by Margherita Guerra, founder Yourpictureditor
I generally don’t like queuing, but last Thursday in Zürich I really enjoyed it. How many times have you had to queue up to enter a photography exhibition or, in any case, a photo event? Although an exhibit is of truly exceptional photographers, it is very rare to find a mass of people going, like for a concert. Photo18 has the very characteristic of going to a big show: people waiting half an hour to enter the inauguration—people of all kinds and ages, from 2 to 90 years old, dressed maybe in a very sophisticated or exotic way—for an event that last year attracted more than 27,000 visitors in just 4 days. How is it possible? What is so exceptional? Surely it is worth going to browse.
First of all, there are more than 200 photographers on display (and each one certainly invites everyone they know!) in an area of 7,000 m2. It is a great cauldron of photography: images of every kind without a theme that unifies them, photographers at the beginning of their careers, often amateurs who may be professionals, and others who are already established. The event also gives space, as in a fair, to exhibitors to promote photographic materials, workshops and photography schools. The array of conferences is very wide, featuring 120 seminars with personalities also of great appeal, such as Scott Shumann, also known as The Sartorialist, to name one.
To better understand this event, we met and interviewed Cara Anne Specker, the photo editor who, together with her colleague Céline Lütolf, personally chose all the photographs on display. A truly remarkable task.
This show brings together amateur and professional photographers. It’s really a massive photo event, that gives a general idea of the photography in Switzerland. What stage has been reached in Swiss photography?
I think there is a lot of improvement. Of course there are nowadays many more photographers then it used to be, because everybody has a camera. So we also have a lot more amateurs, but they are proceeding at a very fast pace, because a lot of them are visiting courses or workshops and they are learning a lot. So they are getting better but it’s still not quite the same as professionals, there’s still a visible difference. But they are getting there and the professionals have also to improve and work on their portfolios as well.
Did you notice specific trends in the images you reviewed this year? Is there a common pattern?
Yes, there’s so much of landscape photography! And I believe that most people start out with landscape, perhaps because they are free to try: you don’t have to manage a person as for portraits, you can take as much time as you want, depending on the lighting especially since you are outdoor. I think it’s much easier to start with landscape… perfection comes easier as well than when you work in a studio. There are also a lot of portraits and reportages, a lot of holidays reportages that turn to be actually essays.
Which are your criteria when selecting a photographer? What is a definitive YES or NO?
We have some criteria, especially in nudes. We look at nude photography and try to see if it is art or just a voyeuristic exercise. You can easily spot the difference between real nude art picture or if the photographer is just trying the camera. Another important aspect is that we like to see different technics, and not just simple holiday shots. We like to see if there’s a concept in the pictures, if they have a certain style that they are following. Even if they are copying somebody, -that is perfectly ok, – as long as you can see there’s some story, some sort of source, then it’s good for us. Of course we also wanted to have a good mixture of everything: landscape, reportage, portrait, fashion, food, beauty, and a lot of these things combined..and it’s has not been easy: we received a lot of landscapes, especially mountains! If you look at the political situation, there are also a lot of refugees, a lot of reportages about African lands… It was hard to find good still lifers this year, for example. There were really not many applications for still life… but in the end I think we brought here the best.
We had over 500 applications and we choose 190, and then we discovered a couple more were also interesting, and then others we could not decide …and in the end we expanded till 250 photographers. But we were in two people: Céline Lütolf and I, we worked together, we evaluated together and we talked a lot about the images and there were also some discussions, which is good…it was a real procedure. It was fun.
This year, you reviewed hundreds of images. What’s the most interesting part of this job? Which is the more challenging?
The most challenging part is definitely combining the amateur photographers with the top professionals, bringing them in in the same show, in one location. And also the lay-out of the Photo18 was a big challenge. It took a lot of time, two full months. Also the correspondence was a really big part of the whole project (luckily the colleagues from administration’s department relieved us from the most of it), but we had to contact some photographers to guide them towards a better choice of images for this venue. For example when we saw on their website that they had more suitable materials for this show, then we engaged ourselves in a dialogue with the photographers. The best part of this job was …SEEING IT FINISHED and walking in. Because we saw all these photos on screen and you can never really tell the quality. It’s nice to realise how much effort these photographers have taken to do the prints, to reach high level of quality.
You are in the committee of Berufsverbandes Schweizer Bildredaktoren (Association of Swiss photo editors). We are a network of photo editors, so we are really interested in learning how aware is the Swiss media industry of the role of the picture editor. Is the picture editor understood and appreciated?
It depends on the publication, it really depends on which magazine, which editor in chief, which art director… you know how it is, it’s a boulevard. But the most of them appreciate our work, they know that anybody can ‘google’ a picture, but how to get the copyright, get the contact, the high res, select good images is not that easy… people in the publishing industry understand the job and they know the effort that goes in it.
What is the most important activity of the Association?
The Visual Editors’s yearly summit, where we invite everybody, about 250 photo editors and art buyers.
As a child, what was your dream job? Is our actual one any close to that dream?
It is actually. As a child I wanted to work in the film production business, so I’m quite there. This is like an addiction: photography ….you never break loose, I got stuck in photography and here I am.
Cara Anne Specker is part of the curatorial team of photo18 Zurich. The photo editor works for magazines such as Bolero, Bilanz, Annabelle, Beobachter, Sonntagszeitung and Migros Magazin. Previously, she worked for several years as an art buyer/producer at the communications agency Havas Worldwide AG. Cara Anne Specker is co-founder of the photo agency PhotoMedia and the Art Buying Network (Swiss Art Buyers Association). She is a member of the board of the professional association of Swiss picture editors, lectures at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (HSLU) and regularly serves as a jury member and portfolio reviewer at trade fairs for photography and exhibitions.
12 – 16 January 2018, 11:00 – 20:00
Credit cover photo: Photo by Christian Bobst. Courtesy of Photo18