Di Lucia Rinolfi
In 2012 Italian-born entrepreneur Giuseppe Oliverio launched the Photographic Museum of Humanity, a.k.a PHmuseum, a revolutionary free online platform dedicated to contemporary photography. Based in London, it now showcases the work of more than 5,000 photographers with the aim of promoting their outstanding projects and reaching photo editors and curators from around the world. PHmuseum is also known for its annual Grant whose latest edition offered £12,000 in cash prizes, a solo show at Cortona On The Move among other opportunities. Former jury members include Martin Parr (Magnum Photos), Kathy Ryan (New York Times), Alec Soth (Magnum Photos), Arianna Rinaldo (Cortona OTM) and Sarah Leen (National Geographic). We spoke with Giuseppe about his visionary project.
How did you get the idea of a Photographic Museum of Humanity and why?
Back in 2011 I was fascinated by the idea of combining technology and photography. While considering different ideas, I thought that probably the most interesting one would have been to simplify the access to curated visual content, because for many people around the world is quite difficult, if not impossible, to visit museums and galleries. While more than 3 billion people have an access to an internet connection. Since then we have presented more than 40 curated online exhibitions.
The PHmuseum team is very versatile and international: how did you put them together?
In August 2011 I moved to Buenos Aires and started developing a first version of the platform with local programmers. In those days I got in touch with several Argentinian photographers and created a first curatorial group. Then I started to contact freelance journalists to interview and write about the photographers of our community. While more recently I invited Eefje Ludwig, a Dutch independent consultant with 9 years experience at World Press Photo, to take care of our educational program. The team has changed a lot since we started. Now we have English developers based in London, while the contributors are from different nationalities and spread across Europe, Asia, North and South America. Nevertheless, Alejandro Kirchuk and Nicolas Janowski, two of the Argentinian curators I started the project with, are still working with us. Technology makes it possible to stay in touch and bring ahead our ideas.
What kind of feedback have you got from the photographic industry so far?
The project was very well received since the beginning. Photographers were appreciating our effort in creating a curated community, where only selected authors could present their projects. Photo editors and curators were interested in the new stories and names we were discovering around the globe. People were enthusiast to visit our exhibitions and get closer to contemporary photography. Thanks to them we have followed a constant and solid path of growth. Now we are a community of 5,000 selected photographers with 300,000 annual visitors. We have collaborated with organisations like TIME, BuzzFeed, World Press Photo and Cortona On The Move and financed many photographers through our annual Grant. Our brand is well known in the industry and we are working hard to improve our services and develop new ideas.
What do you think is the main strength of PHmuseum?
I think we have a very solid curatorial team who really cares for researching and promoting the work of photographers towards a broad audience in a meritocratic way. We are also an independent project, which means we are free to take the direction we feel more proper, bringing ahead our mission without having to respond to investors and the dynamics they imply.
What is the most important quality a visual storyteller must have and why, in your opinion?
Beside developing an own visual language, I think it is very important to tell meaningful stories driven by powerful concepts. Regardless if we are talking about classic photojournalism or more conceptual projects, I think that what makes the difference is the content – the heart of a project – and what it communicates, what it generates in the viewer. Especially nowadays that we see millions of images and the barriers to take a technically correct photo are lower.
Is there a project that changed or transformed your approach to visual communication?
No, I think it was more a plurality of voices that influenced me over the years. I like the work of Alec Soth, Richard Mosse, Alejandro Chaskielberg, Sarker Protick and many other photographers because of their own lyricism, their sensibility, their curiosity and passion in portraying universal themes.
Can you suggest two of the most groundbreaking projects showcased at PHmuseum?
If I have to select only two, I’d say Max Pinckers’ Will They Sing Like Raindrops Or Leave Me Thirsty for his conceptual approach and the fresh way he questions contemporary photography and more broadly our perception of reality while telling us a relevant story. The other would be Marcelo Brodsky’s 1968, The Fire of Ideas for its powerful work with archive photography that reminds us the importance of remembering and understanding past events, and history in general, at the moment of building our future as a society.
Digital information and visual communication have changed our perception of images and our understanding of photography. We are obsessed with producing pictures and at the same time are bombarded by imagery to the point that we can feel numb or insensitive in front of shocking images. In this scenario, where do you think is photojournalism going?
Photojournalism is quickly adapting to current technologies. If on one hand indeed there is less work on the editorial side, on the other hand there are many opportunities to reach and engage a broad audience independently. In this latter sense, many photojournalists are exploring new ways to spread their projects, from independent photo books and social media to applications and interactive websites. This allows the same work to assume different shapes, and to be seen from different angles. That said, in this maremagnum of photographs, an original visual approach can definitely help a photo and eventually a project to stand out. I am sure that while scrolling among thousands of images, you would instinctively stop and dedicated at least a few seconds to the photos of the projects by Marcelo and Max that I mentioned above.
Lucia Rinolfi, Photo Editor Yourpictureditor
Credit photo: Giuseppe Oliverio, Mano de Desierto 2014
PHmuseum on Vimeo
Giuseppe Oliverio (b. Bologna, 1985) is an Italian entrepreneur, curator, filmmaker and founder of phmuseum.com . Giuseppe worked as a portfolio reviewer for Magnum Photos at Visa Pour L’Image in Perpignan and he has been in the jury of international awards like Gomma Grant, The Fence, Happiness OnTheMove, Reminders Photography Stronghold and Viewbook Grant. He has given talks at international festivals like Paraty Em Foco in Brazil, Cortona On The Move in Italy and Ojo de Pez Meeting in Spain and written for TIME magazine. His first documentary A Conscious Dream has been selected by 12 film festivals across Europe, USA and Latin America and awarded best documentary short at 2016 Manchester International Film Festival. He holds a degree in Economics at Bocconi University (Milan) and a Master Degree in Quantitative Finance at Cass Business School (London).