Girl on Wilshire by Bryan Formhals
Bryan Formhals has enough creative activity going that he merits an extended post. As a curator (or, visual editor? more on that below) his online exhibition endeavor La Pura Vida Gallery, which presents innovative monthly group exhibitions, just turned two years old. Pooled from Flickr and presented with a simple PREV/NEXT navigation, these shows have an unmediated intimacy that exemplifies what an online gallery should be.
But of course Bryan is himself a photographer and worthy Hey, Hot Shot! contender whose Girl On Wilshire is from a body of work created on peregrinations around his former base of Los Angeles, where the "pure, golden, electric sunshine" seduced him into photography. It also embodies the creative ambiguities inherent in his photographs; here a woman-shaped outline hovers among a conflation of picture planes and reflections at indeterminate distances. It is an image of fugitive images.
Bryan took some time out to answer a few questions about La Pura Vida and how his photography coincides with the practice of editing and curating images.
What seemed missing from the way that photography was presented online that you wanted to address when you started LPV Gallery two years ago?
I'm not sure I was addressing the wider spectrum of photography online, it was more related to how photography was presented and organized on Flickr that I wanted to address. I was an admin for HCSP (Hardcore Street Photography), which was my first taste of editing photos. After doing that for about a year I become a bit bored with editing a single type of genre. My interest in photography was expanding and I simply wanted to investigate a wider variety of work. The way photos are presented in pools on Flickr is basically a constant stream. It's hard to sequence and really present a selection of photos in an interesting way. So really, I wanted to take some of the great work we were finding on Flickr and present it in a more manageable and interesting way, which meant taking it off Flickr.
Untitled by Alex Cretey
When you started out how did photographers find you to submit their work?
Like I mentioned, LPV spun off from HCSP which is one of the most prominent documentary/fine art groups on Flickr. Most of the photographers that initially found LPV came from there and through basic networking and promotion on Flickr. These days though, the blog, Twitter, and Tumblr also bring in new submissions.
What I think is unique about LPV and the network of groups we have established on Flickr is that we're essentially crowd sourcing the editing. There's the perception that finding work on Flickr is challenging and it can be, but if you network and follow certain people and groups, the good work gets filtered up to you. I have the 'favorites' of a few dependable people on my RSS and keep tabs on a few pools, so that's how I find the work. And really, that's how much of it bubbles up to LPV. It's actually very interesting how it kind of organically happens.
As a photographer, when did the path of curating engage your curiosity, and how?
I was in L.A. because I wanted to be a screenwriter and about 4 years ago I got burned out and just lost the motivation to write, but I still had creative impulses that needed to be satisfied. So I started bringing a camera with me on my walks around LA. As is the case with many people, I became addicted and started to study the history of photography. But at the same time I was networking with other aspiring amateurs on Flickr and eventually fell in with the street photography crowd.
As I continued to study photography, I quickly learned that lesson that everyone interested photography learns, which is that you need to look at lots and lots of photography. And right now, there's really no better place to find a high volume of new photography than Flickr. Editing and curating forces you to make choices. I enjoy that. I like deconstructing a photograph and figuring out why I like it (sometimes I have no idea why!). The process of fine tuning one's sensibility is one of the joys of consuming and appreciating art. The simple act of discovering new photography is thrilling to me. And for my own work as a photographer, it's absolutely necessary because I want to improve and expand my photographic vocabulary. It's a never-ending process I imagine.
Untitled by Lina Scheynius
At first the shows were "edited," but now they are "curated." Is this just a difference of phrasing or is there a philosophical difference?
Back at the beginning I did most of the edits and I can't call myself a curator with a straight face, so I always put "edited by." But when I started bringing on different editors each month, they would say "curated" by and I would just leave it. For me, what we're doing on LPV is editing. I know online curation is a bit of a buzz term but I'm not sure it's appropriate. I think people are probably throwing it around because it adds a bit of gravitas to what we're all doing. But essentially, I think we're editors.
Your show titles and themes have an allusive, poetic quality to them. What defines an LPV Gallery show?
The titles and themes were an accidental quirk. We really didn't even have themes until April 2008. I was doing an edit and when I saw this photograph the phrase 'beautiful consciousness' just popped into my head. From there, I went with it and we started using quotes, songs, and book passages as the themes. This probably isn't unique to LPV, but I think it's part of what defines an LPV show. We take our inspiration from more poetic or philosophical ideas rather than anything too literal. An LPV show is kind of a mash-up of vernacular, documentary and fine art photography. I don't really like looking at photography through the prism of genres though. It gets too rigid for me.
You also seem to follow issues around copyright, appropriation, and larger theoretical debates about representation. How do these issues inform your "big picture" (yes, pun) of the state of photography today? And does this change the kind of work you are interested in?
I'm very interested to see how photography evolves online and it bothers me when corporations and unscrupulous entrepreneurs use the chaos of the internet to take advantage of content creators. Of course, the use of content on the web can be confusing and is ever evolving, so I think we need to keep an open mind. But we also need to speak up and keep people informed when we see something we know to be wrong. I want to see photographers and artists take more control of their content and not be so shackled to the whims of publishers and the bottom line. I'm really interested in photographers and groups who can build their own kingdom so to speak.