Meet this month’s OpenWalls Editor’s Pick photographer, Gustavo Tavares

Gustavo’s photograph is of the small airport in Pyramiden, an abandoned soviet coal mining city in the Svalbard archipelago, Norway

Gustavo Tavareshas spent many years exploring the arctic, photographing the landscapes as a way to understand the climate’s harshness, and the relationship between man and nature. For Gustavo, the arctic embodies a fractured sense of home. It is not where he lives, but where he finds his spiritual and emotional balance, calling into question what actually defines our notion of home. His OpenWallsEditor’s Pick photograph is an image taken in Pyramiden, an abandoned Soviet coal mining city, with a population of just six people.

Gustavo is based in Aveiro, Portugal, a colourful town set along the Ria de Aveiro lagoon, often described as the Venice of Portugal – a far cry from the sparseness, and coldness, of Pyramiden. But these deserted, freezing landscapes are where Gustavo finds his sense of belonging. We spoke to Gustavo about his father’s photographic influence, protecting himself from polar bears, and his series ‘La Camera du Flaneur’, a project inspired by the words of Susan Sontag.

© Gustavo Tavares

Can you tell me about your background as a photographer? How and when did you first get into photography?

Carrying my father´s photo equipment was my first introduction to photography. He was a true photography enthusiast, and he taught me how to use a camera, along with the basic rules of photography. But photography is not purely technical, nor is it about managing a camera in the best way possible. It’s about seeing and discovering what is before your eyes. My mother´s bookshelf, full of art books, was also part of developing my eye, and was an excellent opportunity to discover classic art, which led to a degree on seeing beyond the picture.

Can you tell me about the photograph you entered into OpenWalls? What is the story behind it?

The photo I submitted to OpenWalls was taken in Pyramiden, an abandoned Soviet coal mining city, located in the Svalbard archipelago, Norway. The photograph portrays the city´s airport.

Pyramiden can be reached by boat in the summer, when the waters bordering the city are free of sea ice, and the low clouds hide the top of the mountains. You must always carry a loaded gun, or be guided by someone with a rifle, because you never know when you are going to face a wandering polar bear.

Most of the elements of the Svalbard landscape are present in the photograph; the absence of trees, the clouded covered top of the mountains, and the rare presence of men. Like other photos in my project ‘La Camera du Flaneur’, the shot was taken with no specific preparation, as if I was on a crowded street and had no time to take it.

© Gustavo Tavares

Why did you decide to enter OpenWalls?

I saw OpenWalls as an opportunity to show my work at an international level, and I wanted the challenge of getting feedback from a renowned judging panel.

What would it mean to you to exhibit your work in Arles?

Rencontres d’Arles is a photographic mecca, known for its surroundings, the atmosphere, and the work displayed there. I had the opportunity to go in 2009, and what I saw, including the diversity of the artwork, had a major influence on my work. It would be amazing for me to have the opportunity to exhibit part of my work in this photographic showcase.

© Gustavo Tavares

The image you entered is part of your series ‘La Camera du Flaneur’. What were the aims for that series?

‘La Camera du Flaneur’ is an attempt to apply street photography standards to landscapes. The term flâneur comes from the French and means vagabond, or tramp, which in turn comes from the French verb flâner, meaning ‘to walk’.

The idea of the project was inspired by a phrase by Susan Sontag: “The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world ‘picturesque’.”

How does your photograph respond to the theme, Home & Away?

Over the past 5 years, I´ve been exploring the Arctic regions; focusing on the climate’s harshness and the simplicity of the lines draw by nature and man. I visited Norway, Iceland, Svalbard and Greenland, and each functioned as a place of silence and calm that I was unable to find at home, where social media is absurdly important in our lives and we have strict schedules for work and leisure. So, the question is what is our home? Where is it? Is our home where we live or is it where we find our inner balance?

© Gustavo Tavares

Do you have any advice for people entering single image contests? What should they think about when selecting a photograph to submit?

It’s very hard to select a single photograph to enter into a contest like this, because in normal conditions, a photograph is part of a project, and it´s difficult to look at it and absorb its message without the rest of the work present. It´s almost like looking at a section of a painting, not at the whole canvas.

Nevertheless, if you don´t have an obvious title for your photo that could be a starting point, the image stands for itself, with no explanations needed.

Enter OpenWalls today and you could be next month’s Editor’s Pick photographer.

© Gustavo Tavares
© Gustavo Tavares

OpenWalls Home & Away: How does sense of place impact your work?

In light of OpenWalls, a new award calling for photographers to respond to the theme ‘Home & Away’, we take a look at different interpretations of the theme

For our very first OpenWalls award, we are inviting both emerging and established photographers, from all over the world, to submit work responding to the theme ‘Home & Away’. Up to 50 photographers will then be selected to exhibit their photographs as part of a group exhibition at Galerie Huit Arles in July 2019, to coincide with the 50th edition of Les Rencontres d’Arles.    

The theme of the exhibition, ‘Home & Away’, is open to interpretation. We want to see images that capture a sense of belonging, escapism or identity, and play with notions of home or freedom. Do you find your inspiration at home, by photographing your loved ones, or do you seek inspiration further afield?

