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IMAGE HEADER: Laurence Miller, circa 1993 in the gallery's second location in SoHo, installing Barbara Morgan's iconic 1940 photograph of Martha Graham
In a shifting cultural landscape, galleries, art fairs and museums are slowly beginning to reimagine themselves. With 36 years in the business, 300 exhibitions and participation in 50 international art fairs, Laurence Miller Gallery’s strength and path forward is firmly rooted in relationship-building and collaboration in the field of photography. Well attuned to the pleasures of looking at a photograph, the gallery’s PHOTOGRAPH OF THE WEEK series, shared virtually since 2018, has in some ways acted as a bridge to a pandemic-era pivot. In August 2020, the gallery announced its plans to shift from a public space to a private operation working toward an increased online presence. We reached out to Associate Director, Jacob Cartwright, to hear about the gallery’s approach to the changing times.
Installation shot of Rodrigo Valenzuela's exhibition American Type
DUGGAL ART SCENE: While many individuals, organizations and institutions in the arts quickly shifted in the spring of 2020 to a stronger online presence in response to lockdowns and the pandemic, Laurence Miller Gallery’s PHOTOGRAPH OF THE WEEK series was already well underway. The series recently surpassed 100 images. Can you tell us about the series and the response to it from the viewing public?
JACOB: The series was initiated in September 2018 and part of the motivation was to encourage viewers to devote a moment to reflecting on a single picture. We’re flooded with images on a daily basis and the tendency is to move rapidly from one visual to the next. The series is an opportunity to set aside an interlude for more reflective looking. We most typically offer some thoughts on the work, but the written portion is fairly restrained and not overly interpretive; you could think of it as offering an entryway into the work and an invitation to explore.
The response has been overwhelmingly favorable. We’ve found that this is a very conversational way to engage our audience. People often write back with their response to pictures. I’d attribute that response in part to the focused looking that spending time with a single image affords. Our aim is to slow people down for a moment.
Installation shot of John Dowell's exhibition Cotton: Symbol of the Forgotten
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Laurence Miller Gallery recently announced a pivot from a public business model to a private business model and a focus on the gallery’s original mission — collaboration on an individual basis with artists, collectors, curators, writers and others passionate about photography and contemporary art. What do you think is the importance of individual relationships as galleries and others move to a more virtual existence and tighter restrictions or precautions regarding in-person contact?
JACOB: Moments like this one require a renewed focus on what’s truly essential to any endeavor. Whether it’s collaborating with photographers on exhibitions or working with buyers to build a personalized collection, the gallery’s work is based upon individual relationships and mutual trust. The last six months have demanded that we improvise and adapt, happily the result of that has been a restored focus on our core mission of direct collaboration.
Gallery artist John Dowell
DUGGAL ART SCENE: It seems that in an ever-evolving business environment, galleries with a deep archive of material — or content — are potentially well positioned to weather the storm. How do you see the balance between older work, iconic work and new work functioning in the current cultural climate?
JACOB: The history required to develop a deep archive of knowledge and material also offers a wealth of contacts who have their own respective stores of knowledge and expertise. Those connections with colleagues and collectors, developed over decades, are precisely what can make a gallery like ours a unique resource, helping to place historic works into new collections.
We also believe that this history offers a rich context when we present new photo-based art. With so much changing rapidly around us, there is a role for both the lessons of history as well as the younger emerging voices who will be steering the medium into the future.
Laurence Miller Gallery's first location on 57th Street in New York City, opened in 1984
Laurence Miller in the gallery's Chelsea location in 2020, with works by Ray Metzker and Helen Levitt
DUGGAL ART SCENE: Lastly, have you seen any trends, shifts or quirks in the collecting, consumption or interpretation of photographs over the last six months? And, if so, are there any that you think will stick around?
JACOB: The spirit of the times always influences the way we interpret pictures, and this is especially true in a period of global upheaval. When going through the selection process for the Photograph of the Week series in recent months, it’s impossible not to notice the ways that many pictures have taken on new resonance in the current context. This is something we’ve embraced as well. One of the defining features of a great photograph is the way that it can remain equally compelling, and even newly relevant, as the world changes around it.
View the Laurence Miller Gallery Photo of the Week archive here: www.laurencemillergallery.com/photo-of-the-week