand, you can buy a very beautiful
Paul Strand for 50 thousand and an Adams from Howard Greenberg
for 50 thousand, a vintage print. So now, I think the art market
is going too much up and the photography market is still good to buy and to look for,
find some treasures. Where can young collectors
get an education in — This is the next problem
because, for example museums like MoMA in New York don’t have anymore
permanent exhibition of photography, there are only a handful in Europe that make photo exhibitions
like the Winterthur Museum. What is very nice is that, for example, SFMOMA in San Francisco has two thousand square meters
of permanent space for photography. But mostly photo departments
don’t exist anymore, you don’t have one specialist, no curator, he knows about photocopy,
a photocopy or a silver print he doesn’t see the difference. So how can you educate the people? How is this in Asia, I’m wondering. Institutional curators
were to be classical scholars who really know about
all the historical photography, techniques, and various
prints being made, etc. or are they more coming from the image and from the contemporary production? It’s in the context of the emergence
of institutions across the board, so you have new museums being founded and kind of finding their way
towards professional competence and in a whole range
of fields that applies. Sure, there are experts out there, people with long CVs of
publications and a connoisseurial eye but the specific challenge
of that context is getting that expertise in to the institutions,
or cultivating it in the next generation. But when you look at the number
of people from that part of the world studying in New York or London,
and specifically photography, it’s also quite encouraging, I suppose. Well, it’s true that I think
it’s very important to be educated in seeing the real prints, because even for me
as a professional I realize that I spend more time looking
at my screen, my small screen even more than my big screen, than ever. And I always have
a shock when I’m in front of beautiful, beautiful prints,
and I realize that even if I know the picture, the image, I don’t know it because the print
says something completely different. To have the opportunity to see
these prints is really important, and that’s part of
the education about photography. Good example; you have a nice,
everybody knows Bernd and Hilla Becher, you get a good piece from the 1960s, 1970s, Bernd and Hilla Becher, beautiful prints. I give you a photocopy of
the beautiful prints, it’s a big difference. So, you have straight photography, it’s like a good image
and a good printing, and the people of that generation
influence all the Gurskys, Struths, Ruff, everybody knows,
coming from the straight photography are influenced from Robert Adams,
Bernd and Hilla Becher, Lewis Baltz, Stephen Shaw. these are the first generation
who influence the contemporary artist. So, when you go back to,
for me, the old master, you find the most beautiful prints, the most important images
in the end, for nothing. You pay 10 thousand dollars
and not one million dollars but you have the masterpiece, and this piece is mostly
influenced the galleries, like Becher. Question to everybody. Do you think that young artists
do not really care about this difference, do not really care about
the specific quality of the print, is it all about just the sheer image which can be beamed or put on
a screen or on a cellphone anywhere, Thomas, are there even
the technical possibilities for artists to control the process
in the way which was the case in old classical
black and white, in the dark room, where you had the great
auteurs of the dark room, who really started to work only
once they got in to the dark room. I think it’s gotten difficult with technical procedures
that are being used these days. You can do digital prints,
iris prints, pigment prints, but you’re looking for Cibachrome for really good, beautiful artist
possibility from the 1960s 1970s, it’s impossible. No anymore material, you want to make
dye transfers like Eggleston, so now he does pigment prints, which in my opinion is completely stupid because it makes no sense to make
the same piece as you did in the 1960s more and more you make now
for the art market and big, for me it’s absolutely this that
has confused the photography world. Because also the art world
starting a very decorative piece, so because it’s often
a different technology from the 1960s, I think you have to use
the same technology when it’s possible, from the 1960s or 1970s, and not start to make digital pigment prints where you push the button
and the piece come out. This is quite difficult for photography that everybody can do
when he wants, like a digital print because you don’t need any knowledge. But for young artists it is a problem,
he cannot choose where to go. There’s also a trend among young
photographers for these old techniques. I mean the history of photography
is something like 800 techniques, I don’t know if this figure is true, but it’s really hundreds
and hundreds of processes, and I see this trend now
with young or not just young but many people working with photography, going back even to
the 19th century processes, spending time in the dark room
and working with chemicals, and I think it’s interesting when
you talk to this young generation of people who were born
with digital imagery, with internet, and they spend
nights and days on the screens. They still want to create
in terms of exhibitions, something that has
this quality and they play with skill, with the quality of printing,
the quality of these objects in a space. And that’s something that
they are very much aware of today, I think it’s interesting, and for me, it’s also a kind of
response to these little screens that we have constantly
in front of our eyes. As an example, when someone
listens to music, it’s very simple. You take your vinyl
and listen to a nice vinyl. It’s something different, slowed down, you open the cover, look at the vinyl and the sound is
completely different from a CD. So, that is the big difference
between digital and analogue. Sometimes you have to use digital, but when you can
use analogue, like in music, it’s a big difference still.
