JULIE GRAHAME: aCurator
June 10, 2010
Janette Beckman introduced me to Julie Grahame, founder of aCurator.com, a brilliant website dedicated to presenting photography in all its glory. With features from “In David Bowie’s Living Room” by Michael Putland to Sarah Small’s “Disassociated Characters,” aCurator sumptuously presents these stories in a perfect portfolio. Julie Grahame has graciously agreed to speak about her work here.
Please talk about the inspiration to start aCurator, as well as your mission as a home for photography features on the web.
Julie Grahame: Until 2006 I ran a stock photo library of music, celebrity and historic images, mostly licensing to editorial clients. My favorite parts of the job were working with the photographers and editing shoots. I took a tour of the Life Magazine archives in 1992 and was struck by the breadth and depth of the features and how there were few publishers running more than a couple of images of a subject. From then on, I always fancied publishing a magazine.
In a sense, aCurator’s mission is simply to show more and larger images than average, more depth, and give the photographer a voice. My husband Mike Hartley is a web designer who redesigned and ran ZOOZOOM (Webby-winning full screen fashion magazine) for several years, and I worked there for a spell, so we are able to draw upon that experience.
What are your thoughts on the presentation of photography on the internet, as opposed to tradition forms in print or on exhibition? How do you think access changes the relationship between the audience and the work ?
Clearly the opportunity to simply reach untold more people is key. I work with the Estate of Yousuf Karsh; within a year of launching a new website we were receiving as many as 500+ unique visitors every single day (from almost 200 countries) and if there is an exhibition overseas, we see an increase in traffic to the website from that country. For the Estate, being able to monitor visits and what people look at and how long for, has really supported their web-positive approach toward ensuring Karsh’s work endures.
Now, seeing a Karsh silver print in real life is a whole other thing entirely, but the number of people physically able to do that is minuscule compared to who we can reach online. At the same time, you might also say that some images look better on a computer screen. My feeling is that the web improves and sometimes actually creates the relationship between audience and work—it’s an oppressive “optional” $20 to enter some NYC museums; free to enter a gallery but I know I find galleries in NY among the most uninviting establishments. I will add that I don’t necessarily feel frustrated looking at a small print but I do looking at small images online!
Do you have a preference in terms of genre, and if so what is it about these genres you find most compelling?
I don’t think in terms of genre but do want variety and to give air time to features that wouldn’t necessarily get published, or which I just think would look great. I’m really open to all sorts: I didn’t hesitate to publish Zachary Bako’s “Deconstruction of the Dollar”, a series essentially created in Photoshop, because I thought it was just clever and political and really graphic and it looked so good full screen.
I’ve hardly had any still life submissions, but Stella Kramer introduced me to Mary Parisi’s work and I published “Soup” recently. I’ve had a (very small) handful of fashion submissions, it’d have to make a statement for me to publish a fashion shoot in aCurator (I quote Oscar Wilde on this whenever possible: “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months”). I suppose then that I am compelled by my own taste and by the photographers I have relationships with, and I do think there’s an element of that making the magazine successful, that there’s already an expectation of the kinds of things I might publish.
I love your range—from Janette Beckman’s “Girls’ Fight Club” to Catherine Chalmers “Food Chain” to Stephen Mallon’s “American Reclamation: the Subway Series,” your selection of features shows us a world we have never seen. How do you select your stories?
I am fortunate to know a fair number of photographers and I launched the magazine with what I thought were brilliant stories from some of my favorites that had a varied appeal and that worked in the environment (including being predominantly landscape). I approached each of the photographers either knowing what of their work I wanted to publish (eg. Catherine Chalmers. I had the pleasure of a visit to her studio to chat amongst the bugs she raises) or to discuss what they themselves would like to run (Janette Beckman’s “Girls’ Fight Club” had been under-published in print and warranted a big spread. No crickets during that studio visit, just a couple of cats).
I have an open ear for photographers who could use the exposure, and for everyone I’d like it to be the best online tear-sheet they have. I’d love to publish exclusives but will happily settle for less-well-exposed features until such point as I can pay for the content. Moving forward, I am receiving plenty of submissions—but would like more; on the whole, they either grab me or not. Once or twice I’ve asked for more info and it’s put me off something I thought I might well publish. I’d also like to work with third parties more, as I did with Brian Clamp for the Jesse Burke feature and Aperture for Michael Corridore, other book publishers.
Since you began aCurator, have you seen a change in the ways in which both photography is being presented on the web, as well as the audience that connects to these sites ?
aCurator launched in April, was in development for several months, so it’s early days; despite hoping for more photo-centric web destinations for the last few years (ZOOZOOM launched in 2000 and has always been ahead of its time) I’m still only seeing a handful of other full screen sites other than by photographers and more recently by fashion houses. I suspect established sites will have to wait for major redesigns to focus less on laying out the content around the advertising. Burn Magazine is probably my favorite full screen photography experience. T Magazine is nice. M. Sharkey who photographed “Queer Kids”, was contacted by both Out and the Advocate after they saw his feature in my mag and they both ran it online (one small image per page, maximum ad turns!). I suppose we’ll see what the iPad brings. Rather wonderfully, The Big Issue, a British magazine which is sold by the homeless, has run two articles about aCurator in print.
I’m not sure whether aCurator will have appeal as a whole outside of the photo community, but each feature brings its own interest. “Queer Kids” had the greatest number of visits when it was picked up by the gay community. People who enjoy karaoke would come just to see Ingvar Kenne’s feature and may never come back. If each feature brings a different audience but there’s also a photography fan base, I’ll be very happy.