Erik Vroons. Photo by Diana van der Marel

In the lead-up to the deadline for the 7th Annual Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards this summer, we’re interviewing several of our extraordinary jurors, who range from leading photographers to prominent curators and lifelong educators. Erik Vroons is a multi-hyphenate; in addition to serving as Editor-at-large for the international contemporary photography platform GUP and Chief editor for the print edition of GUP Magazine, he frequently collaborates with and mentors up-and-coming artists. We recently had the chance to ask him a few questions.

GUP New cover, Sander Vos

How did you first land at GUP, and what has been one of your favorite memories from your time there?

“I came to the magazine in 2010, shortly after finishing my MA in Photographic Studies at Leiden University. Initially, I offered my support as an author–my ambition was to contribute by writing articles and critical reviews–but soon enough, I was asked to function as the editor in chief. This sounds like an incredible promotion, but the team has always been really small and the function was mainly intended to make for a smoother curatorial workflow.

“I remember how we have had offices in all sorts of ‘anti-squad’ locations in Amsterdam, but we are currently back where it all started for me, occupying the floor above the Kahmann Gallery (Mr. Roy Kahmann is the founder and directing manager of GUP). We don’t do many editorial meetings, but when we meet, it always ends in a happy chaos that ignites the production process of a next print edition.”

What do you look for when selecting work for GUP? What makes a photographer stand out in your eyes?

“We decided long ago that we won’t do open calls, and all featured works are therefore arriving from our own research. GUP stands for ‘Guide to Unique Photography’, which indicates that we are functioning as a source of inspiration and we ambition to highlight a wide range of styles and genres in photography, and related exhibitions and publications. But to be interesting for us, a work really needs to have an outstanding autonomous quality, making for the ‘unique’ factor that we care for. Whether those works are produced by established or emerging artists is of a lesser concern. We like to serve artists from all stages in their career and also arriving from all ends of the planet.

Fresh Eyes Photo Fair

What have been the most significant changes you’ve observed in the photo industry in recent years, and what changes do you see on the horizon?

“The photo industry seems to be struggling with finding a sustainable business model for itself, but the lack of it also gives way to all sorts of creative endeavors. Nowadays, as an artist, you do not necessarily need to be connected but rather manage your own online platforms (website, Instagram, social media etc.). Within the realm of the art world, a work gets noticed not necessarily by traditional forms of aesthetics but more by indicating smart appropriations of genre convention.

“Within the realm of documentary, I see all sorts of conceptualizations that stimulate a certain way of storytelling–often supported by secondary resources/archives–and I am convinced that these multi-media approaches are here to stay. Meanwhile, I think there will continue to be a niche market for the more ‘pictorial’ expressions in photography, but the sales of such is already proving to be a tough market.

You’ve also mentored photographers. What advice would you give for emerging photographers in 2021?

“If the COVID pandemic has learned us anything, I think it is that we need to be focusing on the things that make us happy. My advice to anyone who feels the need for it: don’t aim for golden medals. Embrace the art of training, so that you feel that you are mentally growing and arrive at a better understanding of the world. If you cannot deal with the financial uncertainty and stress of the creative process, then perhaps being an autonomous artist is not for you.”

What do you hope to see in submissions for this year’s Emerging Photography Awards? Anything in particular that you’ll be keeping an eye out for?

“I always hope to stumble on things that I would not be able to expect. I do have a deep appreciation for all sorts of obsessions and nerdy subject matters–and also all sorts of creative trespassing off the beaten paths.”

Submit to the Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards by August 31st for a chance to exhibit your work in the streets of NYC and LA (single images) or as part of gallery shows in Berlin and Paris (series). Erik Vroons is one of our series judges this year. Learn more about this year’s jury by visiting our website.