© Brandon Dare

For one of our featured photographers, Brandon Dare, home is at the heart of all his work. “There is a lot of emotion to be found in your home environment, in one way or another,” he explains, “through the people there, or shared memories of either sad or happy times.” Brandon’s projects have so far explored a range of different themes; one project is entrenched in the politics of his surrounding, post-industrial landscape, another follows a youth bike gang, but all have been inspired by his immediate environment. “I think it’s important to remember that you don’t have to leave your home to make meaningful work,” he says.

© Christopher Bethell

Christopher Bethell is inclined to agree, but for him, home is a more complex concept. Having dual British and American citizenship, but never having actually visited America, Christopher always thought of the US as a home he had not yet been to. He shot his MA project, The Duke of Earl, last year in America, as a way to document his understanding of this new, but strangely familiar place. “I found it hard initially not to photograph all of the cliches we’re so used to from the proliferation of America in the UK media,” he explains. “But after a while this faded and it became easier to see what was relevant and important to me.”

© Alexander Mourant

Christopher’s pilgrimage to the United States was in search of a sense of home, but for photographer Alexander Mourant, it is the very experience of pilgrimage that he seeks to convey in his work. Attempting to exemplify the connection between experience and place, Alexander’s photographs challenge the friction between our interior and exterior worlds. He admits, however, that shooting away from home has forever changed the way he creates work. “Before going to Africa, I viewed photography merely as an aesthetic document,” he says, “Now, photography has become a way of questioning and creating unforeseen connections.”

© Nicholas White

Nicholas White has always used photography as a tool for exploration and discovery, and has spent years shooting far from home, investigating human interactions with nature. “Shooting away from home is certainly a constructive exercise, as it presents a different set of challenges; principally, the unknown.” Nicholas’ latest project is shot in the Southern Carpathian Mountains of Romania, where he is documenting the formation of a new European Wilderness Reserve, and is working with an organisation who are purchasing large tracts of wilderness in order to protect the forest for future generations. “I hope that my photographs can act as an archive of sorts, documenting the rebirth of European wilderness,” he says.

As OpenWalls judge, and founder and director of OBSCURA Festival of Photography in Malaysia, Vignes Balasingham puts it, “Home & Away can be read as either the physicality of a home or the tracing of the trajectory away from it. It can also represent the outward and inward journey of spirit and a state of mind. There are also, naturally, contemporary issues on migration and older themes in the aspect of diaspora. The theme leaves a lot of room for different approaches of photography.”

© Jesse Burke, entry to OpenWalls 2018

Joining Vignes on the stellar judging panel are Clement Saccomani, managing director of NOOR Photo Agency; Julia de Bierre, owner of Galerie Huit Arles, and host of the exhibition; Daniel Miller, founder of photography collecting initiative YourDailyPhotograph.com; Genevieve Fussell, Senior Photo Editor at The New Yorker; and Simon Bainbridge, the Editorial Director of British Journal of Photography.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to exhibit your work on the international stage. Show us your response to the theme Home & Away, and enter OpenWalls, your invitation to Arles.

© Alvaro Maria Gomez Pidal, entry to OpenWalls 2018
© Marco Marzocchi, entry to OpenWalls 2018
© Christian Michael Filardo, entry to OpenWalls 2018

Christopher Bethell on his complex relationship to home

Meet one of our featured photographers, Christopher Bethell, who explores his identity through his work

Christopher Bethell’s work comes from a desire to explore his identity, making his personal reflections universal. His complex relationship to home comes from his dual American and British citizenship. Despite never having visited America, he has always thought of it as a home, and so embarked on his major MA project, The Duke of Earl, last year in the US, as a way to document his understanding of this new but familiar place. What followed was a struggle between cliche and authenticity, as Christopher came to terms with the stereotypes that had informed his perception of this fractured home.

Christopher’s interest in photography was first sparked at the age of 19, and he quickly threw himself into the medium, studying at Mid Cheshire College, Staffordshire University, and finally at London College of Communication, where he received a Masters in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography. He cites his most valuable lessons as those about the foundations of photographic theory, and the ethics of representation, which have changed the way he approaches projects and commissions. Since graduating he has been nominated and shortlisted for a number of prestigious awards, including MACK’s First Book Award, and the Magnum Graduate Photographers Award.

The Duke of Earl © Christopher Bethell

How did you get into photography and in what way would you say your background has influenced your approach?

I started working at an ASDA photo centre when I was nineteen. Playing with the cameras on display and processing people’s negatives gave me an initial interest in picture making. At the same time, some of my school friends started to post photos on Facebook of abandoned buildings they had been to. I borrowed a DSLR from a friend and tagged along to what used to be Deva Asylum in Chester, and from then on I was hooked.

Can you tell me about your key concerns as a photographer?

My personal work is very rooted in self discovery; I explore issues and stories related to myself that other people can identify with. I think this is the best way to have an authoritative voice in the work you create; to be able to speak from your own position rather than trying to represent someone else’s voice. I would find it hard to pick an issue in the world, seemingly arbitrarily, to take ownership of. I’m more interested in how fiction can be used to portray truth in an image or series; embracing subjectivity and narrative.

