International Centre for Photography (ICP) – New York

7.10.11

ICP window - Stan Douglas

Interpreting the power and evolution of photography, the ICP is a museum and school dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of photography which it does through exhibitions, collections, and education in vocational, degree and post-graduate studies – thousands of students pass through here every year. It was founded in 1974 by Cornell Capa (1918–2008), as an institution to keep the legacy of “Concerned Photography” alive.

It has 6000 square feet of space including galleries, offices, education, library, collection and facilities. Their bookshop is probably the best photography bookshop in the States. The facilities we saw included a darkroom with 15 enlargers plus private darkrooms and 4 digital suites – the demand is huge apparently. They also have an analogue colour printer – use of this however is shrinking and it is likely this will disappear. Three staff members look after this facility (includes equipment hire also). There are 6 staff responsible for exhibitions and 6 for the collections alone. We met with Christopher Phillips who showed us all the facilities, including their collection and archive – this includes 100,000 images, including the collection of social documentary photographers Robert Capa (yes, Cornell’s brother) and Cartier Bresson. The entire collection of Weegee was bequeathed to ICP by his wife at a time when he was not very fashionable – now however this is a big source of income for ICP. He shows us Capa’s contact prints from the Paris Liberation with markings and highlights by the photographer, illustrating something of the editing process in the artists mind.

The early Magnum photographers were big donators of money, and are therefore represented very well in the collection. They also collect period magazines in which photographers work was originally shown. These artifacts are often of more interest to photography historians than the work itself. In previous decades Christopher would be able to pick up these magazines in Parisian second-hand bookshops, but now they are something of a rarity, and expensive too.

When Christopher joined ICP in 2000, they had no records of their archive, no inventory and no index card. Six years ago they received funding to undertake an online archive and we met with the digital archivist who is using The Museum System database which all the museums in the US are using. Coincidentally he was working on a contact sheet of Capa’s, and scanning in VU and Regards magazines from the 1920s. This is an endless yet fruitful job. There is page for each artist, and links are embedded from the magazines to the relevant artists. They are also collecting audio and moving image that relate to the photographers – we hear of Weegee talking about his photograph of Sreigelitz. In their framing room, one of the 3 framers is working on Weegee’s famous photograph of Coney Island. Many works in their collection is lent out – the Coney Island image for example if being sent to Paris Photo, and this helps promote the collection and the institution abroad – France and Spain are the two main countires they deal with but very little contact with the countries of the UK.

In their exhibiton space, there is a major show by Peter Sekaer, a Danish photographer who resided in New York in the 20’s and 30’s – a friend of Walker Evans, the stark black and white prints illustrate depression era America. A couple of quotes by Sekaer chime with ICP’s mission to preserve and spread concern for humanity, as expressed through photography – ‘ Photography intelligently produced can be more than an adjunct to the presentation of facts and ideas. It can be their complete interpretation.’ And ‘As I see it, the world is made up entirely of photographic subjecgt matter. With pictures you can say what you cant say with words.’ In the basement galleries are three exhibitions commemorating the disaster of 9/11 – this painful and tragic event lingers on and envelopes much of the public consciousness still.

In their staff meeting room which overlooks the magnificent Chrysler building and Empire State Building, is a scale model of their gallery spaces – this is still the preferred method of planning the layout of exhibitons (rather than digitally). They put much onus of changing the gallery space for every exhibition – the New York public, he tells us, are very fussy about this.

We talk about Street Level and the desire for international collaborations despite the difficulty of economic viability in relation to transportation – the proposal of exchanging digital files may be conducive to an emerging photographer, but for the established names it is problematic in terms of Intellectual Property, copyright and editioning. We hear about the ICP Triennial, the next one of which comes up in 2013. We agree to help promote that and to source and encourage potential photographers to apply to their international call.

ICP digital suite

ICP does not receive any public funding – it is supported through sponsors and major givers, of which there are hundreds. Its turnover is a staggering 13 million. The full time role of the Director is in sustaining this support and extending it year upon year.

Christopher is an advisor to Three Shadows Photography Centre in Beijing (see an earlier blog entry on them) which he has supported since its early days. He is also a guest curator for the Lianshou Foto Festival, and he invites us along to a press conference for the event the day.

 Lianzhou Foto 2011 – Towards the Social Landscape

Lianzhou is a small city in the south of China, a town otherwise relatively unknown if were not for the international photography festival held there each year, of which there have been 7 so far. The theme of this forthcoming festival dons its cap to an exhibition of the same name that was held at the George Eastman House in Rochester in 1966. Their method is to have one or two chief curators each year. This is taken on this year by Christopher Phillips who is dealing with the international section and Duan Yuting, the artistic director of the festival, who is in attendance at this press gathering. The festival is supported by the municipal government, an uncommon occurrence in China, in recognition of its contribution to the culture of the town and its encumbant tourism potential. I give Duan a copy of Tom Normand’s ‘Scottish Photography: A History’ – several copies of this and Colin Gray’s Steidl book ‘In Sickness and in Health’ made the journey as gifts for all the people met. Duan shows us a wide range of Chinese photographers work and Christopher his selection of American and Canadian work which is being included. We hope to follow up this connection for the festival in 2012 and cards are duly exchanged in anticipation of this. 

right - Christopher Phillips, middle - Duan Yuting

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