Brett Rogers - Brett Rogers, Director of The Photographers' Gallery
What is your relationship with photography?
I first became interested in photography during my teens when growing up in Australia. I grew to appreciate London’s crucial role as a cultural centre through the iconic photographic records of that era – the fashion photographs of Bailey, Brian Duffy, Terence Donovan, Saul Leiter, Harri Peccinotti, Ronald Traeger, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. I then studied art history to learn more about the history of photography and ended up doing my MA at the Courtauld Institute of Art here in London in 1980 – and have stayed here ever since.
What does your job entail on a daily basis?
I am fortunate that it is very varied – no two days are ever the same. It can range from meetings about our future exhibitions or education programme, discussions with funders and sponsors, or meetings with the design team and architects about plans for our new building. Unfortunately, I have to keep portfolio reviews of new photographers’ work to a minimum, which is something I miss.
How closely do you work with photographers?
I have been working within this field for 20 years now, so I have a number of close relationships with British photographers. Apart from discussing their own work with them and general issues affecting photographers today, I allow my programming team to carry out close discussions with the photographers we are showing and don’t get too involved once we have agreed on the scope of the project. I still take the lead on the fashion slot and enjoy developing new ideas and working with curators and photographers, to surprise our audiences with fresh ways
to look at this fascinating subject.
Do photographers have to be established before they can get their work exhibited in a gallery?
Not always – we have introduced a slot each May/June entitled freshfacedandwildeyed, designed to showcase emerging talent. There are other opportunities within the programme to give young photographers their first solo show – recent examples are Danny Treacy, Vanessa Billy and Brazilian/Spanish artist Sara Ramo.
What are your top tips for photographers approaching galleries with their work?
A well-edited portfolio, as it shows clarity of thinking and rigour. Often, though, photographers are not the best editors of their own work, so I always recommend they get someone else they respect to help them arrange their portfolio.
How should photographers go about getting their work exhibited?
These days one of the most successful routes is through portfolio viewings – either run by independent agencies such as Rhubarb-Rhubarb or as part of festivals eg Photo East London. We also run a Folio Forum session on a regular basis, but we can only select four people each time to come and talk about their work and get critical feedback. There are other obvious routes, such as having a good website linked to a popular site, eg Saatchi.
What are the big mistakes photographers make when approaching galleries?
I appreciate that it is incredibly difficult to get your work seen by curators who are already very busy people – but persistence does pay off and inviting curators to other places they can see the work in the flesh or sending updates of new bodies of work is always a good idea. We hope our curators get around a lot to see new work, but you cannot get to see everything. Photographers shouldn’t be disappointed if they don’t get a response, as the work may still be on the curator’s radar and they may just be considering the right opportunity to show it.
What kind of photography does The Photographers’ Gallery exhibit?
Our programme reflects an ‘expanded’ notion of photography – from the rich territory of the vernacular (unauthored and anonymous images) through to artists who use photography, as well as the more traditional genres of photojournalism, fashion and social documentary. We try to show what is new and exciting within the medium – even if that occasionally strays into showing historical work such as Eugène Atget, André Kertész or Walker Evans, which we show because we feel it is tremendously relevant to informing how contemporary practice has evolved.
How do you edit the work that is exhibited?
With great difficulty – because we have such limited space in which to show work and there is such a huge amount of fascinating work out there that we would like to show, this is sometimes very difficult. It is one of the reasons we sometimes try to work off site – we have done one project with Selfridges and another with Liberty, and will be continuing this, as it helps us to show different sorts of work and attract new audiences who may not otherwise visit The Photographers’ Gallery.
What kind of photographers do you work with?
A very wide range – from emerging to established. Occasionally we work with the estates of seminal 20th century photographers such as Kertész, as well as with interesting archives such as Harry Jacobs’ Brixton Archive or work from the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature at Senate House Library, University of London. We are very keen to showcase the work of anonymous or vernacular photographers whose work is not usually shown within a fine art context.
How do you help emerging talent?
Through various ways – our freshfacedandwildeyed exhibition is designed to support students within two years of leaving college, as this is a critical point when they need support and dialogue with others. We also offer any emerging photographer, regardless of background or formal qualification, feedback through folio forums and various other forums. My programming team are constantly invited to recommend photographers for commissions, awards and prizes, so are able to support emerging photographers through these routes as well.
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