Long before social networks became the moderators of our collective experience of photography, there have been physical institutions without whose dedication to the art and narrative of contemporary and archival photography we may not have evolved to a cultural landscape where photography would be accepted as the preferred global medium for communicating the most intimate, political and esoteric of all experiences. Individual photographers, photo collectives, fine-art institutions, scholars and academic institutions have for decades challenged, defined and shaped the nuances and technologies of the photography field, immensely contributing to and enhancing the platforms on which photography could be created and shared with the public at large.
No institution can stake a higher claim to the public dissemination and social experience of curated photography through a combination of academic training, archiving, exhibiting and debating than the International Center of Photography in New York. Founded 40 years ago by Cornell Capa in memory of his brother, the notable Robert Capa, the ICP has been the world’s leading institution dedicated to the “discipline of photography and the reproduced image in all of its forms, bringing new image-makers to a passionate and inspired global audience through a continual offering of exhibitions, educational programs and community outreach.”
Cornell Capa coined the phrase “concerned photographer” to describe photography created to affect social change—and this vision still defines the ICP. The tools of photography are evolving rapidly, but image-making retains its key role in documentation, memory and storytelling. Its role is to be an arbiter of this conversation about meaning and communication—a central place for discourse about the image in our culture.
The ICP is going through one of its most remarkable transitions since its founding. Their new Executive Director Mark Lubell hails from Magnum Photos (an agency cofounded by Robert Capa incidentally), where he served as the director for seven years. Under his leadership, the ICP is defining the role it will play in a world that’s experiencing an unprecedented avalanche in image-making.
“There are 880 billion images taken in one year. We’re all documenting and taking pictures through these new vehicles. But who’s making sense of that? You still need to have a professional eye being an arbiter of this communication, and that’s the role that I see ICP playing,” states Lubell. “The conversation today has drastically changed—how people are documenting, how people are communicating with one another and receiving information, and how people are creating. I believe it’s important for ICP to engage these new tools, understand, explore, ask questions about them, and have that public discourse, but in a slightly different manner than they have done in the past.”
This understanding of the changing global culture of visual communication forms the basis of Lubell’s strategic vision for the ICP, addressing questions of how the ICP will connect with people in the new virtual “social sphere.” The change also includes a dramatic move away from their current location to a new possibly larger space in which training and exhibitions are made available on a larger platform.
“I really believe that there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them,” stated Diane Arbus at the end of her life. In our world where billions of images are taken in a year, there’s an increasing need for centers of inquiry that reflect back to society the questions of “who is photographing, who is looking, and who actually cares?”
The tools of visual storytelling may have changed, but the need to connect with one another and communicate life from the point of view of a single individual’s experience still remains strong, if not stronger, as a result of the overwhelming visual data that we field every day. The experience of photography since its evolution may have transitioned from the real-time camera obscura to the real-time Instagram, but the magic of physically experiencing images in a curated form can hardly be replaced in the virtual world.
Susan Sontag once said, “The [image] inventory started in 1839 and since then just about everything has been photographed or so it seems.” Sontag continues, “In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and even more importantly an ethics of seeing. The most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads—as an anthology of images.”
Today is one of the most exciting times to be curators in the photography world. The paradigm of the industry has turned several times over only in the past few decades. Those who possess a firm understanding of these underlying dynamic, tectonic shifts in how we engage with images can help create conversations that rise above the virtual din and center us to the value of visual stories. I see the ICP playing a significant role in the future of photography in our country.
We at Duggal have humbly played our role in advancing the ICP’s mission through our long-standing relationship with the institution. We’ve been a proud sponsor of the ICP Winter Lecture Series to “identify future luminaries,” which features notable speakers including Antoine D’Agata, who studied at the ICP and went on to become a member of Magnum Photos. For their acclaimed Infinity Awards, we produce gallery prints featured in the ceremony, and we create large-format prints for their iconic corner window displays on 6th Avenue. Currently featured at the ICP is the latest installation of the ICP’s Picture Windows project, a 15-foot-tall display installed directly onto the museum’s glass façade. Duggal’s Hillary Altman consulted with the ICP to produce 13 panels that combine to create a life-sized panoramic image by the late Todd Webb, taking visitors and passersby back in time to the 1940s on that block.
Commenting on our relationship, the ICP’s Veronica Bainbridge stated, “ICP has benefited greatly from its partnership with Duggal, which is committed to creating images with extraordinary impact. From smaller projects like student class prints to 100-foot installations like the Todd Webb panorama now in ICP’s picture windows, Duggal’s work has enhanced ICP’s work.”
It has been our great honor to rise from our roots in traditional photography as a lab and become partners to institutions like the ICP, which engage with a global audience and connect amateurs, professionals and enthusiasts into lively conversations that will shape the future of my first love: photography.