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Bobby_Doherty_Photography
Photo: Bobby Doherty

We recently talked to Brooklyn-based curator, photographer, and Feature Shoot contributing editor Matthew Leifheit about What You Want, a group exhibition he curated as part of Camera Club New York’s Guest Curators Program, featuring photographers Thomas Albdorf, Raphael Cohen, Sara Cwynar, Bobby Doherty, Trey Wright and their “visually indulgent” approaches to the contemporary photographic still life. It opens this Thursday, May 30th, 6pm at CCNY.

Bobby_Doherty_Photography
Photo: Bobby Doherty

Tell us a bit about this exhibition.
“This is a show about desire. Desire not only on behalf of the audience for the photographs, but desire on behalf of the artist for his subject. It is desire that begets desire. The title stems from all this wanting.

“Each photographer in the show is engaged in a different conversation with the lineage of studio photography, which traditionally depicts products in a way that is engineered to make you want them. These emerging artists build on and respond to pioneers of the field like Paul Outerbridge and contemporary giants like Roe Etheridge, but the work looks unmistakably current, and indicates a shift in direction towards pure visual pleasure.”

Bobby_Doherty_Photography
Photo: Bobby Doherty

How did you come up with the concept? Did you know what artists you wanted to work before you had the theme or did you come up with the theme first and then search for work that fit the perimeters?
“I met Bobby Doherty sometime last year, and his work really sparked the idea for the show. I had been noticing a trend on the internet and in exhibitions of emerging photography where a bunch of miscellaneous junk was piled onto a bright colored seamless paper and lit with zippy strobe. Bobby’s work is like a flashlight cutting through this fog of meaninglessness, and I think actually may have inspired much of it in the first place.

“He uses an aesthetic that plays with commercial studio photography, but the content is sincere and considered with just the right pitch of humor. So then I thought there must be other people working with this studio-pop aesthetic in meaningful ways, and began to seek them out. One of the best parts of this curatorial experience has been getting to know these artists personally; they’re all genuinely wonderful people, and I think this shows in their work.”

Sara-Cwynar_Photography
Photo: Sara Cwynar

Raphael_Cohen_Photography
Photo: Raphael Cohen

The show is bright and upbeat which is not all that common for gallery shows in New York. Was this the intentional vibe for the show?
“It’s summer! I wanted the show to be fresh and humorous and colorful and joyful. My major bias is that I only like art that makes me want to look at it. I’m never interested in ugly art, and I’m not quite sure why anyone is.”

Thomas_Albdorf_Photography
Photo: Thomas Albdorf

What trends are you seeing with young, emerging photographers? Do you feel that they are taking on a more lighthearted approach to their work?
“Emerging photographers are withdrawing into the studio en masse. In my opinion, young photographers are spending less time idolizing Alec Soth these days. They more often might look up to artists like Christopher Williams, Lucas Blalock and Elad Lassry. I do think there’s an overall movement of young photographers using more humor in their work, but this is dangerous because it’s actually very difficult to use humor in an effective way. Too often I see emerging artists making jokes to avoid saying something real. Worst of all, I see a lot of art made completely out of irony.”

Thomas_Albdorf_Photography
Photo: Thomas Albdorf

Trey_Wright_Photography
Photo: Trey Wright

Along with being a curator, magazine publisher and writer you are also a recent photography graduate of RISD. Can you talk a bit about how you balance making your own photography work with all of the other stuff you are working on?
“I’ve always been told I would eventually have to stop doing some of these things—the advice being that I could continue to do everything OK, or do one thing really well. I find that for me, it’s better to have a distraction from making my own photographs every once in a while. I will never be able to stop making my pictures because they drive me and keep my soul awake.

“But it’s good I have to focus on something else half the time, it allows me some distance from my practice, which often gives me perspective on what I’m actually making. I also find that it’s good for my own work for me to be engaged in a community of artists, and my various curatorial projects inevitably connect me with photographers whose work I respect. The last couple months I haven’t had time to make my own photos since I’ve been curating this show and working on distribution for MATTE Magazine (it’s now available at the International Center of Photography!), but my sketchbook has been filling up with pages and pages of plans for my own images, and the minute this show is over the photographs will pour out of me.”

Trey_Wright_Photography
Photo: Trey Wright

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