The Duke of Earl © Christopher Bethell

What was the starting point for your project The Duke of Earl?

It was a project that I had always wanted to shoot – I had this American passport that all my life had gone unused, this side of my identity that had gone unexplored. I was sat in our last tutorial session at LCC before breaking up to shoot our major projects, and everyone was going around the room saying what they were planning on doing. I was originally going to work on a project about gentrification in Whitechapel, following the building of the crossrail. But instead, when it was my turn to talk, I pitched the idea of America instead, despite not having much money at the time. I threw all my savings into booking planes and car rental and headed out two weeks later without any real idea of how I was going to shoot the project.

The Duke of Earl © Christopher Bethell

In what manner did shooting away from your home environment change how you approached creating the work? Would you say it’s constructive to shoot away from your immediate surroundings?

This is a tough one to answer because I have always treated America as a home I had not yet visited. I grew up relating more to my American identity than my British identity, so I felt as though I was going home when I boarded the flight to Boston. Stepping out of the airport though, I realised quite quickly that it wasn’t going to fulfil every expectation I’d had growing up. It was a confusing experience as my identity was so entwined with everything I was photographing and seeing. I found it hard initially not to photograph all of the cliches we’re so used to from the proliferation of America in the UK media, but after a while this faded and it became easier to see what was relevant and important to me.

Who/what influenced you in your approach?

I was hugely influenced by the work of Phillip Lorca-DiCorcia and Jeff Wall when I was studying, but I don’t have the concentration to witness something and then recreate it. I wanted the immediacy of finding these moments out in the world, but I was also interested in how I could find these little moments and exaggerate them – to place a grander narrative on them than what existed at the time, and to have them say something about me. Not just about the people pictured.

The Duke of Earl © Christopher Bethell

Do you have any advice for photographers who are thinking about making work out of their familiar surroundings?

No matter what your approach is, I think it’s imperative to spend a lot of time outside and walking around everywhere. Get lost – think about using a device to help you navigate a place, following a stranger until you see something interesting and then following someone else, etc. Or delve into the ideas of psychogeography. It doesn’t really matter as long as you are out and about and getting a feel for what the place is saying to you. Even if you’re going to make still lives in this new place, it’s so important to walk and see and feel.

What are your plans moving forwards?

I am going back to America at the end of September – specifically to Clarkston, Washington. This is the place that my Grandfather moved to to start repairing his relationship with his family. Clarkston is on the complete other side of America to where he was born, and the other side of the world to where my Mum & Grandmother lived. I want to try and understand why he moved to Clarkston; what is it about Clarkston that represents the morals and values he was striving for? So I’ll be spending four weeks there, working for the local paper, and using it as a device to meet people. Hopefully I’ll find someone who remembers him.

Enter OpenWalls, your invitation to Arles.

The Duke of Earl © Christopher Bethell
The Duke of Earl © Christopher Bethell
The Duke of Earl © Christopher Bethell
The Duke of Earl © Christopher Bethell

Brandon Dare explains why home is at the heart of all his work

Meet one of our featured photographers, Brandon Dare, whose work explores the unique emotions conjured by home

Brandon Dare is currently preparing to enter his final undergraduate year at the University of South Wales, where he studies documentary photography, and he will soon be embarking on his first photography project away from home. Brandon’s previous work has always explored the emotional connections of home, first in Worcestershire, and now Cardiff. Citing Alec Soth as his biggest inspiration, Brandon believes that photography rooted in a sense of belonging is often the most unique. Perhaps this is, in part, due to his introduction to photography, which was ignited by his older brother’s obsession with film. So far, Brandon’s projects have explored a range of different themes, one entrenched in the politics of his surrounding, post-industrial landscape, another following a youth bike gang, but all have strived to provoke a certain emotion.

As Brandon goes into his final major degree project, shot in unfamiliar territory, he explains the struggle of retaining the emotional aspects and personal narratives that drive his work. We spoke to Brandon about what entices him to shoot in familiar settings, and about the challenges of heading into the unknown.

© Brandon Dare

How did you get into photography and how has your background influenced your approach?

I got into photography when I was around 15 years old, after my older brother developed an interest in film photography. He encouraged me to buy an old 80s Canon compact from a charity shop. I didn’t realise at the time how much it would take over my life. At 18, after years spent learning about photography in my own time, I went to university to study it.

I still shoot on film – but now less for likes on instagram and more for the rendering of colours and contemplative stillness that working with film lends to the images you create. I still try to find projects that do the things that made me love photography in the first place; being out in the world, with people, appreciating what it all looks and feels like.

Can you tell me about your key concerns as a photographer?

At the heart of my work is feeling. I want my photographs to connect with people on some emotional level and to create an emotional response. Just as I felt something that led me to press the shutter to create an image, I want someone to feel something when looking at that image.

I am still trying to figure out exactly what my key concerns are. My last three projects have been wide-ranging in subject matter; from a youth bike gang, to the post-industrial society of South Wales, through to the blending of fact and fiction to tell the story of boy’s disappearance. Whilst these three topics seem very different, what connects them all is the way in which I use the strengths of the still image to provoke emotion and tell stories.

