Daniel Palmer: How long have you been a photography curator?
Susan Bright: I completed my Masters in Art Theory at Goldsmiths College, University of London in 1997, and was not quite sure what I wanted to do. I had been travelling before this and was somewhat rudderless. Soon afterwards, I started to intern at the Chisenhale Gallery in the East End of London. I was really much more interested in video art and installation art at that point, and that was really where I thought I would end up. By a set of very strange coincidences and circumstances, which I still can’t really explain, I ended up volunteering in the photography department at the Victoria & Albert Museum. And that was it. Prior to then, I’d never really looked at art photography seriously before, nor was it taught in my Art History BA. The experience within the photo department set me on my path. What it also made me realise was that I’d always been interested in photography. I’d always collected records, posters and postcards and stuff like that. I was very much into photography in popular culture, but for some reason had not translated that interest into my art history education. From the V&A I went to the National Portrait Gallery, as Assistant Curator, then to the Association of Photographers – which is a slightly odd trade-based organisation for commercial photographers. It was more like a gallery managers post. Here I learnt about the logistics, finance, administration and diplomacy of exhibition making (all essential skills to the wider field of curating). I went freelance as a photography curator and writer in 2002.
DP: What are some of the main changes you’ve seen in the field of photography over this time?
SB: I’ve seen huge shifts and changes. The most obvious one being the development of the Internet in terms of peoples websites, blogs and so on. We are a just a much more visual culture then when I started curating. I lived the analogue to digital switch with photographers. I have also been doing it long enough to witness trends in the strategies employed by photographers; modes of presentation and theoretical arguments. Some topical and relevant and essential: others not so much. The photoboook fetish is relatively new, as is self publishing. One thing that has remained constant is the autobiographical desire with young photographers. I have also been teaching since 2002 and students tend to gravitate towards personal stories. Not all of them of course, and recently there is certainly more collage and installation work, but family, self and community is a rich subject in photography that seems to constantly pull.