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.