In a new generation of image judging, sans slide projectors and formal assemblies, Carol Squiers lent her expert eye to the inaugural The Shot competition—choosing the next generation’s fashion photographer from digital files at the comfort of her desk. It’s no great wonder she was chosen—Squiers is a curator at the International Center of Photography (ICP) (who co-sponsored the competition with W Magazine) and an accomplished writer, editor, and adjunct professor who has written at length about contemporary photography and fashion. But how did she make her selection? For Squiers, the name that stood out was Boo George, whose “sweet world of soft colors and dreamy black and white” brought just the counterpoint that she—and contemporary fashion photography—had been waiting for. In Artsy’s chat with Squiers, the curator reflects on her experience in judging the competition, falling for George’s photographs, and recollections of iconic photographers, like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, who had a similar spark in their developing careers.
Artsy: Can you talk about your involvement in The Shot and your experience judging this initiative?
Carol Squiers: There was a time in the recent past when this kind of competition would require all the judges to sit in one room and look at prints or at slides projected on a screen. For The Shot, I looked at digital files of images while sitting at my desk, which is the way a lot of people will look at the published photographs. The advantages of this method include being able to look at the images any time you feel like it; going back to images to look more closely; and zeroing in on things that are striking—a gesture or a facial expression. It’s much more flexible than the older methods. Communications about the various photographers took place by phone and email, which was fine, but I did miss the face-to-face contact. As for choosing the next generation of fashion photographers, there is so much talent around and those people have so many creative tools at their disposal that I think we will continue seeing wonderful fashion photography for a long time to come.
Artsy: What did you see in Boo’s work that stood apart from the other candidates?
CS: All of the candidates had excellent portfolios—choosing one was not easy. Boo’s work stood out for its tenderness and its lyric quality. He creates his own sweet world of soft colors and dreamy black and white, a beautiful counterpoint to some of the fabulous strangeness in fashion photography today.
Artsy: Can you make any comparisons between Boo’s work at this stage of his career and another photographer who you have watched through his or her career?
CS: Individual development and photographic careers are so much more accelerated than they were even in the recent past that comparisons seem impossible to me. The more sped up things become, the more I think back to earlier photographers like Avedon and Penn and what it meant to work with a big, heavy view camera on a tripod and 8 x 10-inch negatives. The slowness and deliberation of film-based photography that was a requirement in the past is now something that good photographers have to learn.
Artsy: How do you feel that the role of fashion photography has shifted within fine art over the past few decades, if at all?
CS: Contemporary photography is a spectrum of different but overlapping photographies that includes fashion, art, photojournalism, citizen journalism, selfies, advertising, and a zillion other kinds of photography. I don’t think that photographs that are made as fashion or journalism “graduate” into the category of art. I think that some photographs that were made for many different reasons have such complexity, imagination, intelligence, and appeal that they become the kind of lasting images that people want to look at again and again, just as they look at the best images made by artists. It’s our good fortune that prints of those photographs sometimes end up in art galleries and museums, which preserve them for the future.
Artsy: What are you currently working on at ICP that we can look forward to?
CS: I’m doing a show at ICP for January 2014 titled “What is a Photograph?” that explores various strains of experimental photography done by artists since the 1970s, which began with hand-manipulation of the photograph in the darkroom or drawing, painting, or collaging the photograph. At this point photography is a fantastic mixture of digital alterations, straight photography, invented photography, and unusual darkroom techniques.
ICP’s Triennial exhibition, “A Different Kind of Order” is currently on view through September 22, 2013. “What is a Photograph?” will open on January 24, 2014. To learn more, visit ICP.
Carol Squiers, ICP Curator, has organized exhibitions on a range of subjects, including contemporary art, fashion photography, and the intersection of science, technology, and photography. She has published extensively in periodicals, books, and catalogues, and is the editor of the collections Over Exposed: Essays on Contemporary Photography (2000) and The Critical Image (1990), co-author with Vince Aletti of Avedon Fashion: 1944–2000 (2009), and author of The Body at Risk: Photography of Disorder, Illness, and Healing (2005).
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