I care a lot about the environment, politics and inequality, but right now people, their stories, and the emotions contained within them are what I am most interested in.

© Brandon Dare

Would you say it’s important for you to shoot in your home environment? Why?

I think there is a lot of emotion to be found in your home environment in one way or another; through the people there, or shared memories of either sad or happy times that can be attributed to that physical environment.

That’s not to say it’s important for everyone – not one way of making images is better or more important than any other way. I think it is important to remember though, that you don’t have to leave your home and go somewhere exotic to make meaningful work.

Who/what has influenced you in your approach?

Alec Soth was without a doubt one of my earliest and biggest influences. I still hugely admire his work, his approach, and his outlook on photography and life. Without seeing the work of Alec Soth when I was 16, it would have taken me a lot longer to realise that it’s okay to just wander around with a camera in the world of ‘serious photography’.

More recently, I have been inspired by Aaron Schumann’s SLANT and Christian Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood, to create work that interweaves fact and fiction using photography. I have just finished a body of work called Beacon, using this premise to tell the story of a mysterious disappearance of boy in the Brecon Beacons in south Wales many years ago.

© Brandon Dare

Do you have any advice for photographers who are thinking about making work in familiar surroundings?

Making work in familiar surroundings is something that is very unique to whoever is making the work. My only advice would be to trust your gut and photograph what you want – and then to listen to people who are far more qualified than you are to give advice.

Have you entered any awards before? Do you find the process of entering awards constructive in and of itself?

I haven’t entered any awards before, but I can say that the process is hugely constructive in helping you as a photographer. It helps you to think deeply about your practice and what kind of photographer you want to become.

Any situation that forces you to sit down, strip everything back, and really consider why you make photographs and what you want them to do, is highly beneficial.

© Brandon Dare

What are your plans moving forwards?

I am just about to go into the third and final year of my undergraduate degree in Documentary Photography at the University of South Wales. For our final major project, we are encouraged to make work outside of the United Kingdom.

I feel that I make the best work when I emotionally connect to my subject, and finding a project that is not in my familiar surroundings, that I know I will have a connection to, seems like a bit of challenge. My plan moving forwards is to create a project based outside of the UK, but that still maintains a certain personal, emotive quality to it. I have a few ideas that connect some of my family history to current events, which I believe will allow me to create the type of project I’m interested in, but these are early days.

Enter OpenWalls, your invitation to Arles.

Alexander Mourant on creating work in unfamiliar surroundings

Meet one of our featured photographers, Alexander Mourant, whose work challenges the friction between our interior and exterior worlds

Raised on the Channel Island of Jersey, Alexander Mourant has always been influenced by his surroundings, and seeks out projects far from home. Drawing inspiration from the notion of pilgrimage to and from sites, he attempts to exemplify the connection between experience and place. Mourant’s early project, Aurelian, explores humid and tropical environments, creating visual metaphors for artificial spaces. Born from this project, his more recent Aomori was conceived. Meaning ‘blue forest’ in Japanese, the work synthesises the forest, and the nature of the colour blue. Finding meaning in not only the image, but also the process, Alexander uses stained glass from church windows to introduce spiritual significance, and to explore the otherworldly landscape.

Since graduating from Falmouth University in 2017, Alexander has continued his study of photography at the Royal College of Art. He has been featured in several publications including British Journal of Photography, and has been the recipient of a number awards, including the Free Range Photography Award and the Metro Imaging Award.

Dissipate I © Alexander Mourant, 2017

How did you get into photography and how has your background influenced your approach?

My family have lived and farmed in Jersey for generations, so a relationship to landscape, space and experience is embedded in my psychology. My interest in photography emerged naturally, as a reference point for ceramic sculpture. I wanted to pursue its practice and concepts further, which led me to study photography at university.

Can you tell me about your key concerns as a photographer?

I am drawn to the friction between our interior and exterior worlds, as well as photography’s power to represent existential ideas. I am most concerned with portraying photography as an active medium.

What was the starting point for your project Aomori?

Previously, through Aurelian, I employed atmospheric conditions, and artificial spaces as a metaphor for elsewhere. These environments are used to probe the nature of experience, as an envisioned idea where time is not absolute, but continuously contained and all encompassing.

I became interested in how we invest ourselves in the medium of photography, with our hearts and minds. I wanted to see if I could expand the possibility of the photograph by giving it a body, which we could experience from the image itself. Through Aomori, I attempted to directly expand these metaphorical territories. Seeking a location of infinite scale and depth to help activate my photographs, and continuing along the vein of organics and humidity, I became interested in exploring the philosophy of the forest.

In what manner did shooting away from your home environment change how you approached creating the work?

The way I create work has changed forever by shooting in Africa. By experiencing different environments, cultures and ideas, I strengthened my natural curiosity. Before Africa, I viewed photography merely as an aesthetic document. Now, photography has become a way of questioning and creating unforeseen connections.

Untitled VI © Alexander Mourant, 2017

Would you say it’s constructive to shoot away from your immediate surroundings?

