SVA Curator Uncovers Next Generation Of Image Makers
Tonight in the Milk Gallery, a new wave of artists are making their debut, at SVA’s MPS Fashion Photography 2015 Graduate Exhibition. The one-year intensive has expanded to include work by 16 photographers from around the world, who are at the forefront of expanding the medium’s capacity for expression and artistic vision. Under the guidance of Art + Commerce co-founder and managing director Jimmy Moffat, this group of artists have come together to present a gallery of their best work, showing the cohesion between fashion photography and fine art. We caught up with Moffat while he was taking a break from arranging the gallery’s images. We grabbed a slice of pizza, and talked about the challenges that SVA’s new class have overcome, the changing landscape of fashion, and his advice for the next class of fashion photographers.
When you look at fashion photography as art, do you think it does a good job of showing where we are as a culture or society in that moment?
I think fashion photography at its best does, but I don’t think it always does. It’s a very commercial time now. A lot of young fashion photographers are being pushed forward too quickly and are unable to develop their own vision and their own originality and their own work. They get thrown into commercial work before they’re even allowed to develop, and before you know it, they’re stuck without a career because they’ve been pushed too fast, too much.
How do the sixteen photographers in this year’s exhibition represent a sense of creativity and vision outside of that commercial rut?
Obviously, with sixteen kids, it won’t all be the same. Some are more conceptual, while some are more real. Some are documentary style, and some are further along than others. Our hope as curators is that we can help all of these students progress, develop and learn according to their own skills and their own pace.
This is your second year curating the exhibit. What is one of the biggest challenges involved with doing a gallery show for a graduate program?
The students are more used to—I think particularly in classes—trying to put together a portfolio to show magazines and creative directors their work. But this is different. It’s a 9×10 wall that can only fit so many pictures. They tend to pick their favorite pictures from each story they did in the past six months, rather than thinking about how that will look together.
At last year’s exhibition, you told us that gender identity and transformation was one of the most compelling ingredients in fashion photography. It’s no secret that 2015 was huge for these issues, so I’m curious what you thought of all the progress we’ve seen on that front? Why was last year such a big step forward?
Well, I predicted that six years ago. [Laughs] I don’t think there’s a specific reason why last year was a step forward. I think that gender equality is long overdue. I think things start to converge and start snowballing in terms of attention. I mean, black kids have been getting shot for years, but this past year we’ve seen so much media attention and protesting over the shootings. It takes people noticing what’s already been there for things to start happening.
Definitely. It brings a different perspective. Another big story this year was the number of designers coming out and saying that fashion is moving too fast. Do you think this rapid pace affects fashion photographers as much?
I think fashion photographers are ahead of the game in terms of trends and forecasting—they really push the designers and fashion houses to innovate. I think that the reality is that the pressure is huge for these designers to meet the revenue projections for the businesses that now control fashion. It’s really hard for them to stay creative, and succeed in this environment. Photographers are meeting stars before they’ve even taken a picture and young photographers are being taken by major agencies before they’ve even built a body of work. Everything moves too fast.
Besides being the only MPS (Master of Professional Studies) degree in the U.S. for fashion photography, what makes this program such a unique tool for young photographers?
I think a large part of the reason why this program exists right now, right here, is because it’s in New York City. So much of the program revolves around giving them access not only to teachers who are all professionals or working in New York, but also to such a great faculty. Through working at Vogue, T Magazine, and Art and Commerce, they have access to the whole fashion industry in New York.
Speaking of Art and Commerce, you created that agency in the ’80s in New York, with Anne Kennedy and Leslie Sweeney. What was the biggest difference in the fashion photography world during the ’80s compared to now?
Not to sound like an old curmudgeon, but I feel that the fashion industry was much less commercial. The fashion houses were owned by the designer, so it was very much a single-person vision for the brand—they used their own vision for their collections. They were incredibly creative people themselves, and the best fashion designers in the world. As we started working in this world of fashion photography, it was really about trying to make really powerful and culturally relevant images that would shake the world up. We just really loved to get together, get some clothes and some music, have fun, and take some killer images. That was really what happened.
What advice would you give to young, up-and-coming fashion photographers?
Really develop as a photographer. Don’t worry about the business side of it, or what agents you should be with. All that kind of stuff. I know you need to make a living and support yourself, but you need to be doing it for the love of photography and your love of fashion. I always say to the class, “Every great fashion photographer I’ve ever known is obsessed by something.”
It’s an obsession that they have that compels them. It could be anything, but there’s a real obsession to take these pictures, have people see these pictures, get these pictures out into the world, and that’s the obsession that you need to find to succeed. Otherwise, if you’re just going from one agency to the next showing your portfolio and trying to get the next story in whatever magazine, you’ll never develop as a photographer. You’ll never succeed.
The SVA MPS Fashion Photography 2015 Graduate Exhibition will run from January 21 – 31 at Milk Gallery, 450 West 15th Street.
Stay tuned to Milk for more fashion photography.