Jake Singer (hanging sculptures) Gaelen Pinnock (back wall)
Using the nature of photography as a cohesive thread to create a conversation across mediums, Art Meets Camera aims to re-evaluate the way we think about and approach photography as an art form. The Cape Town-based initiative was founded by Michaela Limberis as a way to help emerging local artists making photographically-inspired work that she felt strongly about. “It’s not the kind of situation where you suddenly earn money producing or gain recognition simply because you hold a degree,” she aptly notes. Having grown bored and frustrated with the photography being exhibited in galleries and institutions at the time, Michaela began to cross paths with individuals whose work aligned with her vision to change that and so, Art Meets Camera was born.
What is your background? Tell us a bit about your journey so far, and how you’ve come to be where you are today…
I grew up in Johannesburg, worked overseas, travelled, and moved to Cape Town in 2008. I graduated from Michaelis (UCT) as a photography major in 2012 and went on to complete an internship and curatorial program at the South African Centre for Photography, where Liona Nyariri and I curated our first exhibition – #lookatmydickybird. I then worked in a gallery for a year while developing the foundations for Art Meets Camera.
The notion of photography as art has long been contested or viewed with some scepticism. You believe that the way we approach photography as an art form needs to be re-evaluated…what would you like to see change?
I’d like to see documentary photographs expelled from the gallery context. That would be a great first step. I’d also welcome a more considered approach to materiality and display. Conventional formats have denied the material its ability to inform meaning. Photography that escapes the ‘copy’ is another point of consideration, and work relating to the presence or role of the camera and the photographic process…art about photography.
What are some of the hindrances to these changes?
The distinction between photography and other art-forms is the most likely hindrance, because the term has such limiting expectations; as soon as a work becomes conscious of its materiality it is no longer situated under the umbrella of photography. I understand the reluctance; however it is hugely important to me in how the work is interpreted. I want the viewer to reflect on their own relationship with the medium and its tenuous nature. We are so overwhelmed by visual information and the immediacy of photography, and I want people to think about the work in relation to these sorts of experiences and manipulations of space and reality.
There is also an obsession with the ‘archival’ print as a means of elevating photographic work to Fine Art status. This is attached to a certain anxiety we feel as collectors surrounding market value and longevity. It would be a relief to accept that any artwork is prone to some sort of change in response to its conditions. Editions also end up contradicting photography’s accessible nature because printing and framing costs are so high. Photography editions are meant to make the work more affordable but in reality they are often priced similarly to original works of comparable provenance, and I think this is a problem. It deceptively serves to extend the bracket of income from a single work.
How can what you refer to as the nature of photography be used to create a conversation across mediums?
Photography can be used as an entry point to make other art accessible to a broader audience, simply because everyone can relate to it in some way. The camera serves to manipulate form and flatten space, favouring a single perspective. By paying attention to the surface and structure of photographs, the physical component is re-introduced. Images can shape-shift across various digital platforms without altering their visible content (albeit losing context), so additional media and materials are a way to inform the meaning behind and beyond the immediate content.
Alice Gauntlett and Marcus Viljoen at the Grid Photo Biennial
The initiative currently supports eight artists. Naturally, all of their work is different, but what was important (a set of criteria perhaps) across the board in terms of your selection process?
Their production is not restricted to photography; the camera is merely an element that drives the creative process. They are all conceptually driven and aware of the camera’s manipulative presence. I think that they all question photography in one way or another, and that is where their work starts to penetrate the boundaries of other media. I am interested in photographic work that bears the mark of the artist.
In what ways does Art Meets Camera aim to ensure that these artists are afforded opportunities to have their work seen and recognized? What advice would you give to emerging artists who are going it alone?
I work as an independent curator, so putting together exhibitions is one way, and I really enjoy doing that. I also assist in getting work into galleries and create exposure for them through various media avenues. Although exposure is vital, selling the work on a regular basis is equally important, because this is what will allow the artists to sustain their practice and inspire confidence.
I’m hesitant to give general advice as there are many contributing factors to consider. But if I were to attempt to say something of general value I suppose it would be to realise that as a young artist you deserve to be treated with the same respect and professionalism as any other artist. Don’t allow people to take advantage of your enthusiasm – if they are interested in your work it is an obvious indication that they are equally privileged to be working with you.
Grid talk: Urban Dialectic
Between February and March you hosted a series of weekly talks with Grid at Gallery F. What are some of the interesting and note-worthy things that came to light during these?
We were lucky enough to host a talk by Ashraf Jamal, where he engaged in conversation around the notion of empathy in South Africa’s photographic history. He discussed the perpetual state suffering and disconnect present in South African photography, urging us toward a new compassion and sensitivity void of “rhetorical noise” – overtly political and theoretical descriptions that attempt to direct and coerce the viewer. During all three talks attention was directed toward the distortion and distribution of photographic content both historically and in the digital age; the virtual arena played quite an important role across the board as an indicator of change, with an overarching theme reflecting on where photography fails.
What are you currently working on or working towards?
We are currently working on a YouTube channel called ‘Art Meets Tv’, which will be launched next month. There are so many fantastic contributors on board and I’m really excited about creating and sharing this content on a global platform. If you’d like to get involved in some way or find out more about it please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org