The continuing future of art spaces: How have photographers innovated?

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With perspectives from Juan Brenner, Charlotte Schmitz, Harley Weir and Josué Rivas, we explore how the last year has changed the way photographers approach their practice

It has been a tough year pertaining to artists. Across the globe, exhibitions, profits, commercial deals and editorial shoots have been cancelled or even postponed. With the Covid-19 pandemic, we are witnessing major shifts in the photographic industry; a few of these come as a result of long term problems, others are born from new dilemmas. In the first article in this series, we questioned how art institutions can improve in 2021 . In our second, we asked the directors of art festivals how they adapted to a year of lockdowns . Right here, we turn our attention to the individual. Over the last year, exactly how has the artist adapted, and exactly how do they use their spaces differently?

“In 2020, I put 17 exhibitions cancelled, ” Juan Brenner explains. Brenner, based in Guatemala City, left a career in fashion photography ten years ago. Now, his practice  focuses on Guatemalan identity. Their project Tonatiuh was his first monograph, and has been supposed to be exhibited at 4 different solo shows around the globe. Some 13 other displays were planned, but not one went ahead. “It has been supposed to be my year, I dedicated so much time to the particular book and the shows. It had been really, really bad. ” In the aftermath of these cancelations, with limited resources with no access to a photo lab, Brenner began taking pictures of whatever he could find around him. “I really wanted to make a move with the city. It was clear, and I was able to just walk around with my camera and just shoot the people, the streets, and the fashion, ” this individual explains. “This new function was shot on a hundred rolls of film that I couldn’t see, I just kept shooting. ”

© Juan Brenner.

Brenner explains that despite his geographical isolation, the internet kept him connected. “Instagram has been my weapon, it opened up so many doors for me, ” he says. “I was in the center of nowhere, but in terms associated with putting my work out generally there, Instagram has been amazing. ” Brenner is clear that given that national lockdowns began, system has become essential. Brenner fulfilled his current agent, in addition to a community of fans, more than Instagram. “I’ve made incredible friends all over the world, all excellent artists. There’s a real neighborhood on these apps, ” he explains. “The outbreak made it evident that the tools are there, and that they work. ” 

Some photographers have used the internet to change their practice completely. During the first few months of the pandemic, photographer Charlotte Schmitz turned her focus toward her new project The Journal , a global group of women photographers. Like Brenner, she too faced the mass cancellation of all her work assignments and displays. “It was evident that lots of us were quite isolated and losing income opportunities, ” she explains. “ [The pandemic] has disproportionately affected ladies in the industry. In just a few days, a lot more than 400 women applied to The Journal . It developed quickly in to an unique global collective. We’re divided into smaller groupings that produce work collectively, and share it through our own instagram account. We make sure that images by women turn out to be part of the history of this time, ” she says. Collectives for example The Record have become support networks. “I quickly focused on conceptualising, teaching and consultancy, ” she explains “I don’t want to separate art from social entrepreneurship anymore. It’s wonderful to drive collectively for an equitable community. I didn’t focus a lot on my personal art projects last year, but rather on global and digital projects, like The Record , ” Schmitz describes.

© Charlotte Schmitz.

“I found myself quite lost without a personal workspace, but it’s really good to have time to think about what you want to make. When you are running on that ‘treadmill’, you don’t have time to think about what you want to do. It’s nice to reassess things. ”

-Harley Weir

Faced with the loss of the physical space, many photographers have used the last year to reveal. One of them being fashion professional photographer Harley Weir . “I got turfed out of my studio in the middle of the first lockdown, ” the lady explains. “I found me personally quite lost without a private workspace, but it’s great to have time to think about what you need to make. When you’re running on that ‘treadmill’, \ time to think about what you want to do. It is nice to reassess issues. ” The pandemic permitted the artist time to inhale and exhale, a period in which slower, more insightful research can be carried out.  

Nevertheless, the lack of a physical workspace can prove difficult. “For me, having a recording studio was a grounding, ” Weir explains. “I need a room just to make a mess plus experiment. You have to make mistakes to obtain somewhere different. I have definitely learnt how important a good work area is. ”

© Harley Weir.

In this time of uncertainty, photographers possess adapted their practice, doing work in tandem with Covid-19 situations in order to produce new function. Josué Rivas is an Local futurist, creative director, visible storyteller and educator. Their photography, which focuses on BIPOC in America, has been featured within National Geographic as well as The Guardian . Rivas shoots his topics via video call. “I saw [lockdown] as this opportunity to be proactive, ” this individual explains. “Photographing over FaceTime or Zoom became a ritual to me. ” Rivas also covered the Black Lives Matter protests within Portland, once again using the confines of his environment to produce new photographic spaces. “I had been out shooting the protests, and we printed the job and handed them out there, ” he explains. “We ended up asking local stores if we could put the designs up on their boarded up windows, and they said indeed. ” The resulting work became a makeshift outdoor exhibition, with Rivas’ demonstration images exhibiting on the really streets they capture. “As a storyteller, and as a community member, we can use the tools to heal, ” he explains.  

© Josué Rivas.

Covid-19 has taken a sense of innovation to those working in photography, but it is yet to be seen what that will indicate beyond the pandemic. “We are a new hybrid, ” Brenner explains, speaking about the particular blending of spaces and practices; online and physical, “Many of us have realised how important spaces and institutions are usually, ” explains Schmitz. “Many things work online, but art touches people, and I believe it needs physical incurs. I think that we will probably function more with hybrid areas, combining the online and the offline. ”

Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Log of Photography in Oct 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art on the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.

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