Yes, shooting away from home is one of the most constructive things an artist could ever do. I actually find it incredibly difficult to shoot something of interest at home. However, I do not disregard artists who make work through the process of meditating on the concept of home. That subject can be intensely stimulating, but my curiosity is driven by what I do not understand. Perhaps your language will come from home, or further afield. Without the experience of creating in unfamiliar surroundings, how can you know?

Who/what has influenced you in your approach?

Artistically, my influence is varied, but my process finds its roots in the 1960s land art movement. I am fascinated by the material and psychological effects of organics, climateand geography. When I reflect on my projects Aomori and Aurelian, I see a key idea resonating, which I had otherwise overlooked; writer Michael Kimmelman described visiting land art as “The Art Of Pilgrimage”. To visit is to invest months of planning, submit applications and await approval, followed by long car journeys into the remote desert or jungle. This idea of a pilgrimage to a site — to a place existing on a blurred line between imagination and reality — becomes very relevant when I analyse my own work. Each project, whether home or away, comes through a pilgrimage to a site which I imbue with metaphor. It is a space or a constructed world in which I can create meaning, explore concepts and understand photography.

Do you have any advice for photographers who are thinking about making work out of their familiar surroundings?

When I look at someone’s work, I need to not only experience the idea presented by them, but I need to experience them. A photograph is not just a document of the place, but of the author. For me, you are the most interesting variable within the photograph. You need to show confidence that your interests are important. Furthermore, you need to learn how successful artists have approached your subject; learn how they have interpreted, adapted and disseminated their familiar to someone unfamiliar.

What are your plans moving forwards?

Later this year, I will commence studies at the Royal College of Art. I am also looking forward to my solo exhibition with Seen Fifteen at Unseen Amsterdam. 

Enter OpenWalls, your invitation to Arles.

By Heloise Winstone

Meet our first OpenWalls Editor’s Pick photographer, Francesca Pompei

Francesca Pompei’s photograph depicts her father in Rome, her hometown, on a visit to one of their favourite spots

Rome-based photographer Francesca Pompei is our first OpenWalls Editor’s Pick photographer, having been selected by our online editor Diane Smyth as one of this month’s best entries, and voted for on social media by our readers. Her work is focused on art and architecture, and she rarely features people in her photographs, with the exception of her father. Francesca is a member of the board of the Italian Association of Professional Photographers, and her photographs have been exhibited at events worldwide, from Art Basel Miami, to Frieze Art Fair in New York, and KAIF-Korean International Art Fair in Seoul. In 2016, her works were among the top rated entries to the Magnum Photography Awards.

Francesca entered OpenWalls because exhibiting in Arles has long been an ambition of hers. Her selected image responds to the notion of home, and captures her father at the Centrale Montemartini, which is one of Francesca’s favourite places to visit in Rome. Keeping up a long-held tradition of going on a Saturday outing with her father, Francesca cites these weekly trips as the crux of her interest in the arts.

Tate Modern, London © Francesca Pompei

Can you tell me about your background as a photographer? How and when did you first get into photography?

I first got involved with photography when I was studying philosophy at university.

Aesthetics studies opened me up to a different way of feeling and understanding the arts. It felt natural for me to focus my interest in photography in a more specific way. Moreover, the dark room has always appealed to me.

Can you tell me about the photograph you entered into OpenWalls? What is the story behind it?

Since I was a child, I have gone out with my father every Saturday, no matter what. We always look for galleries, exhibitions, museums, and architecture sites to attend, and sit drinking coffees and walking for hours. I am extremely grateful to him for having taught me his love for art and beauty, and we are connected by this shared passion, which works as an emotional glue between us. The photograph I entered into OpenWalls was taken during one of our trips at the Centrale Montemartini, one of my favourites places in Rome.

My work is focused on arts and architecture. In my photographic perception of space, the human being is practically absent. I don’t like to take portraits of anyone other than my father in dialectic interaction with places.

Paranoia © Francesca Pompei

Why did you decide to enter the OpenWalls award?

I devote many hours to inspecting the images of my peers and reading through photography magazines, including British Journal of Photography. I travel to international events as much as I can, and am very aware of the prestigiousness of Les Rencontres d’Arles. The opportunity to show my work during one of the world’s most important photography events, supported by such an influential magazine, was something I couldn’t miss.

What would it mean for you to exhibit your work in Arles?

It would be an amazing opportunity for me to showcase my work to such a significant audience, during one of the most relevant festivals in the world, and alongside other prominent photographers. Exhibiting at Galerie Huit Arles would undoubtedly be an incredible springboard for any photographer.

Broadway night #2 © Francesca Pompei

How does your photograph respond to the theme Home & Away?

This photograph is of the urban landscape of Rome, which is my home town, and the setting is very dear to me and my father. These elements, in dialogue with one another, summarize my feeling of home.

Do you have any advice for people entering single image contests? What should they think about when selecting a photograph to submit?

Nowadays, I think it is easy to take good quality photographs. The best advice I can give is to select images that are charged with a meaning, and are able to establish a dialogue with the viewer.

Enter OpenWalls today and you could be next month’s Editor’s Pick photographer.

