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Curating Photography

An Interview with Zelda Cheatle

In this brief interview, I spoke to curator and editor Zelda Cheatle. With over 35 years experience in the industry, Zelda has a valuable perspective. We discuss the essential skills of curation, digital consumption of photography, and her positive view of the industry.

Maria Giorgia Lenzi: How did you start out in curation?

Zelda Cheatle: I began working at the Photographers Gallery in 1982, having studied photography and worked as a photographer after graduation. I ran the Print Room and was responsible for curating small shows every six weeks from the consignments of the great international photographers held there, from Jacque Henri Lartigue, André Kertesz, Fay Godwin, Lee Miller to Mari Mahr, Martin Parr and Brian Griffin. I went on to open my own gallery in 1989 and spent 17 years curating shows and exhibiting the good, the great and the emerging.

AOP50 Curated, by Zelda Cheatle ©David George

MGL: What skills do you consider essential in this job?

ZC: There are many skills, not only in understanding and recognising the work but in spatial awareness, scale, context, versatility. After many years of working with and looking at photography there is an ability to quickly assess the potential and relevance.

MGL: What changes in the industry have you noticed since you started?

ZC: There are many more curators, at every level, and now serious and informative courses at post graduate level which have elevated the profession. There are more photography graduates than ever before, but still fewer women at the forefront of the medium.

Mother River by Yan Wang, Curated by Zelda Cheatle ©Zelda Cheatle

MGL: Has the move to digital consumption of photography affected more traditional modes of viewing, such as exhibitions?

ZC: The physicality of the exhibition will always hold an audience. We are used to instant gratification on a tiny screen with Instagram but the experience of being with actual prints and within an installation still has enormous appeal. The millions who visit museums every year are testament to this.

Dubai Photo Exhibition, Curated by Zelda Cheatle

MGL: The production and consumption of images has never been as vast as it is today so that we are overstimulated and saturated with visual material of every kind. What does it mean to be an expert of photography in the hypervisual modern society?

ZC: I am not so sure we are over stimulated. I like that we have a visual vocabulary now. I think we process and read pictures in a different way, but that is a good way of bringing more people in as viewers.

The term hypervisual is almost a negative and I see it as a positive. Bring on more pictures!

MGL: Thanks for your time.

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