It’s also in photography. Maybe if we turn our eyes a bit
more to the content of photography. Philip, do you think that
in your field, contemporary art mainly, with a strong base in Asia, is there a different approach
that you see in photography that is being produced now
by contemporary Chinese, Asian artists, than what you see here now,
that Europeans, Americans are doing, what you see young artists doing here
at Art Basel or wherever you go? I think there’s a very global trend
towards starting to really think about what are the boundaries
of the photographic image, and I think this is brought on sometimes
by things like augmented reality that are such a part of
our everyday existence at this point. So, not to hark back to this whole
conversation about post-internet art, but certainly these kind of strategies
of trying to give material form to
new ideas and visual technologies that are shaping this digital
landscape that we all also inhabit. This is something that you see artists
all around the world grappling with. We were all together last summer in Todi
for this lovely conference that happens it’s kind of how we all know each other, and we had an artist with us,
Lucas Blalock who on the one hand was using,
as Nathalie was just talking about, very traditional camera formats, but on the other is making images
that have things added to them that aren’t actually from them,
and it’s sort of playing with at what point do we stop
processing something as an image, or if we’re all sort of using
Snapchat filters all day, then the range of things
that can be functioning as photographic images has already
kind of gone in a certain direction. So, what’s the future for
traditional, classic, photo galleries? Is it getting harder for you
in this environment where the whole usages
are swiftly changing and turning away from the classical modes? The classic way you have to contextualize
classic photography to the artworld. We have, it’s stupid now
to talk about my booth but we have a grey Richter painting
next to the white Candida Hofer photographs, so I think that’s kind of starting a game you can see the photograph
can be strong like a good painting. So, you just have to have people understand that you can very nicely
contextualize the piece then you get a different level,
and this is the only way to show only in Basel, in my opinion,
classic photography, the audience is too small
and the fair is too expensive. It’s about thinking what you can do
as a gallerist, what is possible. In the end, we have to be
successful to support our artists, to support the museums,
to make books, catalogs. To be a primary gallery means,
like everything that you make money with you have to spend again on your projects, so we have to be
successful here, in any case, and this is what we have to do. Maybe we can ask this question,
Nathalie, in a different way. Could it be argued that
museums are doing less and less to make the history of photography known, but it’s more attractive for them to show contemporary artists
working with photography? Well yeah, and I guess
some museums also need the crowds they want to have success with the show, and they focus more on contemporary art, but that’s why it’s so
important for other places to continue educating people
in the history of photography. I really believe that
photography has a future also as a separate collection for museums, because of the knowledge
you need to know as a curator about the history of the medium. You cannot just mix it
with contemporary art, it has a long history, and these specificities are also
very important to understand. It has always been
since the 19th century this discussion about mixing it with art, or bringing that into
this other field, which is art. But I think it’s very important to continue
to think about this medium separately. I think that also the market,
the galleries, play a huge role, in that sense when
you look to hire somebody who knows about
photography and its history, it’s very often people
who come from galleries and not people come from… background, because the people in the galleries
have been touching and seeing the quality for years and for decades. Many of the museum people I know were working before
as assistants to one artist, for example, Lee Friedlander
learned off someone else, knew how to go in to dark room and he knew where
it’s coming from, the work, and to see the difference
in the grayscale, and I think that is very important
to know what you are showing, or we have two things;
the image and the print. Philip, could you imagine
a contemporary art world show a program you would be doing
without photography? Without photographic techniques? No, that would be rather difficult,
I think, I mean, we have… every four years we do
a kind of survey of current trends, and it’s a little bit different
every time. This time it’s called
‘The New Normal: Art, China and 2017’ and so it’s 23 artists, some of them,
most of them are from China in some sense or another, but living in
other places and some are not at all, but we just thought their work
made sense in this context. And I would say in this group
of artists you have, I don’t know, probably
three or four who are really using photographic strategies and techniques,
and seems, I don’t know, it would be a conscious decision
to exclude that entirely, I think. So, we’ve been talking
about the present, more or less, may I ask you, each one of you,
what will the future bring, on the background of the subject matters
we have been touching on now. What will the future
or the futures of photography be? Well, that’s a very challenging question, and last year we spent one week
in Todi trying to figure out that. If I may explain here, this group is actually a kind of
a spin-off of the Todi Circle. The Todi Circle is a wonderful thing which exists now for five or six years. Initiated by William Ewing, Bill Ewing long-time curator in New York
and director of the Musée de l’Elysée, together with Mario Santoro,
an artist from Todi in Umbria, they invite each summer
about 10 important players in the international photography world curators, collectors, publishers, artists to freely discuss what’s on their minds. So, the Todi Circle
is a very secretive thing, it’s not public,
there are no papers published, but we are glad and happy
on behalf of Bill and Mario to be able to… Also these discussions come out
and have been fuelled by the meetings
that take place each year with different participants each year in Todi. So, back to our questions.
