I fell into curating by accident.

In recent years, Masters programmes in curatorial studies have generated many interesting initiatives, but 40 years ago this was not an obvious option. Even if it had been, it would not have occurred to me, even though there is a link with my earlier experience of work in theatre lighting in that galleries as a space of installation have theatrical resonances.

For me curating was unexpected. I was researching a publication on Women and Landscape photography, and, out of the blue, received a phone call from the director at Newlyn Gallery, Cornwall (UK). She invited me to curate a parallel exhibition. My experience then was limited to student shows. Happily, I accepted. Viewfindings, Women Photographers, ‘Landscape’ and Environment formed Newlyn’s contribution to Signals Festival of Women Photographers, 1994. The exhibition subsequently toured to 3 further venues.

A few years later, I worked with IRIS women’s photography project, then at Staffordshire University, on the first in a series of genre-based publications and exhibitions intended to showcase la work by contemporary women photographers. Shifting Horizons, Women’s Landscape Photography Now, included projects by 11 photographers and was shown in 3 venues. By contrast with now, when finance is scarce and touring partnerships are put in place before an exhibition is confirmed, when I first started as an occasional curator, exhibitions could develop independent trajectories. It was impossible to know whether and where a theme might attract interest and a show invited to fill a space in a gallery’s programme. For example, Facing East, Contemporary Landscape Photography from Baltic Areas was commissioned in 2004 by The Gallery at The Arts Institute at Bournemouth as part of a regional photography festival. It must have rung a bell! Unexpectedly, it toured to 6 further venues in England and Scotland.

Selection for these exhibitions always included meetings with artists, primarily studio visits, which I particularly enjoy. Why? Because people are relaxed when on home territory, and their space with a range of work, in portfolios or on the wall, allows for greater familiarity and understanding of perspectives, of what inspires them. I find the web-based viewings and zoom meetings that nowadays are often the basis for selecting work less satisfactory, especially if I have not previously worked with the artist so have limited appreciation of their interests and motivations.

Rolling forward, almost all the exhibitions I have been involved with have been by invitation, often unexpected, somehow out of the blue. Many have involved trips to places that I might not otherwise have visited. For example, in 2010/11 I went to Rijeka, twice, relatively soon after the break-up of Yugoslavia. It was a two-person show, based on residencies in this Adriatic region of Croatia. One residency had occurred on the Brijuni Islands, formerly President Tito’s private country estate, and the other in Risnjak, a mountainous national park area. These are places I would never otherwise have visited. I met an ecologist working in the park area and a ranger from the Islands at a symposium held in conjunction with the exhibition. It is a privileged way of exploring places that can offer historical and contemporary insights that are less likely to occur if travelling as a standard tourist.

Working on exhibitions involving two artists is a collaborative experience. It involves empathy, trust, and mutual respect with the curator as mediator (and, often, catalogue editor). This is very different to conceptualising themes for group shows wherein artists and their works are selected in accordance with principles core to the exhibition. None the less, my preferred way of working remains that of extensive discussion, including studio visits, where possible. One thing I learnt from my experience as guest curator for Sense of Place at BOZAR, Brussels, was that working with 42 photographers and their studio managers, mostly via email and portfolios, was not particularly rewarding. I missed the intimacy of discussions that studio visits facilitate, and that smaller-scale initiatives allow. I also enjoy ways in which relationships develop over time, as do photographers’ practices. My two most recent shows have largely involved working with artists whom I already know, either having previously shown their work, or in other capacities. In both instances, I made a point of approaching one photographer with whom I had not yet worked – just to keep me on my toes!

National and International Exhibitions

  • Curator, Sea, Sand and Soil: Plastics in our Environment, Pingyao International Photography Festival, 2021. (Photographers: Mandy Barker, Gina Glover, Andy Hughes).
  • Curator, Seedscapes: Future-proofing Nature, Impressions Gallery, Bradford, Yorks., 2020. (Tour, 2020/21: Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter; Dick Institute, Kilmarnock). (Photographers: Dornith Doherty, Sant Khalsa, Chrystel Lebas, Heidi Morstang, Liz Orton).
  • Co-curator, Layers of Visibility, Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre (based on NiMAC/University of Plymouth Artist Residencies, 2013 – 2017), 2018/9. (Artists: Carole Baker, Christopher Cook, Liz Nicol, Kayla Parker & Stuart Moore, Simon Standing).
  • Curator, Flow, Time, Movement, Change, Sichuan Fine Art Institute and Gallery 501, Chongqing, 2014. (Tour, 2015: Jia Jialing Gallery, Nanchong City).
  • Curator, Light Touch, Baltimore Washington International Airport, facilitated by Maryland Arts Place, 2014.
  • Guest Curator, Sense of Place, European landscape photography, Brussels, Centre des Beaux Arts (BOZAR), 2012.
  • Curator, Landscapes of Exploration, recent British art from Antarctica, Peninsula Arts Gallery, Plymouth, 2012. (Tour, 2013 & 2015: Scott Polar Research Institute, and Ruskin Gallery, Cambridge; University of the Arts, Bournemouth). Curator, John Kippin and Chris Wainwright, FUTURELAND NOW, Laing Gallery, Newcastle, 2012.
  • Curator, Chrystel Lebas and SofijaSilvia, Conversations on Nature, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rijeka, Croatia, 2011.
  • Curator, Uneasy Spaces, 80 Washington Square East Galleries, New York University, 2006.
  • Curator, Facing East, contemporary landscape photography from Baltic areas, Bournemouth Arts Institute, 2004. (Tour, 2004/7: Impressions Gallery, York; Plymouth Arts Centre; The Lighthouse, Wolverhampton; Dick Institute, Kilmarnock; Tullie House Museum and Gallery, Carlisle; Yard Gallery, Nottingham).
  • Co-Curator, Shifting Horizons, Women’s Landscape Photography Now, for IRIS Women’s Photography Project, Staffordshire University, 2000. (Tour, 2000/1: Birmingham Museum; Derby Museum & Gallery; Stoke on Trent Museum).
  • Curator, Viewfindings, Newlyn Gallery, Penzance, 1994. (Tour, 1994/5: Watershed, Bristol; National Museum of Photography, Film and Theatre, Bradford; Zone Gallery, Newcastle).

Entrance hall, Nicosia Municipal Arts Centre, Cyprus, 2018.
Simon Standing, ‘Transitions 1 (The Stones of Nicosia)’, 2018.

International Hall, Pingyao International Photography Festival, China, 2021
Image on poster: Andy Hughes, ‘Plastiglomorate’, 2019, from Sea, Sand and Soil: Plastics in our Environment.

Installation, Seedscapes: Future-proofing Nature, Impressions Gallery, Bradford, UK, 2020.
© Karol Wyszynski courtesy Impressions Gallery
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