In an era when the resolution of smartphone cameras has reached an astonishing 41 megapixels, and photo filter apps can render even the most mundane moment into a Technicolor feast for the eyes, digital photography may seem to be reaching a saturation point. Surprisingly, however, as digital imagery pervades all aspects of our lives, the reverence for photography in the art world has risen to new levels as proven in the sale of a fine-art photograph by Andreas Gursky auctioned for $4.5 million at Christie’s, the highest price ever paid for a contemporary photographic piece. The long-standing dialogue on whether photography is art has now shifted to how digital photography is giving birth to a new genre of contemporary art, and challenging the way we see and shape the world around us. Painter Francis Bacon said, “I have looked at far more photographs than I have paintings. Because their reality is stronger than reality itself.” No matter how ubiquitous it becomes, photography will continue to reconnect us to the familiar in new ways, and for that reason, photography will continue to challenge our notions of how to value it. As our minds become saturated with photos, our visual sensibilities become more discerning.
Art galleries and museums around the world have begun to offer audiences a wide range of curatorial experiences of photography. The more rarified the art, the more exclusive the venue for exhibiting the work. However, the inherent democracy of taking a photograph can truly only flourish in the public domain where it invokes a dialogue and reflection among the masses. Considering the exponentially growing base of photographers around the world with their state-of-the-art DSLRs, there needs to be far more venues for showing photography than what’s being provided by galleries and museum exhibitions today. This juncture of prolific photography demands powerful curators who help us connect millions of single photos into cohesive thematic narratives.
United Photo Industries (UPI), a Brooklyn-based photography cooperative we work with, has developed a novel curatorial platform for bringing photography from around the world to the public domain. Their mission is to promote and showcase emerging photographers through curated exhibitions around the world. In partnership with media partners and local galleries, they produce site-specific installations that explore thematic directions in photography and bring the works of hundreds of fine-art photographers into public art installations.
Their iconic public installation titled THE FENCE is a summer-long outdoor photographic exhibition that explores the essence of community across cultural boundaries and geographical lines. THE FENCE is a site-specific exhibition presenting the work of 40 photographers on weather-proof photographic mesh, printed at Duggal, that stretched over 1,000 feet in length. Installed each summer along the Greenway in Brooklyn Bridge Park, THE FENCE launched in summer 2012 and reached an audience of more than one million visitors in its very first year. Showcasing at least six images from each participating photographer from a specified series and topic, UPI displays the photographs at a size of approximately three feet in height so that any individual even walking by the images can come in close contact with the detail and message of the photographs. Sam Barzilay, the creative director and founder of UPI, states the ambitious goals of the agency—”to promote appreciation of photography, visual storytelling and, above all, greatly expanding photography’s audience by breaking out of the constraints of traditional spaces and re-contextualizing the use of photography in the public domain, which until now has been primarily the domain of the advertising world.”
With a passion for bringing photography to the masses, Barzilay, along with Executive Producer Laura Roumanos and Creative Producer Dave Shelley, also created Photoville, a temporary photographic village set up with shipping containers in the heart of Brooklyn Bridge Park on the Brooklyn Waterfront. Celebrating photography in all its forms and across all levels, Photoville brings together a mix of exhibitions, lectures and workshops on photography, all against a milieu of an unprecedented summer celebration in New York.
United Photo Industries’ team is constantly in search of photographers from around the world. In a year, they’ve put together 11 individual exhibitions. They even install photographs on East River Ferry boats and continue to do numerous photo fence installations around New York. Barzilay explains, “We feel we have found a unique avenue to contribute to the evolution of digital photography by taking it to the streets. Our numerous outdoor installations are providing interactions between photographers and viewers. We are able to reach hundreds of thousands of people, many of them having never stepped into a gallery before. Experienced in this unexpected context, stories and images presented by photographers are having a deeper impact and resonating with viewers.” Extending their photography efforts toward educational outreach and support in the Brooklyn community, UPI is also involved with The Red Hook Justice Program, the Kurt Hahn School and a new initiative in Brownsville. “We are very proud to assist these young artists in finding their vision and voice through conversations with professional photographers and editors, active workshops and exhibitions at our gallery.”
United Photo Industries has come to play an unprecedented role in the photography industry today. Just as photographers are hungry for venues to show their work and the public is equally eager to connect with images in a meaningful way, UPI has created a platform that educates and entertains, and provides a nexus for photography conversation and contemplation that had not existed in the public domain other than at museums that aren’t as accessible to many people. As they expand their installations from the boroughs of New York to Boston and other cities, there’s no doubt that UPI’s role as photo ambassadors will delight audiences by bringing uniquely curated contemporary photography to people who are starting to discover the beauty and magnitude of the photography world.
We at Duggal are delighted to have entered into an ongoing partnership with the United Photo Industries to contribute to the evolution of digital photography by taking it to the streets around the world. I’m happy to support UPI’s larger-than-life vision for democratizing photography. It’s to my great pride that Creative Producer Dave Shelley states, “None of our large outdoor installations would be possible without the support of Duggal. We are very fortunate to have the right partner from the start. Their technical expertise has allowed us to streamline and realize our vision. We have worked together over the last two years and have produced amazing results together. Through all of our exhibitions and installation experiences, and with Duggal’s input, we have been able to tweak the manufacturing process. Exploring new materials, quality of prints and production process, Duggal has helped to lead the way.”