Softness © Francesca Pompei
Beyond the glass © Francesca Pompei
Galata © Francesca Pompei
Over the top © Francesca Pompei
From the series Walt Disney Concert Hall © Francesca Pompei
The Kyoto station 2 © Francesca Pompei
The mask © Francesca Pompei

Nicholas White explains the relationship between the camera and his surroundings

Meet one of our featured photographers, Nicholas White, who has spent years shooting away from his familiar surroundings, and investigating human interactions with nature

Nicholas White is based on Dartmoor National Park, where he pursues projects that examine our relationship with our landscape, and the way we interact with our natural spaces. Since graduating from Plymouth College of Art several years ago, Nicholas’ work has been featured in a number of publications, including British Journal of Photography. He has been commended as Landscape Photographer of the Year, has won positions on two Magnum Photos workshops, and has been shortlisted for the World Photography Organisation ZEISS Photography Award for his project ‘Black Dots’. A portrait from the project has also been shortlisted for this year’s Portrait of Britain exhibition.

Nicholas’ interest in nature informs all of his work, taking him away from his familiar surroundings, into bothies dotted around the UK, and now to the Southern Carpathian Mountains of Romania, where he is documenting a new European Wilderness Reserve. We spoke to Nicholas about his work away from home, in light of our OpenWalls theme, ‘Home & Away’. 

Glencoul, Northern Highlands, Scotland © Nicholas White

How did you get into photography and how has your background influenced your approach?

All of my childhood holidays were spent on Dartmoor National Park, where I’m now fortunate enough to be based. I was in the scouts and later the cadets, so being outside in all weathers was very much the norm for me. Photography slowly embedded itself into this lifestyle, as I began documenting my various trips. Over time, photography became my sole reason for leaving the house. Now, all of my work is in someway connected to the land.  

Can you tell me about your key concerns as a photographer?

My existing work investigates our interaction with wilderness in various forms, and is deeply connected to our complex relationship with natural spaces, from documenting small mountain bothies in the United Kingdom, to capturing the rebirth of European Wilderness in the Southern Carpathian mountains of Romania. This relationship manifests itself in a number of ways; from recreational to scientific, historical to environmental.

John at Strabeg, Northern Highlands, Scotland © Nicholas White

What was the starting point for your project Black Dots?

Black Dots happened somewhat accidentally. I had been looking into some hiking routes in the Highlands and was searching for alternatives to traditional camping. I discovered bothies on an online forum and became slightly obsessed by them. It wasn’t so much the physical buildings that I was drawn to, it was the people who gather in them, far from any roads or towns. I wanted to discover this “community of strangers” and over the course of the three years it took to complete the work, I became one of those strangers!

How did shooting away from your home environment change how you approached creating the work?

With Black Dots, some of the locations required a six hour hike to reach, often in foul weather. When the bothy comes into sight, there’s a huge sense of relief and excitement and it’s easy to let those emotions convince you that you must take a photo immediately! I got into the routine of letting the novelty of each location wear off – I’d unpack my sleeping bag, set the fire up, and change my wet clothes. Then, I’d step back outside with the camera and consider what would make a good photograph.

I’m trying to adopt the same approach with my current work in Romania. Of course, when you’re visiting somewhere that contrasts greatly from your usual surroundings, you’re on a sort of photographic overdrive where everything becomes fascinating. You have to allow that to pass, in my opinion, before you begin to make good images. It’s certainly a constructive exercise to shoot away from home, as it presents a different set of challenges; principally, the unknown.

Achnanclach, Northern Highlands, Scotland © Nicholas White

Can you tell me about the latest project you’ve been shooting?

In 2017, I was awarded the Royal Photographic Society Environmental Bursary. I decided to use the money to begin work on a new series in the Southern Carpathian Mountains of Romania, documenting the formation of a new European Wilderness Reserve. Romania is home to almost half of Europe’s population of Wolf, Lynx, European Brown Bear, and Europe’s largest contiguous forest, but in recent years illegal logging has threatened this delicate ecosystem. I’ve been working closely with an organisation who are purchasing large tracts of wilderness in order to protect it for future generations. The land holdings will eventually be returned to the public domain for permanent protection in the form of a National Park.

I’ve made several trips now, with a Summer one scheduled in the next few weeks. It’s an incredibly difficult subject to photograph – in my experience, National Parks are either there or they’re not. To create one from scratch seemed ambitious at best! The more time I spend with the rangers however, the more I’m beginning to deconstruct the abstract nature of such a project. I hope that my photographs can act as an archive of sorts, documenting the rebirth of European wilderness.

You’ve been successful in a number of awards through the years, how have they helped your career? Do you find the process of entering awards constructive in itself?

Competitions can be incredibly beneficial to your career, as long as you enter with a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality. I’ve seen so many photographers become totally crushed by not making shortlists and it’s really devastating to see. It’s important to remind yourself that, if you don’t win, it doesn’t mean by definition that your work is bad. As soon as you understand that, the whole process becomes a lot more enjoyable and you begin to understand the benefits. For me, the process of entering is hugely constructive – often you have to make a much tighter edit from a larger body of work, and then write about it in under 250 words. That’s a great challenge, and forces you to consider how different images talk to one and other, and how you, yourself, talk about the work.

