Amy Stein is a photographer and teacher based in New York. Her work explores our evolving isolation from community, culture and the environment. In 2007, she was named one of the top fifteen emerging photographers in the world by American Photo magazine. Amy’s first book, Domesticated, won the best book award at the 2008 New York Photo Festival. Online, she hosts her own website and blog at www.amysteinphoto.com.
Andy Adams is the editor and publisher of FlakPhoto.com, a contemporary photography website that celebrates the culture of image-making by promoting the discovery of artists from around the world. An online art space and photography publication, the site provides opportunities for a global community of artists and photo organizations to share new series work, book projects and gallery exhibitions with a web-based photography audience.
The photographs illustrating this interview are a selection of works that have featured on Flak Photo, chosen by Andy Adams.
What is your presence on the internet and how did it evolve?
Amy Stein: Currently I have a portfolio website and a blog, plus I maintain a regular presence on Twitter, Facebook, Last.fm and LinkedIn. In grad school I developed my portfolio site and that has evolved a bit over the years including the addition of a CRM (customer relationship management) tool that I use to do blast emails to my list. In 2006, I graduated from the School of Visual Arts MFA program and started writing a blog. In the past two years I have been a lot more active on social media and have curtailed the email communications.
Andy Adams: I publish FlakPhoto.com, an online art space that promotes contemporary photography from an international community of contributors. The site’s main feature is a daily photo blog featuring a different photographer six times a week. Since launching the website four years ago, I’ve expanded the photo-a-day format to include a monthly Weekend series and photography book section. I also collaborate with book publishers, art galleries and photo organisations to produce a continuous program of community “happenings” in tandem with the work I show on the site.
The scope of the project is continuously evolving and has roots in online publishing and arts exhibition and it’s becoming more “social” every day. Flak Photo’s success hinges on new developments in online communication and social media and it’s becoming a kind of “real-time” photo community hub. In addition to the website, I publish a Facebook page and Twitter feed and I interact with those audiences on a daily basis. I’m passionate about creative collaboration and am constantly energised by what’s happening in the online photo community, so publishing FlakPhoto.com gives me an outlet to satisfy that craving.
Who is your audience online?
AS: The primary audience is fans of my work. I have also used various online tactics to specifically target collectors, curators and gallerists.
AA: Certainly plenty of photographers see the site and there’s a solid cross-section from within the photo industry that watch it too — I regularly get emails from curators, editors, publishers and gallery dealers who enjoy the work they find there and I make professional connections between colleagues when I can. A big part of my mission is to help artists get their work seen and my contributors are always updating me with news about exhibitions and publication opportunities that have come out of their work being discovered on FlakPhoto.com.
Does the internet function well as an exhibition space for photomedia work?
AS: It serves a vital role in terms of exposing one’s work to a broader audience, providing access to a wide variety new work and sourcing previously unknown artists, writers and thinkers. The internet has changed the way we view and interact with images as a society and as artists, but the screen is still an inferior exhibition experience compared to prints and books.
AA: Absolutely! I don’t think of online vs. offline exhibition as very different at all, actually - especially since the selection process is the same for me: I almost always review work using my laptop, so that part is entirely screen-based and digital. Nearly every photographer has a website, so an online exhibition, if properly executed, can provide unique opportunities for a spectator to discover more of an artist’s work.
I would never argue that looking at pictures on a monitor is the same as experiencing physical prints in a traditional exhibition. But I’m actually more interested in exploring the web browser as an exhibition space, if only because an online show is likely to be seen by more people. The social nature of the web continues to inspire me, so I plan to keep working with that in-between space, presenting experiences for a global, online audience while providing a platform for them to interact with and learn from each other.
Waterpark, Fort Jackson, South Carolina 2007
from the series All in the Family
At our Fotofreo discussion, we touched on web-based interactivity, such as comments on blogs, and the increased role of social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook. What are some of the experiences you have had with this interactive landscape? And how do you see it evolving in the future?
AS: The future will continue to be about personalisation and social sharing. And content, content, content.
AA: The internet is a natural broadcast and publishing medium, but it’s also a relationship medium that’s fostering the growth of a global online photo community at an increasingly rapid pace. Web 2.0 technology has played a huge role in expanding Flak Photo’s reach and the site’s readers are web-savvy people who use social media on a daily basis, so that’s really inspired me to explore how those tools can encourage online audiences to communicate with each other about contemporary photography. In addition to using social media to promote the artists I work with, I’ve coordinated interactive photobook giveaways, real-time photographer interviews and a series of comment conversations for Flak Photo’s Facebook and Twitter audiences. It’s hard to predict where the technology is heading, but it’s clear that more of us are connecting with each other in blogs and social networks and those connections are bound to provide new opportunities for collaboration and discovery.
Andy, you recently took part in a discussion about the future of the photo book. Can you tell us about this? And what were some of your conclusions following this discussion?
AA: Last winter I teamed up with Miki Johnson to host a cross-blog conversation considering the question, “What will photobooks become over the next decade?” Our aim was to pool the collective wisdom of thinkers from all corners of the photo world, so we invited bloggers from across the globe to post responses and nominate the most exciting photobooks currently being published. We summarised those ideas and invited the online community to participate in three blogger-moderated discussions that explored the most innovative means of creating, consuming, and funding photography books.
Miki does a great job of summarising the project in a Tumblr she produced earlier this year (2010). The findings were many, but the resounding feedback was that people love printed photography books and don’t want to trade them for digital substitutes. The modes of production have obviously changed, but photobooks are as popular as ever (more so maybe) and with more indie publishers producing small press runs, printed books are valuable collectibles in their own right.
I don’t think that analog publications will disappear anytime soon, but I do think we’ll see more artists using digital media to promote and sell their books independently. I also suspect we’ll see more analog/digital hybrid publications and how we define “the book format” is bound to change in the iPad era. There are certainly larger questions about what constitutes a photography publication: photo blogs, multimedia websites, and online magazines are self-publications that have exploded in recent years and we’ve really only begun to see how those forms will influence the shape of photobook publishing in the future.
Amy, as an artist, what impact has your web presence had on your practice? Would you recommend it to other artists and photomedia practitioners?
AS: I think we are at least five years beyond on the point where having a website should be a question. Frankly, if you don’t have a website you don’t really exist.
There has been some debate recently about the role of the ‘amateur’ on the internet and their influence on the broader culture. The apparent democratisation of the internet allows anyone to publish their work, their views, unedited, on a global platform. What is your opinion on this situation?
AS: The promise of the internet has always been the democratisation of information. The proliferation of web 2.0 tools in the past five years has made this promise more of a reality. The boundaries of media have pretty much blurred at this point. We consume content without regard for medium and can customise the experience to match our values, tastes and opinions. Just like all major technological leaps there are positive and negative aspects to the transformation.
AA: I hear a lot of concerns about how amateur web publishers compromise the quality of work we look at online. This doesn’t concern me – in my experience, the quality work tends to rise to the top. Web 2.0 is shrinking the gap in the arts community and provides all kinds of exciting opportunities to develop relationships with creative people from all over the world. We can certainly expect to see more artists and photo organisations using these tools and I’m eager to see how the new media will impact the future of photo exhibition and publication.Tags: Amy Stein, Andy Adams, Issue 4, Kyla McFarlane