Thomas, what’s the future? I come back to the music,
it’s like vinyl. for 10 years we think it’ll never
come back, the vinyl in music, so we are thinking
everything will be digital, and after a time people see
the old traditional way is also very good. You cannot miss the digital world, and it will be the future,
but the past is also the future. So, this is my opinion. I mean I just get most excited about, as someone running an institution,
going down into our galleries and seeing how many people
are interacting with the work that’s on view, by taking pictures of it
and sharing pictures of it, and I think that as another generation
comes up, people are going to have such a natural fluency with the kind
of conventions of a certain kind of photography just by virtue of having
been making it all along, it’s going to open things up
in a really interesting way. Or will the moment arrive
when people are just happy with the photographs they take themselves? What do we need artists for? Everybody is a photographer,
everybody takes photographs, everybody has access
to billions of photographs online. Why do people still go to museums
and galleries to look at photographs? What makes the difference? Yeah, but in a way,
I mean, I am a museum person, so of course I wouldn’t
speak for the general public, but still I think it’s interesting
when you look at people, our visitors in the museum,
they love taking pictures, like here, constantly, everybody’s
taking pictures of work and sharing. So, the sharing is important, so I don’t think it’s
enough just to take pictures. There’s a new thing
now with the sharing which is maybe more
important even than just taking. In that sense sharing is
not just sharing one thing, it’s sharing a variety of images, and in that sense, I think
there’s still a big role to play for artists because they help us
to understand what is happening also. And taking some time
and slowing down and thinking, That’s the most important thing. And this balance between thinking
and imagining and looking at images and all that is what
artists bring to our society, so I don’t think
they don’t have a role anymore. It’s also time to share
the discussion with you. Please feel free to ask
any question you might have, either on the subject matter
we’ve been touching and not touching to anybody here on the podium. Hello. I think it’s quite interesting here
in Basel to see what happens with the editions, and Thomas Zander pointed
out the case of Eggleston. I’ve seen similar things happening,
especially in Basel the last few years, that a really well-known famous artist
created a work in the 1970s or 1980s, sold out for many years, then suddenly
it’s re-printed in whatever technique. You just think this is so stupid, but the audience doesn’t seem
to notice, they buy it anyhow. And it’s ridiculous. That’s the danger for art in general, but for photography in particular,
I think. That’s a danger for the future. It’s completely true,
because the education of, it’s very difficult to say here, but in many of the big galleries,
people want to make money, they have to make money. That means like, in my opinion,
I’m very close to Bill Eggleston, I know him from my first exhibition,
I do these vintage prints,The Red Ceiling,all this,
so I know all these guys. And what’s surprising me that in that time is I will never
do a different kind of printing, like dye transfers or some C-prints, and then the Eggleston Trust moved to
for three years, to big galleries and was starting to make money. So, there was a disaster for three years, the last set of dye transfer
was sold to a New York collector and then to Gagosian, one year later
make the same image,Red Ceiling,the famous image,
pigment print in one meter. So, how can you
explain this to the collector? He gave all the pieces back
and this confused the photo market because this way of making these images
bigger does not make them better. It’s only to make money, and if everything in art is only
to make money it’s the wrong way. It’s also for photography,
but it’s also for other things. Any other questions?
Remarks? Comments? Hi, I’m just curious, as you look at other
collections from photographers and you’re looking at new work,
what seems fresh to you and what’s the latest, freshest,
fresh may not be the right word but… the photography that speaks to you, and why? Well, it’s true that I have a lot
of meetings with photographers, and they always
want to show the new work. What is interesting for me is not just
the new work, or what comes next, because there’s always
this pressure for artists when they have something good then they want to make
something good, even better, so what comes next is always a question. But sometimes
it’s even more interesting for me to look at what happened before, sometimes unknown or unseen works,
and have these discoveries. These discoveries of past work
sometimes are much more interesting or explain something
about what will come next. I don’t know if it’s clear, but sometimes
you have in some artists’ works… you go back to previous series and you see its roots which
explain what will happen in the future. These unseen, unknown or put-aside works are for me really the joy of it. Yeah, I’m actually
very interested in the artists who challenge our conceptions of
what we’re looking at in the first place. We have a really amazing suite of works on view in the exhibition we have up now. Basically, things that aren’t
what they seem, I suppose, and I think that as
the medium becomes more mature you have quite a number of artists
who are really at the forefront of kind of tearing down those boundaries
and putting us in a new place. Any more questions? No? Good. In that case, thank you
all for your patience, thanks for coming, thanks for your interest
and enjoy the fair.

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