Enter OpenWalls, your invitation to Arles.

Sandy’s Canoe at Peanmeanach, Ardnish Peninsula, Scotland © Nicholas White
Strabeg, Northern Highlands, Scotland © Nicholas White

Meet OpenWalls judge Genevieve Fussell, Senior Photo Editor at The New Yorker

Genevieve Fussell is a Senior Photo Editor at The New Yorker, one of the world’s best respected publications, and she is now bringing her expertise to OpenWalls

Genevieve Fussell is a Senior Photo Editor at The New Yorker, a magazine best-known for its mix of journalism, literary writing, art criticism and infamous one-panel cartoons, and now home to Photo Booth, a blog dedicated exclusively to photography. Genevieve contributes to the curation the blog, but her foremost role is commissioning and producing a range of photography for The New Yorker itself.

With a background as a photographer, Genevieve has a wealth of knowledge around the medium, and worked as an archivist for VII Photo, the international collective of photojournalists based in New York and Paris, before joining The New Yorker. We spoke with Genevieve about her foundations in photography, what she will be bringing to the judging panel, and seeking out photographers in the shadows.

How has your experience as a photographer informed your role at The New Yorker?

My experience as a photographer was rather limited, as I didn’t quite have the chops. I also knew that it was a fairly stressful path to embark on and I wanted a bit more stability in my choice of career. That said, I did spend a few years in attempt of it, so I can relate to the experience of trying to market yourself and your work, which I think can be very challenging for some people. It certainly was for me. I feel very open to speaking with photographers who aren’t at the head of the pack, or confidently approaching editors. Sometimes I actively look for those in the shadows, as I know there are countless talented photographers who aren’t necessarily making it because their personalities aren’t fit for self-promotion. 

What excites you about the OpenWalls award?

As with any juried competition, I look forward to being exposed to new artists. A big part of my job is knowing who is shooting what type of work and where. It is a constant effort to educate myself. Invariably, these competitions help me grow my knowledge of the contemporary landscape, which is a nice take away. 

I also enjoy interacting with other judges when it comes to discussing the work. I’m always interested to hear varied points of view from a diverse set of photography professionals. I love it when these discussions challenge my own notions or perhaps get me thinking differently about any given project. 

In terms of this specific award, I’m interested in the challenge of conveying the theme in one single image. We’re often having to illustrate the features in The New Yorker with one single image as space for photography is limited, so I’m familiar with the challenge. I’m curious to see what the artists produce within this framework. 

What are you expecting the response to be to the theme ‘Home & Away’? What sorts of images do you hope to see?

It’s obviously a very broad topic, so I look forward to seeing the varied ways that people interpret notions of belonging, escapism and identity. We’re always striving to be less literal at the magazine, so I hope to see some less literal interpretations. I’d like to see something unexpected. Artists who have their own visual language, and a reason for having developed that language. For me, that’s everything. 

What advice would you give to photographers submitting work to the award?


I think it’s important for a photographer to have a clear intention behind why they make their work. Artistic talent aside, I think this can separate good photographers from great ones. I find that many people aren’t able to discuss their intention in a meaningful way. This is a problem for me, as the work suffers when intention is muddy. It’s not enough to travel to some exotic land in an effort to make compelling images. One should know why they’re shooting what they’re shooting.

Otherwise, I think it’s important to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Experiment. Don’t make the perfect the image. Break the rules and see what comes of it. 

What do you think are the benefits of entering photography awards?

You’re guaranteed to have your work seen by the selected jury, so exposure is built in. And of course, many others are looking. I certainly pay attention to a fairly long list of awards each year to see both the winner and the shortlist. I’m often most excited about the shortlist. I have solid relationships with a handful of photographers whose work I first discovered via juried competitions.

I think it’s helpful to go through the process of entering competitions, to hopefully understand what makes an effective submission and to hone your ability to talk about and present your work. 

What makes for a compelling, and memorable, photograph?

I want a photograph to make me feel something on a very visceral level. I recently did a portfolio review with a young artist who showed a beautifully realized personal project. The images were so moving I was literally fighting back tears. For me, that’s a success. 

I’m never too interested in the perfect picture. It’s great if you can compose/expose a perfect frame from a technical standpoint but I do find these types of images boring. I want more than just a pretty picture. I want emotion and energy. I think a photographer needs to feel real feelings about any given subject in order for those feelings to be transmitted to the viewer. So be sure to settle on a project that you care deeply about. Make work that matters to you.

Why Exhibit in Arles?

As we draw to the end of the first month of this year’s Les Rencontres d’Arles, we look at why exhibiting in Arles is so beneficial for photographers

Our very first OpenWalls exhibition will be held next year in Arles. We are looking for up to 50 photographers to exhibit as part of a month-long group show at Galerie Huit Arles during Les Rencontres d’Arles 2019. The exhibition is calling photographers to respond to the theme Home and Away, with images capturing a sense of escapism, belonging or identity. But why is exhibiting in Arles such an important rite of passage for photographers?

“The opening week of Les Rencontres d’Arles summer festival attracts the Who’s Who of the photography world,” explains Julia de Bierre, the owner of Galerie Huit Arles, and an OpenWalls judge. “They all descend on Arles to participate in this extraordinary celebratory event.” Photo editors, curators, gallery owners and photography dealers all head to Arles not only to see works by old masters, but also to poach undiscovered talent, looking to the coinciding Voies Off festival, as well as independent galleries and street artists, to commission new work. The festival also yields a huge amount of media attention, this year receiving coverage from the likes of The Guardian, The Telegraph, ArtNet and LensCulture, alongside a host of international publications.

Galerie Huit Arles

Galerie Huit Arles’ central location is perfect for drawing the leading names in photography to peruse its illustrious walls. Set near the town’s crumbling Roman amphitheatre, one of Arles’ spotlight locations, the gallery attracts visitors from around the world

This year, OpenWalls judge Daniel Miller was in Arles during the festival, exhibiting work represented by YourDailyPhotograph.com, and looking for new photographers whose images he could bring to the initiative. YourDailyPhotograph.com is a daily email, sent to over 8,000 subscribers worldwide, among them serious photography collectors looking to add to their collections. “We are always on the hunt for extraordinary works to present to our collectors,” says Daniel. And Arles is the perfect place to look. With photographers from all over the world pasting their work to the walls, and ad hoc venues being turned into makeshift galleries, there are miles of untapped potential.

© Bryony Fraser

OpenWalls Arles is the first in our OpenWalls awards series, aimed at creating opportunities for emerging and established photographers to exhibit their work in reputable and extraordinary locations worldwide. By collaborating with respected galleries around the world, we are able to open up the walls of otherwise exclusive spaces, to offer artists a wider platform from which to exhibit their work.

Arles was our first, and most obvious, choice for the award. Launched in 1970 by French writer Michael Tournier, photographer Lucien Clergue and curator Jean-Maurice Rouquette, the festival is the world’s biggest and best-respected photography event. In 2016, it broke a record, with more than 100,000 visitors coming to Arles during the festival. Next year will be Les Rencontres d’Arles’ 50th edition, and it is expected to reel in more visitors than ever. Make sure your work is there.

For your chance to exhibit your work on this international stage, enter OpenWalls, your invitation to Arles.

 

Meet OpenWalls judge Daniel Miller, founder of YourDailyPhotograph.com

Daniel Miller is a photography dealer residing on the west coast of the United States. He is also the proprietor of two galleries, and founder of photography collecting initiative YourDailyPhotograph.com

California-based gallery owner and entrepreneurial art dealer Daniel Miller began his auction site, YourDailyPhotograph.com, six years ago. Each day, he puts up three photographs for sale on the site, and these are then sent out as a newsletter, to more than 8,000 subscribers from 75 countries. This venture began when an important collector gifted Daniel with 500 photographs to sell, and he saw an opportunity in the market. Daniel now works with a roster of collectors, who use YourDailyPhotograph.com to grow their photography collections from anywhere in the world.

Through YourDailyPhotograph.com, as well as his other successful pursuits, Daniel has become an expert on the global photography market. He has a wealth of photographic knowledge, from spotting key market trends and driving factors, to understanding what makes a compelling photograph.

Daniel Miller

How did YourDailyPhotograph.com come into fruition?

A major collector of photographs was looking to sell their rather large collection quickly, so I called a handful of collectors and told them I was going to email them one image every day with a special offer until they told me to stop. That was in April 2012, and we have presented the “Daily” email every day since then, which is now 2,268 days in a row.

YourDailyPhotograph.com is not a website, or a random online shopping cart. It is a daily email, which is sent to over 8,000 serious subscribers worldwide, who all collect a lot of photography. Although the Daily began with vintage photographs, we added emerging and contemporary sections shortly after it began. I’m proud to report that we have paid emerging photographers over $300,000 for sales of their works.

How do you choose which photographs you feature on YourDailyPhotograph? What is your selection process?

We have several guest curators who review submissions. Around 5-10% of what is submitted to us is chosen for our email. We are always on the hunt for extraordinary works to present to our collectors.

What sorts of images do you hope to see when judging?

When we’re judging, we’re not going to be looking at prints, we’re going to be looking at digital files. Everybody looks at a digital file a different size, and they’re all optimized for different screens. I think this is something that artists often don’t keep in mind. Demure or more complicated images are at a disadvantage during competitions, and when looking to be sold. It’s a shame but that’s the new world. We deal with this everyday at YourDaily. We see plenty of great images and great photographs in person, but they need to be easy to relate to as a JPEG.

What advice would you give to photographers submitting work to OpenWalls?

Choose images that are clear to understand in small sizes on a computer screen. This is quite important these days.

What do you think are the benefits of entering photography awards?

The best contests and awards get you visible to collectors, galleries and museums, but it’s important to be selective. There are hundreds of contests for people to enter but there are only a few really valuable ones. With the backing of the BJP, OpenWalls is by far one of the more interesting ones for people to enter. Now more than ever before, people need to be really careful about which awards they choose.

What makes for a compelling, and memorable, photograph?

The best art elicits a personal, emotional response from the viewer. Hopefully, the work I see submitted to OpenWalls will do this.